Blizzard’s WoW | Hopes and Fears for the Future

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If you enjoyed playing Blizzard’s popular MMORPG ‘World of Warcraft’ and longed for the days when you could take a jaunt into Southshore and kill the Horde or Alliance to your heart’s content, then you would have found a place to call home on the Nostalrius servers. It seems that over 800,000 users registered with the server and 150,000 currently active users agreed that the latest World of Warcraft iteration ‘Warlords of Draenor’ is not a patch on the original experience. An experience that is no longer a playable option through the official Blizzard servers.

In fact, since the ‘Cataclysm’ expansion much of the original Azeroth was changed beyond recognition. In some ways, this was an improvement as it freshened up the levelling experience for those who had been playing for a long time and were levelling up yet another ‘alt’ character through the same old content that they had done a million other times before. However, they didn’t just change the content they started to change the talent tree systems, and also made the levelling experience into a speedy hand-held race to the end level content which was achievable in a matter of a few days in play time. A lot of old school players disliked this and, as the falling subscription numbers confirm, Blizzard started to haemorrhage paying subscribers.

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One alternative for these players was to look to go for a private server which is run independent of Blizzard and is run by a community of volunteers. Now some may argue about piracy and the fact that these users were not actively paying a subscription to Blizzard which is essentially true but they were not paying anything to Nostalrius to play on their server either. It was a community led ‘preservation’ effort to allow people to play a game they loved and keep their interest and community alive. In fact there are servers available that cover each separate expansion so that you can choose which particular version of Blizzard’s worlds you want to play in.

In fact my own experience with World of Warcraft started on one of these private servers as I didn’t know whether I would like the game or not. I played on that server for a few months and decided I liked it so I moved over to the retail servers through Blizzard and purchased a subscription along with my wife and we stayed paying our monthly fees right up until Warlords of Draenor. In total that was around £30 per month for both of us for the duration of approximately 7 years. I can definitely say that I would never have done that if I hadn’t sampled the private server first.

It seems to me a bit suspicious that Blizzard chose this particular time to tackle this group of private servers, as they have essentially turned a blind eye to them for a number of years. Now, with a movie being released soon, a new expansion on the horizon and the creation of ‘Classic Battle.Net’ (The platform to play legacy Blizzard titles such as Diablo II, Warcraft III and Starcraft) could Blizzard be eyeing up the release of legacy servers to entice back some of the subscribers they have lost from the peak of 12 million 5 years ago to the current all-time low of 5.5 million? It would certainly make sense from a business standpoint to entice some of the old nostalgic players back at a time when you are releasing new content to pique curiosity and hope that they jump ship to the current expansion. It does seem however that they also run the risk of alienating a substantial player base that loved and cared about one of their franchises enough to keep the nostalgia alive and to allow others to join in with an experience that would otherwise have been lost forever.

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Am I saying that all of these servers are run in a completely legitimate way with no money changing hands between players and server owners? No, I am not that naive and there will be some shady practices going on out there which Blizzard has the right to chase down to serve notices upon. I can’t help but think that it would have been far more worth their while to work with the community and try to build on what was already established instead of shutting it down. Instead, they are forcing the people who enjoyed the original experience to either play the cut-down and scaled back non-community driven version of WoW that exists in the current expansion, or allow the game they invested so much time and effort into, to turn to a forgotten memory. In any case, the cease and desist notice means that Nostalrius servers will be no more on April 10th of this year. Maybe we will see Blizzard roll-out legacy servers? if they did I would be tempted to check it out for nostalgia sake but would it encourage me to progress through all of the content they have to offer? I doubt it very much as the sense of community just isn’t the same as it used to be.

Black Desert Online review

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Black Desert Online is an MMORPG with a vast open world to explore.  Its features include great graphics and character designs, with a multitude of crafting, housing, mounts and animal breeding to explore.  Topping this off is the opportunity to take part in large scale PvP castle sieges.

So I guess the obvious thing that most people will jump to with Black Desert Online is to compare to the behemoth that is World of Warcraft.  I guess it is an easy thing to do as World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG genre for decades but with Black Desert Online entering the ring, Blizzard may just have to step their game up!

