Monday Night Noob #4: Battlestar Galactica Online

I’ll have to admit that this week’s Monday Night Noob was a bit of a wash.  Not only was I really exhausted and ended up going to sleep early, but my chosen game of the week — Battlestar Galactica Online — simply bugged out in the middle of the tutorial (!), and I didn’t have the energy to do it all over again.

That said, I do have a few first impressions to share.  The game is free-to-play, and actually works within a browser.  I was intrigued if a browser-based space combat game would, y’know, work, and the answer is, “Sorta.”  It is impressive that the Unity engine can pull off this, and it’s serviceable if not incredibly attractive.  I was less thrilled with the controls, which felt very sluggish no matter if I used the mouse or keyboard.

Combat is a simple matter of choosing a weapon, targeting an enemy and then keeping the nose of your ship roughly pointed in that direction while it automatically fires.  Sound-wise it’s spot-on, but there’s no skill to it whatsoever.

The IP is probably the best part of the game, especially considering how beloved the reimagined series was.  My wife and I loved BSG during its four-season run, and when the game’s music kicked in, she immediately knew what I was doing without seeing the screen.  It’s cool to see the ships, jump into a Raptor or Viper, and kind of feel like you’re part of the show.

The population of the game is heavily weighted toward the Colonial side, as any sensible person might’ve predicted.  As such, the game is handing out incentives to play as Cylons, but I don’t know if that’d be enough.  The show didn’t really make you like the Cylons, so that faction feels shoehorned in.

So anyway, I played through part of the tutorial up to a point where it was giving me instructions to do something that couldn’t be done.  I spent a half hour flying around, clicking on everything, trying to figure it out, and then giving up.  I’m sorry, but if I can’t get through your tutorial without it bugging and/or being way too obscure, then it does not bode well for greenhorns who stumble into the game.

All in all, I’m not inclined to go back.  At best, Battlestar Galactica Online screams “mediocre!”, which isn’t a ringing endorsement.

Monday Night Noob #3: Digital: A Love Story

I was in a weird place last night.  I didn’t quite have the energy to dive into a completely new game, and nothing on the Monday Night Noob list was calling to me.  I even poked around in a MUD for a bit but left soon after.

But a resolution is a resolution, and I knew I had to try something new.  I spent a little time Googling “best free games” and ended up perusing a list of 20 titles that seemed interesting.  Out of these I pulled Digital: A Love Story and went at it.

Like some of the best little indie titles, Digital is something we haven’t quite seen elsewhere because it had the freedom to try new things.  In this case, it’s presenting a story — an interactive novel, really — in the form of old Bulletin Board Systems from 1988.  Or an alternate version of 1988, as I soon found out.

The setup is kind of ingenious.  You start out with a desktop of a late-80’s era computer (pre-Windows, I might add, but not DOS either) with a note from the guy who gave you the computer to check out a local BBS.  Once you dial in — with authentic modem sounds and all — you start making connections with the various people on there… and a girl named Emilia.

There isn’t a whole lot you can do on the BBSes other than read messages and send notes to your connections (although you never see what you write, just what people send back in reply, which has you filling in the blanks with your own imagination).  While it’s slow to ramp up, soon you’ve accumulated a few new BBS numbers, a couple free applications, and are indoctrinated into the wild and wooly world of 1988 hacking.

Eventually something happens — I’m not going to spoil what — and you’ll need to use all of your newly learned skills (and skillz) to get to the bottom of it.  There’s a conspiracy afoot, and you’re out to figure it out while becoming a hacking legend in your own right.

There really isn’t much “game” here, per se, just a lot of things to do to advance the plot (which is fairly linear).  Even so, it’s an engrossing experience.  The second I had to start typing in phone numbers and heard the modem connect and the BBS screens come up, a tidal wave of nostalgia crashed over me.  Even if you’re too young or weren’t into the BBS scene way back when, this is a captivating look at a pre-internet internet with a charming retro current pulling you along.

It was funny that I had a little notepad out and was scribbling down codes and phone numbers for a while, feeling as though I was back in time and checking all of this out for real.  It definitely made me miss that feeling of adventure that logging into a single BBS could provide back when all this was new instead of taken for granted.

As for the story, it’s certainly worth your time and has a few twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting.  As the title of the game suggests, it’s about love — and the connections that are formed online between lonely souls.  It’s not a super-long game (about 1 to 2 hours in length), but is such a unique experience that it promises to stick in the brain for a while after you’re done.

Monday Night Noob #2: Spiral Knights

Monday Night Noob is an ongoing series where I try a game I’ve never played before every Monday evening and write up my impressions on Tuesday.

Spiral Knights has been popping up on my radar on and off for the past month or so, although I didn’t really understand what the game was.  So for my second MNN, I cleared up a few hours and decided to investigate properly.

Spiral Knights is a colorful sci-fi/fantasy dungeon crawler where you are but one of a number of crash-landed techno-knights (cutsie as you are) who have no choice but to investigate this planet and the mysterious clockwork levels below.

I was hoping for more RPG elements and depth, but really Spiral Knights is kind of a cross-breed between the LEGO action games and, well, Zelda.  I mean, hey, I’ve got a guy with a sword hacking at bushes hoping that hearts and money drops, what else am I supposed to be thinking about?  The Zelda vibe gets even stronger when you’re looking for keys, hidden switches, and tossing around pots in an attempt to progress.

One of the neat elements is that while Spiral Knights isn’t a true MMO, it does have lobbies that allow you to form up parties of four players and head into dungeons together.  So if you’re looking for a simple hack-n-slasher to do with friends, I can imagine worse.

