Brought to us by German publisher Frogster Interactive, Eligium is a free-to-play (F2P) fantasy MMORPG from Chinese developers Goldcool. Upon hearing this, many people may be quick to jump to negative conclusions and dismiss this game as just another cookie cutter MMORPG. However, there are a few things that Eligium does to set itself apart from the sea of F2P contenders out there. Whether those are enough to save it from mediocrity, is a matter of opinion.
Aesthetics – 6.0 / 10
The first thing I'm sure a lot of people want to know is whether the game looks good. Thankfully, it does. Object textures look great and there's a nice amount of detail on player characters. While it's definitely not as visually impressive as Aion or Tera, the eye-candy is pleasing enough to set it above and apart from some of the F2P MMORPGs that launched earlier this year. I also going to do some of you a favour and tell you right now that you can't strip the character down to his/her/its underwear. Most of you might not admit it openly but that's what a lot of us do after creating a new character right? *wink wink nudge nudge*
The environments in the game are (much to my surprise) very well designed and you won't (often) come across zones consisting of just an empty plain filled with monsters. There is a nice variety of undulating landscapes, trees, foliage, props and other assorted set pieces to give the zones a sense of clutter and believability. There are lots of monsters to go around so players won't have to worry about competing for kills. Some of them (similar to Diablo) will have even have coloured names or glowing auras to indicate their higher status and chance for better drops.
The game's GUI is fairly standard, like many other MMORPGs out there. Everything you'd expect is here: ability icons, chat logs, combat logs, quest tracking, mini-map, health/mana bars, etc. There are also buttons to enable/disable PvP, hide other characters or call up a handy-dandy menu which lists all available raid/instances/daily quests. The maximum resolution for the game is a curious 1680 x 1050 and the graphics engine is not resource intensive at all. Very rarely did my PC ever transform into the vacuum cleaner it usually is when I play Aion or Tera.
While Eligium manages to do a decent job in making things look good, keeping up the appearances is where it falters. The frequency of object pop-in/replacement in this game is insane. NPCs, trees, buildings, props and sometimes even the glowing question mark hovering over someone's head won't appear till you're literally a few metres away. You could be running towards what appears to be a flat plain and suddenly a village would materialize in front of you. It's very distracting and makes one wonder why the developers couldn't at least take some inspiration from Guild Wars (which is older than this game by the way) and fade-in the environmental stuff instead.
After spending time with the game, I also noticed a very obvious 'disconnect' between the players’ characters and those of the game universe. In most fantasy games, you'd expect the NPCs to be dressed in similar clothing/armour as the players, right? In Eligium however, players would be wearing outlandish, flashy, and even neon-coloured outfits whereas human NPCs would be clad in realistic-looking chain/plate armour from the Middle Ages. It felt so strange, like I was an outsider from another dimension and that I didn't belong in this game.
Lack of immersion aside, it's very obvious that much of Eligium was 'heavily inspired' by popular media and entertainment. More often than once, I could have sworn I was receiving my quest details from Aragorn's long-lost dual-wielding twin. Pirates in this game are accompanied by banners with a skull emblem that looks strangely similar to the one in a certain Disney franchise. There's a Gandalf clone who tells you that your gear stinks (figuratively) and that you should go get better equipment. There are even giant chicken mounts in the game called Chocobos (where have I heard that name before...) with big scaly muscular arms that make them look like Trogdor. Statues near the exit of the starting dungeon looked eerily familiar, and to top it off there's even a Piccolo look-alike in the Elven City. Whether that guy was a homage or parody, I really couldn't tell. I’ll just say that you definitely won’t miss him if you intend on accessing your warehouse there.
The game's GUI, like I said previously, does its job. But only just barely. Some of the more prominent problems include chat windows that can't be repositioned, a bug that prevents the repositioning of the character panel, a quest tracking list only allows a maximum of FIVE quests even though there's still empty screen space below and most obvious of all: in-game text that doesn't fit inside its GUI windows. It's very distracting and definitely something that everyone will notice the moment they start playing the game.
