Tag Archives: Black Desert

Comparing Top Eastern vs. Western MMORPGs

The MMORPG gaming culture differs slightly between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, and game design varies accordingly. While there are no hard and fast rules, Eastern games tend to put more emphasis on quality graphics and on grind-based gameplay.

Neither model is better or worse than the other; it’s all just down to personal preference. But since most of us do tend to prefer one style or the other, it can be helpful to look at how Western and Eastern games in common genres compare. Maybe you like the ideas behind Neverwinter but would prefer a game with a more Eastern flavour, or enjoy the deep mechanics of Black Desert but want something with a more Western style.

To that end, we’ve compiled a breakdown of similar Eastern and Western games in some of the more common MMO genres.

Themepark: World of Warcraft/Final Fantasy XIV

World of Warcraft remains the undisputed king of Western MMORPGs, and even after having fallen from its peak quite a bit, it’s probably still the most successful MMO on the market.

Stormwind City in the Western MMORPG World of Warcraft

With that said, Japan’s Final Fantasy XIV has been enjoying an impressive level of success since relaunching as A Realm Reborn. Like its Western cousin, WoW, it has managed to survive as a subscription based MMO in a world where free to play and buy to play are now the norm.

Both offer very similar game mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who’s played themepark MMOs. In both, you’ll find standard tab target combat, kill and collect quests, and trinity-based group roles. FFXIV’s combat is a little slower, employing a 2.5 second global cooldown, as opposed to WoW’s 1.5 second GCD, which is lowered to one second for some classes.

Both offer deep if sometimes inconsistent lore drawn from the venerable franchises both games are based on. Final Fantasy’s graphics are more advanced and often stunning, but WoW’s have more personality.

FFXIV does offer a few features that WoW lacks. Most notably, any character can learn any class and swap between them at will, essentially eliminating the need for alts. It also offers a player housing feature, though housing plots are limited and it can be difficult to grab one.

On the other hand, World of Warcraft has the advantage of being faster-paced and less linear, and it has been around for much longer, giving it a vast reserve of legacy content that could take a new player months, if not years, to fully explore.

A forest zone in the Eastern MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Both are very polished games with a wealth of content, but there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish one from the other. If you’re already established in one, there’s little cause to switch. If you’re new to both, try both for an hour or two and see which feels better.

Sandbox: EVE Online/Black Desert Online

Icelandic made EVE Online is one of the great successes of the sandbox genre. It’s been around longer than World of Warcraft, and while it’s never been a household name, it has managed to maintain a healthy and loyal fanbase for a very long time despite being a relatively niche title.

Exploring space in the Western MMORPG EVE Online

Recently it’s been given a new rival in the sandbox field in the form of the Korean MMORPG Black Desert Online, which so far seems to be have been well-received by sandbox fans.

EVE and Black Desert are very different games in a lot of ways, but they’re both very complex, very deep games, to an extent few other MMOs could equal.

EVE is a sci-fi game that takes place in the depths of space. While you can design an avatar, in practice your character is basically whatever ship you’re piloting at the time. Black Desert employs a fantasy setting; depending on your perspective, this can be seen as a source of welcome familiarity or a lack of creativity in a genre already dominated by fantasy. Black Desert boasts impressive visual character customization to help you stand out from the crowd.

However, while it’s easy to look different in Black Desert, your character’s abilities may not be so unique, as it does rely on a fairly standard class system. EVE Online, meanwhile, has a skill-based advancement system that allows every character to grow in any direction they like.

EVE’s core gameplay is a bit stilted — it is often viewed as a game of menus and spreadsheets — whereas Black Desert utilizes a very flamboyant style of action combat. Most would agree that Black Desert has better minute-to-minute gameplay, but we haven’t seen it create the kind of devious politics, epic wars, and shocking heists that have come to define EVE Online. EVE is a game of lower lows, but also higher highs.

Both are very complex games with a steep learning curve. EVE is probably a little harder to learn — but if you’re a true EVE fan, you probably view that as a positive.

EVE is another game that’s managed to maintain a subscription-based business model, whereas Black Desert is buy to play with a cash shop.

A maewha character in the Eastern MMORPG Black Desert

Both are solid choices for the sandbox fan. Black Desert has the edge for those who want to explore a beautiful and detailed fantasy world, or those who want more natural-feeling gameplay, but EVE is a better choice for those who want to make their name on a cutthroat frontier and engage in politics on a massive scale.

