Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 25, 2009
Luminary Review

So this is the mystery review I was talking about: I am currently spending a lot of time in the open beta of Luminary, a new game from Aeria Games, a company specializing in Free2Play games. Luminary is easy to underestimate, because it looks a lot like many other Asian 2D games, with colorful, cute, cartoon graphics, and screenshots that overflow with dozens of characters and monsters. But once you start playing it, you'll discover a surprisingly deep economical game, the likes of which I haven't seen before. Forget everything you heard about games promising you a "player-run economy", Luminary is the real deal.

All weapons, armor, and tools in Luminary are player-made. By killing monsters, doing quests, and harvesting, you gather resources, and these resources are what everything else is made of. If you want a better sword, for example because you outleveled your current one, you will either have to craft one yourself, buy one via the market (auction house) from another player, or find a player to craft one for you. There are even "manufacturing requests", where you can state what you want another player to craft for you, provide the resources and a commission, and can even set a minimum skill level of the crafter. And there is a helpful window showing all master crafters online.

Now you think "but how do I know what resources I need for that new sword, and where to get them?". All this info is contained in a handy Game Info screen. You can search it for any item, monster, town, dungeon, or NPC. It will not only tell you what resources you need, but also give you the location of all the monsters that drop this resource, including drop probability and the complete loot table. This gives farming monsters a unique dynamic, because suddenly you aren't just doing a kill ten foozles quest, or farming monsters for random loot and xp, you are working towards a specific goal, looking for specific resources for your next piece of gear. I never understood why other games outsource that sort of information to third-party database websites, it is a lot more useful when integrated directly into the game. As you can always check what all items and resources are currently worth on the market, and how to get them, you can easily find economic opportunities for maximum profit.

There are no character classes in Luminary, but there is a system of skill points. You can improve your skills by exercising them, but that is usually rather slow. The faster way is to read skill books, but many of these cost 1 skill point to read, and you only get 1 skill point per level. So you can't be good at everything. But you can make 3 characters per account, and you are even allowed to have two accounts (not more), and run one of them multi-client or on a second computer for the boring afk harvesting jobs. As you will probably only master one of the 6 possible weapon types in the game (3 melee, 3 ranged), the weapon you choose defines a lot of what would otherwise be considered your character class. Every level you get 5 stat points to distribute, and somebody who has chosen a bow, or the "magic" cane as weapon will distribute the points differently than somebody who chose a sword, spear, or axe. You can gimp a character by distributing his stat points badly, but at level 10 and 30 you are able to reset and redistribute. I recommend a melee weapon for your first character, as the stats are easier to distribute for those (keep DEX and VIT at or slightly above your level, put the rest of the points into STR). On the other hand ranged weapons have the obvious advantage that if you shoot a monster that uses melee, you can already wound it before it can reach and hit you.

Combat in Luminary is similar to those of many 2D games, you just click on a monster once, and exchange blows until one of you drops dead. But you have an unfair advantage over the monster, you can drink unlimited numbers of healing potion during combat. That makes it possible to beat even monsters a good deal higher in level than you are, unless they one-shot you. But of course healing potions cost marbles, the virtual currency of Luminary, and if you try to farm higher level mobs you'll quickly find you're spending more on the potions than what the loot is worth. There are no spells until much later in the game, but cane wielders use mana to power their weapon, and thus need to drink mana potions as well. At level 20 you'll learn to summon a combat pet, but even with that there isn't really much strategy involved. But the mob density is high, and most mobs don't attack you, so combat is more about farming monsters, a more interesting variety of resource gathering than harvesting. Luminary is more of an economic game than a tactical combat game.

And of course there are also quests in Luminary. The first quests are a kind of tutorial, teaching you how to fight, gather resources, craft, and trade. Starting at level 25 other quest NPCs open up, and you can also visit Jack, who gives you timed quests to farm a certain number of monsters in a limited time, and get a stack of resources as reward. There are not only monster-killing quests, but also specific quest-givers for every type of manufacturing craft skill. Starting at level 30 (I think) you can also get random quest from the magic lamp that is delivered to your inventory at random times if you are online.

Crafting is a major part of Luminary. Reading books to improve your crafting skill doesn't use up skill points (apparently this is different from the Korean version of the game), so you can always be a crafter in parallel to whatever else you put your skill points in. But getting crafting up can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, so don't expect everyone to be able to craft everything. Simple items are crafted by simply choosing what you want to make, the make menu helpfully shows only items you have the resources for, choosing how many you want to make, and waiting 10 seconds for the crafting to complete. More complex items, like weapons and armor, can exist in various degrees of quality. This is influenced by you dexterity and by the score you achieve in a mini-game. The mini-game is a particularly uninspired clone of Bejeweled, but you only need to play it to a score of 10,000 to get the maximum bonus of 10% (less score gives linearly less bonus).