The first thing that grabs your attention in the game is the graphics and the character models. There are eight classes in total and each of them has their own distinctive character model that can be customised extensively before beginning the game. Some of the scenery and play areas in the game are breathtaking, adding vibrancy to the whole fantasy setting of the game. There are a few gender locked classes, which I have to admit was a little surprising considering the expansive nature of the character creation options that are available to customise your character.  This sometimes doesn’t sit well with the fans of the genre, so I wasn’t expecting gender locked classes at all, however, to me personally it isn’t something that bothers me as much as some other people.

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The combat system is fluid and uses manual aiming and positioning of your character, this makes it feel like you are actively part of the action.  Tab targeting is there, but it certainly isn’t a click once and nuke down scenario for fighting.  The fluid motion and the use of combinations of attacks means you can see some truly breath-taking displays of movement when your character is fighting.  Whilst it does have combinations you can use, the basics are not too complicated to prevent a novice from being able to play immediately.  They have successfully managed to move away from the ‘rotation’ mentality that has permeated almost every other MMORPG out there today and, as a result, have a combat system that feels completely different to anything I have played before.  Enemies range from foxes, weasels and wolves to some truly enormous world bosses. These can be fought on foot or on the back of a mount if you so choose.

As far as PVP goes I didn’t have the opportunity to experience any myself as of yet, but the general consensus is that it is a great experience.  The need for skill in the combat system of the game and the fluid movement animations should make PvP an exciting and almost MOBA-like experience for the players.  It is also refreshing to see that there is no faction vs. faction PvP element to this game which is something that I haven’t seen any other game do so far.

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The one thing that did strike me in the time I have spent playing this game so far is that there is so much to do, learn and experience that I have spent most of my time sampling a little bit of everything.  I assume that this is what the game makers intended as it seems to cater for, whatever type of mood you are in and whatever gameplay you feel like experiencing at any given time.  If you feel a little hung-over and want to chill out you could go and fish for a while, feel like some fast and frantic gameplay then PvP is an option, feel like some story based gameplay? then go and do some questing and knowledge gathering. They have each base covered for whatever you would like to do with your gameplay time available.  I have to say that I managed to clock up around 30 hours in the game over the three days of advance access and I barely even started to get into the depths of what this game is able to offer.  Every aspect is covered in this game from guild Vs. guild, warfare, crafting, exploration and so much more that everyone could find something that they enjoy doing.

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One of the most complex systems for me to understand as a beginner to this game was the crafting system. A complex combination of needing housing, nodes and contribution points had me pulling my hair out trying to understand everything that was going on with it all. Once you throw in the employment of workers to gather on top of all that, I just had to leave it well alone to allow my brain to unscramble.

This is where I think the only negative comes in about Black Desert Online and it is something that could really affect the uptake of the game.  The explanation for the different aspects of the game leaves a lot to be desired.  It is either a long process of trying to figure it out by yourself or you have to try and find a friendly guild that will help explain things. However, if you like the challenge of discovering the different nuances of the game out for yourself then this is the perfect opportunity for you.

All in all, it is a gorgeous looking game that will appeal to a lot of people and it is something I would recommend to fans of the MMORPG genres but if you do pick it up be prepared to lose a good portion of your time exploring the areas and getting to grips with the complexities of the different systems.  I will be continuing my playtime with this game as it has so much potential and I will revisit this review at a later date to let you know how I get on with it

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Immune – Early Access Preview

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Immune from Vidiludi Games & Entertainment, is an early access sandbox survival MMORPG. Set in an apocalyptic wasteland after an unknown disease has broken out, it has reduced humanity to scavenging masses and split the survivors into two groups, the players (us), and a bunch of gas mask wearing, gun toting psychopaths.. who occasionally wear Rastafarian cap’s (other caps are available) and of course there’s the ever present threat of zombies and mutants.

