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Looking back at six years of Lineage II


Released in South Korea in 2003 and North America a year later, Lineage II came out as an old-school hardcore grind just as MMOs like City of Heroes, World of Warcraft and Guild Wars arrived on the scene and signaled a decisive shift toward more user-friendly, casual-accessible gameplay. Even so, Lineage II charged ahead to capture an impressive amount of players -- a reported 610,000 gamers were playing the title three years after launch -- and the game both endured and grew as time progressed.

A six-year anniversary doesn't have quite the gravitas as a five- or ten-year one, yet it's still an accomplishment that many of Lineage II's contemporaries failed to achieve before closing their doors. Travel with us then as we step back in time to an era when MMOs were the equivalent of a dangerous playground, with players leaping about despite rusty swings, harsh death penalties and a never-ending monkey bar grind. Join us as we examine Lineage II's history and seek to understand the secrets of this game's popularity, and what it still has to offer for the contemporary gamer.

Son of a giant

Lineage II's story begins with the original Lineage, a 2-D isometric MMO that came out a mere year after Ultima Online and enjoyed scarce competition in the field. Lineage quickly became one of the most popular MMOs in Asia, rocketing past the one million mark (it would eventually peak at around three million) in a time when 100K subscribers was highly impressive and 300K a smash hit. It's amazing to consider that Lineage held the title as the world's most popular MMO until Blizzard stole it away in 2004. Its bloodthirsty PvP angle combined with an addicting "one more mob" grind hit a sweet spot with many gamers, and NCsoft soon had a monster title under its belt. All that was left was to turn it into a franchise.

It's a little odd to consider that for a relatively new genre of video games, the MMO industry saw a significant number of sequels developed in the early days of the 2000s, including EverQuest II, Ultima Online 2 and Lineage II. Not all of these made it off the ground, but the old mentality of milking a franchise for all its worth died hard, and manifested in the creation of these MMO sequels.

NCsoft's approach to Lineage II was simple: more, better, bigger. Instead of 2-D, the sequel (technically a prequel as the game is set 150 years before the events of Lineage) would utilize the Unreal engine's gorgeous 3-D graphics, putting the game's visuals on par with many other mid-decade releases. City sieges, a centerpiece of the original, would be improved with new siege engines, flight and other height-related strategies. Huge battles between factions would be more commonplace at higher levels, requiring players to ally themselves with one side for protection in numbers.

Players were to have a greater wealth of choices with character customization this time around as well. After choosing one of six races and one of two basic starting professions (fighter or mystic), the game would gradually open up to a staggering 36 classes as players climbed the level ladder to 85. One of the neat features of Lineage II was the addition of subclasses at higher levels to further diversify your skills. Unfortunately, many players looked and felt familiar in the early game, especially with a limited number of visual customization and skills, and never saw the wider scope of the options at upper levels.

Lineage II scraped by with a decent if unimpressive 62% metacritic score, as reviewers bashed its hardcore nature while praising the game's beauty.

Player versus player versus karma

Lineage II experimented with the PvP system somewhat by introducing a "karma" feature. Essentially, you racked up karma for ganking players who didn't fight back (PKing). The more bad karma you accumulated, the bigger a target you became for other PvPers because you'd start to drop loot. A neutral karmic state can only be restored by fighting PvE monsters, taking you out of the PvP game for a while.

Seeing how prevalent PvP was in the Lineage II experience, having a karma system helped the servers from degrading into a lawless mess. Still, the game was both brutal and unforgiving in its approach, and players were urged to tough it out as they leveled under duress until they could compete against enemy forces on an even footing. Because of the tedious grind, botting quickly became commonplace to speed up the unimportant levels.

While the developers promised that solo play was possible, Lineage II all but herded gamers into groups for protection and efficient grinding. For some, the group unity of guilds and friends became the highlight of the title; for others, it was a deal-breaker.

Like Shadowbane and Darkfall after it, Lineage II molded the entire game around its PvP side, hoping that players looking for a very specific experience would find it in their title. People looking for a deep PvE experience could go elsewhere, and that was that.

Growing into its own

While other MMOs tend to get more of the spotlight, Lineage II quietly yet steadily improved with time. A series of 12 major content updates and expansions have been rolled out over the years, adding new skills, a pet system, minigames, new player bonuses, weapon augmentation, a new race, hunting grounds, aerial combat, and of course, many, many PvP improvements. The latest content patch, Gracia Epilogue, came out in late 2009 and concluded an important storyline while adding a few handy new features.

It hasn't been all grind and no play during this time, either. The whimsical side of Lineage II shows up with many holidays and events, not to mention a trip to a whacked-out fantasy island.

2010 has smiled upon this game, indeed. NCsoft brought back their 14-day free trials to pull players into the game, allowed players to split off a character's subclass into an entirely new avatar, and reduced the painful leveling curve to help reduce one of the major criticisms about the title. NCsoft has good reason to make Lineage II players happy: Lineage II was responsible for 26% of NCSoft's sales in 2009, and along with Lineage and Aion, helped the company rocket into extreme profitability.

Even after six years, this MMO behemoth doesn't look winded as it continues to race ahead. To celebrate Lineage II's six-year anniversary, NCsoft has declared June to be a "Nostalgia Month" with a contest and giveaways for players who share some of their favorite memories of the game. We'd also love to hear from Massively's Lineage II fans in the comments -- what's made this game great for you over the years?

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