Gameplay – 6.0 / 10
There's quite a lot to do in Eligium aside from grinding your way to max level. PvP, instance dungeons, daily quests, crafting, collecting pets are just some of the few activities available. While daily quests and crafting are available fairly early on, the first (party and solo) instance dungeons will require you to get to level 28 first. Thankfully, many players will be able to reach level 24 fairly quickly thanks to the generous exp rewards given by many quests, so 28 shouldn't be a impossibility for most.
Harvesting and Crafting are available the moment you're able to afford the appropriate skill manual/tool from the vendor, so crafters need not worry about having to meet any level requirements. Harvesting points are always grouped closed together and are indicated by icons on the zone's map. It's very convenient and a nice change from having to run all over the place looking for resources to harvest (or consult a wiki to check up harvest point spawn locations). The act of harvesting itself is also automated and, once started, will repeat itself endlessly until your tool's durability hits zero or the resource disappears.
Frequent usage of a skill during combat (or against the training dummy in your city) will make it 'level up' and increase its damage output. Reach level 5 on any skill and you can apply for Skill Mastery from your skill trainer which increases its damage output even more. In addition, there are also numerous titles, 'careers' and job specializations that are available for players to extensively customize their characters with, be it for PvP or instances. The number of possible combinations are mind-boggling and will definitely satisfy PvPers looking to create that perfect 'build' of theirs.
Like many other MMORPGs nowadays, and following a trend that Diablo helped popularize, your character's gear can be enhanced by gemstones (if there are any available slots) and multiple gems can also be merged into one with better abilities. Weapons can also be upgraded/augmented and the game is helpful enough to dedicate a set of quests to teach you how to do so. The awkward translation of the quest text, however, makes things difficult to comprehend at times. One thing I did find inconveniencing was that the gems weren't 'universal usage' and each one had specific gear that they could only be fitted into (e.g. rings only, charms only).
Mounts, pets and guild creation quests are available at level 20 but they'll need a bit of time and patience to complete. To acquire your mount, you'll need to first spend time in-game to let the egg hatch. After that, you'll need to disassemble blue/gold gear that is level 20 or above to get enough powders to feed it till it matures. As for the guild creation quest, there are two ways to go about it. The first method requires the slaying of a heavily contested monster which people were constantly camping while the other method involves paying 1 million gold. The game even adds to your frustration by constantly reminding you to 'start your own guild' and 'get your own pet' every time you log in if the quests haven't been completed yet (despite turning them off in the quest tracker).
Around level 25, the dreaded Grind starts to rear its ugly head. A certain quest-giver asked me to go kill 60 skeletons, and after completing that he asked me (much to my disbelief) to go kill 60 more. Another quest from someone else required the slaying of 75 demon soldiers and I had half the mind at that point to slay HIM instead (if it were possible). Is this even considered normal? Strangely enough, the answer is actually yes. Eligium gives players the ability to tackle ridiculous quests like these through the Assistant option which allows, to put it simply, legalized botting.
Innovation – 6.5 / 10
Originally available during the Closed Beta of the game, the botting features in Eligium were removed (briefly) during the Open Beta. I won't go into details but the gist is the Assistant has since been re-implemented after considerable drama in the game's forums. Players have to be at least level 25 before they could call on it to automate actions for them and that's around the point in the game when a lot of the quests start becoming mind-numbingly repetitive.
The amount of options available in the Assistant panel are staggering. You're able to specify what skills to use, whether to quaff potions when your HP/MP reach a certain percentage, auto-buy or auto-sell loot, auto repair damaged gear, whether to pick up loot, navigation waypoints, specific monsters to attack, when to cast healing spells, what buffs to cast, etc. It needs to be seen to be believed. It's also really clear that certain features in the game were designed with the Assistant feature in mind. One of those features just happens to be the 'Fairyland' zones.
