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Not So Massively: HoN goes free to play and Diablo III meets eBay


Welcome to Not So Massively, our weekly roundup of the top news from popular multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) and other multiplayer online games that aren't quite MMOs. Published every Monday, the column covers games such as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, Rise of Immortals, Bloodline Champions and more.

Last week, we revealed the Realm of the Titans closed beta and heard news from the front lines of development on the Rise of Immortals open beta. We took a first look at the incredibly unlikely online game Family Guy Online, and I gave my first impressions of World of Battles: Morningstar. In a bizarre coincidence, both League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth revealed gameplay details of their surprisingly similar Monkey King characters last week. League of Legends also launched its second Song of the Summoner theme song contest.

In this week's Not So Massively, we give out beta keys for Realm of the Titans and I give my first impressions of competitive multiplayer Facebook game Dungeon Overlord. With LoL now boasting over 15 million registered accounts and a peak concurrency of 500,000 players, Heroes of Newerth jumped on the free-to-play bandwagon this week with a complete re-release.

In a press event last week, Blizzard Entertainment showed off several previously unseen features for online action RPG Diablo III ahead of its upcoming beta phase. Standard social features available in World of Warcraft and Starcraft will be present, including the persistent friends list and a cross-game chat system. When it came time to talk about the auction house, Blizzard revealed the massive news of its plans for an eBay-style cash shop.

With practically every game on the market implementing a cash shop, we expected some form of it to appear in Diablo III. Instead, Blizzard is taking a new approach by introducing a player-run cash-based auction house. A normal auction house will let players buy and sell goods for gold, while a second one lets players list items for real cash values. Players can choose to withdraw the money from the game for a fee or keep it in and use it to buy items.

It's an unusual move but not entirely unexpected. The third-party market for items in Diablo II is still a healthy industry over 11 years after the game's launch, making it inevitable that people would sell Diablo III items for cash. Through the cash auction house, Blizzard will make that market secure and easily accessible in-game while taking a cut of each sale. The down side is that the potential for making cash does create a huge incentive to duplicate items and run farming bots, a problem that has plagued Diablo II for years. To read more about how the system will work and the reasons behind its development, head over to our sister site Joystiq.

Of the three champions announced at E3, Skarner the Crystal Vanguard is the only one yet to be released. It looks like we can expect Skarner to finally go live soon, as this week summoners were treated to a Champion Sneak Peek comic describing his origins. Riot Games also released some interesting figures this week, the most impressive of which being League of Legends' 15 million registered accounts. While account registrations don't mean a lot for a free-to-play game, Riot backed the figure up with equally impressive figures like its peak concurrent player record of 500,000 and the fact that an average of ten games of LoL start every second of every day.

Wukong The Monkey King goes live this week, bringing the popular character from ancient Chinese epic Journey to the West (and the inspiration behind Dragonball's Goku) to League of Legends. His abilities are based around rapid movement and dealing damage to groups, with the interesting twist that he can turn invisible and leave a clone of himself behind. To see how Monkey King plays in a game, check out the champion spotlight video embedded below.

It's been a long time coming, but the inevitable day has finally arrived -- Heroes of Newerth has gone free to play. With the growing number of free-to-play MOBAs entering the market and competitor League of Legends having grown into an industry behemoth, it was only a matter of time before HoN converted to a form of the free-to-play model. Existing paid accounts have been upgraded to "legacy" accounts with access to everything the game has to offer, while free accounts are limited to playing the all-pick game mode and can choose from only 15 heroes.

In much the same manner as the League of Legends champion rotation system, the available 15 heroes will change each week and players can purchase a hero to have it available permanently. Heroes can be purchased with cash via gold coins or bought for silver coins earned by playing matchmaking games. New heroes released in the game will now also be purchasable for gold or silver coins two weeks before they become publicly available. This controversial move has sparked outrage on the forum, as S2 had previously promised they would only ever sell cosmetic items.