Luminary also has a political part of the game, which is tied in with the economic game. Players can buy "shares" of the various cities in Luminary, each share giving a vote. There are regular elections to town council, and there is even an elected leader for the whole server, called "GoonZu", who is elected every three months. Political, economical, and social factors come into play in Luminary's mentoring system. When you first create a character you are asked to state who recommended the game to you (choose me! :) ), and then you can choose a mentor from a list of players of at least level 50. While you level up, these people get rewards and reputation points. So your mentor has an interest in you doing well. Of course there are always some people who just try to collect a maximum number of pupils, without doing anything for them. But as you can always switch mentor, it is easy to find somebody who is actually willing to help you, at least with advice, but sometimes even sending you newbie stuff and so on. That makes for a much better new player experience than most other MMOs.

As I mentioned, Luminary is Free2Play. Which means there will be an item shop where you can buy stuff for real money. The item mall isn't enabled in the open beta, but as Luminary is a port of a Korean game, I have an idea what kind of things players will be able to buy. They are the usual suspects for these sorts of games: Added inventory space, teleport tickets for those too lazy to walk, skill and stat resets, clothes for looks (the character doll has the ability to equip clothes for stats and clothes for looks), various stats bonuses, mounts, skill books, and items that increase the rate with which you gain experience. It is hard to say yet how balanced all this will be, between people who spend a lot of time and little money, and people who spend a lot of money and little time. But the open beta is certainly very playable without all these items, so there don't appear to be any must-have things.

Of course no game is perfect, and Luminary certainly has a number of flaws. One classic problem is the translation from Korean to English, which is relatively well done, but not quite perfect. You'll often stumble over small mistakes like the "Successful Rate", where the meaning is obvious, but the English isn't quite correct. More seriously some of the quests explaining the more complicated game features to you suffer from the direct translation of the instructions being not that easy to understand, or too short. Especially McCoy's crafting quests suffer from that. Typical stumbling blocks are you being asked to click on the "red square", which actually is a white frame with black text, and only a thin red border around it. One quest only advances when you craft a level 8 weapon, but the instructions aren't clear, and most players end up making a useless junk weapon, because they weren't told to increase their skill first.

But mostly whether you like Luminary or not depends on whether you can like a game which is so different from the classic big 3D MMORPGs. Luminary is an MMORPG, but just like both chess and monopoly are board games, Luminary is very different from World of Warcraft. Combat is much easier, but the economic game is satisfyingly complex and deep. Your WoW raiding skills won't help you a bit, but if you used to play the auction house in WoW, you might very much enjoy Luminary. You'll have to ask yourself whether you can live with colorful cartoon 2D graphics. And while of course Free2Play has big advantages, you'll also have to live with the possibility of somebody else spending a lot of money on microtransactions to get ahead of you. To me that isn't very different from somebody else spending a lot of time in game to get ahead of me, but opinions on that are divided.

Personally, for me Luminary is just the game I need right now. A game where thinking and planning what to do next advances you faster than your button-mashing skills. This is *not* a casual game like Free Realms, in fact I'd say Luminary is a lot more hardcore than World of Warcraft, but in a very different way. Getting elected as GoonZu, or even just town chief, is a feat that would require a huge amount of dedication, and online time. I'm not planning to do that, but I'll try to make a name for myself as a crafter. I don't mind microtransactions, in fact (Shock! Horror!) I plan to spend some money on items of convenience, like teleports and a bigger inventory. Luminary is currently in open beta, but apparently characters won't get wiped again before release, so you can effectively already start playing. Recommended! Speaking of which, in a blatant attempt of self-promotion, don't forget to put "Tobold" as the person who recommended the game to you. :) Western game companies can learn a lot about social engineering from Asian games.
Nice review, that sounds rather cool.
The problem with all the F2P games, is there is too damn many to try!
Looks intriguing and F2P means I can enjoy this AND play WoW :) (A big plus).

Too bad the download is 1gig, I'm capped (Damned Australia and my 30g download limit) and downloading it is going to be an exercise in pain.
So about the crafting system. Does Luminary suffer from the problem which many other games do (especially WoW imo)? I'm thinking of that you have to craft a ton of junk items to level up the skill that you will have to vendor because everyone else is making them and the AH is flooded with them. Also that the resources are worth much more than the finished product, which probably is related to my previous point.