Weird sounding name aside, Eligium tries to overcome some of the Grind through the use of special ‘Fairyland’ areas that can be accessed via black portals in every zone. Each of these zone contains monsters offering twice the amount of experience points compared to their counterparts in the 'real' world. Fairyland areas are large (actually its the same map that Sanctia players see after leaving the tutorial dungeon) and are able to accommodate lots of players. Monster respawn rates are also fast enough that people can bot away without having to encroach on each other's turf. The monsters don't drop anything besides quest-related items, so you're not going to get rich off of them.
Eligium also makes life easier for the players through its implementation of the Auction House. You're able to access the Auction House from anywhere, doing away with the inconvenience of jostling around crowds of AFK players at a particular point in town. You're able to sell/purchase you loots from whichever zone or instance that you’re currently hanging around in using a simple menu. Very handy, if I don’t say so myself.
Polish – 4.0 /10
Random bugs aside, the most obvious problem with Eligium is obviously its English localization. I'm trying very hard to think of nice things to say and the only one that comes to mind is the lack of any unnecessary fluff in the quest dialogue that appears in the text window. What would usually be occupied by a long-winded (and emotionless) narrative is instead replaced by something that's brief, precise and straight to the point (e.g. “The Captain asks you to kill 10 monsters to prove your strength”). It's as if the translators couldn't be bothered to translate the actual conversation and opted to go for a summary description instead. And to this I say Bravo! More games should follow this example and do away with needless explanations as to why 10 rats always need to be eliminated. Aside from that, everything else related to the localization is terrible. No, not just terrible. As my elementary school art teacher used to say, it's 'terrible plus horrible'.
The translations in Eligium are, for the most part, passable. Literal, stiff, unnatural sounding and inconsistent and just some of the terms that I can think of. For example, players are asked to choose between 'line 1' and 'line 2' when entering the game. While it's fairly obvious that these represent the different game channels in Eligium, many of you might not understand the reason that the translation ended up with 'line' is because the Chinese term used to denote a game channel is literally 'line'. And this probably originated from the English phrase 'to go online'.
NPCs in the game would sometimes have 2 different names: one in the quest text, the other hanging over their head. Even the infamous Chocobo mount that Sanctia players will see early on is referred to as a Churkey (Chicken + Turkey?) in NPC conversations. Equally terrible (and hilarious) were the monster descriptions that would appear when your mouse cursor hovers over any of them. 'Attacks anyone in their sight' says one of them, and yet I'm happily standing next to the ugly beast without getting any aggro. There are even some cases where the quest descriptions in your journal don’t match the actual quest content.
I have a really hard time believing that the Quality Control over at Frogster let this game out of the gate without even making sure that it was in a presentable state. Sure, the localization isn't SO bad that you can't figure out what's going on, it's just that it feels like the translators weren't native English speakers and only did one pass at a translation before calling it a day. No checking of mistakes, no verification of consistency.
Longevity – 6.0 / 10
PvP, instanced dungeons, daily quests and in-game achievements are plentiful in Eligium, with the earliest instance dungeon becoming available once you hit level 28. The game even provides options to auto-navigate or teleport directly to the dungeon/quest NPC’s location. Incredibly helpful to players who wish to quickly log in to do a few dailies and then log off. There’s definitely a lot to do in the game aside from leveling up, but (as expected) you'll need to be sufficiently high in level to see all of it.
I'm not really a daily quest kind of person, so I usually spend my time in a game exploring and taking in the scenery. For the adventurous, it's very possible (though dangerous) to run all the way to the end-game dungeon on Devil Isle. I did exactly that using a low level character and it was quite a terrifying experience. Level 50 monsters would take a big chunk out of my HP every time I got aggro, but luckily they lost interest fairly quickly and turned around after chasing me for a bit. The 90+ healing potions I were lugging around also helped quite a bit.
At some point, I'm sure almost everyone will feel like taking a look at the content of the other faction. Breaks up the tedium and also gives you chance to experience some new scenery, right? Not exactly. The starting zones for either faction, before you reach the Elven City, are copies to each other in terms of content. Ok, that sounded a bit harsh. The developers do take some effort to mix things up by replacing healthy plants with dead ones, re-texture the environment and to reposition some of the props. However, it's still painfully obvious that the zones are being reused and the developers were cutting corners.
