Review by LordShibas

"A free alternative to WOW, but it's not without its problems"

It's been a little while since I've written a review on Gamefaqs, and part of the reason is the amount of time I've recently spent playing Gates of Andaron. Periodically, I will get addicted to an MMO, and then I'll totally neglect the rest of my games, and that's exactly what happened with Gates of Andaron. While I do love the formulaic MMO game design, I usually only play them for a few weeks and then move on, since I quickly tire of superfluous grinding and monotonous questing systems.

For those of you that are oblivious to what Gates of Andaron is all about, I'll try to explain the game a bit. Gates of Andaron is a free MMO from Gameforge that sticks very closely to the gameplay style of WOW (World of Warcraft). Unlike many other free MMOs, Gates of Andaron has an extensive questing system, which helps to alleviate some of the grinding that pervades most other free MMOs.

Gates of Andaron takes place in Iberia, which is a nation that has been divided into two factions, the Derions and the Valorians. You can choose to play on either side at the beginning, but conflicts between the two factions won't be taking place for a long time, since the early portions of the game focus on PVE.

There are three races you can choose from: Humans, Neveds (cat-like people), and Fairies. The Fairies look like tiny little Elves. You can choose from six character classes from the onset. There's no need to play as a base class for the beginning portion of the game, like other free MMOs. The character classes are pretty reminiscent of other MMOs, they are: Warrior, Night Walker, Archer, Magician, Priest, and Evocator. The only two that might need a little explaining are the Night Walkers and the Evocators. Night Walkers are similar to Rogue class characters, and Evocators can call forth enemies to fight for them, so they don't have to get their hands dirty if they don't want to.

During the time I spent playing Gates of Andaron, I chose to be an Archer, which is my favorite character class in MMOs. So my take on the game will be from an Archer's perspective. The Archer class is pretty well rounded. It plays much like the Hunter class from WOW, minus the ability to summon beasts to aid you. Your main form of attacking will be with your bow or crossbow, and you have access to either a single handed or double handed sword for when the enemies get in your face. Some of the archer skills include status ailment arrows, evasive buffs, and some basic sword skills.

The questing system in Gates of Andaron is twofold. All perceivable quests have level requirements before you can partake in them, and they are broken down into story quests and hunting quests. The story quests occur every few levels, and keep you systematically moving through the giant land of Iberi. These quests might include delivering messages to NPCs, finding hidden items from enemies, extrapolating information about the opposing faction, taking out bosses, or traversing instanced dungeons.

The hunting quests also become unlocked at certain levels, and these can be completed as many times as you want to do them. These quests boil down to slaying a certain number of monsters and getting “Seals of completion”. Once you have these, you will get your rewards and exp. from the NPC that gave you the quest. At first, the hunting quests seem like a great way to level up, but as your levels get higher and higher, you will need to incessantly repeat these quests just to get to the next story quest. It's still a much better system than straight up grinding, but the lines between grinding and questing start to blur the further you get into the game.

Speaking of Gates of Andaron and grinding. I have one warning about this game. Do NOT play this game with the intention of solely grinding. The exp you get from straight up grinding is pathetic. When used in conjunction with the hunting quests, the grinding is tolerable, and this is really the only way to level up at a decent pace and become somewhat complacent.

Well that's the basic layout of the game, and if you have ever played an MMO before, then you should be able to fill in the cracks and see how this game pertains to many other MMOs out there. Despite how similar Gates of Andaron may be to other MMOs, I found myself enjoying the game a good bit after getting past the initial quests and learning the ins and outs of the game.

However, MMOs tend to have a breaking point with me where I no longer feel like the time investment is worth it, and I end up stopping to pursue other, less demanding games. Now let's take a deeper look at Gates of Andaron.

Graphics 6/10

Gates of Andaron is not a very good looking game. It's incomparable to the vibrant visuals of Aion and its artistic style fails in comparison to the creative visuals in WOW. Overall it's a rather plain looking game that doesn't do much to differentiate itself from other MMOs. The character models are somewhat bland, the equipment upgrades don't get even remotely interesting until level 16, and the enemy models get recycled over and over again.

Not only do the enemy models get recycled, but some of the enemies look identical to one another, but they will simply have different names and be a bit stronger. Fighting orcs for the hundredth time can get boring after a while, regardless of the context the quests may put them in.

Some of the spell effects are impressive, and even the Archer class has some aesthetically pleasing spells like Rain of Arrows, which pelts your enemies with a swarm of arrows from overhead.