Action combat grinder: Neverwinter/Vindictus

Neverwinter and Vindictus are both games with intense action combat and a strong emphasis on grinding instanced content as opposed to the open worlds of more traditional MMORPGs.

A cave in the Western MMORPG Neverwinter

Neverwinter is developed by American Cryptic Studios and is based on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting from Dungeons and Dragons, but it does take a lot of liberties with D&D mechanics, so it doesn’t hold as much appeal to pen and paper fans as you might expect.

Korea’s Vindictus is published by Nexon and serves as a prequel to Mabinogi, another MMO from the same developer.

Of the two, Neverwinter is a little closer to a traditional MMORPG and offers a slightly more robust experience. It does have open world zones to be explored in addition to dungeon crawls, and it makes at least some effort to be a full-fledged RPG, whereas Vindictus is more of an arcade experience, putting a laser focus on constant dungeon-crawls.

Notably, Neverwinter offers a standard set of classes and races to choose from, whereas players in Vindictus choose from pre-established characters and can only customize them to a limited degree.

Neither game is going to win much praise for its story-telling ability, but Neverwinter has a slight edge in that regard. Similarly, neither boasts top of the line graphics, but Vindictus tends to look a little better.

Both offer as their main virtue brutal action combat, and while both games’ combat is excellent, a slight edge should probably be given to Vindictus for offering slightly more depth and interactivity. In Vindictus, players may, for instance, grab objects from the environment — or even enemies — and hurl them as crude projectiles.

Both games are free to play and offer a lot of gameplay without spending a cent, but in both cases you’ll eventually have to make use of the cash shop if you want to maximize your performance in the later stages of the game.

A character in the Eastern MMORPG Vindictus

Neverwinter is the better choice if you want something closer to a traditional MMO experience, but Vindictus is superior if you want to focus on maximum brutality and mayhem.

ARPG: Diablo III/Devilian

Once again proving that Blizzard is the goose that laid the golden egg, Diablo III is the biggest name in the action RPG field. It had some stumbles at launch, but following the well received Reaper of Souls expansion, it’s now in a very healthy state.

A crusader character in the Western ARPG Diablo III

There isn’t a lot of competition for D3 from the East right now, but if you’re eager for an ARPG with some Asian flair, Devilian would probably be your best bet, at least until Lost Ark gets a Western release.

In terms of core gameplay, they’re both very much the standard ARPG fare. Click, kill, loot, repeat. Devilian modifies the formula slightly by giving players alternate demonic forms they can transform into for a temporary power boost.

Diablo III is pure buy to play — no micro-transactions at all, though you do need to buy the expansion separately — whereas Devilian is free to play with a cash shop.

Most would tend to agree that Diablo is the better game, but Devilian does have a few advantages going for it. It is a bit closer to the traditional MMO experience; you’ll be sharing the game world with other players, and there’s some degree of visual character customization. By comparison, Diablo III is closer to a single-player game with co-op support, and players can only choose their class and gender.

A screenshot from Korean ARPG Devilian

It’s also worth noting that Diablo III hasn’t gotten any significant content updates in quite a while now. There’s some speculation over a potential expansion announcement at this year’s Gamescom or BlizzCon, but right now it’s only wild guesses and rumors based on dubious evidence. For now the future of the game is very uncertain.


High Fantasy MMORPGs Still Dominate

MMORPGs are a genre of game that is not, shall we say, known for wild creativity and endless diversity. That is, if you play a lot of MMOs for any length of time, you’ll notice the same themes just keep coming up. This isn’t half as bad as it was a few years ago, when seemingly everyone was trying to clone World of Warcraft down to the finest detail, but you’ll still notice a lot of common threads through most games.

A winged character demonstrates the high fantasy elements of World of Warcraft

One of these is use of fantasy settings. The overwhelming majority of MMORPGs feature some sort of secondary world high fantasy setting, from old classics like EverQuest and World of Warcraft to newer titles like Black Desert. Sci-fi is a minority, and less exotic settings are rare indeed.

Have you paused to wonder why that is? What is it that makes the high fantasy MMORPGs so omnipresent, even when many players say they want variety? We thought that was a topic worth investigating.

Freedom:

One of the greatest advantages of the fantasy genre is that it has no limits. Anything the human mind can imagine has a place in fantasy. There are no limitations.

