FFXIV Open Beta and Concerns

As a long-time Final Fantasy fan I’ve been looking forward to the next online game with a fair bit of enthusiasm. However, the closed beta testing I was a part of didn’t convince me at all, and for those who know me – that’s a fairly worrying statement given that it’s both an mmo and a Final Fantasy game.

I’ll go into details on the actual gameplay after I’ve had some more time to see what they have fixed since I was in the closed beta, but there’s just a fair bit of extra annoyances that really put me down here.

The whole account management system is horrible and nowhere near intuitive, when you click to get accepted into the beta and need to search through the site and go through a ton of screens to simply apply the key to your account.

Furthermore, the performance in-game was quite horrible, as various other sites have mentioned, the graphics requirements are quite simply insane for a “casual-friendly” online game. Note that that might have improved since last time I played, but seeing how the launcher alone manages to slow down my PC, eat up more CPU and make my gfx fans go more crazy than on SC2 at 2560x1600 with Ultra settings in a 4v4 Zerg Insane AI match – it’s not a good sign in terms of performance in general.

All that said, head over to http://entry.ffxiv.com to check the game out for yourself!

StarCraft II - Achievements and all!

I’ve had a fair bit of fun with the SC2 achievements, as I’d rate myself as somewhat in the mid-range of RTS gaming, it’s nice to have some goals to challenge yourself with, and I feel that’s just what the SC2 achievements have done.

Starting with the pain of making it through the campaign for the first time, followed by the rather excellent Single Player Challenges, designed to teach you some key aspects of the game, I’ve now redone the campaign and sorted out a fair bit of achievements along the way – and I honestly feel my game improving as I manage to beat them, one by one.

I’d just like to post one of the more painful looking achievements here, and explain that it’s actually nowhere near as bad as it seems…

Hurry up: It’s Raid Night: Beat the Campaign on Normal in less than 8 hours.

I recently finished this one in roughly 5 ingame hours played, I say ingame hours – but it’s actually a lot shorter as playing on Fastest actually makes the seconds go quicker. I think for me, this was one of the more important achievements to get done, as I tend to be a lot more of a build-up person than I should be in these games, so having this looming over me was a great way of forcing me to be a bit more aggressive than I usually am.

I have a relatively safe route to go through the campaign for this here, I included my times for reference! 19 missions done here.

Time – Mission
02:31 - Liberation Day
04:50 - The Outlaws
20:12 - Zero Hour
11:28 - Smash and Grab
24:55 - The Evacuation
13:14 - The Devils Playground
24:24 - Outbreak
12:24 - Welcome to the Jungle
31:18 - The Dig
22:07 - Whispers of Doom
10:33 - A Sinister Turn
04:09 - Echoes of the Future
09:46 - Safe Haven
12:00 - The Moebius Factor
14:20 - Supernova
17:24 - Maw of the Void
15:06 - The Gates of Hell
23:29 - Belly of the Beast
30:07 - All In

Total: 5h 4m 17s

I missed out on the top protoss research, as I missed/forgot one in Welcome to the Jungle, both in Echoes of the Future and one more in Supernova. I actually thought I had less time remaining than I had, so rushed to Char without picking up more research.

Will also list Armory/Research here, note that some choices, like the SCV repair rate/fire suppression, isn’t taken here as I was relatively sure that I’d be able to hold off without those on Normal for speed – on higher difficulties, they’re much more tasty.

In terms of Armory, I upgraded Bunker x2, Missile Turret x2 (not needed), CC: Orbital Command. Marine x2, Medic x2, Siege Tank x2, Viking x2.

Laboratory: Ultra-Capacitors, Orbital Depots (speed!), Automated Refinery, Science Vessel, Fortified Bunker, Planetary Fortress, Hercules (not used), Regenerative Bio-Steel, Hive Mind Emulator.

Also got all mercenaries apart from Firebats.

Profile at http://eu.battle.net/sc2/en/profile/597082/1/Mijan/achievements/

Now I’m just waiting for Blizzard to fix my 3 broken Mastery achievements… :|

StarCraft II

After playing the SC2 Multiplayer beta a fair bit, I wasn’t impressed with the game at all really – as whenever I fired up a game, it left me wanting to play HoN or WC3 instead!

I did, however, decide to grab the game – seeing how I’d most likely end up with it sooner or later, and was slightly pissed to see the insane digital download price compared to what retailers were selling the game for. So, decided to go for a mail order and wait another day before trying it out …

Now, having played the game for a few days – I have to say that the single-player Campaign in SC2 is in my view probably the best in its genre. The campaign as a whole has great cutscenes, dialog, missions and lasting incentives to do bonus missions. I don’t think I can explain how much I enjoyed doing that campaign – and with all things like that, the only complain is it being much too short! :)

There’s also another neat single-player feature added in there labeled Challenges, in which you take control of a few units and have to carry out certain objectives, created to make you improve your tactical skills and helps point out how to best use certain units.

