Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Broke Video Gamer: Continent of the Ninth Seal Review

Every time I place myself into an MMO, I go in with hopes of finding new friends, building a massive army, and taking over/destroying that world. This week, my tendencies for escapism took me to the Continent of the Ninth Seal, aka C9. It is an MMORPG released by Webzen Games in July of 2012. The pretty ads on Steam and the awesome trailer were more than enough to have me start the lengthy download and patch process. Let’s see if this one is ripe for harvest to feed my delusions of grandeur.

Click for the entire review.

The game starts off with a weak story. It is meant to be an initial tutorial session on the basic movements and actions in the game. You fight your way into town to find the city in flames and besieged by monsters. You run around, clearing out the streets and making sure the residents are safe. This introductory quest is undertaken alone, even though the town is populated by player characters. None of them can help you because you don’t actually get to meet them until after the fires are extinguished and the intruders are slain. Once this is done, you are dropped into the MMO environment in the town of Waterford.

Having an such an introduction into an MMO is weird. I’d expect to find something like that in a standalone RPG like Skyrim or Neverwinter Nights. Most times, an MMO provides an open-ended background of where you came from and brings you to the launchpad of adventure without much fanfare. It’s understood you’re there looking for adventure in a sandbox open world. C9 does this differently and I don’t think it works. The biggest failing with this approach smacked me right in the face after I rolled another toon to try out the other classes: The same introductory story repeated itself. There should’ve at least been a different story for how each class came to be and how they get into town. The same city can’t possibly burst into flames every time a new adventurer pops into existence!

Where C9 lacks in diverse storylines, it more than makes up for in class selection and customization. There are four different classes to choose from: Fighter (melee), Hunter (ranged combat), Shaman (ranged magic), and Witchblade (magic and melee). Each of those classes have a variety of unique skills and abilities they acquire as they level up. When level 20 is reached, the player gets to make one more selection between four subclasses per class, each with differentiating skillsets. This explains why there are twelve slots for character creation. This can equate to countless hours of game time if one is curious enough to go through all of the subclasses.

To start things out, I decided to go with the very attractive-looking Witchblade class. I spent the next few gaming sessions with this initial character. She took part in some of the most fluid battles I’ve ever seen in an MMO. I spent a lot of hours in intuitive hack-and-slash button-mashing mode, a novel experience in the MMO genre. The combos were tight, the enemies plentiful. Swings of my sword were quickly followed by blasts of magical ability. I ended the lives of many.

There’s also a crafting system to be taken advantage of. Players can undertake an apprenticeship in hopes of becoming a master artisan. There are several to choose from (Metalworking, Alchemy, Chef, Tailoring, and Woodworking).The hunt for crafting components will give players yet another reason to keep traveling through the swirling wormholes to imp or goblin-infested mines or forests or what have you.

The environment is not seamless as one would expect to find in an MMO. Travel between areas is done through portals. This seems to be the only means to go from one area to another. This is another aspect of the game I found lacking. Not having a more open-ended world where one can walk, run, or ride something between cities and dungeons detracts from the persistence and immersive nature of an MMO universe. From a developer’s perspective, separate areas are more manageable and easier to maintain and update. That being the case, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect better graphics for this game. What I found were run-of-the-mill visuals one can find on any other fantasy MMO. Sound effects were generic and the voice acting in NPCs was lacking and uninspired.

Despite the number of people running around town, I started to feel lonely. While I was able to join a guild, their chat channel was mostly silent. Also distinctly lacking is the absence of requests for groups or group members on the general chat channel. I went through the low level questing instances several times on all the difficulty levels but never was I ever compelled to find a group to tackle them with. It was unnecessary: I had the skills to conquer them on my own. It was as if the game was originally created as a single-player campaign. The massively-multiplayer aspect felt tacked on.

When I checked the real-money purchasing system, what I found were entire gear sets for sale. For this reason, I decided not to put any coins into this arcade box. When real money start to affect the outcome of gameplay, it stops being a fair game. It would’ve been okay if this was a solo adventure or a Neverwinter Nights-style dungeon crawl. However, there is PvP in the game which I avoided. I didn’t want to face someone who potentially had better gear because they decided to plunk down some cash.

The weak storyline, lacking PvP and group options, repetitive quests, and uninspiring environment notwithstanding, this is actually a really fun game. If all you care about is hack-and-slash, there are a ton of mobiles in the instances waiting to meet your blade or blasts of magicks. There is enough gear dropping in these instances, to be built in the artisan shops, or available for purchase in exchange for cold hard cash. The character classes provide a lot of customization through the availability of learnable skills and subclasses. All these elements combine to help bring a character together for a player to really care about. One just has to put their delusions of grandeur away due to the lack of a more robust environment and storyline. At the price of free, the game is easily worth the Steam download.

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