Friday 27 March 2009

The Chronicles of Spellborn: First Impressions II, Return of the First Impressions

I wasn’t really that interested at first, but then everyone else started doing it, and it all looked so wild and exciting that I just couldn’t resist the peer pressure. Yes, I’ve started hanging around coffee houses where the love is frothy and the milk is cheap and engaging in illicit skiffle sessions, slapping a tea chest bass like a good ‘un. Ha, not really, I confounded your expectations and from thence the humour arose. And then I got off the bus, ah. And installed the Chronicles of Spellborn to see if my first impressions jibe with m’colleague’s.

So! Character creation. Pick from one of three archetypes, one of two races (Human or Strange Hoofy Thing), male or female, and a body type (male human: Vaguely Normal, Pie Eating Sumo Wrestler, Freakish Bodybuilder Parody and Comedy Skelington; female human: Bit On The Skinny Side, Vaguely Normal or Ate Any Pies Leftover From The Male Human. The strangely-hoofed Daevi have a single physique but varying veins. Or possibly blue tattoos.) Head selection offers a variety of faces and hairstyles, and slightly more unusually for a MMOG a choice of voices. Your chest and upper arms can be adorned with a variety of quite nifty tribal-style tattoos (though you can’t seem to change the colour of these, you’re stuck with brown), and then it’s on to clothing, armour and weapons.

Clothing comprises shirt, gloves, pants and shoes over which armour can be added to the head, shoulders, chest, gauntlets, belt, thighs and shins. It’s definitely a step (or several) over the majority of MMOGs that dump you into a tatty old robe or shirt to start off; while Melmoth is right that it doesn’t rival City of Heroes, there being only five or six complete outfits so everyone still looks broadly similar, the mix n’ match effects can be quite neat, and everything can be coloured to taste albeit with a slightly muted palette (quite possibly a deliberate design to avoid the starting areas looking like they’d been decorated by toddlers vomiting up packs of crayons and poster paints). Weapon-wise, you pick a melee weapon (a nice array of axes, swords, daggers and maces) and a ranged weapon (not quite such a wide array of bows).

All of this is purely cosmetic, unless I am more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive. I’m not *quite* sure how I feel about it in a fantasy game; I’m a huge fan of the approach in CoH, but it’s in the nature of superheroes that appearance doesn’t always correspond directly to powers. I’ll have to see how it works out during actual gameplay in Spellborn, it’s nice to have options in character creation at least, and there’s certainly ample scope for expanding things through loot or microtransactions.

With my pie-eating spiky-be-armoured warrior togged up, it was on to the tutorial. Fairly standard stuff introducing movement, jumping, poking things with a pointed stick, everything the good adventurer needs, and not too onerous if you already know what the WASD keys do (“make the letters w, a, s or d appear on screen, duh!”), soon enough you’re out into the world proper.

Whether from playing at a quiet time, or the server being in a particularly good mood, or maybe just my frankly supernatural MMOG Skillz (note: it’s not the last one), I found the starting area smoother than lots of the other impressions I read; no self-healing rubber-banding Shoaten (seriously, if the wolves are called “Wolves” and the bears are called “Bears”, calling boars “Shoaten” just seems like a way of trying to dodge time-to-boar) and little competition for mobs. I ran a couple of quests, wandered in to the town of Hawksmouth, and left it there for the night at a mighty level 3 (Fame Level 3, that is; I want to live forever, and quite possibly learn how to fly (high)), so this is a very cursory glance.

From playing, for various lengths of time, Star Wars Galaxies (post-NGE/CU), Tabula Rasa and particularly Hellgate: London, I’ve found MMOG/FPS hyrbid combat systems that involve aiming worked pretty well for ranged combat, not always melee, but I didn’t have too much trouble stabbing the wildlife of Spellborn, switching to mouselook for combat worked pretty well. The revolving skillbar, it’s a bit early to pass judgement on with only the fairly limited selection of initial abilities to populate it, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. As Melmoth mentioned, having regular skill cooldowns on top of it is a little disappointing though.

A quick mention for some emotes: they mostly seem to be audio-based, so from a purely physically theatrical perspective there was nothing to match Conan’s /emote hugefish_m, but /jazz is rather fun, and bonus marks for /fashionpolice.

I’m not terribly tempted to keep going, though. I think that’s mostly ‘cos I’m happy enough keeping WAR ticking over for a bit of MMOGing now and again while I try and get some time in on Fallout 3, Empire: Total War, Grand Theft Auto IV and anything else I’ve been stacking up for a while (maybe some tinkering with the Architect features in CoH), I’m not looking for another MMOG at the moment. All in all it seemed a promising enough start apart from the zone-wide chat’s mix of incoherent drivel and idiocy, but that’s zone-wide starter area chat for you; with (as I understand it) the “Freemium” (ugh) model allowing you to play up to level 7 before paying, if a 3Gb download isn’t an issue and you’re after a fantasy MMOG to play, give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? (as the Doctor Pepper marketing people might have said before they read zone-wide chat).

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