A friend originally told me about CLOK, and the exciting things that could be done within the confines of the game. She mentioned that there was a heavy emphasis on crafting, exploration, survival and affiliations. Each of these things sounded interesting enough to me that I tried, and for a time, enjoyed the game.
Unfortunately, skills are very grindy and have been acknowledged as such by the playerbase. Exploration is a hit or miss scenario, with some towns overwhelmed by hostile creatures that will pin your character with arrows, control them with magic, or simply kill them in two to three hits. Death isn't permanent, but theft from corpses isn't uncommon and you're often stuck waiting for someone to drag your corpse to a guild capable of resurrecting you.
While the players are exceedingly helpful, there are a number of pitfalls that this game suffers from. A lot of guilds within the game are 'secret'; this doesn't mean that you're entirely unaware of them on an OOC level, though this is sometimes the case, but rather that you have to earn your way in through roleplay. Originally, I was very excited by this concept and was eager to show that I wanted to be a part of one of the darker organizations in the game.
But again, there are problems with this type of thought when it comes to game design. CLOK is a small game. Personally, I never saw more than 15 people online at once, though the staff often went invisible, so it's possible that there were more than the number of people connected at once. This is important, but I'll get back to it in a moment.
Since the guilds can be of dark or evil alignment/mentality, and they're often outlawed - Shadgard, one of the starting areas, has a poster listing all known people affiliated with the dark/evil alignment town - you're stuck floundering. How do you show that you wish to be a part of these groups? Speaking to someone on the ESP network, which is essentially a game wide IC chat, isn't a good way to go about this, yet it's the easiest way to reach out to people when they're out grinding their skills in the world. Mail is sent via NPCs, so it's possible that the NPCs could out you as wanting to be one of the more sinister types. Another option would be to simply meet the PCs that live in the evil town. Again, this is a problem because they're evil, and you need a special invitation into the town, or the guards will attack you on sight.
GM intervention could potentially save you from this vicious cycle, but we'll say that you don't garner their attention, as the typical player doesn't receive their help. The other method to joining a guild, which is a life long decision that your PC makes and can never switch, is to get the approval of other players. As I mentioned, this could be difficult if you're trying to be a darker character, but we'll ignore that for a moment.
A different friend of mine that joined when I joined CLOK spent an absurd amount of time trying to work into a neutral guild; it was recently closed for enrollment and you're simply unable to get in without the approval of other players or a GM. When we finally located one of the guild members to give my friend's PC access to the guild, we found out that you need the approval of three players in total. At the time of me writing this feedback, there were eight other players connected to the game. Eight. At this point you might be thinking that I'm blowing this out of proportion, but there are over sixteen known guilds in the game, and players can only join one per character. A system that automatically detects active guild members to determine how many endorsements you need and subtracts or adds based off of the detected number would be perfect.
The idea that guilds are closed or kept 'secretive' to prevent people from joining is silly, and it ultimately took away from my enjoyment of the game world. The game doesn't have a high enough populace to have these sorts of limitations, which is something that the staff recognized at one point because they specifically put in NPCs to resurrect players until there were enough of a certain guild that it didn't need to be done by NPCs.
Not only is participation in some of the guilds limited, but some guilds are simply better than others. Equipment in CLOK can be created through a number of means, and when used, it will eventually degrade over time. When you want to repair it, there are a few methods, but the most common is to contact one of the Artisans. The Artisans are a guild that can repair, forge, and create a lot of the items in the game world. Some items are entirely unique to them. While they get no combat abilities through their guild, they inherently have an edge over other players that may want to be self-reliant; they can do things that other people simply cannot, and have a lot of tools that make them appealing, but altogether too common since they're so well off in terms of abilities.
The abilities can be very immersion breaking, too. Hostile mobiles occasionally drop treasure chests, but they're unable to be opened by anyone that isn't a member of the Rogue guild, or an NPC that takes the majority of the items out of the box and gives you the leftovers. I hope you get the point that being in a guild is often an important thing, but choices are limited by arbitrary implementations.
Combat is automatic and usually easily understood, but placement of monsters is ridiculously awful. Using Shadgard as an example, there's a place called Tarueka that's suitable for newbie adventurers. You can fight some monsters that I don't believe are ever capable of killing you in two to three hits. Yet, attached to this areas are monsters so powerful that they can send you into the worst wound state in a single round of combat. They're also stealthed, so if you try to look into the area to get an idea of where you're going, you won't see them. This is a very common occurrence in CLOK. There are hostile monsters wandering the game world, near the starting areas, that will destroy newbies their first time out in the world. There's no preparing, and it can be your first taste of combat when you're still getting on your feet as a new player.
In short, the game often fights against you wanting to play it. You have to be extremely specific with commands that often aren't normalized over multiple commands (i.e. I can type 'bandage me' and it will bandage my PC. If I wanted to clean my character, I'd instead have to use their name) that only subtracts more from the experience. Unless you're specific players, you don't seem to ever get any attention from the GMs, and the majority of the staff only plays during the daytime in the United States. Roleplay is enforced, but most people will breeze by your character with a canned emote nod, or simply decline your assistance in favor of farming materials/grinding skills.
I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone that's looking to pick up an RPI. There are better choices available. The players are nice, but the staff doesn't seem to involve themselves in the lives of most players.
The world of Arad is appealing. The mechanics of CLOK are not.
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