Looking forward to the next chapter in the campaign-stories – should be heaps of fun!

Though… as far as multi-player goes, I’ll stick to WC3/HoN for now! :)

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Account Management - Blizzard and Square

I recently found myself logging into my battle.net account to see the status of my SC2 Beta, and was quite surprised at the overall changes they’ve done there since last time I visited.

I think in a way, this is something that really spoils people using Blizzard products, not only do I have the available downloads of my old games there, but there’s a simple link to administer my two WoW-accounts, and also a simple link that says “click here to add a new WoW 10-day trial account!” – almost scary how easy it’d be to get started with the multiboxing again.

In terms of SC2 though, I clicked around and found that they actually have the option to download SC2 now, and just pay/activate at the launch day if needed! If you misunderstand me right here, this is almost enough incentive to actually buy SC2 on its own!

This realization comes at a time where I’ve been trying to figure out what to do in regards to Final Fantasy XIV (online), and how the ordering there will work out. In terms of mmorpgs, I’m extremely fond of being able to log in at the exact minute that the servers go online and be one of the first to explore the new server – and I’m concerned in terms of the FFXIV launch and their pre-ordering options – as I don’t really know which ones will be able to get me the game on time!

In previous online games, it has been more or less the standard for pre-orders to gain access to an early access beta, and in that sense you’re covered regarding having the software available at launch – and they also have a 3-5 day grace period where you can still play live before you actually get the retail key in the mail.

Note that this could still happen with FFXIV, having their launch date two months ahead in time, I’m just slightly concerned as the pre-orders are already being sold, and if they have such perks, they’d usually announce them.

I’m hoping Square will follow slightly with what Blizzard is doing with their account management, downloadable software and all – not to mention simplify the entire account management process in general, as anyone who played FFXI will testify that creating the account and getting things working there wasn’t as trivial as it should have been. Note that they could’ve fixed this up already, but seeing how they didn’t feel like inviting me into their beta, I don’t know!

/bitter

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FFXIV Names

I’m quite happy that the launch of FFXIV is coming closer here now, as I was planning on playing some FFXI this month to get my dose of Final Fantasy sorted out, but seeing how close the launch was – I decided to pause it and just wait it out instead.

However, from the reports of the beta, it seems that there’s actually a requirement for characters to have both firstname and lastname, which makes me – well – not concerned, but it got me thinking!

To me the name in an online game is something I respect a fair bit, I don’t really mess around with funny names or silly ones, I try to maintain my identity throughout games, so that if you encounter a “Mijan” in a game, it’s a good chance that it’s actually me. I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of last name would go well with Mijan, but it seems I’m not very creative – or I’m just too used to it being “stand-alone” to actually imagine it with another name at the end…

Any suggestions? :)

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Borderlands

Just a quick post here after quite a bit of time without posting, life has been hectic lately – and I haven’t been able to keep up with gaming as much as I’d like to!

However, I managed to pick up Borderlands in the Steam summer week special, and it’s heaps of fun really. I didn’t quite think I’d enjoy it as much as I do, but there’s something about the successful combination of FPS and RPG here that really makes me have fun with it, would recommend it to anyone who’s remotely interested in those genres!

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Heroes of Newerth gone live!

Yesterday Heroes of Newerth moved out of beta and started its quest for paying users!  And I had some friends who were slightly worried about the number of players sticking around, as it seemed to attract quite a few of random people who are typically “freegame-nomads”.

I already bought the game a while back in beta, as I figured it’s not like it’s expensive – and the game gives you quite a bit of “fun value” for its money. Upon logging in I found that there were roughly 22000 users online yesterday at around 22:00 CEST, which seemed to increase as the time went by. This is quite a decent turnaround from the 50-60000 users who used to be logged on during the free beta, and anyone who’s worried about lack of users to play with seemingly shouldn’t be concerned at all.

This should also increase the overall quality of the games you participate in really, as there’s quite a few people who would just leave games and create new accounts as they saw fit, which is fairly annoying for the people who actually try to play.

No need to wait, if you enjoy DotA in general – go for Heroes of Newerth, it’s good fun really!

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Global Agenda

After more or less randomly coming across Global Agenda after it being offered as a free trial download on Steam, I found myself being quite fond of the game and mechanics – almost made me think back to the golden days of Planetside and the fun I had there.

The game claims to be an MMO-FPS type game, with persistent worlds and skills/experience… the whole standard MMO-progression path, but in reality, it’s as MMO as Guild Wars and other instanced games. Not saying that this is a bad thing really, but I think there are quite a few games that tend to blur the definitions of what the massive aspect is – and I’d consider this in no way as MMO as Planetside once was.

