Korea — what does this symbolize to most Americans? Wars, child labor, wildly different citizens, yeah, yeah. It probably doesn’t bring to mind massive amounts of drooling, unflinching gaming fanatics, hell-bent on becoming king of the hill in any online game they get their hands on. Because if it does, kindly skip to the next paragraph. Gaming in Korea is apples to American gaming’s oranges. Whereas the average American gamer tries to find time out of his work, chores and activities to play games, the typical Korean guy tries to find time out of his games to get anything else done. Funny isn’t it? But it does leave one question. Work: don’t they do any of it? Well, you’d be surprised to know that companies actually sponsor these guys to invade gaming contests flying their corporate banner, and also that most of these same contests(which attract citizens from all reaches of the world) take place right there on their homeland. World Cyber Games ring a bell?
Any more historical fanfare aside, it goes without saying that there’s strong potential for culture shock should a game originating in South Korea be marketed to North Americans. The mindset just isn’t the same. It’s the basic casual vs. serious analogy; it’s like marketing aged wine from historically significant vineyards to scary, unshaven drunkards who hang out at corner stores. The results could be financially disastrous, assuming much was invested.
Conveniently, little was.
North American Lineage 2 is a standalone example of how not to task a group of individuals to operate a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. From a gathering of customer support based somewhere in the middle-east to a discouragingly distanced development team, nothing is how it should be for what, in fact, should be a next-generation MMORPG. A laundry list of issues exists, and as you’ll be informed numerous times should you voice any concerns, “I can not help with any gameplay related problem,” or the infamous, “Thank you for your concern, this issue has been forwarded to a higher authority,” which is reminiscent — and probably not too far astray from — an old Cartoon Network skit where jolly Bob Oblong discovered his boss’ “suggestion box” to be nothing more than a boilerplate disguising the company furnace.
But some background before we dive in. Lineage 2 is one of a small string of MMORPGs marketed towards the “hardcore” crowd — in Korea, the majority; in America, the minority — a sect of gamers who enjoy unrestricted player versus player combat, a viciously competitive leveling curb and, most importantly, the opportunity to dominate the game world they play in. Firstly, it’s touted as providing players an avenue to kill any player they want, at any time they want and for any reason they want — only with incredibly harsh consequences for doing so unprovoked. Secondly, it boasts the ability to Siege Castles, Ride Dragons in the Sky, Compete in Clan Wars and Go on Large-Scale Raids with Friends. Thirdly — well, you’ll have to wait until later expansions to find out about that.
Lineage II is unfinished. As of this writing, the Chronicle 1 expansion, arbitarily subbed Harbringers of War, has been released and Chronicle 2 is supposedly in the works, but despite this, the game is in a state of dishevelment — or should I say structured dishevelment. There’s a method to the madness, yes, but it doesn’t come in a pretty form. The name of the game here is perpetually trying, seemingly fruitless hack ‘n slash, pushed along by the dangling carrot of Future Downloadable Expansions and the promise of a powerful guild-oriented end-game. Or, “keep giving us money kid so we can justify continued beta testing of this behind-the-times MMORPG,” only with a little more tact. Well, as much tact as an Indian with a question and answer sheet in from of him can have.
The path to this Powerful Guild-Oriented End-Game, though, is fraught with annoyances and problems idiosyncratic to this day-and-age of Multiplayer Role-playing games. Like, not having a story. And as minute as this may seem, it’s nonetheless a shocker to be dropped into a game world where things operate on about about as base a level as there is. Townsfolk exist solely to provide fetch quests(go here, kill x until it drops y amount of z item), monsters walk a few steps in a random direction every 45 seconds and even the players are blatantly being controlled by third-party code at times(the GMs never do anything about it). There’s not a lot of interaction, especially since solo fighting is encouraged all the way up until the 30’s(two months time for the casual gamer) and at which point, still more trials exist to be faced for players not belonging to one of the archetypal classes(archers in particular vastly outnumber all other classes 2:1)
And even when ambitious gamers do reach the upper-tiers of Lineage 2, not surprisingly, the bounty is not all it was made out to be. Castle sieges crumble under massive lag and overall apathy(“wait, so you mean I’m going to lose hours upon hours of experience points for what? a little extra money for my guild leader?”), dragons haven’t even been implemented yet, and having to compete in a clan war can end up as an exercise in massive time loss. Besides that, there’s very little opportunity for any but the best clan/alliance on the server to prosper. Other organizations are being driven to resignation constantly due to an unbalanced playing field and total lack of incentives. In the end, it often turns out more rewarding to return to beginner villages and raise hell/defend newbies than to get involved with unstable, unorganized high level affairs that all-too-often fall apart at the seams. And this reflects poorly on the game as a whole, bringing to mind the question of how NCSoft realistically expects to uphold their goal of 12 L2 expansions.
