Lineage: The Blood Pledge is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) developed by NCsoft. Though virtually unknown in the USA, Lineage is hugely popular in Korea and Asia; they claim to have 4 million subscribers worldwide. Lord British now works for NCsoft; some gamers might remember that a few months ago, he invited people to participate in a siege online.

I played it for a month, and here are some details. For the short version, skip to the review section at the end.

Story

The story of Lineage is based on comic books by Ilsook Shin. I haven't read the comic book, so I just know the portion of the story relevant to the game. A false pretender king has seized power in the fantasy kingdom of Aden. So princes and princesses have emerged, who have a legitimate claim to the throne. (I will just say princes from now on) Their goal is to gather up an army, strong and loyal enough to reclaim their birthright.

The player's part in this is to either be one of the princes, or to join a prince. The prince will try to take control of any of the castles in Aden, working towards the goal of ridding Aden of the pretender king. But to have enough experience to do that, players must fight the lesser monsters of the land first.

The story unfolds in episodes, where the landscape of Aden changes. NCSoft occasionally performs "episodic" updates on the role-playing world. These updates can consist of new quests, new areas to explore, numeric tweaking, new items, or whatever. Often there is some story to go along with the new episode. Episode 11: Oren ("the ice storm is coming") is supposed to be next, according to the website.

Gameplay

Lineage gameplay has been described as "looking like Ultima Online, and playing like Diablo". The player gets an angled top-down view of the action, attacking monsters by clicking on them. Chat with other players is done simply by typing, and a little speech bubble appears over the speaker. The system is fairly intuitive, except for the fact that stats on items are often missing. For example, the only way to know if orcish chain mail is superior to studded leather armor is to try them on, and look at your AC.

Classes

There are four character classes, and players can choose gender for each. All skins for a certain class/gender look identical, which leads to swarms of identical looking people wandering around, since there are a total of 8 skins.
  • Knights: The easiest class to play, supposedly. Knights get by with their superior strength and melee ability, but they are unable to use magic.
  • Mages: Considered a medium class, but it is actually easier than playing knight. Mages have the best magical ability of all classes, but poorer fighting ability.
  • Elves: Elves have weaker magic abilities than mages, and less fighting ability than knights, but get the best of both worlds. The lack of a monetary system in the elven forest (where elves start) makes it difficult to get started with an elf.
  • Princes: Princes are like a weaker form of elf, with some magic and fighting ability. However, a prince is the only character class capable of forming a "blood pledge".

Blood Pledges and Sieges

Blood pledge is Lineage's equivalent to clans in most games, or guilds in Ultima Online. Joining a blood pledge essentially means the player is pledging fealty to the pledge's prince. The prince can keep players loyal by giving them things, keeping them busy, and organizing expeditions. In turn, the pledge member is expected to contribute however the prince sees fit. Each pledge is different, and there are hundreds of them. But every pledge has a shared storage space, where members can exchange items.

There are a number of castles in Aden, and a pledge can control each castle. Such control allows the prince to set tax rates in the castle's nearby town, and taxes gathered in the town strengthen the pledge's coffers. To take control of a castle from another pledge, a siege occurs.

Sieges seem to be the most unique aspect of Lineage. It is supposedly possible to have a hundred players in one battle. (So they say. The siege I observed consisted of several people standing in the entrance to Kent for an hour or so. Not very exciting. Anyway) An invading blood pledge can win a siege in two ways: 1) kill the prince of the opposing pledge, or 2) bring their prince safely to the main hall of the castle keep. In order to do that, they have to fight through the castle archers, as well as tangle with the defending pledge members.

Castles:

  • Kent
  • Orcish Fortress
  • Heine
  • Windawood
  • Giran
More castles are likely to be added in later episodes.

Alignment and Player Killing

Lineage has an alignment system, designed to discourage player killing. A player who want to avoid the problem completely can use a different, non-pk server, but then the player will miss out on the sieges. Players who kill chaotic monsters (or chaotic players) gradually become more lawful, while players who kill other lawful players rapidly become chaotic.

There are special combat zones where there is no alignment penalty for killing other player, and no loss of XP or items when killed. Also, killing players from a warring pledge is all right. The system mostly works, but there are people that intentionally exploit loopholes in the system.

For example, Alice logs in with her level 1 char and punches Bob's dog once. Bob's dog will defend itself, and Bob is too busy to heel his dog. Alice lets the dog kill her, and then Bob becomes chaotic, because of his dog. Alice then logs in with her other, high level tank and whacks Bob for no penalty. Someone tried to do this to me, but I was paying attention, and so quickly teleported myself and my dog out of there. I saw others who were not so lucky.

So, despite the alignment system, there are pk problems on Lineage. pk'ers can be infuriating everywhere. In Lineage, though, some people have gotten so angry that a new term has been coined: offline pk. There is a story from Korea where a wizard pk'd some knight. The knight's player, a big guy, then physically travelled to the net cafe where the wizard's player (and his pledge) were playing. He pulled the wizard's player outside, and beat him up. That kind of fanaticism seems to be limited to Korea, but perhaps we'll be seeing it in the USA when Star Wars: Galaxies launches.

Review

Well, now that I've explained what Lineage is like, here's a little review, where I explain why I am not signing up for the subscription after my one month free trial.

Hmm.. it is easiest to do this in a list. Good things about Lineage:

  • Nice, helpful players
  • Sieges seem to be a unique experience
  • I greatly admire that an independent software company produced such a massively popular game
Bad stuff:
  • The graphics are somewhat dated.
  • Annoying lack of synchronization. Sequence of events when killing an orc with an energy bolt: 1) wizard starts to cast spell. 2) loot appears on ground next to orc. 3) orc falls over dead. 4) wizard throws energy bolt towards where orc was before step 1, hitting air. This happens consistently.
  • Dying means you lose XP and some random items from your inventory. Maybe this is typical of MMORPGs, but the magnitude of penalty is too frustrating. I once spent my savings on some boots only to promptly lose them in a battle. Players can lose levels this way. Gaining XP feels like taking two steps forward and one step back.
  • Hard to organize hunting parties, and it sucks to hunt alone. Fighting is practically a waste of time without NPCs to hunt with, i.e. dogs
  • Problem with pk'ers. Not as bad as Ultima Online supposedly was, but Lineage has its share of mean people.
So, do I recommend trying it? Well, the download and first month are free, so there's nothing to lose. However, I suggest sticking to something like Dark Age of Camelot instead. But keep an eye out for Lineage 2, a prequel MMORPG using the Unreal engine, and currently in development.
http://www.lineage.com/
Offline PK: http://www.time.com/time/interactive/entertainment/gangs_np.html

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