The overall essence of the game is 10v10 combat. For the random masses, people sign up and get thrown into a match with similarly leveled people, with different objectives – and then fight it out. The setting is a futuristic earth, and the invention of jetpacks really impacts the game and making it a whole lot more fun than one would assume initially.

There are 4 different classes in the game, each with a relatively familiar role in such combat, namely Assaults (heavy/tank), Recon (scout/sniper), Medic (healer) and Robotics (misc drones/turrets), and despite being slightly biased as someone who tends to gravitate towards healing in online games, I’ve had tons of fun playing all the different classes – it’s strongly recommended to try out the different classes, as there’s a good chance one of the classes will really appeal to your specific gameplay!

In addition to the PvP elements, there are also some PvE missions for 4 player teams, though the variety here isn’t really all that huge, and I fear that it might put some people off having to run through the PvE missions initially (from level 5 until level 8, when you can start the PvP groups) – despite it being intended as introduction to the class you’re playing and all. If you try this game out, make sure you sit through the 20-30mins it takes to get to level 8 and try out the PvP before you toss it away, after all, that’s what it’s aiming for – 10v10 PvP fights!

Furthermore, for the organized PvP, you have Alliances fighting for control in the Conquest system, I haven’t participated in this yet, but you can see the introduction to Conquest video here!

So, if you’re slacking one day, or want to try another game while waiting for Planetside 2 (or Planetside Next) – head over to Steam or the main Global Agenda site today for a free trial!

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Settlers 7 Review of sorts!

As a huge fan of the old Settlers 2 game, I’ve seen the newer games in the series come and turn out to be much worse than the previous ones; the previous few installments of the game actually changed the series so much that it could easily be its own franchise! However, the initial look at the screens and concepts seemed to be decent enough, so I decided to buy Settlers 7 and see what it’s all about…

First impression is that Ubisoft seems to want you to be online while playing it, requiring a login to their site, and locking your key to the site as well… the plus side here is that they’re also kind enough to store your save games online – which actually came in handy as I was testing the game on both my PCs.

Now, the actual game is fairly similar in thought to the the original versions of the game. You construct buildings, manage resources, build tools to expand and all that, but the annoying bits in the first few games seem to have been resolved nicely with generalizing the tools concept, so you don’t need to make a TON of different tools in the event that you would actually want to be prepared to expand further!

The buildings you can construct are also compressed slightly, with the ability to build a  generic farm or residence, then attach work shops to them to be able to do production and so on. Building a farm in a decent spot gives you up to three slots available to construct work items such as grain-fields, pig-farms or windmills. Similarly, the residences will let you attach workshops to them for construction of various goods.

In the sense of strategy and overall map  functionality, the map is divided into a number of zones in Settlers 7, and you only have access to the nearest zones for interaction, making it easier to focus defenses, and plan ahead when it comes to which zones to go for first, each zone once conquered will then give you the option to build anything in that zone, and typically take advantage of its natural resources. Planning ahead is roughly everything in that game, as if you manage to expand in a direction without certain required raw materials, you can easily find yourself severely limited and need to do a complete reorganization of your assets to be able to recover, meanwhile your enemies keep building…

Each of the zones are typically able to be upgraded with fortifications to slow down and damage opponents who try to invade, and this really seems to be an excellent way of pacing the game properly making sure that you don’t just get rushed crazy by an aggressive player.

One of the goals with Settlers 7 was the idea that you could focus on different paths to victory, and this has been implemented through the use of Victory Points, and giving out these points whenever players manage to satisfy certain conditions.

There are three different main paths to achieve victory, namely Science, Trading and through Military strength, and as opposed to previous games where they’ve tried to balance these different paths out, Settlers 7 actually manages to pull it off! As an example, the skirmishes are usually set up so you need 4-5 points to win, and if you manage to completely focus on your given craft, there’s about 4-5 points to gain from going all out there, provided no one else turns out to be “better” at it than you.

The main concern I had when I thought of this balance was how the science and traders would be able to withstand a military player. Typically the military player will have a bigger and more advanced army than the others, as they’ll be focusing mainly on building up swords and educating higher military troops. However, that might not be enough against the other players… as traders will usually have an insane amount cash flowing around, and the ability to set up trade routes and trade for whichever resources they might lack, and/or just trade for profit – then hire excessive amounts of troops from the tavern without needing specialized tools like the military player. While the science player will be able to research technologies and upgrades, making his troops stronger and even increasing the strength of his fortifications! All in all, the overall balance is a whole lot better than I could’ve hoped for. Then again, once people start coming up with cunning schemes in the next few weeks for multiplayer matches, people might start complaining again…

I think in summary, this is by far my favorite installment of the series since the Settlers 2 edition. I started playing the campaign friday evening, and when I decided I was tired and needed to get some rest, I assumed the time was around midnight… quite shocked to find out that it was actually 05:00 and the birds who were chirping weren’t in-game sounds after all! I’m fairly sure there’s been some sort of scary time-continuum experiment involved in the making of Settlers 7, as I can’t remember the last time I completely lost track of time while playing a game like I have here, and that’s surely a good thing in terms of it being a good game!