The game is played from a top down view, and movement is controlled by the arrow keys, E to pick up items and Spacebar to harvest/attack. To survive you can either fortify existing buildings (I only saw a handful of buildings you could not enter) or wall off a little patch of land to call your own. You will also need to gather food or grow crops as well so you don’t starve to death.

Immune_(PC___Mac)_-_01Gather resources to build items, wood is collected from trees, stone is found in patches on the ground and metal.. well metal seems to be pretty rare, in fact I only managed to collect metal from a backpack I found on the floor.. suspiciously close to a zombie sporting a rather fetching cowboy hat.

Use the resources to craft doors, fences, campfires, slingshots, wooden clubs, shovels.. you get the idea.

The crafting is a simple affair, no need to place items in the right place on a crafting grid, like Minecraft. Want to craft a wooden club? Collect 10 wood, select wooden club press craft.. it is that simple.

Currently the game area is limited to the upper left side of the map, with a lovely coastline, lots of green fields, an airstrip (no planes) and the occasional quarantine zone. Any attempt to go further to the east or south leads to big wall with “Coming Soon” written across it, not that the current play area is small, it still took me over 10 minutes to walk across this section of the map. And you’re not limited to just walking as there are vehicles! Currently the Jeep is the only alternative mode of transport in game and driving into the zombies and survivors is strangely entertaining. Plus it’s the easiest way to survive your first few run ins with the hostile forces.

Immune_(PC___Mac)_-_02Combat is another simple affair, find your enemy and click on him and head towards them while hitting the Spacebar, if you’re lucky you would of found a better weapon than a wooden club. which though better than your bare hands was still pretty weak.
My first few run ins with hostile NPC’s led to death by:
Zombie (wearing a Cowboy hat)
Survivor (wearing a Rastacap)
Zombie (no head wear)
Cow.. (or possibly a Bull… it was big, and cow like, I think it had horns)
Zombie (wearing a hard hat)

Immune_(PC___Mac)_-_03The version I’ve been playing is 0.4.0 Alpha, so there is still a bit of tweaking and game balancing to do, Control pad support would be a positive addition, I also found the tutorial tips can be a little vague at times so a little sprucing up to do.

I’m going to keep an eye on the development of Immune, I’m quite impressed by the state of the game at the moment and can’t wait to see how the game progresses.

Immune is Available from Developers Website Here.

World of Warcraft : Warlords of Draenor Review

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World of Warcraft; A game on the cusp of celebrating its 10th year of active subscriptions. It’s become an institution to the genre of Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games, the standard to which other MMORPG games are held against, and aspire to. Many a time I’ve heard other gamers in games that are in direct competition to WoW wish for features that were missing in their current game, that would make their current experience so much better. ”It’s good…but it’s not Carling” the advert tells us. Other players do the same ”It’s good but I miss WoW’s XYZ” It is a huge game, and it just got bigger with the release of the fifth expansion, Warlord’s of Draenor.

For those of you more than familiar with the game, or at least have a working knowledge, Warlords has you scurrying back to the Dark Portal chasing WoW’s very own Jeremy Kyle  – Garrosh Hellscream. Our pal Garrosh has managed to find a way to muddle up the timeline and reactivate the Dark Portal in order to find himself back on his homeworld- Draenor, at a critical point in Orcish history.

This is where you, the player steps in.

In an attempt to try and review all that is possibly on offer in the new expansion, I have split my review into a gaming diary of seven days. I was more than  happy to rediscover my love of WoW whilst playing for this review, and I intend to explain why below.

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Day One  : Confusion and Pretty Things

