Black Moon Chronicles: Winds of War Preview
This upcoming RPG from Vircom features four different factions.
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The world of online gaming is seeing an explosion of new content these days. Games such as Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot have already joined established players--such as Everquest and Asheron's Call--in the online arena. And marquee games such as Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft are slated to enter the massively multiplayer space in the coming years. With all this competition, all online games, and especially massively multiplayer role-playing games, need an angle or something significantly new to break through the noise. One such game with a unique premise is Black Moon Chronicles, an upcoming MMORPG set to arrive on store shelves later this month.
While other games are trying to push the envelope in terms of graphics and technology, Black Moon Chronicles is taking itself out of the graphics race and instead going for a very stylized look. It's a smart move, as it helps distinguish Black Moon Chronicles from all the Everquest clones. At the same time, Black Moon's look is very familiar to gamers, for the entire game looks like a comic book. From the outset, the game has that comic book look and feel. Everything has bright, solid colors, and characters are drawn in a comic book style. When conversions occur between characters and NPCs, the dialogue appears as word balloons over the characters. Even the text is written in the classic comic book font. It's all perfectly understandable once you realize that this game is based on a series of French graphic novels. The Black Moon comics are rich in story and world details, and the game draws heavily from those influences, promising a deep and involving story as well.
In the world of Black Moon Chronicles, the once mighty Empire is under siege from dark forces. You play an orphan from the lands of Lhynn, where years ago a devastating massacre took place. Besieged by an army of evil, the towns of the land were ransacked and destroyed. Those few who survived this awful ordeal were called the Chosen Ones. They were taken away from Lhynn, either rescued by good people from other lands or kidnapped by the evil armies themselves. Your character in this game is a Chosen One and was raised by one of the game's four factions, which raised these orphans in its own lands.
Factions and Character Creation
When creating a new character, you go through a simple character creation process. First, you must choose your allegiance from amongst four clans. They are The Empire, The Knights of Justice, The Order of the Light, and The Priesthood of the Black Moon. Each faction has its own home city, and each faction has unique citizenry. Black Moon is actually a larger presence than any single other faction and is divided between the City of Horhker and the City of Moork. The other three factions each have their own starting position on the continent. For Empire players, theirs is the city of Lyhnn. The faction of Justice calls the city of Sysigie their home, and the Light faction hails from the city of Altenberg. In addition, these factions aren't just different in name alone. There are 12 character classes in the game, divided amongst the four factions. Each faction has its distinct classes, reflecting the general philosophy of the faction. They are as follows:
The sorcerer and warrior are the two classes available for Empire players. They are both the most specialized and powerful of their respective types: spellcasters and melee fighters. Sorcerers can cast immensely powerful spells, and warriors get the most combat special abilities of any class. Conversely, sorcerers are incredibly weak physically, while warriors know only melee combat and practically nothing else.
Knights of Justice
The paladin and priest are the two classes for this holy order. As in other games, the paladin is a stalwart warrior who can also cast minor clerical spells. The priest, on the other hand, is a great support class, able to cast a wide array of healing and protection spells. He can also use blunt weapons and wear armor.
Order of Light
This fanatical faction devoted to the preservation of the Empire boasts two classes: the phalanx and the archer. The phalanx is highly resistant to magic and very tough, making him a perfect defender and a counter to the mages in the game. The archer, on the other hand, is the only class able to use ranged weapons and thus has an advantage in being able to pick apart enemies from afar. However, if engaged in melee, he is weaker than the other fighter classes.
The Priesthood of the Black Moon
This evil faction has the most character classes, offering six different classes for players to choose from. The three melee fighter classes of this faction are the blackguard, the ghoul, and the orc barbarian. The blackguard is basically an antipaladin: good with melee attacks and bolstered by minor necromantic magic. The orc barbarian is a melee warrior who can rage in battle to deal tremendous damage but who eschews the heavier armor of other classes, such as the warrior and paladin. The ghoul is an interesting concept because it is an actual undead class. By all appearances, it is simply a specialized melee fighter, but if Vircom plays up the undead angle, it could be an interesting class to play.
The other three classes are spellcasters. The dark priest is the antithesis of the priest, and the necromant is a necromancer who has life-draining and poison attacks. The last "spellcaster" is intriguing because it is the menthat, a psionic class with mental powers. Other RPGs stick to pure fantasy and don't include the more sci-fi feel of mental powers, but Black Moon does have this class, which can ostensibly "destroy the psyche of opponents with a single thought." However, at low levels, the menthat's attacks seem like spells dressed up with different names. Hopefully, as he advances in levels, his abilities do become distinguished from the other spellcasters.
