Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Him.

Posted: November 15, 2007 by Kendricke in Gaming Sites, Insiders, Rise of Kunark

Over at MMOG Nation, Michael Zenke took some shots at a review of Rise of Kunark posted by Karen “Shayalyn” Hertzberg over at Ten Ton Hammer:

Hey Hammer … this piece on Kunark, that you call a review? The ‘review’ that has a score on it and has review as part of the title? It’s not a review. Not only is it impossible to review a MMOG expansion that just went live yesterday, the reviewer makes it sound like her exposure to the expansion content was just via the guided tour. That’s not a review. That’s a ‘preview’ or ‘first impressions’. Not a review.

His position is that it’s virtually impossible to review an MMO at release.  Read through his comments and you see that his entry apparently touched the right buttons as Coyote, Savanja, and Boomjack all come out of the TTH corner swinging.

All of which leads me to wonder, when is it ok to review an MMO?  What makes a good review as opposed to a poor one?  Is this review really a review or not?  And does this even matter to anyone who doesn’t actually write about video games?

For myself, when I pick up a “review”, I’m generally looking for the good, the bad, the ugly, and a recommendation on whether or not I would probably enjoy whatever it is that’s being reviewed. 

For example, if I’m interested in hearing about a new resturaunt in downtown Minneapolis, I might read through a review or two which explain that the service is top notch, though a bit slow, that the filet was remarkable and the desserts delightful, but that the price and parking might be a bit restrictive.  This at least gives me the critic’s idea of what to expect when I make my reservations (or may help me decide not to provide reservations in the first place).  If I’m thinking of going to watch a movie, I might want to read a review on it which lets me know (preferably without too many spoilers) whether or not I would probably want to bring the kids, wait for the DVD, or just skip it altogether. 

So, when someone tells me about a “review” of a game, I probably want to hear about some hands on.  I want to hear about actual experience with the gameplay.  With MMO’s, I want to know even more.  I want to know about grouping. I want to hear about loot.  I want to know about new spells and abilities.  I want to hear about raids or dungeons or tradeskilling or whatever.  Just tell me what your personal impressions were based on actual in-game play. 

To back things up a bit, I’ll admit that I thought Michael was being a bit harsh when I first read his article blasting the “review” as nothing more than a preview.  I thought perhaps he was being a bit too high strung or maybe someone at Ten Ton had kicked his puppy. 

Of course, by the same token, I thought the Ten Ton Hammer responses to his article were equally unfair though, as it seemed they were coming back at Michael fairly hard.  I thought they sounded overly defensive and felt they were targetted Michael directly for daring to post an attack on one of theirs. 

Then I decided to actually read the article which had inspired all the back and forth in the first place.  After doing so, I have to say that I think Michael nailed it. 

Michael was dead on when he mentions that the reviewer most certainly spent the majority of her review commenting on information gleaned from one of SOE’s press tours.  The writer had a lot to say about what Craig “Grimwell” Dalrymple said on the aforementioned press tour, with virtually all experience regarding the expansion coming from answers from an SOE Community Manager.  In fact, next to none of the “review” contained actual hands on gameplay discussion, but was, in fact, simply a review of the press tour itself.

Even then, it would seem the press tour information itself is out of date, as it mentions Kylong Plains as being geared toward levels 65-70, when in fact it has been geared towards level 68+ for weeks. Writing a review to tell level 65 players that they’ll have “plenty of content” in Kunark is inaccurate.  In all fairness, I realized I’m probably picking at nits on this, so I chalked it up in the same way I might chalk up a typo or a date being off by a day. 

But then, I started to notice other small descrepencies as well, such as this line from page 2:  “Quest drops are automatically credited on a kill without ever having to take up space in a player’s inventory.”  Well, this was true for a long time in-game, but for some time now, that hasn’t been entirely accurate.  In fact, with Rise of Kunark, virtually all of the quests have items which take up space in a player’s inventory.  I should know – I’ve completed 50 of the quests in Kylong Plains and Fens of Nathsar so far, and I’ve actually had to clear out bag space just to work on some of those quests. 