After completing a full install, and thanks to the wonder of Blizzard’s installer, I didn’t have to wait all that long. I was greeted by the trademark cinematic music and trailer, and a little voice in my head said ”This is it! be excited again!” I could feel myself getting carried away in the moment, something Mists didn’t manage to do for me. I decided to use my shiny level 90 boost on my Pandaren Monk, as I love the class and it’s utility. As an aside the level 90 boost was a stroke of genius by Blizzard. Allowing players still working their way through the previous content to immediately get to the new content, in my opinion, was the best way to keep players logged in and playing. They also created a way to stop you rushing off half cocked with your new found powers, by deliberately restricting the talents and spells of your class until you had chance to engage a few enemies and unlock them. Or at least that was the theory, one that should have worked really well. What happened to me (and more than a few others I’ve spoken to) was my delightful avatar – now looking even more splendid thanks to some nifty upgrades to sprites, was unceremoniously dumped outside of the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands and Summarily executed by the standing Iron Horde Elites. Oh, I’m dead. No worries I’ll run back to my corpse and resurrect….right in the middle of the original murdering Orcs. Not cool. Some four deaths later, I had run sufficiently far enough away that I was not going to be swatted the moment I entered the corporeal realm. ”Aha!” I thought, ”I can rectify this error by using my hearthstone” which teleported me approximately 100 feet back to my original spawn point, right into the middle of some grinning Orc-kin.

Not the best start I could have hoped for. 5 minutes in and I’ve sampled the Iron Horde’s hospitality a few too many times for my liking. In mild frustration I logged into my Warlock character, who was also level 90, and made my way to meet Khadgar within the walls of Orgrimmar. Some chatter here and there and I was asked to confirm my teleportation to the Dark Portal. Boom! Cue a cinematic of absolutely ridiculous amounts of Fanboy awesome. Needless to say I was hooked instantly. What followed for the rest of my evening was a non-stop rush through the starting zone, helping the motley ragtag escape the clutches of the Iron Horde.

WoW_6Day two: Make Monk Go!

I decided to give the monk another run out, happily logging in and running like a scared rabbit worked well enough and I found myself airship bound for Orgrimmar. Quickly fighting through the initial zone again, albeit in healing specialisation (Thanks to which I mistakenly selected my spec in Undercity whilst panicking about only having a single spell – see above for Blizzards plan for newly boosted 90’s) and got to the point a lot of people had been very pleased about – The Garrison. I couldn’t see how it would be different to player housing in other MMOs. How wrong I was! The Garrison is an instanced personal quest hub. Almost like your own miniature Orgrimmar/Stormwind – minus the role-players having barely disguised cyber sex and random fireworks displays. You accrue followers and resources from accepting quests within the Garrison, which eventually allow you to upgrade it and add in buildings of your choices. The followers themselves are given as quest rewards and come in various types. Each follower has a special zone they are more effective in, and they also get assigned a skill that is used in a fairly complicated version of scissor, paper, stone. This, combined with the additional quests, items, combat pets and followers triggers a kind of insane kleptomania that Ash Ketchum would be proud of. You feel compelled to Catch Them All. Add into this heady mixture of completion-ism, the fact that there is a base chance of ALL quest rewards and boss drops to be upgraded (followers too) to either rare or epic rarity from the lowest form, means that Blizzard have really gone out of their way to make sure they are doing something new and different, and most of all, rewarding, to keep the community engaged. My night was spent goggling at the stunning snow covered landscape, taking screenshots of lava pools and watching it snow. Yes. Weather effects!

WoW_WoD_PressKit_TFu_19bDay three : Heal Me!

Today is the day I shall attempt to go into a dungeon. A new one. I tell myself as I log on. ”I know! I’ll use my monk to heal!” After realising that I’ve never healed as the monk, and watching the health bars of my team mates drain like a overfull bath, I was summarily booted from the group after we wiped out on the second or third group of enemies. Oops. My bad. After a quick look at an online guide, I felt ready to try again. Attempt number two went really well. The healer has a nice rotation and plenty of buttons to press should damage start ramping up. I did notice something that disturbed me, and then after giving it some serious thought, actually pleased me. Loot is not guaranteed when you kill a boss. The instant gratification reward system was replaced with a few coins. After my rage died down, I rationally allowed some grudging respect for the design team. What better way to get me revisiting the dungeons than making the loot unpredictable, potentially looting a better piece and accruing me vast wealth along the way?

