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Lineage 2 Review
Ekim, 2004-06-22

I've been struggling with how to start this review. Please stay with me as what I'll say might seem a little contradictory at first. Lineage 2 is very addictive, but for all the wrong reasons. You see, at times Lineage 2 (L2 from now on) is a chaotic game, much as its subtitle implies. It's a player-vs-player (PvP) game if there ever was one and is much better than Shadowbane is in my opinion. But that doesn't mean that L2 should have any merit for how it plays, or forces you to play it. A game should try and be original in most aspects, and not seem like a melting pot of everything that's been done before. Furthermore, a game should feel like it has evolved from games that have come before, that the developers have learned from the failures, or weaknesses of other games. Sadly, L2 does nothing to further the genre, brings nothing new, and sometimes even brings the worst elements of other games back to life. Is it enjoyable? It is, as long as you know what you're getting into and as long as you're willing to endure the lengths to which the game sometimes goes to make your life miserable.

I want to be a Template
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A player's first experience with any MMORPG is with the character creation process. Here is where a player creates his online identity. In L2, you select your race from a standard choice of fantasy creatures (Human, Elf, Dark Elf, Orc or Dwarf). You will then select your character's class which at first seems limited. It is actually very limited. In fact your only two options are whether you will be a fighter or a mystic (magic-user). Dwarves can only be fighters. You then select the gender of your avatar and its name. If you're like most players, you will gleefully keep the physical appearance options for last since that's where the most fun can be had. Well, you can skip everything and do it first in L2 because the physical customization level is absolutely the worst I've seen. I think Ultima 7 had more portrait selections than L2 has. Most combinations of race/class/gender will have a choice of 4-7 hair styles, and a whopping 2 for facial features! Have we gone back in time? Have I not praised SWG's character customization options enough?

Once you step into the gameworld you will be treated with a parade of similar-looking avatars passing by you one after another. Once you get to higher levels some differences start appearing because of the types of different armour that players will be wearing, but since even these all look the same you are bound to come across a player that looks exactly like you once or twice every game session.

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The avatars are absolutely wonderful to look at. The models are exquisitely detailed, the animations are fluid and graceful. The anime style of the characters fits very well with this type of game, but those who shun that artistic style may be turned off by some races, especially the Dark Elves. Be that as it may it doesn't change the fact that there is way too little customization offered here.

What about stats? Well, L2 gives everyone the same stats based on their choice of race and class. Again, this seems disappointing because you just can't customize your own character. It does offer a particularly well balanced playing field though. And in the context of a full PvP game, I will grant that it's a necessity to have good balance. Players are their own worst enemy and when you let them make a fighter with only 10 strength, you're bound to hear them crying to injustice the first time they get squashed to a pulp. To avoid that, a cookie-cutter template is a justifiable solution.

The skills system is quite interesting. A player gains skill points for every kill instead of being given a set amount once he gains a level. As he advances, the player can add new skills or upgrade those he already has by visiting a trainer. For the first 20 levels everyone has pretty much the same skills across all races, depending on whether you're a Fighter or a Mystic. It's after level 20 that things get really interesting, when you get to choose a new career path. At this point the player gets some more specific skills which are not necessarily available to everyone else. Again at level 40 things get even more interesting with the final path change (Chronicle 2 is also said to have level 60 class changes coming), which further specializes your character into what he or she will become. The road leading to that choice is sometimes discouraging if you are not aware of what's coming. To anyone new to the game, it often seems like every player looks and plays the same.

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The mechanics behind the skills system, and the way the new sets are gradually awarded to a player is quite clever. It leaves you wanting to get to the next level you need for your reward (for fighters, level 24, 28, 32, etc). Even though the road there is sometimes long and hard, it never feels too far away. Making it to level 20 is really a big deal and changes gameplay dramatically from that point on. This is especially true after spending 19 long levels (dozens of hours of play…and more) trying to make it with a meagre set of generic skills. It's satisfying, but it's also disconcerting because one wonders how long it will take before he or she gets to the next step, level 40. And that, my friend, is an unspeakably long way off.

The Vicious Circle of Grind
I wish I didn't have to talk about the *G* word anymore… but I do. If you think you've experienced grind before, then perhaps you haven't played L2. Or maybe there's a game out there that I haven't played, but suffice to say that L2 is one huge grind-fest from any angle you look at it. First, you have the usual grind associated with gaining XP and levels. That's nothing new, of course, and those already accustomed to it might just brush it off and live with it, as I did.

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While you grind out your XP you might decide to concentrate on gathering money, or Adena as the currency is called in L2. Brace yourself, because L2's economy is a harsh one, even brutal. Prices on items as essential as weapons and armour are jacked up so high from the beginning that one cannot help but feel overwhelmed. The worst part is that the game teases you as you level up early in the game, making you think that you're gaining adena more quickly than you are. In fact, the next weapon/armour tiers are priced so high that a player can't help but be shocked once he gets back to the shop with "only" a few thousand Adenas in his pockets.

