Friday, May 6, 2016

Old Wine In New Bottles : Celtic Heroes

Last month I mentioned the unfortunate accident that befell my trusty and much-used Lynx Windows Tablet. Every busted digitizer has a silver lining, however, and I'm very pleased to report that my replacement, a Chinese Ipad Air clone going by the name of Teclast TPad X98Plus, is an excellent upgrade.

Amazon has always been my go-to for mobile tech purchases. I started with an iPod Touch back in 2012 and since then I've bought two 7" Android tablets (broke the screen on the first by over-vigorous cleaning after just a couple of months, second still working and in occasional use) and the aforementioned Lynx. I've also bought tablets for Mrs Bhagpuss and my mother all through Amazon.

I don't take Amazon for granted as the best possible source for value but the convenience, reliability and trust factors almost always combine to make buying there the best overall choice. Nevertheless, I do generally make price comparisons elsewhere before clicking "Buy" and this time, as I was searching around for something to replace the broken Lynx, I discovered a huge price discrepancy.

There was a full rainbow like that across the street from my house last week. In fact, mine was a double rainbow. Rainbows are breathtaking both in and out of game.

I'd about nailed down my choice to the Teclast, which has excellent reviews all over the web and offers a really great range of functions for the price range. Amazon had it at £229.99, which was a little more than I was budgeting for. The Lynx cost me around £129 if I remember correctly. The Teclast is better but I didn't think it was that much better.

Googling around I found it at somewhere called GearBest. Despite being based in the USA they were apparently prepared to sell me the TPad for almost a hundred pounds less than Amazon in the UK, with free postage and very similar delivery times. Including insurance to replace the tablet if it never arrived (I've spent some of my working life shipping small packages around the world and I am all too well aware how often they go astray) the total came to just over £140.

I'm very pleased to report that delivery took around a week, faster than expected, and the Tablet arrived very well-packaged and in perfect condition. It worked immediately out of the box with both Windows 10 and Android 5.1 pre-installed. I had to remove a bunch of Chinese apps from the Android side of the house but that was the work of moments.

Forgive me if I seem wary of your fashion advice, Afallon.

The TPad is an all-round upgrade from the Lynx, with which, I should stress, I was perfectly happy until I dropped it. The screen display is very significantly better, the cpu and inbuilt graphics are more punchy and the case is more robust. The external speakers are hugely better too - the ones on the Lynx were feeble - although since I nearly always  use headphones that's hardly a major concern.

The best thing about it, though, is that dual boot OS. Having access to all the standard range of Windows software that I use on my desktop, including all the MMOs that will run on the tablet, which appears to be most of them, is essential; also being able to use the vast range of apps available for Android, though, well that takes things to a whole other level.

It has to be said that Android apps in general seem to be simpler and more intuitive to use on a touch screen than even Win10's touch-specific software. Android somehow feels more natural in the environment. I just find it more enjoyable to watch YouTube or follow Feedly on Android than on Windows when using a hand-held device.

Celtic Heroes has had three graphics upgrades in five years. Compare this shot with the one in the 2012 post linked above.

I'm off work for a couple of weeks recuperating from a minor operation and I've been using the extra free time to re-install all the apps sitting in my Google Play Store account. There were a lot more than I remembered.

I have Baldur's Gate up and running on the TPad and for the first time it's actually playable. On the 7" screen the quest text was completely unreadable but on the 10" retina display it's crisp, clear and big enough to see easily. I had GW2 running this morning under Splashtop, which works perfectly, but it still requires a keyboard and mouse to play properly so I'll not be bothering with that for now.

The game I have actually been playing on the new tablet is one of the very first mobile games I ever installed. When I got my iPod Touch one of the first things I did was look around for MMOs to play on it. I posted about that at the time but for some reason I didn't mention what is still, by some margin, the best mobile MMO I've played.

There are plenty of quests, all written in good, idiomatic English. Or should I say Scottish?

In fact, as far as I can tell, the only time I've mentioned Celtic Heroes is at the end of this post, where I said "Been meaning to write something about that one for a while" and promptly never mentioned it again until now. That's mostly because, while you can play a full-function MMORPG on the 4" screen of an iPod touch, it's not really all that much fun doing it.

It was a lot better on the 7" but now, on the full 10" the experience is right up there with playing on the PC. The visuals are simple but sufficiently detailed and attractive to be a pleasure rather than just functional. Character creation allows for a good variety of looks, all in a consistent, if stylized, Celtic theme that puts the wild aberrations of many MMOs to shame.

I did have character from the last time I played but even though i still have the log in and password details I chose to make a new account and start over. So far I am still in Lir, the starting area. Leveling is fast but not ridiculously so. After about an hour or two ( a good deal of it spent fighting with Android's unwieldy screenshot processes) my ranger has reached the dizzy heights of level seven.

Baby's first Named.

When I logged in there was a choice of four servers. You can have two characters on each. The game is free to play with a premium membership scheme that I have not investigated. It has an excellent 4.2 (out of 5) rating on the Play store, aggregated from over 40,000 reviews and from what I have seen so far it deserves it.

There is a wealth of resources for the game on the web that would put many a well-known PC MMORPG to shame, from the smart and well-maintained official site to a number of fan sites like Celtic and Celtic Heroes Tavern. The game has its own official Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter feeds.

Once again, as with RuneScape, here is evidence of a whole other world of MMORPG excellence going entirely unreported in this corner of the blogosphere. When you push through to the website of developer One Thumb Mobile the explanation for Celtic Heroes' familiarity and solidity becomes clear:
Our team boasts many years of MMO development experience from titles such as Runescape, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online and from companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Jagex, Turbine and Eidos Interactive. As players and developers we are inspired by classic open world MMORPGs such as Everquest and Ultima Online.
I played this morning and the starter areas were busy and bustling. I received a drive-by friend request, which I ignored. Someone stopped beside me in a dungeon, watched to see if I was going survive against the named goblin I'd just pulled, decided (correctly) that I wasn't and jumped in to help me finish it off.

Dungeons within dungeons. I died here. Twice.
It was, in short, the very familiar experience of starting out in a successful, thriving new MMO - only Celtic Heroes isn't new - it's been around for five years. The level cap is now 220 (!). I don't imagine I'll ever make much of a dent in that.

To conclude, I can thoroughly recommend the Telcast X98Plus. It may be a no-name clone but it's a damn good one. And I can equally recommend Celtic Heroes. It may be a generic diku MMO but again it's a good one. Sometimes you just want things that do what they're supposed to do without making a fuss about it and that's exactly what you get with these two. They were made for each other.


  1. While Celtic Heroes (and a plethora of other games) look fun enough to play, the one thing that puts me off from playing a lot of MMORPG's is the small (if any) amount of player-character Races. Sometimes it seems like Vanguard really was the last of the 'a dozen or more races to play' type of game to appear on the scene. I really don't like playing humans (or 'Tolkien Elves' for that matter)yet outside those the offering stend to be rather limited.

    On that note, I do hope Black Desert comes with a 'small' Race soon, preferably Gnomes. We can dream ;)

    1. I totally agree with this. Celtic Heroes is at least thematically consistent and has a lore reason for only having Celtic humans as the playable race but obviously it's mainly a practical decision rather than an aesthetic one.

      Black Desert is getting "Dark Elves" with the Valencia update I believe, which is just another human-looking race. Daum did say in an interview that they might consider doing the Shae as a playable race - which would basically be very small humans (yes, I know they aren't actually "human"). Better than nothing but I still want that fox race that hangs out in Altinova as playable.


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