Looking Back at 2010

December is done and 2010 along with it. Seems like a lot of people are happy to see 2010 go, but the last twelve months of gaming here in Kae-land have been pretty good.

New MMOs in 2010

There were four MMOs scheduled or rumored for 2010 that I was keeping an eye one.

Star Trek Online

The game launched on time and pretty smoothly. At least smoothly enough that I don’t remember encountering any problems eleven months later, unlike Anarchy Online’s launch which I still rememberyears later.

The game had a larger flood of launch players than I expected, but it seemed like that initial wave passed through pretty quickly. Say what you will about Cryptic, but I do like their single world architecture. Not only do you not have to play the server-coordination game with your friends, but there’s also no drama over server queues or merges.

For such a new game, not quite a year old yet, STO has made a lot of improvements. Cryptic has added a diplomacy system (months before I expected them to), several new sectors of content, revamped the crafting system (twice, although more work needs to be done on it), updated sector space, done two month’s worth of weekly episodes, and done an excellent job of following through on their promises of transparency with their Engineering Reports. They’re also close to releasing a user-generated content system, the Foundry.

Of course, Cryptic has caused a lot of drama and made a lot of mistakes this year as well, but I have to give them credit for their responsiveness. The Star Trek team has been especially good at gathering community feedback and then acting on it. Daniel Stahl has done an excellent job since taking over as Executive Producer, and I’m very optimistic about the future of the game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Even with all the new information this year, my expectations haven’t changed much.

I like the emphasis on story. Going fully voiced will be an interesting experiment to see how players react and the impact on adding content. I’m sure I’ll buy this even if I don’t subscribe past the first month just to see for myself how Bioware did. Besides the original Knights of the Old Republic was one of my favorite games on the first Xbox.

One thing has changed though, I’ve been surprised about how poorly Bioware has managed the hype for the game this year. In 2009 they’d been doing an excellent job of keeping people excited for the game without letting community expectations get unreasonable. I can’t say the same about Bioware for 2010. It seems to me like the backlash I was expecting to follow the game’s launch has already started.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

My expectations for Cataclysm were set at “wait and see.” That was where they stayed right up until the expansion launched. Despite my general lack of enthusiasm, I did end up buying it. I blame Twitter.

I played through the Dwarven starting zone again (up to level 11) to see what the old world was like now and came away pretty disappointed. It was different, but it was just streamlined a bit and not the Azeroth shattering new experience I expected.

I also started a Worgen Mage and I’m about halfway (just judging by levels) through their starter area as well. I have to say, it’s fun so far but it’s not living up to the hype. That’s the tricky part of this. There’s a lot of hyperbole out there about how amazing Cataclysm is and how fantastic the new zones are, and I don’t think that the game lives up to it’s reputation.

Who knows, maybe I’ll change my tune once I finish the starter area. December just hasn’t been a good month for me to spend enough time with any MMOs.

DC Universe Online

DCUO was supposed to release in November, but SOE pushed it to the beginning of 2011. I think this was smart for two reasons: Cataclysm was scheduled for December (duh) and they listened to the feedback from their beta testers (something more developers should do).

I said back in January that I would wait until I’d had a chance to beta the game and make a decision close to launch of whether or not I’d play it. Well both of those things have happened, and I’ve decided to give it a pass. The reasons for that decision deserves a more in-depth treatment than I want to go into just now, so let me just say that there’s nothing that DCUO does for me that I can’t already get from playing either Champions Online or Arkham Asylum.

Old MMOs

At the start of 2010, there were three MMOs that I was playing regularly and/or subscribing to: Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online, and Champions Online. (I’m thinking of making a New Years Resolution soon to boycott the use of the word Online in MMO titles.)

Lord of the Rings Online

Whew, what a year it’s been for LotRO and Turbine. It started out as my favorite MMO. I was (and still am) in a great Kinship (which it still is) and was having lot’s of fun in the game. Then came June 4th and the Free-to-Play bombshell. I was completely blindsided by the announcement. Maybe it’s because I played on Landroval, which was always one of the most populated servers, but I had never considered the possibility that Turbine would go the DDO-route for the game. Eventually, after the shock wore off and I was able to look at the details, it really didn’t seem like the F2P change would have a huge impact on my playing experience.

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be quite correct. My minute to minute playing experience is mostly the same as it ever was, and I’m not paying any more to play the game than I was before, but the level of store integration into the UI really started to get to me. Between the alert that shows up anytime I do something that earns Turbine Points and all of the little gold buttons that link to the store (of which there are three on the crafting panel alone), I’ve found that my interest in logging in and playing as dwindled down to nearly nothing.

EVE Online

I was doubtful that I would still be subscribed to EVE by the end of the year. I did end up stopping the subscription on my second account, and would have canceled my primary except that it renewed before I got around to it. That’s not totally a bad thing as I’ve continued to train skills (towards no particular goal) and I’ll get a chance to try out the new character portrait generator when it comes out. Regardless though, I’m definitely letting the account lapse in March when the current six month cycle is up.

Champions Online

My plans to have this be my other primary game besides LotRO turned out to be true until I go my first hero to max level in March. After that, I played with some alts and returned for the Serpent Lantern Adventure Pack, but my playtime has dwindled down quite a bit this year. I have to be in a certain (rare) mood to enjoy re-experiencing content, so once I’ve been through the game once my playtime almost always declines (which is true for me in all MMOs).

Console Games

Mass Effect 2 was my favorite console game of the year. Great story, great graphics, and much improved combat over the previous game.

Red Dead Redemption was my second favorite console game, and one I almost missed. I hadn’t paid any attention to it at all until Scott from Pumping Irony asked me if I was getting it. I’m glad he did, because it turned out to be a really good game and the first Rockstar game I’ve ever finished.

