Tales from the Backlog: Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn

If you’ve been paying attention to my site, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, but I tend to play two types of games: MMOs and Old-School. I will occasionally boot up a non-MMO game that has been made in the past 5 years, but that’s a rare event for me. I’m generally immune to the rush that I must play the absolute newest stuff. My rationale is that if it’s claiming to be really good now, it’ll also be really good in a few years, too. The benefits of this thinking are obvious: when I do go to purchase the game, it’ll be at a steep discount, bug fixes will have made the game more stable, technology improvements mean I’ll be able to play at the highest graphic settings, and I’ll still be getting the same quality story and gameplay as if I bought it on day 1. Also, the lens of time better shows which games are actually considered great games than the day one impressions do. Good games are like good wine, they last and seem to improve with age.

However, when it comes to *really* old games, sometimes the lens of time is tinted with too much rose-coloring. One question I find I ask myself all the time is were the games I played when I was a kid, the games that have shaped and molded my gaming interests today, were they any good? If I go back and play them now, will I still find them enjoyable? One such game series I remember having a very hard time with when I was younger, but I was still very enamored with them. Namely, the SSI Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Gold Box” series of games based on the Dragonlance universe. And since I’m a fan of playing games in order I set on to find and play the first game in the series, Champions of Krynn.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us on this one, it’s opulent and not just cracked stone walls. Opulent.

Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

When looking for the game, my first attempt is to always find a legit copy first, unless doing so is price or sanity prohibitive. For example, the game seems pretty easy to find on Ebay, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a PC that actually had a 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive drive on it. SSI, the maker of the game was acquired by Mindscape in 1994, and eventually was acquired by Ubisoft in 2001, who retired the brand. In fact, you can’t even find Champions of Krynn on the Internet Archive, although you will find the game’s sequels. A 25 year old game, you’ll forgive me, but I gave up on paying for it and instead went to my favorite site for the games that have lost their respective owners, Abandonia. To make up for it, I’ll make a donation later to one of my favorite charities, and maybe one to Abandonia as well as soon as my browser informs me that Paypal isn’t being attacked anymore (there… didn’t take long). Karma and I have a funny relationship and I don’t want to upset that balance.

At this point, I’m pretty proficient with using DOSBox, so getting the game to run was pretty easy. If you want to check out the Options file I use, which I have tweaked over time, feel free. And after loading up, then spent the rest of the night trying to build a party based on a version of Dungeons and Dragons that was out of style by the time I entered high school. I decided to stick with your standard party makeup of pure classes, and then balanced out races as appropriate. For naming, I crowdsourced by sending out a tweet, and taking the first people to reply or favorite the post, just to make it a little more social.

Champions of Krynn

THAC0?! That should really say “Rocket Science”.

The Party of Champions

First we have our Lawful Good Half-Elf Knight, Windcaller. The Knight is an interesting class, mostly for a mechanic you just don’t see in games anymore, a class that will straight up give away all the money they find. Knights have taken a vow of poverty, and as such will donate any money you hand them as soon as you get back to town. Giving away loot? What nonsense is this! The trick is, of course, to not hand them any monies. However, gold doesn’t seem to be that important so far, so keeping it from him is kind of mean. Donate away, my friend. The tradeoff is being able to cast Cleric spells at higher levels.

Next, we have our Neutral Good Mountain Dwarf Fighter, JerseyJim. Jim’s a close friend of mine so no offense on the Dwarf part, I needed a dwarf, and having all humans is rather boring. Fighters seem to be… well… Fighters. Strong on the front lines, and hard to take down… sort of. Jim seems to be one of the first ones knocked down being right on the front lines and so far the game seems to employ a lot of cheap one-hit methods. Anyone in magical Sleep or Hold are taken down in one shot, for example. One.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Crit by a Rat?!

Then we have our Chaotic Good Qualinesti Elf Ranger, Royalite. Rangers are strong melee as well, but also decent at range. They seem to be very versatile, and Royalite is happy with being a ranger, so it’s all good. I have no idea what the difference between elves are, there is also a Silvanesti elf, so maybe it’s just character flavor. Having elves keeps you from being one-shot, as elves are resistant to sleep and charm… but elves, though. You never want too many of them.

