Microcosms - Dare to Compare

We are gearing up for our departure to GDC this week here at Ten Ton Hammer (actually I will be on my way to San Francisco as you read this), and from the looks of things free-to-play games are going to be making a big impact this year.  I know IÂ’ve been banging the free-to-play MMOG drum like a monkey, but I feel itÂ’s my mission to keep shouting out, “The F2Ps are coming! The F2Ps are coming!” like a modern day Paul Revere, with Microcosms as my virtual white horse. There should be plenty of news and information coming our way at the conference and you can rest assured this column will be jam packed with it next week, so make sure you check back here next Tuesday, and every Tuesday, for all the latest.

It seems that spring is the season for overblown controversies as Allods Online was joined by CrypticÂ’s Star Trek Online this week in another case of players angry over potential costs. The furor has died down a bit on the Allods side, as most folks have adopted a wait-and-see attitude over the issue. Luckily enough for Allods, their issue cropped up during beta and not a month into the game going live. We will definitely be checking with folks from gPotato this week for any status updates they can give us about the death penalty and item shop pricing.

This weekÂ’s feature showcases a couple free-to-play titles and, even as loathe as I am to do this normally, compares them to a AAA title in an attempt to help you decide which game may be right for you.

Microtransaction Highlight of the Week  

Sadly, this weekÂ’s microtransaction spotlight once again focuses on a world tragedy that was the result of an earthquake. Much like the crisis in Haiti, the events that transpired last week in Chile have opened up an outpouring of support from around the world and, of course, gamers are coming through as well. EverDream studios has launched a program for its title Dragons Call that will donate 10% of the gameÂ’s sales to relief efforts. If you have been on the fence about visiting the item shop in the game, maybe the added bonus of helping a good cause will make it easier for you to decide. 

As I stated at the top of the column, I usually roll my eyes when I hear someone comparing two different MMOG titles, especially when one is a AAA title and the other is a free-to-play. However this new crop of subscriptionless games has closed the gap enough to make such a comparison possible. Now, this isnÂ’t your typical in game general chat channel chatter about whose dad can beat up whose, but rather an assessment of the free-to-play titles and how well they would be able to the hold the interest of the on-the-fence gamer by giving them a familiar point of reference.

Warhammer Online and Allods Online

First up in our comparison are two games that feature stylized graphics, engaging quest-based leveling and large scale faction-based PvP. While most of the in game banter tends to be a WoW vs. Allods themed smack fest, the similarities there are superficial at best. Allods Online bears far more resemblance to Warhammer than it does to BlizzardÂ’s juggernaut in both look and feel. Both games feature PvP as their main focus, with PvE as an added feature and not the core of the game (donÂ’t hate on me PvEers; I am not disparaging the PvE content here, it just isnÂ’t the gameÂ’s priority).

Combat speed is similar in the two titles and the leveling process has the same pace. Both games feature adequate quests, however fans of WarhammerÂ’s public quest mechanic wonÂ’t find anything that mirrors it in Allods. The most striking resemblance to me, and the reason I grouped the two, is simply how the PvP feels. While each game has its own unique classes with their own styles, the way the factions work together and the combination of abilities in Allods had me flashing back to tier 4 battles in Warhammer on more than one occasion, especially the healing mechanics and the ability of hybrid classes to turn the tide of a battle by keeping other players alive.

If you enjoy the pace, look and feel of Warhammer Online, but are disheartened by the lack of population, then Allods Online is definitely worth a look. While overall Warhammer Online is a more complete game, with better individual pieces, the final product is hamstrung by low population and a publisher that has seemingly abandoned it, giving Allods the slight edge for now.

Aika and Aion

Few games of the past several years have had so much hype and so much fail as Aion did. While most fans have walked away from Aion, the sheer number of people who bought the title is a clear indicator that an Asian-style PvP game can succeed if done correctly. While Aika may not have as many features or as large a world to explore as Aion, it may prove that less is more by stripping away the unnecessary fluff and focusing on the core desires of the players.

Aika has the instantly recognizable look and feel of many other South Korean games--big shiny armor and weapons, anime style characters and fantastical monsters that are of the sort that haunt us in our nightmares. Combat speed is slightly faster in Aika, which is a major plus for the free-to-play. Aika also features one other area where the speed is improved over Aion, and that comes in the form of overall time it takes to level your character. Aika may be the most quest friendly game ever to come from the Far East, and by shedding the grinding mantle so proudly worn by its contemporaries, Aika should be able to retain a far higher percentage of its North American fan base than the games that came before it. While there are no wings available to players, Aika allows you to satisfy the urge, at least partially, by giving each player their own fairy (or Pran in the Aika vernacular) to aid them in combat.

Aika may be simplistic in design--indeed it only has 6 classes and they are all gender locked--and lacking a large sprawling world, but it is able to support and sustain the type of large scale PvP battles that havenÂ’t been witnessed since the height of Dark Age of Camelot. Perhaps Aika is the spiritual successor to DAoC, only in a more eastern mystical form.

If you enjoyed the look and feel of Aion, but long for the massive PvP battles that it never quite delivered, then Aika should prove to be a more than satisfactory, and less expensive, substitute.

Both of the free-to-play titles featured today are still in beta, but are preparing to launch this spring Stay tuned to Ten Ton Hammer and Microcosms for all the latest news on these new titles and all your MMOG news.

 Aika will give Aion a run for its money

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