What an oddly nostalgic weekend it has been. I am unshaven , my computer desk is overflowing with empty Soda cans and Coffee Cups. The ashtray is exploding with half smoked cigarettes and mounds of ash. I am wiped out tired… I have had very little sleep and now I have to “pull myself together” to get back to the “real world” Monday morning.
I look and feel as if I have consumed a Keg of Ale all to myself-
No, I wasn’t out clubbing all weekend- Not did even leave my house. I was lost in an MMORPG-
And DAMN does it ever feel great.
I haven’t had one of these weekends since High School- The manic feeling of danger and excitement as I explore a crypt and seek out what magical treasures it may yield… I will Log Out after “one more level”- Just another 10 minutes . And another. And another. And now it is 6 a.m. and I am wired. Oh well, I am evidently not going to accomplish anything in the real world today- Might as well keep playing until I pass out.
So, how did this happen? How did this come to be? Well, buckle up because this is a long story.
I am an “Old time” gamer. One of those “Ancient Ones” who has explored the World of Zork in all its textual glory. A table top gaming Nerd who still has most of the rules for 2nd Edition D&D committed to memory. I was there for the ORIGINAL Neverwinter Nights when for the first time we saw technology which could (potentially) bring us the thrills and complexities of tabletop gaming on our Pcs- I was there for the MUDS, Meridian 59 and the Grand Daddy of it ALL- Ultima Online.
Gaming was going to bring us “Virtual Fantasy Worlds” to play in- Sandboxes where we could fight, craft, explore, build, destroy and- Well, do anything we wanted. Eventually we KNEW the Worlds would get more complex, deeper, and more “alive”- And then a funny (and horrible) thing happened. PC’s and the Internet became “Mainstream”, gaming started becoming “Casual” and dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of the “masses”- People wanted “direction” and “blind action”- Explosions, pretty colors and shiny things… “Depth” was “boring”.
I am not writing this to debate how MMORPGs (and most RPGs in general) suck today. I am not going to write about how my beloved MMO has become an e-sport with constant action and little danger. Something that can be played in small spurts- A quest grinder with Dungeon Finder- A “story” where e ALL are the Hero, we ALL save the World and everyone is equal and happy.
Everyone knows what “Hit Points” are in this day and age… Even my Grandma. And I am not so sure that’s a good thing.
-In an era of Wow Clones, e-sports and a community of gamers who have changed over the decade- I have found myself without a game. Wow was a fun diversion (I actually enjoyed it) but just didn’t have the depth to keep me. It wasn’t a “World” but rather a linear (and poorly written) story with Gated areas and lots of Chuck Norris banter.
For years I have searched for my fix.
Thursday, I may have found it.
I stumbled onto Fantasy World Online via a blurb at my favorite MMORPG website MMORPG.COM. A place where fan boys and haters square off in Forum PVP which is pointless but often hilarious. A place where Trolls are not even Trolls but are freaking Dragon Trolls… I didn’t have much hope for this game (or any other) but decided to give the Open Beta a go so I can continue to honestly say “I have tried everything and it all sucks.”
Imagine my surprise when I spent a good Hour wandering the town and becoming very interested. I saw non combat activities such as Farming and Mining (complete with a Merchant/Crafter class which CANNOT FIGHT and must use stealth and subterfuge to survive if they leave the safety of town…Or have an armed escort of Players to protect them.)
I saw a plethora of interesting shops and diversions- A character system which seems to me was very well put together and would guarantee that no two Wizards are the same (NOTE: Eventually I am sure there will be “Flavor Off The Month” builds) I saw a faction system based on Good vs. Evil, some very interesting Player Housing with shops dedicated to selling furnishings, paintings, Storage Chests and Crafting Items for the Homes. I saw- Wait for it…
A new Ultima Online.
Now, I have already been “called out” on a Forum for saying this. Lets be straight here. This is NOT a UO clone nor a carbon copy. This is NOT UO with newer graphics. This is Fantasy Realms Online which has its entirely own identity. There are things very different from UO such as the fact you have classes and levels and CHOOSE your skills (you purchase skills and improve them when you “Level Up”). This is NOT FFA PVP mayhem from the second you log in- In fact, you are “safe” until level 30 and the “death penalty” is rather weak for the folks under level 30 (this changes upon reaching the big 30- You are free game to be killed and your equipment looted)
But to me UO was SOOOOO much more than the combat and skills. It was the “World” and the “feel”. A place where a good crafter was known for his wares and just as important as a good Swordsman or tamer. UO was a place where play styles converged. Where Carebears and Rpers shared a world and often banded together to protect themselves against bloodthirsty murderers. It was DYNAMIC in that every time you logged in, the World had the potential to be different based on the PLAYERS and not the devs adding a “quest line” for some grand story which I certainly could care less about- I want to make my OWN story, thank you… It was CREATIVE.