There are two more things about the visuals in Gates of Andaron that I would like to mention. First, while the equipment may not be all that impressive at first, you can augment your gear with Magic Scrolls that boost the stats of your items. When you do this, it gives the equipment a nice, shiny finish that looks kind of cool. The more you refine your equipment, the more in glows, and it's easy to tell who has powerful equipment due to how much it shimmers.

Next, the areas you will be exploring can sometimes be rather barren and lifeless. While exploring, you will find pockets of enemies and towns, but there are also large stretches of filler land that can be rather drab to navigate through.

Gates of Andaron may not look too impressive, but it does seem to run very well. Even low end computers should be able to run the game without a hitch. When I played Gates of Andaron, I frequently partied with a guy that ran the game on his laptop, and he never had any graphical problems with the game at all.

As long as you are not expecting to get blown away by the visuals, Gates of Andaron can be a pleasant journey, just get ready to fight the same enemy types over and over again.

Sounds and Music 7/10

The few music tracks that play in Gates of Andaron do get repetitive, but for some reason I didn't mind them too much. The starting area of Horusland has some heroic sounding music that helps you get into the mood of the game, and every subsequent area has new music to break up the monotony. When you travel to darker areas like Chesed, the sullen musical tones seem to fit the game well, even if they may not be the best MMO music tracks around.

On the other hand, I really thought the sound effects were well done. Questing your way through the land of Iberia sounds great in and out of battles. In battles, you will hear the string on your Archer's bow let loose from every arrow you fire, and then hear the arrows swish towards their targets. Each enemy impact produces a nice, loud confirmation slash that really makes your attacks seem like they count. Swinging around a two handed sword also sounds great, and each time you swing your sword it will be accompanied by the sounds of the blade cutting through the air, and then you will hear the inevitable collision between your blade and your enemy.

There is a small bit of voice acting in the game, and it's really bad. The voice acting only comes into play when you first approach NPCs and they acknowledge you. None of the voices and character models match up at all, and it seems like Gameforge went out to the streets and recorded people saying random lines.

Technical Issues and the Community 5/10

MMO communities can be a large factor in your enjoyment of the game, and Gates of Andaron's community is mediocre at best. Perhaps it's the fact that most of the early content in the game is solo content, but people seem to be reluctant to party with you and help you. Fortunately, I was able to find another player that was the same level as me, and played about the same amount that I did, so I always had a consistent party member. Partying is not really a necessity in the game, but it makes questing much faster, and can make certain boss fights much easier.

Once you get around level 25, the best place to level is an area called Chesed, and this is a free battle zone. It's the first point in the game where the opposing faction (The Derions in my case) can take pot shots at you. I'm not really into PVP, so it kind of annoyed me when I was trying to quest, and ended up getting swarmed by Derions and killed. There is no penalty for dying, but you have to run back to your corpse, which kills some time.

I prefer the style of PVP in other MMOs I've played, which is having PVP arenas. If you want to PVP, go to the arena and do it all you want, just don't interfere with other people questing. The Derion attacks wouldn't even be so bad if you got attacked out where you where fighting other enemies, but when I played, the Derions would often attack the Valorian Encampment in Chesed, and cherry pick people that just showed up through the warp portals…………..yeah, really fair. How attacking defenseless players fills one with conceit I'll never know.

While the community may not be the greatest I've ever seen, the technical aspects of the game were pretty solid. The game client ran fine and only crashed on me a few times. I never ran into much lag, and the online experience seemed to be pretty smooth. The one bad thing is when you do run into lag, the entire game client freezes, so your screen just stops, giving you no indication of what is transpiring. Luckily, this didn't happen to me too often.
The actual support from Gameforge leaves much to be desired. I ended up having a problem with a certain character harassing me when I played the game, and the GM's tepid resolutions showed a severe lack of caring and concern.

I would say that Gates of Andaron is about average when comparing its online community and technical issues to other MMOs. In both cases I've seen better and I've seen worse, so take that for what it's worth.

Gameplay 5/10

Gates of Andaron plays like any other MMO you may have played in the past. Questing and grinding will be at the forefront, and the major towns will be your main source of conversing with other players, repairing your gear, and picking up quests. Controlling the game is pretty easy. You can choose a point and click movement method, or you can use the WASD keys for movement. Your skills can be fired off with the F1-F11 keys and the number keys. This gives you quite a few options for hotkeys, and you will need them with the large amount of skills that leveling up will grant you.

I prefer the point and click style of movement, since I've used it in other free MMOs, and I like how it frees up my hand for skill launching. However, the point and clock method of movement presents one of the first and most prominent issues with Gates of Andaron. In Gates of Andaron, the corpses of slain enemies have a very large circumference. This is great for looting purposes, but if you kill an enemy and another is attacking you, it's sometimes tough to click on the next enemy, and you will end up looting a corpse instead. This will sometimes require you to retreat from the downed foe, just so you can target the next enemy.