At the same-time, one has to laugh at how much of a cash crop this game has become. Due to its lack of cheat protection(only in Korea folks!), this mess of beta code has become the playground for hackers of all creeds, colors and crater-acne to chip away at. Even corporations have been formed around this game, dubbing themselves IGE, Adena Inc. and various other faux commercial names, providing a million adena(L2 money) to a player for twenty U.S. Dollars, of which they’ll offer only a small percentage to their underpaid, 24/7 game zombies/bot operators and pocket the rest(I don’t even think they pay taxes on this stuff). This amounts to a truly sad state of affairs for anyone seeking a level playing field and legitimately competitive atmosphere. You never know who’s bought their goods(or even, yes, characters — up to $1000 each) unfairly with real money. Even sadder is that 5 months after release, this problem has yet to be rectified. Auctions continue running brazenly unabated on Ebay.com and people with too much money to toss around continue bidding on them. Virtual property is sold hourly.
Furthermore, half of the user base is unable to effectively and intelligently carry on a conversation due to either language barriers, age barriers or otherwise massive chips on their shoulder as a result of Lineage 2‘s high-stress environment. A good fifteen percent are Chinese(the main purveyors of commercial adena), another five wish they were, and yet another five have been driven to anarchy by L2, selling all of their possessions on Ebay and going ‘red’ in order to indiscriminately murder players new to the game around starting towns. Add onto that a very reserved estimate of fifty percent of the users being under fifteen years old, and you’ve got yourself an environment much akin to high school, with the fifteen percent Chinese being replaced by hot girls who wouldn’t give you the time of day :)
But, ah, there must be some good, right?
Well, yes, L2 of course has draws, being one of the most popular MMORPGs released in some time. First and foremost, it’s graphically quite impressive. You can go into the game thinking, “Visuals don’t make a game, gameplay means everything, etc. etc.” but once you catch sight of some the flooring combat animations and physics that appear to be pulled straight from a fighting game, your mind might just do a 180. It’s amazing how much detail is packed into this shallow point ‘n clicker. Characters are effectively made to appear like masters of their art as they carry on combat with monsters and sometimes other players, cutting high, cutting low and performing masterfully depicted power moves. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like executing your favorite special attack and watching your advesary’s body forcefully collide with the turf it stood on only nano-seconds before.
The fan service is even at an all-time high in L2, with Dark Elven female starting clothes depicted as highly revealing bondage gear, and Dwarven females contrasting their bearded counterparts as 14 year old schoolgirls. But beyond that, the compliments grow less one-sided. Character models are certainly nice, but their customization is laughable. Weapons and armor appear cool as you rise through the ranks, but then they literally all look the same. The landscape is vast and lush, but object boundaries are screwy and its quite possible to either momentarilly or permanently become stuck in them(requiring GM assistance — ETA 5-15 minutes) There’s also the big kick-in-the-butt of still being able to fall through the game world — requiring a game reset– five months after release. Add onto that a bothersome memory leak, and server restarts 2-3 times a day, and even the good starts to seem like excess baggage after a while.
The music could be better, too. It sounds like it’s going to be something great when it first kicks in(the sprawling bag-pipes of the more romantic cities, the ominous horns of the Dark Elven bog) but after 20 seconds, guess what? It’s gone! I’m not quite sure what they’re shooting for here because there’s absolutely no reason to leave game music on just for those short little stings alone. And the only commendable attempt at a fully dynamic and progressive piece of music is in the form of an apocalyptic chanting affair that sounds nice in some places, but seems totally strange in others(off the side of the road in a tiny, non-aggressive camp?) And grows redundant from overusage either way. Sound effects are cool, though.
The nature of the game also isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just outdated and brings nothing new to MMORPGs. It even takes a few steps back from most. Player-killing in particular has never been more gimmicky. Rather than allowing some means for players to go against the grain, NCSoft has set it up to where killing a player that hasn’t first attacked you will cause you to become “red” — open season for anyone who sees you. Not only that — and the understandable experience loss that comes with it — but dying when red can, and often does, mean the loss of up to four equipped/inventory items from your person. Which, in turn, can mean the loss of easily a month’s worth of play-time at the higher levels. Sound fun? No? Then why does it exist?
Presumably, this Karma system (“He had it coming to him, the bastard! Trying to play the game the way it was advertised!”) as it’s called, must have some use. But the only fathomable one is for duels, and that’s hardly respectable PvP. Even those yellow-bellied Everquest players had duels on their non-pvp servers. So that’s L2 “PvP” for you — seemingly dangerous at first, but then a disappointment and apparent breeding ground for grief and exploitation. Under any other name, it would just be consensual duels. And other companies were doing those competently years ago. The catch is that this is supposed to be the main draw of this modern MMOG. Without it, there’s nothing but a steady stream of intolerably slow-moving experience bars and arrogant, immoral players. A good learning experience for beginners to MMORPGs and a waste of time for everyone else. Wait for Everquest II.