And for all its faults (and UO had a ton) it showed us, the gamers , where MMORPGS could potentially go once the technology was better and the kinks ironed out- Too bad it didn’t turn out as we had hoped.
MY Hour or so of exploring on that Thursday night DID give me hope. I wandered the city and explored all the shops- I explored a bit of the countryside but ran to the safety inside the city walls when night came. Zombies walk at night… I clearly saw the potential here for this to be the game I have been wanting for the last 10 years.
I kindly informed my Wife that she would not be seeing me this weekend because I had some adventuring to do. She is not a gamer but is very understanding and is tired of hearing me Bitch about the state of MMO gaming and has been telling me to “go play SOMETHING.” for years now. I think she wanted a break from me, anyhow.
Friday night I locked myself in the Computer room and prepared to see what this game has to offer. And it offers a lot.
So here goes. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly… The truth as I see it now that I have spent a weekend leveling my Wizard to 23.
When someone starts talking about “potential” it usually means that the subject of discussion is “lacking”. For instance, I have played a few sandbox style games based on its “potential” and found a buggy mess of unfinished ideals , unprofessional behavior and broken promises…
So, right off the bat when I say the Number One thing this game has going for it is Potential- I know how many will take that statement. But, its true. This is NOT a buggy mess, the Sandbox elements are IN THE GAME and the basic game is working and playable.
The Potential part is due to the fact that the player base is tiny. The tools for a “World” are in place, now we need the people for this “World” to cohesively come to fruition. Empty Farms dot the landscape and mining caves are relatively empty. I have basically equipped myself via drops and NPCs because there is no in game economy to speak of (but lots of potential)
The 12-15 people who played (there were others popping in and out) were all phenomenal and stellar people. We kinda “clicked up” and used World Chat as our own little Guild Chat- It didn’t take long and we were cracking jokes (sometimes at one another’s expense but all in fun) helping one another out, sharing information and generally having a blast. Some Vets popped in and gave us some tips but generally a small group of us played throughout the weekend and we were all new to the game.
The Potential for this game to be EPIC is here… The problem is that in this case the Devs cannot do much as this Potential lies mostly with populating the World with a good player base. I know they have not advertised this game and do not plan to until Beta is over and other things added- I think that’s a step in the right direction.
In Fact, that leads me to another “GOOD” point. The Devs. This is a small project and I am not even sure how large the team is- That said the Devs often pop into game to see how everyone is doing and answer questions or discuss their vision. The Couple bugs I have reported this weekend were patched immediately (and I mean within hours). It is evident that these people have put their heart and soul into this project and really care about establishing a good community.
The Immersion- Ah, Dungeoneering as it was meant to be. Slowly making your way through a maze wrought with peril. Danger around every corner. Finding locked doors and chests and trying to find and kill the Trolls who have the Keys… And dying. There is no Zerg runs through these dungeons. No running at top speeds towards the exits and decimating everything that moves in your private Instance- These are open World Dungeons which will spank you.
Approach these depths with caution. One room at a time and slow… Or Die.
And when you find yourself midway through a Catacomb and with a broken weapon, no food and only a few potions left- RUN. These beasts will chase you to the exit and right into the World above. Its adrenaline pumping chaos as you watch your Hit Points Bar plummet as you race towards the exit. THIS is something which has been missing in games for some time.
Browsing the wares in town and selling your goods is an adventure unto itself… NPCs will not buy just “buy everything” like you would have in a one shop stop type scenario. NPC Merchants have an “inventory” and will only buy items to keep their inventories full- Once they have bought the max scolls of “CURE” you either Bank the items or find a new store to sell your loot to… This gives towns a special something. A uniqueness with stores selling different wares and sometimes trips having to be made across the World to sell your loot… Without Teleportation or Fast travel.
Exploring the World is a joy. Its large enough and open enough that you can usually avoid any combat if you desire, but sometimes find yourself surrounded by Spear Throwing Goblins or even darker things. Sometimes you get distracted by discoveries of Ancient Ruins or Caves… It makes exploring feel very worthwhile.
The PVP system has been very well thought out and retains the element of Danger consistent with this game. Upon reaching level 5 you are given the option of the fighting for one of three Factions (Good/Evil/Neutral). Each Faction contains class specific powers which fit nicely within the game World. For instance my Wizard chose to fight for the side of Good and righteousness and has received White Magic, Prayer, and Absorption (Absorption gives a percent chance to lose Faith Points when attacked rather than Hit Points). Conversely an Evil Wizard would receive Black Magic, Demonic Possession and Necromancy as his Faction powers. These special skills add to an amazing array of universal skills available to all and allow for some amazing customization and tweaking of your character. Everything from resistance to poison to weapon and armor skills are represented in your choices for how you will build your avatar…And choose wisely your build because upon reaching level 30 you are fair game to be hunted by other factions , killed and looted…And yes, you lose your gear, your Gold and any items you may be carrying once your foe has cleaved your lifeless body to the ground and sent you to the Underworld.
One thing I found VERY COOL was that there will also be good/evil dungeons with completely different enemies. While the Good will be fighting your typical fantasy denizens of darkness- Evil will be destroying fairies and White Knights and other “cute” things.
Banks are available in every City, where you may safely store your gear, gold and other treasures and transfer items to other Characters on your account. The truly wealthy will have the option to purchase player housing where storage chests will be purchasable to store additional gear and the decorative and customization aspects have the potential to be endless. Many types of furnishings, paintings, tapestries and the like can be bought or created and (apparently)placed and positioned in any way the home owner wishes. The option to own a home is currently not available to us yet- However the Homes are there to look over as are the furnishings and this should be a part of the game by Months end.
Every piece of vanity clothing and protective armor, every hat, hood, cloak, boots, capes and the like- Can be dyed from among the full spectrum of colors (I am not talking about ONLY your basic colors either-) which I found very refreshing to try to achieve the right look… And after a few days in the game your character will certainly begin to stand out from the pack as you acquire decent gear and clothing. In fact, I am very impressed with the current options and cannot wait to see what is added in the future (and what is in the game currently and I have yet to discover)
The Learning Curve. Its fairly steep. No hand holding here. Asking people in chat for tips or talking to all he townsfolk is necessary. You will NOT log in and become a killing machine within seconds- You must explore, learn. Socialize and build your character. I list this in the “BAD” category (to me it’s a good thing) only because many gamers will not be used to this approach. You are not the HERO of the World. You are NOT the “chosen one” (like 10 million other chosen ones lol) you are NOT a badass who can log in and start killing shit and getting lootz.
You are a lowly nobody with crappy gear. A deer is going to kick your butt. The Game is not going to tell you where to go via huge arrows and question marks on people heads. You will NOT get an alert that “the zone you have entered is above your level”- You walk into the wrong place and you will die.
Hell, the creatures will chase you up elevators and kill you and then “hang out” in a new area. Monsters will even fight each other if you kite them towards each other….Okay. This should be listed as a GOOD thing. Period. But for some its not. Some people will find the lack of direction to be confusing and given the current crops of MMORPGs on the market- Its no wonder why.
The Interface is also a bit Clunky and the UI not that intuitive.
That said, after a few hours I was used to the UI and didn’t see the Graphics because I was immersed in the Game. I do hope they change the Paper Doll Graphics as that is my only current complaint. Those with issues Navigating or using the UI- Give it some time. That’s all I can say.
The Graphics. This is really a matter of personal choice. I personally think some of the Sprites are extremely well done (Ratmen for instance look incredibly detailed) but to many modern gamers the isometric view and dated graphics will be a turn off. If you are a gamer who needs pretty colors with huge next Gen explosions in full 3D and Matrix style fatalities- You probably are not going to be happy. If you are looking something with depth and substance however and understand that immersion trumps visuals- You will be right at home.
The movement of your character and other controls can sometimes be a bit of pain. You can use the mouse to “click to move” or the NUMPAD for more precision direction. This sometimes feels a bit clunky and not very intuitive . It works, but could be tightened up.
That Paperdoll which represents your character on the main screen . He looks at me cross-eyed and gives me the creeps…. He is ugly. Sorry but its true.
It needs to be stressed and noted that this is a work in progress and the developer is constantly continuing to improve the game, the experience and the amenities. This is in Open Beta currently but even afterword will be tweaked, expanded and sharpened.
This could be the Game I have been waiting for- For over 10 years. This Could be the World many of us have been wishing for… But so much relies on players for this to work. The Devs have given us the Tools for a World- Now we have to make it.
There are so many variables and unknowns to me since I have only invested One Weekend into this game. I have only played one class and I have not yet reached Level 30 .
That said, I have not been this exited over a game in a VERY LONG time. I had an utter blast and I imagine this game is going to be very important to a certain niche of gamers.
I will continue to play and explore what this game has to offer.