The aggressive reuse of content doesn't just apply to the early zones. Throughout the rest of the game, you'll see the same dungeons/NPCs/monsters reused again and again in various places. There's no effort made to even palette-swap the monsters and every demon soldier you encounter looks identical to his cousins from elsewhere in the game. Even the end-game dungeon on Devil Isle is the same as one of those in the earlier zones except it's got a fancy new door arch and is populated by different monsters.
Granted, game development is never an easy thing and developers will always strive to produce more content while using less effort. But this is an MMORPG, a game where players can and will invest hours/days/weeks of their time playing. Surely a bit more variety isn't too much to ask for?
Social – 6.0 / 10
Social tools in Eligium don’t appear to be any different from most other MMORPGs. You got standard stuff like the various chat channels, the ability to message people, block them, duel with them, trade with them, form a party, etc. System messages are, strangely, displayed in a separate window on the right of the screen and take up valuable space that could be better used for the quest tracker list. Resizing is possible, but there is also no way to reposition the message windows. This will surely frustrate those of you who like to customize the layout of your GUI.
Conversations with the other faction are possible through the ‘World’ chat mode but you can only do so for three times a day. There’s also a cooldown time between World messages to prevent spamming. The chat window offers a nice selection of emoticons that are similar to those in popular Chinese instant messaging programs and even includes, of all things, a middle finger. There are also options to change the font type, size and colour. The font options are a bit bugged at the moment as the only ones I could select were Chinese fonts and enlarging the font size ended up making everything smaller. There’s even another bug that ensures none of your changes to the settings are not saved so I wouldn’t spend too much time tweaking the chat windows if I were you. I should also mention that naughty words are censored in the chat log and there aren't any options to disable this in the interface settings.
One thing that caught me off guard was that my character would automatically ATTACK players of the opposing faction if I left-clicked on them (even in a city). I was like, ‘Hey, cool armour! Let’s check out your gear.’ and then suddenly I was hitting the poor fella with my stick once I left-clicked on him. There's an option in the interface settings to turn this off so that you should probably do that to avoid ending up in the same embarrassing situation as I did.
Value – 7.0 / 10
Despite the intermittent bugs, despite the stiff translation & localization, despite the grind and also despite the copy-paste job in many zones, Eligium possesses a full suite of gameplay features including PvP, instance dungeons, daily quests, mounts, pets, customization of gear, crafting, harvesting, alternate outfits, etc. It is completely free-to-play and contains most of the gameplay features that you'd come to expect from a commercial MMORPG. I didn't encounter any situations where I had to pay to enter a zone, nor are there any restrictions on your character's maximum achievable level (aside from the current level cap).
It sounds hard to comprehend after some of the negative stuff I've said previously, but when you think about it, you're really getting a full game's worth of features for free. It doesn't cost you a cent to experience a game that (despite a lot of problems) is still playable and in some cases is even better than a lot of other F2P offerings out there. There's also the incredibly powerful Assistant feature that lets you legally bot to your heart's content.
Compared to some of the other new F2P MMORPGs that launched earlier this year, Eligium is one of the better ones (if not the best) of the bunch. With a better localization and more content, it could definitely become a strong contender in the crowded F2P market. The sub-par localization that it currently has is definitely not going to do its reputation any good but there's a really meaty game to be found if you look past the flaws.
Those of you (like myself) who are passionate about game lore may be disappointed that Eligium lacks a tangible story, despite the intermittent in-game cut-scenes. The PvP, daily quests and instance dungeons are plentiful though, so I'm sure many others out there will enjoy it a lot more than I did. The PvP community in the game was rather active during the time I spent there and some of the guilds even had three-digit figures for memberships. These people obviously managed to find the sweet spot that had eluded my grasp. Maybe you will too, but in my case, I'd rather spend my time elsewhere.