Classes, Spells, and Equipment
The gameplay is fairly standard and will be familiar to anyone who has played Diablo. You walk around the map, talking to NPCs and fighting monsters. Quests are simple, given to you by various loitering NPCs. In any of the main towns, you have the usual assortment of bookkeeping activities, like buying and selling items. There is a paper doll for taking care of inventory, and a fairly small backpack that is again reminiscent of Diablo's. Objects take up different space on the backpack grid depending on size, so we were able to foresee a future problem--players will amass items and quickly run out of room to store them.
Melee combat and interacting with NPCs is handled with a simple right-click. Do so and you run up to the target and either start attacking or talking. However, casting spells isn't so simple. You can ready a spell, but no separate targeting icon appears to indicate that you can now cast the spell. Oftentimes, we found ourselves fumbling for the controls to shoot a spell, only to have the enemy creature close the distance and attack before we could figure out how to cast. And because of bugs, it was nearly impossible to stick through the entire tutorial to find an easy shortcut for spellcasting. However, a shortcut might not even exist.
Moving was also a frustrating exercise. Oftentimes, when we clicked on one part of the map to move to, our character would start walking in that direction and then start moving back in the opposite direction or walking in random circles. It was as if the character had a mind of its own, and we had to keep clicking on the map to make the character amble to the desired destination. If you click directly on an enemy or NPC, you will walk straight toward them, but if you are just exploring, you'll encounter this strange walking bug. It's unclear whether this is a recent bug, but whatever the case, it definitely needs to be fixed before the game ships. This jittery walking also prevented us from running away from battles, and that coupled with our inability to hurl spells resulted in many deaths. Hopefully, the developers will fix this bug before the game is released in the next few weeks.
The game appears to offer the traditional model of escalating monsters. You'll fight spiders, snakes, and other mundane creatures near your town at low levels and eventually graduate to fighting more powerful creatures as you venture into the untamed wilderness. A glance at the character screen shows that Black Moon isn't straying too far from the familiar formula of Diablo and other RPGs. Aside from the obvious hit points and mana points, your character has resistance to four types of attacks (magic, poison, cold, and fire) and has slots to wield a weapon, hold a shield, and wear cloaks, rings, boots, gloves, helmets, and amulets.
Upon leveling up, you can increase your stats and gain new skills and spells. The six stats in the game are a variation of the classic Dungeons & Dragons stats. They consist of strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and will. Strength of course affects your physical attacks and carrying capacity. Constitution increases your hit points and improves HP regeneration. Dexterity improves your attack speed and ranged attacks. Intelligence increases overall mana points and mana point regeneration for sorcerers, wizards, and menthats, while wisdom does the same for paladins and clerics. Will, oddly enough, is not defined, although it seems like it would overlap with wisdom.
Currently, Black Moon Chronicles is in beta testing. You can actually go to the Web site at www.blackmoon-online.com to download the beta and try the game yourself. However, it is a 400MB download, so even with cable or DSL, it will still take many hours to download. But it does give you a fair sense of the game. Of course, you could always wait until later this month when the game ships. Vircom is insisting that the game will be out next week, but with all the crash and connection problems, it wouldn't be surprising if the game missed that date, since the developers are still polishing and refining the technical issues.
The online space is getting crowded with more and more games, but Black Moon Chronicles seems like it will succeed at least in getting noticed. Its comic book origins and its comic book look automatically make it stand out. And while this look isn't nearly as impressive as, say, an Everquest, it succeeds at being clean, simple, and effective. Black Moon Chronicles has the requisite slew of character classes, spells, weapons, and other goodies that all role-playing gamers look for, and it even has a few welcome and rare surprises, like the ability to play as a ghoul or psionic character. What other game at this point has mental powers in its design or even lets you role-play the undead? It remains to be seen whether at high levels such characters really do start to differentiate themselves from other classes or whether they are in fact just the same mage and fighter inside a different-looking shell. We won't be able to tell until the game actually ships and until we spend more significant time with the game. But their very existence in this game bodes well, as it means the developers are willing to throw new twists into the traditional model of RPGs and offer more choices to gamers.
Right now, the barriers to entry in this game are the technical issues, which continue to be ironed out, as well as the learning curve. It appears as though you will definitely need to read the manual, since casting spells or using skills isn't too intuitive, but if the game's hint system is indeed as helpful as advertised and the game masters as omnipresent and supportive, then this game should be much more accessible and easy to dive into. The technical problems are a real hurdle right now, as being unable to walk straight seriously hampers gameplay. In the next few weeks, you will have the chance to explore this game and see for yourself whether Black Moon Chronicles' blend of deep plot, comic book style, and traditional role-playing elements can set the game apart from the rest of the genre.
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