Then there’s our Neutral Good Kender Cleric, Syl. Clerics are an absolute necessity. When resting, the only way to heal is to use the Cleric’s spells, and the game calculates the time when resting for the Cleric to memorize a heal spell and cast it, and rememorize it. Thankfully, it does this automatically with the Fix command, but you’re vulnerable to wandering monsters while resting, so it’s tricky. On top of that, Clerics can charm and hold, cheap tactics, but effective for one-hit takedowns. Syl didn’t reply to the tweet, but I was listening to a podcast of Battle Bards and Syl was praising her Lalafell in Final Fantasy XIV, so I decided to make her our diminutive Kender in homage. Kenders are a race that have an infectious charm and are good at finding trouble, and Syl was happy with that.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us. They’re evil.

Then we have our True Neutral Human Thief, Grilledcheese. Thieves are very squishy, being held to Leather Armor only. They make up for it by being able to backstab, finding traps and doors, and leveling super quick. Oh, leveling is interesting. Leveling can only take place if we return to an outpost, which isn’t that bad, but each class has a completely different leveling table! With the same amount of experience, a level 5 Thief is only a level 3 Knight. So you have to keep track of each characters experience individually as it won’t tell you if they’re ready to level, either. Excel spreadsheets FTW.

Finally, we have our Lawful Neutral Human Red Mage, BC Jayson. Jayson’s a big Ultima fan, so I hope he doesn’t mind having a D&D character. Cross-geekery, you know how it is. Mages are as you would expect: super squishy, but bring out the big guns. Mostly Sleep spells are used at lower levels, sadly, but they knock out up to 4 enemies at a time and then a follow up long range dart provides the instant-kill. So cheap, but still effective.

Champions of Krynn

Thankfully the “Journal” isn’t a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, as this could’ve got really awkward real quick.

First Impressions, Very Rosy

Champions of Krynn is sooooo old school, though. Maybe *too* old school. First, the game doesn’t hold any punches and every fight that is scripted as part of the story is a party strength check. If you can’t beat it, well then you might have to try again with different strategy (or luck), rest up and choose different spells, or level, and the baddies will use every cheap trick they have. So saving all the time and loading again are common practice. On top of that, the game allows you to lower the difficulty, but doing so nets you less experience, so playing on Easy eventually under-levels your party. As any other game, the middle difficulty is the way to go.

On top of that, to save game size (3.5″ disks, don’t forget) and to have a form of DRM, every time there is an important plot point instead of just telling you the story, the game points you to it’s physical Journal and tells you which entry to read. You could read all the entries and spoil the story, but there are false-entries posted throughout the Journal, just to trip you up. It’s fascinating the methods like this developers used when their resources were limited.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Just kidding. It was *everyone’s* fault this time. Falling asleep in the middle of combat and all.

So as of this writing, I have cleared the first level of the first dungeon. You’d think this would be a quick endeavor but, oh no, this has taken quite a few sessions already. Leveling in D&D is a rare event, but each character has leveled a few times, leading me to wonder how long this game actually is? Is it only just a couple of dungeons or will this take me forever to play?

I’m not sure I’ll stick to it to see the end, but I do enjoy a good D&D session, so you never know. Those graphics, though. The best part of the game is easily the strategic combat. The story seems very basic and pandering, though, and the graphics were considered dated even for 1990, so I’m not sure if the combat alone will hold my interest. We’ll see, though, it *is* classic D&D, afterall.

//Ocho   

P.S. – Also, I want to give a big shoutout to Xander of Holosuite Media fame for hosting Casual Aggro as part of their blogger linkfest. Holosuite Media has a ton of great people and great podcasts to check out, which I highly suggest you do. I especially am fond of Beyond the Veil, their podcast on The Secret World, but they have podcasts for all kinds of games.

P.P.S. – After the massive traffic spike I had yesterday, thanks to a popular developer RT’ing my post on Ultima 7 and EA, I was kicking myself that my blogroll hasn’t been updated since, well, since this blog was created. I have went through and updated it to a list of 25 glorious and amazing sites, which you should definitely check out.