The game also utilizes an interesting business model.  Every day you get 100 “energy” to spend, which is usually depleted when you select a dungeon to run.  Bottom out of energy and you either have to wait until tomorrow or pony up real cash to keep on going.  I like this setup, because it makes the free game feel full-featured while giving the devs incentive to make it so addictive and fun that I’d want to play more that day even though it’d cost me.

Ultimately, I wasn’t really that hooked.  The visuals are attractive, especially for a browser-based client, and the music is so well-done that I’d love to have it on a CD, but the gameplay just felt dull and too simplistic to keep my interest for long.

Monday Night Noob #1: League of Legends

For my very first Monday Night Noob — an evening that I devoted to a game I’ve never played before — I decided to get out of my comfort zone and dive into one of those titles I’ve heard so much about yet intimidated me all the same: League of Legends.

League of Legends (or LoL for the humorously inclined) is one of those PvP MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) that have rocketed in popularity to become one of the most dominant types of games on the interwebz.  I’d certainly heard of LoL and its predecessor Defense of the Ancients, but the whole “PvP” moniker scared me away.  Up front, I’ll admit that PvP isn’t really for me.  It’s not that I refuse to participate or don’t understand what the fuss is about — I do on both fronts — but PvP for me is generally more stressful than enjoyable, especially in the face of some of the more ultra-competitive players out there.

But I did want to give it a go, and so last night I downloaded LoL — which was very fast — created an account, and logged in.  The game is a PvP match between two teams of players who are fighting across a map in an isometric view to try to blow up each other’s Nexus.  Between your base and theirs are three main lanes of conflict, several defense towers, and in-between “jungle” space that house critters that can be killed for XP and gold.

Each player chooses a champion from the dozens and dozens available, each with their own unique abilities and stats.  On top of this, champions are modified with runes (think stat builds), additional skills and loot you purchase during each game.  So it’s not just enough to know how to play your character well, but how to outfit them for victory.

One of the things I liked is that LoL is a little less twitchy and more strategic than, say, FPS matches.  Sure, the action gets thick and furious at points, but it rewards those who fight smart, and even encourages you to retreat instead of giving the enemy the kill.

Champions have six skills at their disposal, four of which can be boosted as you level up during a match.  Having so few skills helps keep the insanity to a manageable level, I found.  Alongside your champions are computer-spawned minions who fight for both sides.  Minions help you by taking the brunt of the combat, getting turret aggro, and providing you with XP and gold when killed.

I went through four matches — each consisting of about 30-50 minutes apiece — last night, two against the computer and two against human opponents.  My first impression was that the game is really good-looking, obviously drawing from World of Warcraft’s stylized cartoonish art to make a pleasant backdrop.  Each champion has a lot of character to them, and I got a laugh or two from the voice-overs that were provided.

Of course, me being me, we got trounced both times in PvP.  The first time against human opponents I chose a rather fragile character who died too often, giving the enemy a lot of gold and tipping the scales in their favor.  The second time was better, but the premade we went up against had an insanely good player who racked up tons of kills without being touched himself.

I liked the focus on teamwork; you really do have to function as a team to take the matches, so solo heroes are not welcome.  Of course, that means that there’s a lot of pressure on you to not screw up, which didn’t help with the “stressful” aspect of the games.  Snafzg and Nazgum held my hand through the matches and told me that the other players can be pretty brutal at times, but to just shake off what they say and keep on learning.

While LoL is pretty easy to pick up, I quickly saw just how much there was to learn about the game in order to excel at it.  On top of dozens and dozens of champions that you have to know well in order to counter, there are all sorts of strategies, builds and armor choices that come into play.

LoL has an excellent pricing plan.  The whole game is free-to-play with in-game store purchases.  If you don’t want to spend a dime, you don’t have to — you can buy things in the store with points you gain from matches, or if you want to speed things up, you can drop a few bucks into it.  Every week sports a number of free champions to play, so you really are never pressured into putting up cash unless you want to.  The store itself is somewhat laggy, unfortunately.

Ultimately, League of Legends is a solid game with an understandable appeal, even if it is more hardcore than I’d like with a steep learning curve.  Will I keep it on my computer?  Definitely.  I probably won’t be playing it as much as most, but I can see popping in for a match here and there to see if I can ever get a handle on it.

I’m still taking suggestions for future MNN titles — what do you think I should play?  Don’t forget to check out the new MNN page on Bio Break as well!

Announcing the Monday Night Noob

As I near the end of my final semester of seminary, I’m starting to take a look at my schedule and make a few changes.  Basically, I want to be utilizing my time better and taking on a couple projects that have been bouncing around in my head for some time now.

One of those projects is something I’m calling the Monday Night Noob (feel free to make me a cool graphic for this, internet!).  As much as I love ping-ponging between LOTRO and RIFT, I really want to experience more in gaming and encourage myself to get out and try new things.

So every Monday evening I’ll be setting aside my mainstay games to try something completely new, a game I’ve never, ever played before.  Maybe it’s a recent one, or an oldie, an MMO or something else, but I want to give more titles a try.  I’ll be announcing my Monday Night Noob project that morning, and then have a follow-up post about my experience the next day.

As part of MNN, I really want to hear from you what you think I should try out.  The only rule is that it has to be a game I haven’t laid hands on previously, and if it’s free (or has a free trial), so much the better.  Also, I’m allowing for MNN games to woo me into playing past the one night; these aren’t necessarily one-shot events.

For my first MNN, I’m going to be dipping my toes into MOBAs with League of Legends.  I’ve downloaded the client and Snafzg — who pwns religiously in LoL — has sent me a long list of starter tips, so I’m digesting those and will give it a whirl.

Any tips from you guys?  And what games should I be looking at for future Monday Night Noob sessions?