This gives developers incredible freedom when it comes to designing systems and environments. Want to do a zone that’s nothing but islands floating in an ocean of magic? Sure, why not? How about having players sprout wings and fight each other in a surreal nether realm? Fund it. A race of humanoid cats with demonic horns? Go ahead.

Other genres are far more limiting. You can’t suddenly drop a new race of semi-humans into a game set in the real world. Even fantasy’s close cousin, science fiction, has to put a least some effort towards realism. Fantasy has no such limits.

Of course, once a fantasy setting has been established, there’s a certain need to be consistent within its rules and internal logic, but when laying the groundwork, the sky’s the limit.

Battling a fantastical beast in the science fantasy MMORPG Skyforge

This may be part of why even MMORPGs that do favour sci-fi settings tend to present them with a twist of fantasy flavor. For example, Skyforge, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or WildStar. These games still utilize magic (or magic analogues) and fantastical beasts because technology along doesn’t offer enough  variety. The fantasy elements create a larger, more exciter world for an MMO.

The freedom of high fantasy offers a certain psychological hook for players, as well. Not all developers make good use of the freedom of fantasy, relying on familiar tropes rather than embracing creativity, but even in such games, the knowledge that anything is possible and anything can happen is exciting.

Inertia:

A good deal of the continued popularity of high fantasy settings in MMORPGs may be down to simple inertia. It’s what’s proven popular before, so the industry isn’t well incentivized to shake things up. MMOs are very expensive to produce, and that makes developers and publishers understandably risk-adverse. They’re not keen to take chances when they can bet on a sure thing.

And while it would be too cynical to blame all of fantasy’s popularity on laziness, it’s probably fair to say that creative bankruptcy does play a role in some cases. Some developers don’t want to put that much effort into their worlds, so they just throw together a generic world of Elves, dragons, and bearded wizards.

But inertia isn’t entirely a negative or a sign of laziness. Familiarity lowers the barrier to entry in a game. A fantasy setting carries with it a built-in set of tropes and archetypes that makes it easier to standardize mechanics somewhat.

For example, if you played a mage in Game A, there’s a pretty good chance playing a mage in Game B will provide much the same experience, shortening your learning curve. This makes it a lot easier for people to make decisions on what to play, to understand their roles in a group setting, and to know what to expect from a game in general. This might be part of the reason people keep coming back to high fantasy MMORPGs, even when they claim they want something fresh.

A Foundry quest in Neverwinter demonstrates the potential of high fantasy

There’s history to consider, as well. The earliest roots of MMORPGs can be traced back to tabletop role-playing, and while that eventually grew to include many genres, tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons were originally high fantasy through and through. Fantasy as a genre is hard-coded into the most fundamental DNA of the RPG genre, including MMORPGs.

Fantasy has been such a big part of the MMO landscape for so long that it’s hard to even separate the genre’s core mechanics from such a setting. The traditional melee tank role, for instance, is hard to translate to a modern or futuristic setting, because why would you run into close quarters when guns are an option? It’s not an unsolvable problem, but it illustrates how core the fantasy setting has become to MMORPGs.

Media:

Another factor may be that fantasy has been on the rise in popular culture even outside of the gaming world.

Long held to be the domain of greasy nerds in their parents’ basements, perhaps even more so than sci-fi, fantasy is starting to become cool.

The Harry Potter films and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were massive box office hits and went a long towards bringing fantasy into the mainstream. HBO’s Game of Thrones has established itself as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows on television, further legitimizing the genre

Suddenly fantasy has clout, and more and more people are looking to jump on the bandwagon. MTV has adapted Terry Brooks’ Shannara books into a TV series. Netflix is doing the same with the Legend of Zelda games.

A landscape in the high fantasy MMORPG Guild Wars 2

So it seems MMOs have simply been ahead of the curve. Fantasy is becoming the in-thing, and here are MMOs with a vast stable of ready-made fantasy games. With the genre continuing to gain increased mainstream popularity, a high fantasy MMORPG has more reasons than ever to stick to their swords and sorcery.


Six MMOs to Watch in 2016

A new year — and a shiny new site — are upon us, and now is the perfect time to take a look at what 2016 will offer for MMO gamers everywhere. Today, we’ll be covering the titles most worthy of your attention in the coming year, from exciting new entries in the genre to old favorites with interesting new developments coming down the pipe.

Blade and Soul:

Blade and Soul fight

North American MMO players have had a long wait to get their hands on this title, which has been live in Korea for some time, but after years of waiting, Blade and Soul is finally on its way to the West.