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Neverwinter is Coming [NWO]

This past weekend, because of my lifetime membership to Star Trek Online, I was thrown a Beta invite for Neverwinter and I took full advantage of it to answer all the questions I had about the latest Cryptic/Perfect World title. Is it more D&D or MMO? Is it just another fantasy WoW clone?! Can it hold on it’s own in this day of MMO proliferation?!! Why can’t it be Winter?!!! Are there way too many kobolds?!!!! <Ahem> Excuse me. Got carried away there. Anyway, what I found is that Neverwinter appears to be a true blend of the MMO landscape. There wasn’t a lot that screamed new and revolutionary, but then they also aren’t claiming anything of the sort.

Of course I have to add in a little disclaimer of my review: WHAT I SAW IS STILL IN BETA! You know what that means. It’s all subject to change. What I say might end up being completely different by the end. Also, this is, by far, my longest post. I wanted to give a complete picture of Neverwinter, though, and I couldn’t seem to do that succinctly.

So What Is the Game’s Overall Style?

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons Online? How about Star Trek Online? Rusty Hearts? Then you’re mostly familiar with how this game rolls. After the tutorial, you start out in the communal area of the city of Neverwinter known as The Protector’s Enclave. Here you meet up with quest givers, visit the marketplace and auction houses and do all your big city tasks, similar to DDO’s Stormreach. Important quests in the questline are done through individual instances with doors to these instances off the main city. Once you finish with the the starting questline, you move to other areas. However, these other areas, like the Blacklake District, contain both wandering mobs AND doorways to instances. These areas felt a little more like the formula we’re use to seeing in WoW or LotRO or the like, with quest-hubs and quests of mainly the “Kill 10 Rats”  variety, but then interspersed with the instances and once completed led right back to The Protector’s Enclave.

Gear is acquired by completing quests, token exchanges, loot drops, and by spending Diamonds, similar to any game I can think of.

Story is Very Important to Me. Does Neverwinter Have Any?

In my short time playing, I was able to complete three campaigns: Recovering a stolen crown, snapping the power of a bandit group, and breaking the power of an orc group.    The storylines themselves so far are pretty weak. Coming from Star Trek Online, this is surprising, as the stories told in STO are fantastic and a huge draw to the game. The stories so far in Neverwinter have been pretty much “Hey! Go kill this bandit leader!” then once you slay him “Thanks! That’s awesome! Now go kill this other bandit leader!” I can see how these bandits are posing a problem, as they are next door neighbors to the safe Protector’s Enclave, but the “story” so far just feels like a murderous to-do list.

However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel: The Foundry. The Foundry is, I believe, where Neverwinter will truly shine. Keeping in line with the Neverwinter series of games, the User-generated missions, so far, are where I found the most story. Neverwinter’s first Foundry Spotlight is Zebular‘s ‘The Dweomerkeepers, Act 1‘, and was EXACTLY what I was expecting from Neverwinter’s community. Being part 1 of an 8 part series, you were sent to investigate why the Drow had taken up residence at an abandoned inn. You found statues to old gods, parchment that turned to dust in the sunlight, bookshelves filled with old tomes, relics to investigate, and a lot of Drow elves that had a problem with you being there. Well done. If there had been a Part 2 ready, I would’ve jumped into it. If you play it, leave a tip as well. Tips are a lot more important in Neverwinter as opposed to Star Trek Online as I’ll explain shortly.

Although FINDING the Foundry missions in the first place took a little time, not being able to be started from anywhere like in STO, there is already plenty of missions available to try. In a big step, Neverwinter will be working in the missions organically into the gameplay. You can find a whole slew of Foundry missions on the cities Help Wanted boards, or periodically you can run across “well-informed” individuals who will point you to nearby user-made missions. Finding Foundry missions in the wilds, making them easier to find, grouping them into campaigns, and not just randomly choosing from a list of 1000 missions will make the Foundry a much more useful storytelling tool for many.

Is it Truly D&D?

