Reviewed: July 20, 2004
Released: April 27, 2004
NCSoft may be the new kid on the block in the North American MMOG market, but if the first few months of their two recent releases are any indication, they may well be the company to watch in coming years.
Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle, launched the very same week as another NCSoft title City of Heroes, and while itís not for everyone, after what was a very smooth game launch and the release of the Chronicle I: Harbingers of War content update, Lineage II is shaping up into an MMOG that is well poised to deliver the hardcore, swords and sorcery, well thought out PvP experience that a fair sized subset of MMOG fans have been thirsting for.
One thing that needs to be said right away, if you plan on soloing your character, plan on buying another game. Lineage IIís gameplay is extremely centered around the group dynamic, so much so that after the first few levels and newbie quests, grouping is absolutely essential in order to kill enough monsters to pay the increasingly high costs of weapons and equipment. Unfortunately this isnít explained in any in-game form until you hit about level ten and even then itís not made explicitly clear that you need to basically group up or have your game experience effectively die.
More over, no matter where you are killing things, well, it all feels like the newbie areas in other games. Thereís no sense of a greater mission, no real purpose for slapping the stuffing out of the goblins and mushroom men and itís not that I really need that higher purpose, beating on goblins should be an Olympic sport as far as Iím concerned. But I think that it would be a lot more fun if it felt more like you were accomplishing something while you farmed and leveled up to the point that you can participate in the good stuff contained in the high level game, like the castle sieges and the dragon slaying.
And never mind the fact that there are a lot of PK'ing griefers that can make even getting out of town challenging. The ďeBay EffectĒ is in full force in the game already. It gets really discouraging when you grind for hours to buy some leather pants and then see some level 4 with a couple hundred thousand worth of gear run past you, or a level thirty something that asks you how to cast a spell, that one makes me want to give up on the bloody human race.
So if you play MMOGs for the crafting and questing and to slay the occasional dragon, you may want to stick with your current game of choice. For the rest of you prepared to engage in epic struggles for power and prestige, letís talk setup and interface.
Installing Lineage II is something of an exercise in patience. After the initial 2 disk install, thereís 2-3 hours worth of patch to download. I say 2-3 hours because there is really no progress indicator to tell you how far youíve come or how far you have to go and after realizing this, I walked away and watched a movie. Thankfully when I came back things had wrapped up, but those of you on dial-up will probably want to keep in mind that the Chronicle I update alone weighed in at over 220 Mb if memory serves. Thatís quite a while to tie up the phone lines on a 56k connection.
Lineage II uses a very mouse oriented interface that takes some getting used to before you feel comfortable with it, which you had better, because it seems that you canít change it to a more conventional WASD or arrow key based set up. Movement works by clicking on the terrain where you want to go and then watching your avatar move there. The arrow keys can be used for small movements and turning in place but I found that the mouse system worked better than I realized after I started farming in the newbie zone outside the Dark Elf city.
In addition to moving around there are several other common actions that the mouse is used for. Right clicking will center the camera at your back while clicking the mouse wheel will center it facing your character for those all important dramatic screen shots. Clicking on an NPC will target it, double clicking on an NPC will allow you to interact with them appropriately, if itís a monster or hostile towards you, double clicking will cause you to charge and attack with your equipped weapon.
If the NPC is friendly, you can converse with them, gaining information and maybe access to a new quest that can be completed for a modest reward. The game has the usual hotkey sockets that have become a staple of the genre. You can drag pretty much any action or object over to one of the 10 sockets on each of the 10 panels allowing you to access pretty much any function, action, or object you like with a few key presses.
The only thing keeping the interface from being completely ok is the positively archaic chat window. You are locked in with just one window with a very limited spam filter, and Iíve never seen a system that made it so bloody difficult to switch the channels youíre chatting in. Fortunately this seems to be something that could be changed with very little difficulty in a patch, so if you find yourself loving virtually every aspect of the game, except the chat system, I would make sure that the developer knew how I felt.
Now unless youíve played the original Lineage, at this point you probably donít have a real firm grasp just looking at the box on what to expect from Lineage II. Everquest, Asheronís Call, or City of Heroes, Lineage is not. The entire premise of the game from level 20 on is to build up your character for the expressed purpose of wailing on your fellow players. Every thing else is just a means to the end that is your eventual victory. The money and xp farming, setting up a private store to sell your various loot to the dwarven characters, and the purchase of your equipment at the sky high vendor prices; itís all for VICTORY. And now that Chronicle I has dropped, there is plenty of victory to go around, dragons to slay, castles to capture, GLORY FOR "Clan Name"
While most of the launch bugs were stomped fairly quickly, there are still a client crashers roaming about, along with a collision detection problem I encountered twice around piles of rubble, your character will get stuck and youíll have to call a Game Master to get free. On a positive note, I never had to wait more than 15 min for a GM to show up and teleport my butt.
