Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle Review

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Publisher: NCsoft
Developer: NCsoft

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, GeForce 2 class video card with 32 MB VRAM, 2.2 GB HD space, DirectX 8.1, Windows 98 or more recent operating system (But you're going to want much better stuff than this to run Lineage II for real)

The persistent-world massively multiplayer game Lineage is back, and this time it aims to compete outside Asia. Freshly minted in 3D with graphics powered by the Unreal engine, Lineage II brings its core concept of a clan versus clan struggle for the domination of castles and countryside to bear in a shiny new package. And if you think you've seen Dark Elves before, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen one in a leather thong.

Rob de los Reyes

It's pretty, and it's three dimensional. So if you were expecting to see that pixelated, sparsely-animated, isometric-view MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) that captured the imagination of the Pacific Rim countries, look again. Lineage II boasts strong visuals, including smooth and detailed animations that are striking by any standard, but especially when compared to the rest of the current crop of MMOGs. And while new games frequently push the graphical edge in an attempt to one-up the competition, there's more at stake here for NCsoft than claiming a temporary throne as graphics king in the genre.

The original Lineage was wildly popular. In Asia. But despite at least two different attempts to push into North America, Lineage simply couldn't find a foothold. It turns out that there are some fairly striking differences of playstyle and game preference between the West and the East, and the original Lineage just couldn't quite get the twain to meet. Perhaps because of the system requirements, Koreans, Taiwanese, and Chinese have – at least until recently – seemed to prefer two-dimensional graphics, and they don't seem as hell-bent on micro-personalizing their characters as Westerners. The original Lineage had only a small handful of character types. NCsoft reasoned, almost certainly correctly, that it would never make headway outside Asia unless it gave us 3D graphics and the ability to create unique characters. Lineage II mostly handles this much with aplomb. Certainly, Lineage II is much more recognizable and comfortable for Westerners than its predecessor. But even a few days in the game world is enough to realize that there are yet other bridges to build or that, perhaps, some gaps simply can't be crossed.

Be a Clan, Be a Clan, Be a Clan

The hook Lineage II offers is much the same as its predecessor. The high-level game involves a competition amongst player clans for control of various strongholds throughout the world. When a clan takes control of a stronghold, it gets some control over the area around it. The controlling clan, for example, sets the tax rate on merchant sales. (Beyond winning and losing a siege, the siege is meant to be a reward unto itself: a set-piece battle with all the castle-storming equipment a digital warrior could ask for.) Since control of the strongholds is meant to play such a dramatic role in the actual game experience, capturing one is made difficult. Only clans of a certain size and level are permitted to contest a stronghold. Moreover, assembling a high-level clan isn't simply a matter of a standing in a newbie zone and signing up recruits. Clans are limited in size by their level, and levels are raised through a combination of questing and the expenditure of large amounts of personal skill points and adena (the game currency). Given the cost, most guilds recruit carefully and demand high entry fees.

In other words, participating in the high-level game (including fancy things like raising dragon mounts) requires serious time and effort by the players. There's a sense of reward in that, but there's also a cost. Most people play MMOGs to play with friends. And most MMOGs give friends who band together in clans (or guilds) in-game communication tools that make it easy to play together. Here, because clan-building is difficult, it can take quite awhile before you get some of the very basic tools that let people scattered over real world distances find each other and play together in-game. If you're playing in a PC salon in Seoul, this delayed clan-building may not be an issue. Frequently, clan members all play out of the same salon, so communication isn't a problem. Here in the States, where most people play at home alone, those communication tools are essential. The delay in getting them is absolutely agonizing.

The delay is even more agonizing in light of a steep leveling curve which, purposefully or otherwise, discourages grouping until level twenty. Playing a few hours a night with your first character, you might need a two weeks to get to twenty and your first meaningful character transition. (The early game seems designed with twinked characters in mind, not new ones.) A steep death penalty slows progress even more if you're reckless or just unluckily close to a monster spawn. And so, unless you have a clan particularly dedicated to this game, you're looking at one of the slowest early-game experiences around. Spell casters will rely on the same two or three spells from level six to level twenty. Fighters will rely on the same one or two attacks. Superlative as they are, watching the same combat effects over and over wears thin. And, while it's happily true that Lineage II does offer more tactical combat options than the average MMOG, each character excels at one type of fighting ... which he'll do over and over, by himself, in the long march to level twenty and his first profession change.

The Lady's Not for Grouping

Dungeons might be a good place to meet people and group up, and the dungeons here are attractive and interestingly designed. The problem is that the dungeons are absolutely dominated by high level characters soloing entire rooms of lower level monsters in order to farm for adena. Again, because Lineage II seems designed with twinked characters in mind, equipping a new character is expensive and adena is hard to come by. Here again, in many ways, the struggle is rewarding. But the struggle also creates the incentive for farming and, at least so far, the farmers are winning the struggle. At a time when so many of the latest wave of MMOGs are exploring the notion of instanced dungeons to avoid this very issue, Lineage II seems an odd throwback. Perhaps worse than the farmers are the people who complain about the farmers in endless shout messages, usually tinged with indiscriminate slurs against Asian players. You could turn off the shout channel, but then, solo and clanless, you really are alone.

Were you so inclined (and high enough level to do it) you could kill the farmer and clear out a room. The other major hook offered by Lineage II is its rough and tumble PvP (player vs. player) world. Towns are safe from combat, but the second you step outside the walls, you're fair game. Many PvP-oriented games include whole safe zones for newbies to hunt in. Not so here. This reviewer's first character needed thirty minutes to cross from the character creation spawn area to the Dark Elf town some 200 yards away because players were simply camped outside the spawn area killing anything that moved.

Yet, in a curious contradiction, random PKing (player killing) is fairly rare outside the newbie spawn areas (where perhaps many other relative newbies are just trying to explore the PvP function). The penalties for random killing are high, as a rudimentary karma system heaps consequences on slayers of the innocent. Even one random killing can deny you the privileges of shopping in towns and turn you into a penalty-free murder for anyone interested in taking a pot shot at you. The real PvP game lies in the castle sieges which, more than a month after launch, are finally slated for implementation.

A Tale of Two Games

Briefly, as good-looking as it is and as interesting and novel as its character skill/profession system is, Lineage II feels much like yesterday's MMOG. To the extent you've enjoyed such games all along, this may not be an issue. But many of what seem like minor advancements in the genre are missing here, such as a centralized market system for selling goods. Instead, sales from player to player are handled by sitting in town with a sign over your head advertising wares, and the presence of scores of sign-bearing players brings in-town frame rates to a crawl. And many of Lineage II's good ideas seem underdone. The otherwise welcome in-game map shows only a small portion of the game world at a time and cannot be resized. Characters' physical appearance, while much more customizable than before, is still very limited compared to other MMOGs. Still, if you're a member of a sizeable clan or guild that is dedicated to Lineage II, there is a great deal to find here that you simply won't find anywhere else. You'll discover ways around most of the nuisances and be drawn to the upper-level game which belongs almost exclusively to elite clans. But if you're looking for a game to hop into, make a few friends and seek out group adventures, come with extraordinary patience or don't come at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 30, 2004 7:09 PM.

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