Uhhh… no. It’s not. Not truly, anyway. Now, although I own a set of dice (they’re around here somewhere) I haven’t played a round of tabletop D&D in ages. But I do know how D&D generally functions with the d20 being the crux of the game. Do I know 4th Edition well, the edition Neverwinter is supposed to be based off of? No. But I’m positive this can’t be it.

According to the last Beta Weekend details, the level cap was raised to 40 for the beta, but the overall level cap will be 60. 60! In D&D terms, where around level 30 starts to be considered god-like, level 60 is unheard of! At-will powers start out as incredible, like my level 1 cleric being able to create spears of damaging light as his normal attack, Encounter powers calling devastating light from the heavens, and Daily powers that aren’t… well… daily. They’re huge abilities that you charge up by being in combat, but far from being usable “daily”.

Then, of course, there are the classes. So far, they are the Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Great Weapon Fighter, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard. So a tank, healer, and 3 types of DPS. Okay. However, one of the hallmarks of D&D are the multitude and customizability of classes. Hell, having classes in D&D is the basis of why we have classes in every other MMO to begin with! Not to mention being able to multi-class. So where DDO has 13 classes now, and a plethora of ways to customize them, Neverwinter will start with just a handful of kinda-customizable classes. Is this a bad thing? No, it’s just not the openness of D&D. Most likely, as a means of making money, new classes will be added and sold in the store as time goes on.

Big Pimpin’

What’s the Main Currency?

Neverwinter, like any other MMO, has a number of currencies already in place. Gold, from loot and quest rewards to spend on consumables, supplies, etc. Astral Diamonds, rewards from daily activities, and then your standard Tokens for dungeon loot, etc. The part that surprised me, though, is that unlike Star Trek Online where the primary currency is Energy Credits (gold) that is traded back and forth by the players, the primary currency is Astral Diamonds. That means buying and selling things on the Auction House is all in Diamonds. The currency that is more restricted, the currency that is directly purchasable with Zen store points, is the primary currency. What does this mean? Well, in STO where you get EC from selling items and standard loot, you could make enough EC to trade for a huge item on the Exchange, like a new ship. Then, the player getting the EC could also trade it for ships, or use it to buy lockbox keys also on the exchange. In other words, anything that can be sold on the exchange is all in EC but acquiring EC is extremely simple, so the prices are wildly inflated. There is no way you can turn EC directly into Zen Points, though, only Dilithium, the Astral Diamonds equivalent.

Not Neverwinter. In Neverwinter, acquiring Diamonds will be a little more rare. However, say you find a +15 Sword of Cute Bunny Slaughtering. You could sell it to a vendor for gold or you could sell it on the Auction to another player for Diamonds. These Diamonds can then be traded directly for Zen Points! And then what do you buy with Zen points? Any big items. Companions, Mounts, Dyes, Classes, Races. Sure, in STO, some ships are purchasable with Dilithium, but the majority of ships you really want to fly are bought with Zen points.

From this I could see the items in the Auction staying a little more reasonable as players will be less-willing to let go of them. It’ll all depend how many they make available to the average player and where they can sink them to see if it turns into a stable economy.

Will I have a Lot of Weapons to Choose From?

No. The time I was playing the Devoted Cleric, I only saw 1 weapon type, a symbol. Down the line we’ll probably get fancier and fancier symbols, but as far as I can tell we only get symbols. Great Weapon Fighters get two-hand swords, Guardian Fighters get a sword and shield, Control Wizards get… that little ball over their shoulder? Something having to do with their two fingers that they keep staring at? No idea. But you get my point, weapon selection seems to be non-existent. If you’ve ever played Rusty Hearts, this is the same style. Natasha uses dual pistols, Angela uses a magic scythe. However, even they get to pick other weapons during the course of the game, so this may (and probably will) change.

I will have ALL THE CHEESE!! MUAHAHAHAHA!

What Features Are the Most Noticeable From Other Games?

The instanced quests, aside from being non-repeatable (yet), are very similar in style to Rusty Hearts. You enter the instance, start fighting mobs, get to the end, there’s a quick cutscene of the boss, you fight the boss, and then get a chest of loot. The instances are relatively quick, too, taking about 10 minutes. However, it’s not like Rusty Hearts in that you don’t have to repeat the same instance over and over and over again. It’s a once and done thing, which still feels a little quick. But there are Foundry missions, non-instanced camps of mobs, and Skirmishes if you need to grind a bit, so all is not lost, though instanced quests do seem to be the best source of crafting materials.

