The original Lineage was a huge success in Asia, with reports of millions of regular players participating in the simple Diablo-esqe online role-playing game. And yet, despite a deep political system, unrestricted Player-versus-Player combat, plenty of quests and loot to beg, borrow or steal, it never captured the imagination of the West (i.e. North America), therefore never recieved a European release. Arguably, some of the lack of success in the lucrative US market could be attributed to the fact that the isometric (and simple) ‘look’ didn’t fit in with competition of the time (Everquest and Dark Ages of Camelot both being fully 3d titles). Whatever the reason, it hasn’t put off NC Soft, and so here we are with Lineage II – subtitled The Chaotic Chronicle – which has made the transition into full 3D (it uses a modified Unreal engine). Promising more of the same in a 3d environment, plus the ‘end-game’ allure of castle sieges (against player-controlled clans), we’ve had a chance to put in some playtime to give you an idea of the first few hours play in this fantasy world.
On installing the game and running the file checker (which took an astounding six hours to check and update on a T1 line, fact fans) you’ll be able to create your first character, in what is best described as a streamlined process; indeed, you’ll probably spend more time on choosing a name for your avatar, than any other aspect. Once you have selected your starting race (out of a choice of Humans, Elves, Dark Elves, Orcs and Dwarves), and specialisation (fighter or mystic, although Dwarves are not able to become mystics), you are pretty much done. In a departure from most other MMORPG’s, you don’t get to alter any starting stats (they are all predefined by race and profession), so no agonising over whether or not that extra point in strength will make all the difference. What it does mean though, is that in conjunction with the very limited choice of physical features there is very little difference in characters of the same race. Everquest II’s character creation kit this is not.
Digital representation sorted, you’ll be whisked away to your race’s starting town. They all vary in graphical style, location on the world map and player population, but all share the same essential non-player character (NPC) guides to help you get started. Having created a Dark Elf Mystic I spawned in the Dark Elf town (which is inside a mountain). Speaking to the NPC nearest to me initiated the first in a series of short tutorials, designed to help you get used to the interface and the game world. For those familiar with these style of games this can be ignored for the most part, although completing it does yield an item of worth, so it doesn’t hurt to do them.
Tutorials done, it was time to go out into the big, bad world. As is standard fare for online role-players, the only way to progress is to kill or quest. Quests are either hunting or delivery based, and add nothing to the genre. Hunting in Lineage II does stray somewhat from normal conventions however, in that killing monsters earns you both experience points and skill points. Whereas experience points will increase your overall hit-points and magic points as you level up, skill points are used to learn new skills from the various NPC trainers scattered around the game world. Whilst in theory this should mean that characters begin to complement each other with different skill sets, in reality it isn’t an issue, because you end up with enough skill points to buy all the available skills and so you are probably the same as the person next to you, differing only slightly in appearance. Specialisation doesn’t kick in until you get to level 20, when you are able to choose a job (which is governed by your race and initial choice of mystic or fighter), which opens different skills to you. You can further specialise at level 40, though you have to wonder how many people will get that far.
As is the norm, the core method of progression is through combat, which is as simplistic as the character creation; simply select a target and click on a spell to cast (if you are a mystic), or click on attack (if you are a fighter) and repeat until death occurs. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. So far my combat experiences have been less-than-stellar, and have relied only on alternating between my two main attack spells. The only drama has come from unintentionally straying into another monsters’ ‘zone’, resulting in a gatecrasher wanting to tango with me. At this point it is a fight-or-flight scenario; on occasion I’ve been brave enough to try and take both on at once (and died valiantly, I might add), or just run. I did run all the way back to my home town once, where I expected the NPC guards to dispatch my aggressor, only for them to casually ignore it, resulting in my death. Ho-hum.
On the subject of death, this is also treated differently to other games. Standard conventions of the genre dictate that your equipment is never lost, and your level will never decrease below your current one no matter how many times you die. Lineage II dispenses with this, though, in that it is possible to lose levels and items upon death. So in theory you can, if you keep dying, lose a lot of your hard work; harsh, true, but this is very much a game aimed at the more hardcore element, which translates as the level-grind. Is creeps up on you fairly quickly, as does the need to kill for money, without which your equipment will forever be well below the cutting-edge. As testament to this, the first weapon I could buy from a trader cost 940 adena (the currency of the world). The next one up from that costs 15,000. Bit of a jump, no?
Still, whilst killing hundreds of monsters, you’ll appreciate how the game looks. The graphics are great (although Everquest II has potentially overtaken Lineage II in this respect) and the character models (both human and monsters) are detailed enough. Armour will appear on your character in most circumstances, although not hats, for some reason. The ambient sounds are pleasant and not intrusive and add to the atmosphere, and occasionally the game’s orchestral soundtrack will stir into action when you are in certain areas. Monsters will grunt and shriek every so often when in combat, although the spells (so far) neither sound powerful, nor look it. And as you’ll do a lot of killing, it’s a little bit of a let-down.
Of course, all the killing is more fun with like-minded folks, right? After all, a lot of people enjoy the social aspect of online gaming, and to cater for this Lineage II sports all the usual chat and grouping options, allowing for private messages, traders chat or shouts (which are broadcast to everybody within range), and most important of all, the ability to form groups and clans to then hunt with. Juxtapose this, then, with the bizarre grouping system, which awards you significantly less experience and cash for fighting tougher foes, than would be achieved from soloing easier monsters. Due to this, at no point during my travels thus far has it been worthwhile to group with fellow players (if purely levelling up and obtaining cash were the intention). It almost seems that if you want to progress at earlier levels, don’t hook up with friends. And that would be a shame, as in order to start exploring the world you need to battle through tougher enemies, as the roads between locations are fraught with danger, which only the most powerful players are able to deal with if alone. Catch 22.
Sadly, apart from the wanton killing and maiming, there is little else to do for low-level players; the content seems spread pretty thin. Aside from the simplistic combat and quests, you could join a band of merry men searching out player-killers, though they can be hard to track down, and would require plenty of aimless wandering. Alternatively you could become a player-killer yourself, and live life evading justice and preying on the innocent; it’s your choice. Whichever way you go, though, it is a game – nay almost a career it seems – that requires some serious time investment to get to level 20, which is the earliest point at which your character starts to take on a bit of individuality, let alone higher. And yet higher you must go, if you want to experience any of the more interesting stuff on offer; castle sieges, high-level epic monsters, even a dragon are all available for those willing to put in that kind of time, so long as you are able to put up with repetitive killing of the same low-level critters for hours on end to get there.
So after a fair few hours play, Lineage II is hard to pigeon-hole; some aspects, such as the level-grind, unrestricted player-killing, the sheer amount of cash needed to purchase better equipment (and of course the countless number of kills required associated with this) and the punishing treatment of character death, are all enthusiast orientated. And yet the simplicity of the character creation process, the lack of any strategy in fights, the ability to successfully solo all cater for the casual player.
When all is said and done, the first few hours of any online role-playing game are going to be fairly cagey, in order to get you integrated into the game-world. That said, based on first impressions Lineage II does less in those first few hours to excite you than other, similar titles. In the meantime we’ll be forging ahead to bring you a comprehensive review shortly, so keep your browser pointed at Pro-G.