This wouldn't be so bad if the game gave you ample time to move on to the next enemy, but after about level 12, EVERY single enemy is set to aggro, and it's very common to get swarmed quickly when you're simply trying to take out specific enemies. The aggro distance is also quite harsh, and looting the corpse of a dead enemy almost always sets off another enemy to your presence. Fighting battles in Gates of Andaron takes some perseverance on the part of the player, since fighting one enemy often leads to a confrontation with two or three enemies.

I also had a problem with continuous arrow shooting. When firing your arrows from a distance at enemies, some of your enemies will fire back, and others will run towards you. The enemies that fire at you will often knock your bow firing animation away, and cause you to press your attack button again to keep attacking the enemy. This would be okay if it was situational, but it seems more like a bug than anything else. The reason I say it's a bug, is that it also happens when you adjust the camera around your attacking character. Sometime moving the camera in the slightest way will cause your character to cease their attack and just stand there, taking damage.

Now it's time to talk about the inevitable free MMO cash shop that Gates of Andaron uses. When you purchase credits in the cash shop with real money, you get Moonstones. Moonstones can then be used to purchase enhancing items from a special shop that can give you a slight edge. I like to dabble in free MMO cash shops when I play games that have them, just to see how well they are implemented, and to see how reasonably priced they are for what you get in return for your real money.

I'm quite pleased to say that the cash shop in Gates of Andaron is fairly priced on most items. EXP boosts, mounts, and town warp scrolls can all be attained for a good price and can really increase your enjoyment of the game. On the flip side, the Magic Scrolls that allow you to refine your weapons and armor can drain your cash extremely fast if you are not careful. The best way to refine items is to buy the base Magic scrolls, buy Survival Tinctures, that ensure that your item will not be destroyed if you fail at refining it too many times, and finally, buying Serendipity Potions, which doubles your chance of a successful refinement. This combination of items can really set you back if you are not careful, but in moderation, they are really useful.

Refining items may be expensive, but the rewards for having a decked out set of armor are great. Gates of Andaron is balanced around characters that are NOT using the cash shop for equipment upgrades, so delving back into the action with your high level armor will make you a walking fortress. I rarely needed to use health potions when I had full sets of refined armor.
The biggest problem with refining items is that when you successfully refine an item, it sends a shout to the entire server that says X person refined item X to X level. This is the point where people start bombarding your with whispers, begging for you to refine items for them. This gets really annoying, and many other players in the game will try to leech off of your opulence if you refine items through the cash shop.

While actually playing the game, it does take a little while to get into the swing of things with the questing system. Once you hit about level 6, you will start to make your biggest strides, and this will continue until about level 20 or so. This is when the game starts hitting hardcore grinding mode, and you will need to keep repeating the hunting quests just to level up at a decent rate. I kind of grew tired of the grinding at level 20, but I kept playing because I had such a great, consistent party member that had the same PVE ideals as I did. I'm no longer playing the game, but I had a moderate amount of fun with the game when I did.

Gates of Andaron attempts to quell the melancholy of grinding by incorporating a questing system to justify the madness, and while it works for the first 20 or so levels, the game just gets too repetitious and boring for its own good. Killing enemies that look identical will get old, going to the same NPCs for quests will become burdensome, and small bugs that kill the enjoyment of the game will crop up all too often.

Longevity and Re-Playability 7/10

Most MMOs have a lot of content, and Gates of Andaron is no exception. I played the game for about a month, and I was able to get my Archer to level 35, but the level cap is currently at 76. Iberia is a vast land, and there are plenty of things to keep you occupied. The questing system will hold your interest for a while, but it does get pretty stale before too long, and grinding your way to the next level may or may not be to your liking.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a free game that is similar to WOW, then you should give Gates of Andaron a try. It's not as polished as WOW, and there are not as many people playing it, but it mirrors the questing system from WOW to an acceptable degree, and has lots of driving factors that will keep you playing. Just keep in mind that the game gets much more demanding the higher your level gets, and the community is not exactly the most friendly you are going to find in an online game.

There is a lack of credible online information for Gates of Andaron, and I hope that I was at least able to shed some light on the game, and convey whether or not Gates of Andaron might be a game for you to try. Either way, I would recommend giving the game a try. It may not be perfect, but it's free, and it won't cost you more than your precious time. Unless you willingly decide to invest in the Cash Shop.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/20/09, Updated 11/24/09

Game Release: Gates of Andaron (US, 07/28/09)


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