The combat is most similar to Guild Wars 2, but expect to not move around so much. This is both good and bad. Bad because I’m now so USE to running and gunning at the same time, and evading is a piece of cake, but Good because it involves a little more strategy. If you see a red circle around you, you have to stop attacking immediately and run, else you get hit. So if you move more, you attack less. You could attack more, but be prepared to be hit more, too. It plays to more of a balance.

Every hour you can call upon your gods to grant you loot and buffs. This is taken from another Perfect World title, PWI. There is smaller group content, aside from the 5-man dungeons found in every game, called Skirmishes, which are quick. These are similar to LotRO’s Skirmishes, but can’t be done solo. And finally, you can gain companions, similar to Bridge Officers from Star Trek Online to help you solo.

So How Was the Devoted Cleric?

I found the Devoted Cleric a powerhouse. After dungeons and skirmishes, I usually found myself at the top or near the top in both damage output and healing output, so I may keep using him into the Third Beta Weekend coming up March 22nd. Being the only healing class, and since health doesn’t regenerate naturally (at least at the low levels), the Cleric is a straight-up necessity. I don’t usually play healing classes  because the high demand puts a lot of pressure on playing well, but I may give the Devoted Cleric a shot. I ran the one dungeon I could at level 16, the Cloak Tower, and we sprinted through it without too much trouble. Healing is sometimes difficult, but mouse-look targeting to heal?! It was a little more frantic than I had anticipated. I heard that further down the line, you can pick up a lot more AoE heals, but the mouse targeting of party members to heal was tricky to pick up, but still doable. I think I did admirably given my noobishness.

D’Awwww Puppy!

I Care About Looks! How Are the Graphics?

The graphics are a lot better than I was ever expecting. It’s an MMO with collision physics! Even among other players, you can’t stand in exactly the same spot as anyone else, you would collide with them. When you kill a mob on a sloped surface, they slide down the surface. Think Skyrim and ragdolls. Basically, way cooler than I was expecting. Mixed with the nice lighting and shading effects, I was more impressed than I thought I’d be and think this is easily one of the nicest-on-the-eyes MMO’s I’ve played yet.

How Is Neverwinter Compared to Turbine’s DDO?

Another D&D MMO on the market, and both entering into the Forgotten Realms. It’s tricky, to say the least, and it really depends on what you’re looking for in a game. If you’re a big fan of D&D, DDO is much better as it sticks to the true D&D better. I would even still give the better storytelling to Turbine’s DDO. However, if you’re not as big a fan of D&D, more into action-style combat, and more a fan of the “standard” style of MMO, you would appreciate Neverwinter more. Essentially, I don’t think Neverwinter will be usurping the D&D MMO crown but sharing it, especially with all the strides that DDO has made recently.

Feel the wrath of Four Leaf Clovers! (Not Red Balloons)

You Can’t Seem to Shut Up in This Post. Just Give Me the Rundown, Already. How Was It Overall?

I might come off as a little critical in this post, especially since it’s still in Beta, but I truly did like it. I don’t think it’ll become more like D&D, and will stay more like an MMO, which I like. The story will most likely improve as the game progresses and the Foundry will grow along side it, becoming a huge reason, if not THE reason, to play it. The graphics will still be really nice, especially for an MMO. Weapon and armor selection will most likely stay limited and might expand to a secondary weapon, but I wouldn’t expect a whole bunch more.

Overall, and most importantly, it was a lot of fun to play! Will it be the be-all-end-all MMO? No. Certainly not. Not in this day of an over-saturated MMO market. However, I can see it easily finding a place in the market and being fully free-to-play (and I mean FULLY, can’t subscribe to it if you wanted to), will most likely keep the servers nice and full.

I don’t see this becoming my “Home” MMO, as that currently belongs to STO, but I can definitely see adding this to my repertoire.

// Ocho