Currently the only slight negative with the game is the limitations of the map editor, however I can completely understand why it’s limited like it is, as you need to have some control of the zones and resources to keep it slightly balanced – however, seeing how this is the first and only game I’ve actually *wanted* to use a map editor, this isn’t much of an issue! I’m assuming they’ll release more than enough maps to keep people happy in the time to come…

In short, if you liked one of the previous titles, chances are you’ll love this one, if you like the strategy/city building genre, but not necessarily the titles where you need over 100 actions per minute to be successful, give it a try… it’s good fun!

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ATI Eyefinity - the good, the bad and the ugly

Upon buying my new pc, I decided to go for the “best of the best” in the current semi-single card graphics world, as such – when I saw the ATI 5970 in stock, I instantly ordered before they’d run out (again!).

Now, my previous PC setup had a 30” Dell monitor running at 2560x1600, with a 27” Dell monitor for “support” and general two-monitor fun, but after seeing some of the really cool videos of Eyefinity in action on youtube, I decided I just had to try and see how it would work out.

The prices for the 30” monitors seemed a tad too steep for me to invest two additional matching monitors - not to mention I’d run out of desk-space – so the solution was to grab a hold of 3x relatively cheap 24” monitors to be able to run 1920x1080x3 (5760x1080). This went relatively well, however, the 3 outputs on the card are 2x DVI and 1x mini-DisplayPort, one of which proves to be more painful than the others! Now, there’s a technical explanation of why it “needs” to be a mini-DP, but I’m not going to go into detail here, I just wanted things to work! In addition to this, the regular mini-DP to DVI adapters won’t work with eyefinity, you need an active powered adapter, which really isn’t available in my region – unless you decide to go with the Apple link… and this is extremely expensive for just a small adapter!

After reading around, one of the reasons why you need an active adapter is to support a potential 30” 2560x1600 resolution, something which I really didn’t need. So, I checked out the alternatives, and apparently you can use a mini-DP to VGA adapter as long as you don’t go above the 1920x1200 resolution – it worked nicely and cost 10% of what the DVI adapter did!

Setting it up is a breeze really, go into Catalyst and select the order in which the screens are, and woosh! It merges all your screens into one! It’s quite funny to watch really!

Now, starting off with the good … I decided to give Dirt 2 a spin, the racing game that came with the graphics card, and it’s just plain awesome! The added vision that you have on the sides, really gives you a much more immersive experience, and I think it’s one of the few times I can honestly say I’ve really enjoyed racing games!

The bad … not a lot of games actually support Eyefinity just like that; some support the resolution, but just stretch everything so it’s so horrible that it’s just no use, while in-game movies tend to keep the aspect ratio of the originally intended video, resulting in you either seeing only the top, middle or bottom of the movie. If a game doesn’t support the resolution and jumps to 1920x1080, Eyefinity detects this and decides to go single-screen mode, so people should be able to go around this if they wanted to really.

The ugly part came around when I played Left 4 Dead 2 (for the first time in my life), as I really wanted to try a FPS with eyefinity! The level of immersion was so good and I’d literally jump when I’d see zombies jumping at me from “the side” – I was actually reminded of the first dark Half-Life sections back in the day where it’s all dark and quiet before you have a screechy head-crab jumping at your face, that’s how I was getting worked up during the first level of the game.

So, what’s bad with this? Well, as I finished the first 20-30 minutes I was getting fairly dizzy. I usually keep my mouse sensitivity fairly high, and this apparently really messed with my head, as I all of a sudden got the urge to run to the bathroom to throw up. I suspect there’s a warning label somewhere saying you should only play this with extremely horrible sensitivity, or in segments of 30secs at a time. Either way, I was throwing up and feeling sick the next 24 hours as a result of this, and I’m not the person to ever get sick like that sitting in front of a PC, ever.

All in all, Eyefinity is excellent fun for the games that support it – especially if used carefully when you encounter FPS-games. I recently played Settlers 7 with it, and apart from some minor misadjustments and the ingame movie problem, it’s really adding to the whole game experience. If you have an eyefinity-capable graphics card, there’s really no reason to not go for a setup like that regardless with the cheap monitors at the moment, even if you don’t use it for the eyefinity-mode, what’s not to like about 3 monitors? :)

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