Free vs. Paid accounts

A new option has been implemented to allow players to opt out of playing with free-to-play users on basic "unverified" accounts. In an interesting move, free players can upgrade their accounts to fully verified status by either buying an item with gold coins (only purchasable with cash) or playing enough to reach a certain amount of play time.

This keeps a gating mechanism in place that ensures games aren't ruined by trolls on new accounts who haven't invested anything in the game and so don't fear banning. Verified players still have to buy heroes they want to use or be limited by the weekly rotation, while legacy accounts will always have all heroes for free.

In addition to the free-to-play conversion, this week sees the release of two new heroes. The combo-based Monkey King has gone live, and so far indications are that he's ridiculously fun to play. Alcoholic brawler the Drunken Master also makes his debut appearance, with the interesting ability to actively dodge projectile attacks by staggering and stack health regeneration and damage buffs on himself by drinking.

If you've been following upcoming MOBA Realm of the Titans with interest, you'll probably want to get in on the closed beta that launched this week. Head over to Massively's RotT beta key giveaway page to grab a key, log into Realm of the Titans, click the "game menu" button, and enter your code in the pop-up menu. You'll not only get into the closed beta, but you'll also get double XP for 30 days, a magic carpet mount, and a cosmetic companion named Gharu. The keys are going fast, so get one quickly before they're all gone.

This time last year, I found myself blocking a new Facebook game app practically every day. Even the ones that didn't incessantly beg me to play, flood my feed with pointless achievements or charge people money to circumvent an artificial and exponentially-growing grind seemed to waste dozens of productive work hours per week and provide little competitive play. As I found out when I test-drove Facebook-based sci-fi shooter Vorp! at the start of the month, however, not all Facebook games are like this. With my preconceptions challenged, I approached Night Owl Games' new online game Dungeon Overlord with a cautious optimism and was pleasantly surprised.

In Dungeon Overlord, players design and build their own underground dungeons. Loyal goblin workers mine resources, transport goods between your dungeons and travel to the black market if you need to buy supplies. While the early tutorial gameplay made me initially dismiss the game as yet another Farmville clone, I soon found myself actually quite enjoying the game. The traditional Facebook game incentive to log in for 30 minutes or so each day to tend to your game is still there, but it didn't feel like a big deal to leave the game untended for a while. Resources accumulate on the floor of the dungeon while the player is away from the game and can be picked up in a few seconds when you have time.

Competitive gameplay

Where Dungeon Overlord differentiates itself from other farming games (for want of a better phrase) is in its competitive gameplay. You can populate your dungeon with creatures, who can then be sent on raids to other players' dungeons or NPC-controlled villages. Any resources left lying on the ground in your opponent's dungeon are at risk of being stolen by a successful raid, though you will need to bypass his dungeon defenses and kill all defending creatures before you can abscond with the loot. You can even watch recordings of battles you've won or send a thief ahead to spy on the enemy dungeon's defenses.

The good and the bad

Overall, I found Dungeon Overlord to be a fun diversion that can be played to its fullest for an investment of only 30 minutes per day. The competitive gameplay in particular has some clear potential, and it will be interesting to see it evolve. I didn't like the long wait times on upgrading rooms in your dungeon or sending raiding parties to nearby dungeons, which in some cases exceeded an hour. While this is typical of Facebook games, it created a normally unnecessary need to log in multiple times per day or pay cash to bypass the wait.

I was also not too fond of the very limited social toolset available, with only direct mail for communicating with neighbours and no way to guarantee your friends will be able to set up a dungeon near you. Despite the hundreds of player dungeons visible in the game's massive overworld map, the fact that most of them were abandoned also made the game feel very empty. Active players seemed to be spread thinly across a huge map, with very limited methods for finding each other and communicating.

Stay tuned to the Not So Massively category tonight for a special Not So Massively Extra interview with Night Owl Games CEO Chris Mayer on what the future holds for Dungeon Overlord.

Join us every Saturday for Not So Massively, our roundup of the top news from popular online games that aren't quite MMOs. If you think there's a game we should be covering in Not So Massively or you've found some interesting news you think deserves attention in the next roundup, please mail the details to

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