Another line that caught my eye:  “As a player gains levels, their spells automatically appear in their knowledge book (and on their hotbar as space allows.”  Ok, to be fair, this is true for the first 50 levels.  Starting with level 51, however, you have to purchase every spell or combat art.  Now, virtually all of Rise of Kunark is designed for characters higher than level 50, with only Timorous Deep containing content through level 20.  This lead me to believe that the reviewer either does not play Everquest II, or at least does not play on any higher level characters. I mean, it’s not as if this is a new idea here – you haven’t been able to buy spells at level 51 since there was a level 51 (September ’05).

Then I see the paragraph spent criticizing Everquest II’s combat system based purely on the concept of heroic opportunities, which seemed completely out of place.  Not only are heroic opportunities just a small part of combat in Everquest II, with many groups and even soloers choosing to avoid them completely, but it had next to nothing to do with the expansion Rise of Kunark (a point the writer even references). 

But all of this could have been forgiven in my mind as semantical or philosophical differences of opinion between a reviewer and a reader if the “review” itself didn’t abruptly end on page 2 with only a single small paragraph dedicated to actual hands-on, in-game play – and even then, it was only referring to low level Sarnak quests and combat against the spirocs (which are apprarently wearing “parrot suits” according to the article).

That’s right – two pages of “review” and only one paragraph dedicated to actual gameplay. That’s the “review” right there.  Oh sure, you get to find out that the writer’s brother would be interested in picking up Rise of Kunark if Sebillis was part of the expansion (it is), but if you’re a newer or returning player looking to hear an informed opinion on whether or not you should pick up this expansion, you might want to hear a bit more than that. 

Is it possible to review an expansion on the first day of its release?  I think so.  I think it’s absolutely possible.  Even gave a great hour by hour review of the first day of Tabula Rasa, so I know that it’s at least possible (I think Michael should too, since he’s at Massively himself).  However, any attempt to defend this particular article as a “review” would ring hollow to me.  It’s not a review.  It’s barely an accurate preview. 

And it should be ok to point that out.  It should be ok to take a major network site to task for articles that meet standards.  It should be ok for writers like Michael Zenke to post his opinions on the works of others, just as it should be ok for them to write their opinions on his work.  As writers, how else could any of us learn except through such honest and open critiques.  

By the way, if anyone wants to criticize my own critique here, be my guest.  Just be prepared to explain to me how the article in question was anything close to an actual review.  In fact, be ready to explain to me what 4 out of 5 hammers actually means – and how did Rise of Kunark earn those marks in the first place?  Why wasn’t it a 5 out of 5?  What possible factors lead to losing out on a perfect score?  Because from what I read, the “review” was absolutely glowing except for newbie quests, parrot suits, and heroic opportunities. 

This article awarded 7 out of 8 clockworks. 

  1. Laldail says:

    I’m not sure that reviewing a review is ever particularly helpful. It is only one person’s opinion, after all is said and done. That said, Kendricke laid out pretty well what he expected in a review and then how this particular one did not measure up to that standard. He even provided examples to support his position.

    At no point do I see where Kendricke was disrespectful to the author in question, unless you believe that disagreeing with someone’s view is being disrespectful. I do see, however, a very good example of how to NOT behave in a disagreement in the posts from the TTH crew here in this blog. Get real, folks. If you disagree with the content as written then argue the merits of the content. If Kendricke misspoke somewhere, show where the problem lies.

    Flinging innuendo and sarcasm, while entertaining to some, doesn’t actually provide any meaningful discourse. ‘Professional’ writers should know better.

  2. brent says:

    The best part of this thread?

    RadarX calling Kendricke “Captain Drama Pants”.

    (Can I borrow that one, Radar)

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