WoW_6Day four : The Shaman Who Died (A Lot)

I made a few discoveries today. The servers that controlled the instances was unfortunately suffering in light of the recent DDoS attacks, whilst the goblins and gnomes of Blizz HQ rushed to repair them, I logged into my other characters to see how and what has happened to them since the patch release. There were a LOT less buttons on my hot-bar. After reading up on the changes, I felt that not all of these changes were for the better. My Paladin missed her angelic wings  it looked awesome, which is important to me. My shaman was missing his little spell effects that lingered around his weapons – they have now been made a passive effect based on talent specialisation, but still it felt a little flat. Other than that the other major change was the statistic squashing that affected every single piece of equipment. After the servers stabilised, I was able to check on my garrisonand my followers missions. I was offered an upgrade to my Garrison. Wow! What a way to allow players to customise their home base. The level 2 Garrison became a Fort (with suitable bigger walls and harder looking NPCs) and I had the freedom to build whichever buildings I wished. I can’t wait to expand further, with my buildings becoming little workshops that turn common Draenor materials into mounts, spell boosts, food and weapons and armour. This was a brilliant move by Blizzard.

WoW_WoD_PressKit_TFu_21aDay five: Class Balancing you say?

I’m now in full-on WoW withdrawals. Work seems to take forever to be finished before I can jump online – there are now no queues on my server. My routine has become checking for follower mission completion, looting the accrued garrison resources and making sure my work orders have finished. Blizzard have added in a narrative that really puts you in the centre of the action. It’s created in a way to really celebrate the accomplishments you have achieved since your character was born; admittedly this feels flat when you have newly boosted a level one to level 90. For someone who used to log into just to role-play, I found myself nodding to NPC’s acknowledging my character as the hero they have undoubtedly become. The little comments within the scripted quests from the NPCs such as Thrall and Khadgar give a believable feel to the game and really help with immersion. Thrall – the Guardian of a WHOLE planet, is deferring to me? I get asked to fetch 15 wolf skins from a nearby encampment. Yes the scout work still exists, it always will , but it doesn’t feel as tired as it should.

WoW_6Day six : Collect ’em all!

A few heated debates across the internet forums and legions of desperately upset players have petitioned the American Government to fix Blizzards server issues. Blizzard announced that the server population is healthier than ever, with a massive TEN million subscribers. It has stung the lead developers to release an interview, stating that all of the money in the world cannot fix the server issues. Fans scream blue murder about poor launch management and throwing more cash at server structure. Blizzard know that this initial outlay will be pointless in the long run, as content slows down and subs fall away. In a way to allay peoples rage and fears they have kindly extended every subscribed players account by five days. Nice gesture. I’m still logging in at peak times with no queue. Yes you are having to wait to play, but it means that this game is SO good you are going to have to have patience before you can get your  mitts on it! Do the crappy rides at the amusement park have long queues? Hell no! The rides that have the most hype and give the biggest thrill have the huge queues.

WoW_Dungeons_BF_EM_04Day seven : The Hunting

My day is spent struggling with the spotty garrison server issues. Unfortunately my game time was a little restricted as well. So I settled myself down to a spot of questing and generally enjoying the game. Quite a few occurrences of loot upgrades (thanks to my War Mill) and chatter with other players show the promise of Legendary quests issued by Khadgar himself, which will eventually lead to Legendary items to equip and show off. I’m now able to access my bank and trade in the metals and ore for other trade goods that I can sell. I am so happy with the way my fort is turning out and I look forward to playing the end game content.

Blizzard have shown that listening to player feedback, tweaking an already tremendous reward system from questing, has made the World of Warcraft and my own personal world a brighter place to be in.

 Score: 8/10

ARGO Online (First Impressions)

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ARGO Online (First Impressions)

Free-to-Play MMORPG

MGAME/Usergames (Europe)

 

It’s hard to enter a market that already has a big name player leading the way. Even if your ambition is limited, having a major competitor close by can stifle your growth and leave you gasping for air. This is why you never see a hot dog van outside a McDonalds – or any FPS titles launching the same month as the latest Call of Duty.