That's in my opinion one of the worst designs possible.
Does Luminary suffer from the problem which many other games do (especially WoW imo)? I'm thinking of that you have to craft a ton of junk items to level up the skill that you will have to vendor because everyone else is making them and the AH is flooded with them.

No, the auction house is actually curiously empty of crafted items, except for the very first level of goods everybody makes in the starting quests that explain crafting. Maybe this is the opposite problem, crafted goods sell at a nice markup over the cost of resources, so most people use the manufacturing request system to get their items crafted. Crafter's who want to level up fast don't craft a lot of junk, they buy the skill increase books with the profits they made from crafting.
"you'll also have to live with the possibility of somebody else spending a lot of money on microtransactions to get ahead of you. To me that isn't very different from somebody else spending a lot of time in game to get ahead of me, but opinions on that are divided."Is this a change of heart Tobold? I seem to remember you complaining about EVE a couple of weeks back for the very reason that you could buy advancement.
Any PvP in the game? Seeing that you are enjoying the game, I would presume not, or that it is easy to avoid! Also, what does the elected mayor or head of the server actually do? Is there any reason to aspire for political prominence, besides the status?

I must say, this looks like the type of game I would really enjoy - I might just give this a go!
Is this a change of heart Tobold? I seem to remember you complaining about EVE a couple of weeks back for the very reason that you could buy advancement.

I don't mind the possibility to advance a bit faster by spending money. Most microtransaction games sell you scrolls that give you some xp bonus for some time, and I'm okay with that. My point with EVE was that the totality of your character was defined by your set of skills and the amount of ISK you had, and if the skill set only depended on how old your character was, and you could buy a huge amount of ISK directly, what is the point of still playing? What exactly you can sell with microtransactions and not destroy your game is a touchy subject which I'll explore further this week.

Any PvP in the game? Seeing that you are enjoying the game, I would presume not, or that it is easy to avoid! Also, what does the elected mayor or head of the server actually do? Is there any reason to aspire for political prominence, besides the status?

Yes, there is PvP, and no, I haven't tried it. So your assumption that it can be avoided is correct. The town chief sets things like how many percent you pay on each market transition, how much it costs to use town resources like a mine or the warehouse, and what to spend the income of the town on. The GoonZu (elected server head) has even bigger powers, although the exact power set is still under discussion, some people feeling that those on the Korean servers are a bit too much.
This comment has been removed by the author.
What exactly you can sell with micro-transactions and not destroy your game is a touchy subject which I'll explore further this week.Good idea Tobold, there is an important debate to be had there. The quality of micro-transations games is getting better and better and it seems inevitable that this is the way of the future.

Apologies for sounding like an EVE fanboy (I am not even playing the game any more) but I'll throw in my 2 cents worth before we start. I have tried a number of games at this stage that offered "pay to progress" rmt options and for some reason EVE's rmt system has by far the least impact on the game. Most rmt games of my experience bombard you with signposts towards the rmt shop not so with EVE. In fact I would suggest the RMT system in EVE has no more impact on the game than the illegal sale of gold has in World or Warcraft, in fact less so because at least you don't get spam about Eve's legal rmt system (you do still get illegal gold seller spam sadly).
I would still recommend you try atlantica online. It too has a really strong player run economy where every weapon/armor in game is player made, and after you kill a monster a few times it and it's drops are entered into a book. You can then share this info with others. Plus card-game like combat. And really ugly graphics - heh - but still well worth playing.
What kinds of things are tied to the mentoring system? Social engineering is one word for it, but pyramid scheme is another. I can imagine the scenario we see in various games where dozens of people try to start their own raiding guild (in this case, political party?) because they want to be the guild master. That's only going to get more pronounced if there are rewards for doing so.

Meanwhile, people who want to get to the top will want to get more followers by hook or crook, which could lead to a structure of bribes and competition between mentors that could make WoW guild-hopping look like long-term committment.
I know it's probably a given, but it's worth mentioning the game is Windows only. It does sound interesting though.
In my experience in gaming, nothing compares to the amount of money people will blow on text MUDs. Iron Realms Entertainment (with games like Achaea, are the main one I had familiarized myself with, and the main recipient of thousands of my dollars. I believe I counted that I had spent roughly 6000$ on extras and bonuses to this game, and I was not even in the top 100 buyers. With a player base that numbered (and still does) roughly 500 online users at any time, that is a very significant amount. Consider too that this is a Free2Play business model where everything you can purchase is also available through enough online grinding.