The quality of the community in Lineage II varies greatly. There are the aforementioned griefing PK'ers that camp outside of the cities waiting to beat you down as you go on your merry way. I saw one dork that was shouting his policy of killing every third person leaving the gates of one city. I donít know what drives these people. Do they buy their account off eBay and then not knowing how to play, spend their time griefing the paying customers? I donít know, but there are a lot of them and I wish NCSoft would declare some kind of Blizzard-ian, scorched earth policy on these idiots for a few weeks.
But aside from those guys, everyone Iíve talked to that speaks English has been friendly and helpful. There was even one French guy who tried to lend me a hand, but outside of understanding his intent, my French is pretty limited. I hope that NCSoft figures out a marketing strategy that will better inform the public as to the gameplay they are purchasing with their Lineage II subscription. This may help cut down on the number of bored players that I feel are probably one of the main sources of punk griefers.
The graphics are pretty, in fact, the prettiest the Unreal Engine has ever looked. The textures are sharp, and the design of the game world practically oozes cool. The architecture is incredible. Maybe itís just my personal tastes but the castles towns and ruins in Lineage II are marvelous.
The character models are very sharp looking, and they should be. Why? Because there arenít that many different ones, there are very few options available when creating your character, 3 hairstyles, 2 hair colors and 2 faces for my Dark Elf fighter as I recall. This means that everyone of each race and sex in the game world looks pretty much the same which kinda bites, unless youíre a Dark Elf coed in which case no one really cares that you all look like because you have the right to remain hawt.
Of course in the early game youíre more likely to be squaring off against the terrific looking monsters than your fellow players. In most games, well a wolf is a wolf and the giant spiders arenít all that interesting to look at other than their scale. That said the creature design in Lineage II is superb. The spiders I mentioned look like the chitinous arachnid horrors that they should be. And the Orcs are the scary Pete Jackson kind, not the cartoony caricatures that have appeared in certain other games.
I had an opportunity to try Lineage II on a few different hardware setups, and while I found that game is indeed mostly playable on a system just above the minimum system requirements, the second you move off the plains and into one of the more graphically complex areas, it turns in to a bloody slide show.
If Lineage II sounds like something you may be interested in and your system is more than a year or so old my personal recommendation would be that you have at least a Radeon 9600 pro or better preferably and make sure your copy of DX9 is up to date and have 512Mb of system memory at the bare minimum. The box says at least a GeForce2 to run the game, but when I tried it on a Visiontek GeForce3 Ti500, it often experienced graphical hitching even away from the cities and other players.
Most of the graphics lag I experienced on the various systems seemed to be more dependent on the video card than the processor or memory. If you get a drop in frame rate when you enter a lightly populated town, can you imagine what kind of performance you can expect in the middle of a dragon slaying let alone a siege, where you have dozens if not hundreds of players wailing on one another and blasting everything in sight with superb looking elemental magic?
So in summary Lineage II looks good and if you want to enjoy your experience while playing make sure you donít skimp on the graphics horsepower.
If I had to point at one element in this game that has been nailed dead on the money perfect, it would be the score. First, itís worked in nearly seamlessly into the very fabric of the gameplay. It waxes and wanes with the action and locations shift. Second it feels a lot like a motion picture score, running a whole gamut of emotions, everything from imprinting upon you the feeling of impending doom to the fresh feeling strains as you sprint across the plains, while still coming back to several main themes, movie style. Whatever he was paid, Bill Brown the composer needs a big fat bonus for scoring this game in such a way that you never feel like turning on Winamp in the background.
The sound effects are better than average, most notably the various thwacks, slaps, clangs and slices of combat, when you smash an Orc in the face with a club, well it sounds appropriately meaty. Some of the chitterling, hissing and snarls that the monsters emit can get boring after awhile though if you have to kill a few dozen of them or something for some quest or another.
Like I said at the beginning, youíre only going to get any kind of value out of Lineage II if you enjoy going head-to-head with other players. Soloists, quest nuts, even crafters will have to make major adjustments to their play styles before they feel comfortable with Lineage II.
Itís most assuredly not for everyone, but if you play on the Everquest PvP servers or if you spend time with Asheronís Call 2, you really need to give this game at least a look, pick it up and use the free month to see what itís about. It offers a fulfilling PvP experience that is massively superior to ANY other MMOG on the market. The Chronicle updates have the potential to really enhance and add depth to the game over time, hopefully not at the expense of bug stomping.
That said it does seem to me that the subscription rate is a bit high, $15 a month should buy me a nearly 100% perfect, life changing gaming experience, and while it does have a unique PvP focus, there are enough fun-robbing problems, both in the software and the community, to drag the scores down.
Despite the fact that the whole purpose of the game is to sock it to your fellow players, Lineage II is accomplishing something that other MMOGs have been trying to do for years, it gets the players to actually work together. To me, that fact is pretty huge. If NCSoft can successfully market this title to the players most likely to be interested in the relatively unique experience offered by their game, they may have a reasonable success on their hands despite its many imperfections.
If the bugs can be fixed, the low level game fleshed out, and the rampant eBaying and griefing brought to heel, Lineage II might end up being one of the top MMOGs on the market. Itís not there yet, but Iím willing to give NCSoft and developer a chance to make good on their ambitions and see what they deliver a few more months down the road.