Forcing your way into the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game market is even more difficult because it’s nigh-on impossible to ‘have a bit of a go’ with an MMO, you’ve got to go all in. They cost an absolute fortune to develop and maintain, and worse still, anybody with the slightest interest in playing an MMO probably already is. Whether they pledge their allegiance to the World of Warcraft, fight the Guild Wars or play superheroes in the DC Universe, players’ time is already taken and hundreds of game hours and years of real time already committed. Friendships are forged, alliances pledged.

Into this difficult environment comes ARGO Online, another MMORPG that wants to catch your interest. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d have a play through the early hours of the game on your behalf and see if there’s anything here worth your time.

Once your account is registered, you are asked to choose a faction – the technologically inclined Noblians or the more ecologically harmonious Floresslah. From there you pick a class and enter the world. Some of the classes are more obviously geared towards solo play than others if you’re not big on the whole team playing thing, but all are designed with a late game role in mind. For my play sessions I chose a Floresslahan Mage (which is effectively the heavy weapons specialist), but the usual tropes are there – tank, melee fighter, summoner, rogue, healer etc.

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On entering the world, you’ll notice that the interface is pretty familiar and the control method, standard. There are the usual quick slots at the bottom of the screen that include your powers and consumables. Everything is on a cool down, so you need to wait for a timer after using a power before you can use it again, the whole thing feels very easy to get into if you have experience with WoW or GW2.

As usual, the opening quests are ‘kill me 6 space rats’ kind of things, but as you make progress and being to unravel the story of the conflict between the Noblians and Floresslah, there’s a good chance of being drawn in by the lore of the world and the quest types do vary.

Unfortunately, the game betrays the fact that it is relaunch with some dated graphical assets.  Being an MMO, this isn’t a huge issue as many of them look complete butt at the best of times. However, they are functional and nothing that will disrupt your play. Some of the vistas and towns are fairly impressive, but if you’ve played modern MMOs, you’ll be satisfied rather than impressed. Sound wise, the in game sound effects are a weak point, but the background music is excellent. I strongly recommend turning that up and playing with headphones.

The opening hours, like most MMOs, are very forgiving and lead you gently into the world of ARGO. The occasional player comes wandering past you, but there’s no ability to team up on the fly like Guild Wars 2 and even Defiance has. Still, you’re never lonely as there are a host of characters in the world that want to tell you their troubles and enlist you in the task of delivery or ‘rat killing’. Conversation can be unintentionally hilarious, as the localisation is – if we’re being kind – still in progress; there are some incredibly clunky sentences and phrases. Voice acting is very limited so the clangers dropped by the writing really stand out. I found myself ignoring the talk after a few hours and just going off on the quest, but you may have more patience and sympathy then I do.

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ARGO Online boasts an interesting auto route and auto farm system that allows you to send your character off to a location without having to take the trouble of guiding them directly. It functions differently than ‘fast travel’ featured in a lot of MMOs and RPGs, because you actually traverse the landscape in real time – this allows you to see mobs that you might want to take down or quest markers you might be interested in and take control to attend to them. It’s a good system, although the path finding is bizarre at times. It really needs an option to avoid mobs as well, as you can end up pulling aggro from beasties that you’d rather have avoided. Strolling through and annoying a large group of monsters 2 or 3 levels above you can really put a crimp on your day – especially if you’re playing a support character rather than one that can take care of itself. The auto farm system is designed to allow you to hunt for loot by taking down creatures – although I could not get it to work properly in my time with the game.

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At launch I experienced some problems with connection and stuttering on screen but I’m happy to say that these issues seem to be ironed out for the most part. Rare indeed is the MMO that is smooth at launch.

Like most free to play titles, you are invited to spend money real money by buying UserCash which will allow you to purchase costumes, pets and experience boosts. During the early hours of the game, this makes little difference – although it may well be a different story with the 3v3 or 5v5 battle elements in  the game.

Like any MMORPG, the true depth of the game is only revealed with time but it can be difficult to decide where to invest your hours if you’re looking for a new time-sink. There seems to be enough here to warrant your attention, and there certainly is a deal of charm about the world, despite the somewhat dated graphics. Give it a go and see if it grabs you – not quite Steampunk meets not quite future-Elves has got to have a home somewhere. Maybe it’s with you.