I am in no way affilitated with the company, - in fact I had a falling out with one of the owners over a perceived unfair treatment of a transaction near the amount of 2000$ that I asked to have cancelled about 6 hours after initiating it and was refused, despite being a long time customer and in my eyes core member of the active playerbase, purely because he thought I would succumb and do the same transaction again to "correct" it - but I should point out they are trying their hand at a graphical MMO as well on the same model. I believe it is called Earth Eternal.

While I did state I was not a fan of the company any longer, I do believe they make an excellent product. Their text MUDs cater to a niche environment, and I don't doubt that their venture into the free2play graphical MMO will be succesful in it's own way.
I remember trying this game about a year ago when it was called GoonZu Online. I kept it installed for a little while intending to further examine the economy/town politics. In the end the basic gameplay/combat was too much of a turnoff. I'll probably give it another go when I find the time to devote to crafting.

Wait a minute, I just searched for GoonZu Online and found ndoors running the game and celebrating it's one year anniversary. This is the same game right?
Yes, Ndoors is the Korean company which originally developed the game. They do have a US subsidiary, Ndoors interactive, running a slightly different version of the game. Why they licensed the game for distribution to Aeria Games, which is a subsidiary of a Japanese company, I don't know.

But for these Free2Play games it actually happens quite frequently that the same game is offered under same or different names by different publishers. The game Bounty Bay Online I tried once was also available in a different version under the name of Voyage Century Online. Confusing as hell.
On your recommendation, Tobold, I downloaded this game and gave it a try.

I'm very disappointed.

There's no part of this game that doesn't scream unadultured grindfest.

Crafting: Play bejeweled for the umpteenth billionth time for a surprisingly long stretch in order to make a mediocre item. Wait for or buy skill books to level up.

This may be "better" than standard crafting in the sense that you aren't just click-click-skilluping your way through, that's true, but I still don't see the appeal when the minigame is so tedious, mundane, and standard. I did it once and was sick of it.

Combat: Worse than any other MMO that I've played. You don't really do anything but sit and wait for combat to resolve. You might occasionally drink a potion--that's about as exciting as it gets. That's just about as non-interactive as MMO combat can get. It's actually less complicated than harvesting in some MMORPGs I've played.

Character Advanacement: Oh. Skill Books. So now I not only have to be qualified to level up, but must also buy an item that lets me do it? So arbitrary and designed to simply slow players down. Why do I need to buy skill books to level up skills? Why can't I do it from my success in-game?

And the interface is terrible as well. It doesn't make much sense to an English speaker. It's hard to figure out what you have to manipulate to do simple tasks. Sometimes I had to literally just forget about doing something until a quest told me how to do it.

Atlantica Online is significantly better in just about every facet, though it does have some flaws and can be ab it grindy. If you want to AFK macro your way through a game, perhaps Luminary is a good choice, but if you want interactive and at least mildly interesting gameplay, AO seems to offer more and better.
I sure want to try Atlantica Online when I find the time. But I'd object against the phrase that it is "significantly better in just about every facet". It just happens to be significantly better in the facets that interest you most. Me, I'm very interested in the economic and political game of Luminary. I am certain that I would enjoy the turn-based tactical combat of Atlantica Online more than the Luminary combat. Too bad we can't match and mix a game with all the dream features we want.
I value games (MMOs especially) that offer many ways to meaningfully interact with content. This value is a fairly universal one--it applies to just about everyone except for hardcore JRPG fans that just want to watch a movie that requires you to push A occasionally.

AO has an actual combat system that encourages skillful play. Luminary does not. That's a huge advantage in an MMO, considering that combat is a focal point of the majority of MMOs that gain purchase in the industry. I do not think this preference is simply "something that [I] like better", it's actually a better-designed system.

The two most basic gameplay actions you undertake in Luminary are fighting and crafting. Fighting involves one click and spamming health potions. Crafting involves playing an uninspired and clunky bejeweled clone. I don't see how these are superior gameplay mechanics to just about any other MMORPG's fighting and crafting systems.

Sure, there may be more depth in the more abstract modes of gameplay (enterprise and politics), but if the basic actions involved in gameplay are so much more banal and uninteresting than most MMOs mechanics, why should I play?

A game has to do the basics well in order to draw me in, and Luminary does not.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool