There are so many different kinds of MMOs out there in the world. So many in fact, that there is a game for just about everyone. Villagers and Heroes of a Mystical Land (formerly known as: Mystical Land) is a browser-based (or downloadable) free-to-play MMORPG. However, describing it like that would largely miss the point. Unlike most browser MMOs, or MMOs in general for that matter, Villagers and Heroes has a very heavy focus on crafting and free-form gameplay. There are plenty of weapons, gear, quests skills and the requisite hotbar, but those are just pieces of a much larger and flavorful pie.
If you were to boot up Villagers and Heroes for the first time without any prior knowledge about the game, you might be fooled into thinking otherwise. Character creation is overly basic and allows you to choose from four classic archetypes: Warrior, Wizard, Hunter and Priest and a series of cosmetic customization options. Will your Wizard have blonde, or black hair? Blue, or brown eyes? Low-poly face one, or low-poly face two? The choice is yours! Thankfully once you get past character creation and the minimal tutorial segments, the world quite literally opens itself up to you. I was honestly a bit surprised by the sheer breadth of content on display in a game that I had both never heard of and also felt like brushing off as a “Runescape-clone”. I could not have been more off base.
While the browser-based beginnings and brightly colored art style might lend a certain likeness to that other game, the similarities mostly stop there. You can play Villagers and Heroes with full-on WASD controls, with your right mouse button spinning the character and camera, your hotbar displaying skills with cooldowns. Additionally, you can pick up lots of different quests to play out and most importantly – you can craft to your heart’s content. The strongest facet of Villagers and Heroes isn’t the fact that all of these features exist, but rather how simplistically they are implemented into a seamless world.
There are a grand total of ten different professions that will compliment your crafting: fishing, bug lore, mining, plant lore, smithing, cooking, tailoring, ranching, woodcrafting and gardening. That’s a lot of stuff to do and in a lot of other games, could seriously convolute your inventory. Thankfully, in Villagers and Heroes, performing these various tasks is as simple as clicking on a node and picking up the loot from the ground after completed. Oddly enough, this basic system creates a very rhythmic and entertaining repetition of clicking that I didn’t realize I have missed from a lot of recent games. Nodes aren’t going to run out of resources and suddenly disappear, and they are split into different levels of rarity and success rates. The only issue is your “energy” orb that drains as you perform gathering tasks; thankfully it was never an issue for me. The orb doesn’t seem to deplete fast enough to be a concern and even if it did, doing a couple quests would fill it back up quickly. Combat does not drain the meter so you always have options outside of gathering/crafting.
While I’ve surely seen better housing systems in other MMOs, for a free-to-play browser game I’ve never seen anything that really compares to Villagers and Heroes. Essentially, you can join a neighborhood and build a house there and live near other players, friends or guildmates. Owning a house can also involve tending to your own property, gardening and engaging in activities with your neighborhood. You will, however, be required to pay rent, which can be a very frustrating experience if you don’t play the game often enough. This can quickly result in you either not having enough time to keep up with your duties, or feeling forced to pay real money just so you can continue having fun; which brings me to the cash shop – a necessary evil.
There are right ways and wrong ways to do cash shops and Villagers and Heroes falls somewhere in the middle. You can use real money to buy gold and various types of enhancements and boosters, which is to be expected, but I was surprised by some of the things I saw for sale. For example, you can buy full-on healing potions and even very useful gear and other upgrades if you have enough disposable cash. While none of the items are truly needed to progress and they avoid the biggest pitfall that an item shop can bring on for a free-to-play game, it still appears to be a lot more intrusive than it should.
Villagers and Heroes receives regular updates though – which is a great sign from the developers and their support of the project. From bug fixes all the way to larger content additions, the game is alive and well in its current state. I played at several different times over the last week and always saw other people roaming zones and chatting – games like this often suffer from a low population, something that does not plague this world.
Graphically, it’s not that impressive, even for a browser game. I was never blown away and I don’t think the game ever dropped below 60FPS on “Very High” settings (for obvious reasons) but it’s still objectively pleasant to look at for what it’s worth. The draw distance is surprisingly far and animations are smooth. The most shocking aspect of the presentation for me was the musical score as it’s incredibly impressive for a game of this scale. As I write this preview, I have the game minimized just so I can listen to the music.
While I would never recommend Villagers and Heroes over larger and more dedicated titles, it’s still quite unique. The game is far from perfect and lacks a considerable amount of depth, but it’s a quick download and is quite relaxing to hop on and enjoy in short bursts with its warm and pleasant atmosphere. Villagers and Heroes doesn’t perfect any single feature, but it offers enough variety to always keep you engaged. In Villagers and Heroes, as it turns out, it’s just as much fun to be a villager as it is a hero.
David Jagneaux / David is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. He loves to play, write about, talk about and think about all things gaming. It's dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux