Lineage is a straightforward and simple online role-playing game. It's also, inexplicably, the most popular online role-playing game in the world, with more than a million subscribers worldwide. While its developers aspire to compete with Dark Age of Camelot or EverQuest, Lineage would sit more comfortably between Ultima Online and Diablo II; it looks like the former and plays like a simplified version of the latter. And though it has some interesting features, and its developers do a good job of expanding and adding to the world, Lineage seems dated. It looks old, it plays poorly, and its opening levels are so frustrating that there's a good chance you'll never make it to the interesting stuff.
Lineage's theme is simplicity. There are only four character classes in Lineage--elves, knights, princes, and wizards. Each has male and female models. There are six statistics you can adjust when you create your character, and the game does a good job of explaining how each statistic affects a character's abilities. Knights are the pure fighters, wizards the pure magic users, and princes and elves are hybrids with fighting and magic abilities. Princes (or princesses) are the only characters that can create blood pledges, Lineage's equivalent of guilds.
Once you create your character, you give him or her a name, and Lineage has no naming restrictions, so prepare to see lots of names like "KoolGye3" and "Legoluuss." Then you start off in the world. Starting out varies a bit from character to character. As an elf, you must get all of your experience by fighting. Other classes have a slightly easier time. They can go to training areas and whack on dummies until they reach level four. Once you begin fighting real monsters, you'll notice Lineage's biggest problem: The combat system is terrible. Melee fighting consists of repeatedly clicking on monsters. So does ranged fighting. Magic consists of selecting a spell, then repeatedly clicking on monsters. Lineage takes its combat model from Diablo but doesn't include the fun. It's slow and repetitive, and the US servers can be so laggy that it's often impossible to tell what exactly is happening. Are you winning? Are you losing? The game's poor animation and the complete lack of combat descriptions won't let you know. Often, you'll get a text message that the monster is dead, but the combat will continue onscreen for a few seconds.
When you die, Lineage assesses an additional penalty. Not only do you lose experience and health, as in other online RPGs, but you also lose a randomly selected item from your inventory. This can be a cheap item like a candle or a chunk of meat, or it can be an expensive weapon or piece of armor you spent a long time saving up for or putting together. One of Lineage's more interesting features is that you can build equipment by collecting various items and bringing them to the appropriate character. For elves, this method is the only way to get new items, and it involves a bizarre scavenger hunt system in which you wander through the forest punching friendly monsters in the stomach until they give you what you need.
Once you get past the difficult opening, Lineage gets more interesting. The world is vast, and the developers add more to it on a regular basis. There are regular events, broken into episodes, which add new content to the game's world. Joining a blood pledge lets you participate in sieges, and if your pledge controls a castle it will earn money from nearby towns. The siege element gave Lineage its big publicity push: Lord British of Ultima fame has an association with the game and made a brief appearance some time back during one of the sieges. But he seems to have gone AWOL, and there are no indications of what his future association with the game will be.
But even though getting to higher levels holds a few benefits, the game's fundamental problems remain the same. The combat is still bad at higher levels. There is very little motivation to get to elite levels, and even the superficial reasons other like-minded games give you (such as good-looking armor and equipment) are nonexistent. The highest-level knight looks the same as the lowest level. All the character classes have only two models, male and female. Your weapon may change. Bladed weapons, bows, and axes look different, but there are only generic models for each type. A dagger looks the same as a broadsword.
Lineage doesn't look much better in other respects. The game's world is cluttered and hard to see. The graphics don't look much better than those in Ultima Online. The animations are simple; most of them consist of only two or three distinct frames. Seeing a dog doing little backflips as it attacks you is silly. The audio is equally simple, consisting of nondescript music and sparse sound effects.
When Lineage gets complex, it is too much so. One of the game's strong points is that you can tame animals to fight for you. Once you have them, they make Lineage's combat considerably better. But taming them is an exercise in frustration. To tame an animal, you must fight it and get it below one-third of its hit points. And for starters, there are no health indicators for enemies, so you can't tell exactly whether you've damaged the animal sufficiently or whether you're about to kill it outright. As stated previously, you attack by clicking on the monster. When it is low on health, you must take meat from your inventory and drag it onto the animal. You must do this with the mouse as well, and unless you have a dual mouse setup on your computer, this is cumbersome. Once you drag the meat onto the target, you must type the number of pieces of meat you want to feed it. Usually by this point, you're dead or the monster is dead and you just want to shut down your machine and take a break from the game. Luckily, you can buy pets from others. It's worth spending the money, which itself is scarce in the game, to avoid the frustration of doing it yourself.
Lineage has some good ideas and a large player base. But the game's large player population is a mixed blessing, because you will constantly be subjected to inane bickering and bartering in the chat window, to which everyone on the entire server is always privy. The game may appeal to those who want to be more actively involved in the combat or who find the finely balanced automatic combat systems of other online RPGs a bit too abstract. Though the game is free to download, the monthly service charge ($12.95) is equal to the service charge for the much-superior Dark Age of Camelot. Those who miss the glory days of Ultima Online or who want a more persistent online version of Diablo II may enjoy Lineage, but that's not to say it's as good as either of those games. Lineage looks and plays like a much older game, and unless you can drum up some fake nostalgia, you most likely won't make it past the free trial period.