This free to play wuxia-themed MMO promises combo-focused action combat inspired by fighting games, stylized graphics, and competitve one-on-one PvP .

It looks like a pretty exciting title, but Korean games do have a somewhat mixed history in the West, and Blade and Soul’s North American release was delayed long enough that some of the initial hype has died down. We’ll have to wait and see how it does when it launches on January 19th.

If nothing else, the martial arts theme does offer a welcome break from the Tolkien-inspired fantasy settings that have long dominated the Western market.

World of Warcraft:

WoW Legion Suramar previewWorld of Warcraft has had a pretty rough go of things lately. The Warlords of Draenor expansion has been harshly criticized for a lack of content, a bizarre storyline, and several questionable design decisions, such as attempting to disable flying mounts in all new content.

As a result, WoW lost nearly half its players in six months, and subscriber counts are now lower than they have been since before the launch of the first expansion nearly ten years ago.

But even vastly diminished from its once dizzying heights, WoW remains the largest pay to play MMO on the market by a significant margin, and Blizzard isn’t taking its decline lying down.

Later this year, WoW is set to launch its Legion expansion, bringing a return of the Warcraft universe’s most iconic threat, the Burning Legion, and at last adding the oft-requested demon hunter class.

Even if it’s not the titan it once was, WoW remains a pillar of the MMO genre, and if Legion does well, we could perhaps see it reclaim some of its former glory.

Star Citizen:

star-citizenThe MMO community loves controversy, and at this point, Star Citizen may have taken the crown for most controversial title in the industry.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi MMO is either a promising new space sim, a messianic savior coming to deliver the MMO genre from publisher-mandated mediocrity, the poster child for feature creep and unrealistic ambition, or a shameless scam to harvest cash from gullible gamers without ever delivering a finished product.

No matter what perspective you take, Star Citizen is a fascinating game to watch, and even if it doesn’t launch this year — or at all — it’s already providing endless entertainment. Some of the best PvP around can be found in discussions over the crowdfunded title.

Black Desert:

Black_Desert_SceneBlack Desert is an ambitious new buy to play sandbox from Korean developer Pearl Abyss. Already launched in Asia, Black Desert is hoping to launch in North America sometime this year.

Some of Black Desert’s selling features include frenetic action combat, a dynamic weather system that impacts gameplay, gorgeous graphics, extensive support for player housing, a conversation mini-game with NPCs, and deep crafting and trading systems.

Black Desert is another Eastern game that has long been anticipated in the West, and in a lot of ways, its story echoes that of ArcheAge. Both ambitious, visually spectacular Korean sandboxes hoping to find a following in North America.

ArcheAge has suffered more than a few setbacks and controversies — from server instability to questionable cash shop practices — so a lot of the hopes that once rested on it have now been placed squarely on Black Desert’s shoulders. Will it live up to the hype, or fizzle as did ArcheAge? Only time will tell.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:

SWTOR agent 5Star Wars: The Old Republic went through some big changes in 2015. With the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, Bioware radically changed the game’s leveling path, along with a number of other systems, to put the focus squarely on the main storyline, rather than the side quests and other filler content that garnered the game much criticism.

Meanwhile, Knights of the Fallen Empire’s new content has thus far focused almost entirely on single-player story content, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon.

This change in direction is very gutsy, and it puts the focus squarely on Bioware’s strengths — namely personal story — but these changes also amount to an attempt to excise much of the MMO elements from SW:TOR, and that has garnered criticism from some players.

2016 is the year where we’ll learn whether Bioware’s gamble has paid off. It will be very interesting to see if SW:TOR continues this focus on solo story, or backtracks towards a more traditional MMO content model.

EverQuest Next:

EverQuest-Next-Screens-Player-CharacterThe third entry in the EverQuest franchise made a big splash when it was first announced a few years ago with its promises of adaptive NPC AI, unlimited multi-classing, a reboot of EverQuest lore, and a voxel-based world to shape or destroy as you see fit. But since then, there hasn’t been much news. EQN’s spin-off/test bed, Landmark, has languished in early access for some time, while news on EQN itself has been scarce.

A lot of fans have grown concerned, fearing that EverQuest Next will never see the light of day. But Daybreak Games insists work on the title is ongoing, and with Landmark theoretically nearing completion, their focus should now shift to EQN.

2016 is the year we’ll see what Daybreak has been cooking up all this time, and whether EverQuest Next is the transformative game it was thought to be when it was first announced.