In fact the game often feels like it forces a player to farm. Farming is killing lower-level mobs to gather money rapidly, usually sacrificing one's XP gains for it. In L2 farming gets to a whole new level thanks to "bots". Bots are automated player characters. Players purchase a small macro program which executes a series of functions associated with the game to create a completely automated character. Without supervision, the character runs around, targets a specific type of monster, kills it, gathers any loot, targets the next mob, and so on. These bots create havoc on most servers as they rapidly empty whole areas of attackable mobs in record time. Even worse, because these bots are fully automated they often go about kill-stealing real players' targets, which does not make for a happy community.

At higher levels the farming you'll have to go through is sometimes depressingly boring. The only solution against the boredom is to group with other players. Grouping lets you gain fast XP, but sacrifices your Adena gains dramatically. So the dynamic one will most often find themselves in at higher levels looks a little bit like this: group to grind XP, gain a level or two, leave the group to farm Adena, buy new equipment to be more effective in groups, rinse, repeat.

Swords R' Us
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Once you have enough money, you might think the grind is over for a while? Far from it. Now if you sell your old weapon you'll have farmed enough Adena to buy that shiny new sword, or that tough-looking new set of armour. The prices in the shops are much too high to even be considered, so the best option is to turn towards other players who want to sell their gear. Selling your gear at the NPC store is a bad option since they will buy them at roughly half the price you would have paid for them at the shop, sometimes hundreds of thousand Adenas below what a player would pay for it!

L2 is nice enough to come standard with a private store function, which lets your avatar sit down on the ground and become an instant shop. Oh, but wait… you have to be online while your avatar is in store mode… and you can't move… So, in other words, you're stuck waiting for a player to buy whatever you have to sell, and can't even run around to go about the other grinding you have to do. This is, perhaps, the stupidest system I have ever seen implemented, and I'm trying very hard to remain kind here. A bazaar system akin to what SWG offers, or another simple offline system that would enable you to leave your avatar in NPC mode to sell your stuff while you're sleeping would have gone a long way in helping the players. But there's none of that. The competition becomes so fierce when many players are trying to sell the same item that it borders on the ridiculous. So, here too, the game forces you to grind to sell your products, repeatedly announcing which items you want to sell over the shout and trade channels until someone finally answers and buys it. If you're very lucky this will happen within minutes. But more realistically this often takes hours. Most people just set their shops up and leave the game running while they go about their real lives, which creates terrible lag in most major cities. Where's the fun in that?

Killing is as killer does
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PvP… Let me first say that I won't be telling you how unfair the game is, or how wrong some people are to take their high-level character to the entrance of a newbie city and beat on the poor low-level saps to get their money. You should expect that when you play a full PvP game, and there's no amount of crying that will get you out of it. If you just read this and you know you won't like it, then don't play this game!

Since it is a very large part of what makes L2 what it is, how is the PvP anyway? As of this moment, PvP is pretty limited to some occasional random killings out in the wild, or near city entrances. Some players who are more courageous than others (or just plain more powerful, if not just foolish) enjoy some PK (Player Killing) time just about anywhere they please, choosing their helpless victims among the less likely to offer any kind of opposition. But this is all fair game in an environment such as this. L2 promises large-scale battles for control over a few castles spread strategically across the land, but since that's not implemented yet we might as well just go out and look for trouble.

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In a semi-effective attempt to discourage grief-players (people who make it a business to make other people's online lives miserable), L2 has a Karma system. Killing someone who didn't agreee to a fight turns you into an instantly identifiable bad guy. Essentially, this means that if you get attacked and you don't fight back, but the attacker continues to beat on you until you're dead it makes him a bad guy and earns him Karma points. The PK's name then turns red, and anyone who kills him while his karma is up will have no penalty even if he doesn't fight back. A player that has a PK status may drop items upon death too, which is supposed to further discourage anyone from doing it. In practice though, things work a little differently, and fixes to the system have been promised.

It's impossible to say how good or bad castle sieges will play yet. All I can safely say is that I'm doubtful it will be anything smooth. Lag will be a major factor, and if walking in Gludio Castle city is any indication of how the game struggles with a few dozen players hanging around one place makes the game stutter, one can only shiver at the thought of your life depending on lag…

In a full PvP game, death is somewhat of an important issue. As in all MMORPGs, death needs a certain sting, without being crippling. Although L2's death system seems at first like a step backwards, it does fit well with this type of game. Upon death a player loses 7-10% of his total experience points, which may incur a loss of level. At higher levels, players may also lose one or two items upon death, which is a sting far more crippling than the XP loss. It becomes frustrating after 2 or 3 deaths in a row, but if a player is careful there's no reason why that should happen. Of course, it's hard to say how the castle sieges will impact this. Since in my experience death is very much a part of any large scale battles in MMORPGs, I'm a little skeptical on how well players will accept losing a few levels during a siege.
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