Star Wars: Force Unleashed wasn’t new but I’d skipped it on release because of poor reviews. I ended up picking it up after news that a sequel was going to be release, and it turned out to be surprisingly good. So good, actually, that I was able to add it to my very small list of completed games. Ironically, based on several trusted sources, it seems like the sequel is a stinker. That’s too bad, but at least it got me to buy the first one.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions turned out to be a disappointment. The game was way more linear than I wanted it to be and has ended up in my limbo games stack. These are games stacked up next to my 360 that I feel I should finish but probably won’t.

Fable 3 was also a disappointment and will likely be joining Shattered Dimensions in limbo soon. It’s really too bad considering how much I loved playing Fable 2.

PC Games

Minecraft! Minecraft! Minecraft!

I’ve played and enjoyed a lot of PC games this year, most of them acquired via Steam sales, but the stand-out PC game for the year for me has been Minecraft.

I’m still surprised by how much I enjoy this game. I’m usually a shallow gamer. Good game-play is important of course, but no more so to me than the good graphics. Generally when a sequel to a game comes out I stop playing the older version, even if I don’t enjoy the new version as much, because it just looks better. What can I say.

If you qualify as a Crafter or Explorer personality type, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you do end up liking it, come check out the multi-player servers I’m running.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man

Does whatever a spider can.

Watching the reruns of the 1967 animated series in the 80’s was my first exposure to Spider-Man, and the theme song from the show is usually the first thing that pops into my head when I think of the character. He was my favorite superhero as a kid, more than either Superman or Batman (although Batman was a close second). So when I saw a preview of the new game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as few months ago, I preordered it from Amazon.

It showed up on Tuesday this week and I’ve played about four hours so far. My initial impression is: great game, I’m having a lot of  fun, but I’m a little disappointed.

The graphics are absolutely amazing. The game looks very very good, both the world and the animations. Beenox has really managed to make the comic book art-style come alive. Playing in the game is like being in a comic book, but it looks and feels like a real world. What’s more, each of the four universes: Amazing, Ultimate, Noir, and 2099; have their own recognizable style both in graphics and dialog.

click for a larger image

Besides the graphics, the voice acting is also very well done. Neil Patrick Harris does the voice for Amazing Spider-Man (he did the voice for Spider-Man in the New Animated Series). Christopher Barnes does voices Spider-Man Noir and originally worked on the original animated series from 1994. Josh Keaton is the voice for Ultimate Spider-man (he did Spider-Man in the 2008 Spectacular Spider-Man show), and Dan Gilvezan voices Spider-Man 2099 (he did Spider-Man in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends from the 80’s). Of the four, Neil is my most favorite and Gilvezan is my least. They all do a quality job and have good dialog, but something about Gilvezan’s voice bothers me (while I wrote that part after the tutorial, after the first 2099 mission his voice is starting to grow on me). Oh yeah, and Stan Lee narratives, and it totally fits.

Beyond the sights and sounds, the action is fun but linear. The game opens with a tutorial mission that sets up the conflict of the story and introduces you to each of the four Spider-Men. Once that’s completed the first four stages are unlocked, one for each universe. When you pick a stage you select a difficulty level (easy, normal, hard). When you finish the stage, the game rates you on speed, use of combos, and how many collectibles you found. All completed stages are marked with which difficulties you’ve completed (so if you finish a stage on normal, then easy and normal are filled in). Each stage also has a dozen or so challenges that you can complete for bonus points (which are used for combat and character upgrades). The stages/ so far, are linear starting with an encounter with a villain and progressing through a series of areas to a final boss battle. Re-playability is limited to playing again on a higher difficulty or playing to finish a challenge that was missed (some of them are optional and some aren’t).

I’ve finished the first four stages (all on normal), which completes Act 1 and unlocks a cut-scene and the next four stages.

While I’ve really enjoyed the game so far, the disappointment I mentioned above is in the linearity. This is completely a problem of my own expectations. After I preordered the game I put it on my media black-out list. My assumption was that like most (all?) of the recent Spider-Man games it would have an open explorable world to web-swing through and include a series of story-line missions. If I’d thought it through, I would’ve realized this isn’t really possible considering there are four different universes to populate, which have been a ton of work I’m sure.

So my disappointment with the game has nothing to do with the game itself, but is just from a mismatch between reality and assumption.

I’ll write a follow-up, once I finish the game.

Busy Week

It’s going to be an exciting week!

Star Trek Online has really hit it’s stride recently with their weekly episodes, so I’m very much looking forward to the third episode of the Deferi-Breen arc on Saturday.

Lord of the Rings Online free-to-play (or free-to-try as I like to think of it) launch starts on Friday, the 10th, but I’ll be in headstart on the 8th, which is for current subscribers and F2P beta players. While, I’m looking forward to getting into the new zone, I’m still ambivalent about the store and LUA changes. Still, the sooner the changes launch, the sooner we’ll see how it impacts the Landroval server community.

My Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions preorder is in the mail. Of all of the super heroes in the Marvel and DC universes, Spider-Man has always been my favorite, and I’m really hoping that this game will be more like Spider-Man 2 and not Web of Shadows.

I finally finished all of the available Mass Effect 2 DLC last week, just in time to pickup and play the Lair of the Shadow Broker which should release today. Like I mentioned last week, my excitement level tripled when I saw the trailer for the new content, it looks epic.

As if all of the gaming stuff wasn’t enough, I got an email from Amazon promising that my Kindle should arrive this week. I’m looking forward to spending some time with it and see if this whole ebook thing is for me or not.