When the credits of an MMORPG don't come with either the words: Blizzard, Turbine, SOE, NCSoft, or Funcom, it's acceptable to run screaming towards the door. As you pound at the wood, splintering your hands, and desperately clawing at the paint work, the haunting images of the "others" slash through your mind. You howl louder, desperately trying to find a way out, and then, as if by magic, thumb at the handle, thrust open the door, and are greeted by the soothing glow of an Orc carrying the One Ring flanked by Conan. Now you are safe.
After the "event" that happened in Azeroth in 2004, a lot of publishers cottoned on to the fact that there's money to be made from a second life in a fantasy realm. The fallout of this has been an orgy of sub-standard MMOs; all poorly realised copies of one another, and each gumming for your money like bandaged plague bearers whimpering for salvation.
Which is pretty much where I was at with Sevencore and an upcoming tour of the game. Looking around noted on the web for more info only offered the name "GPotato" and a buxom cartoon lady. Wait a minute, where's Blizzard? Where's the Cimmerian barbarian? I'm totally turning around to find that door. Too late; I was in; my slot booked; and boy am I glad I took a stroll around this slice of the virtual world.
On the surface, Sevencore looks very much like any other indie F2P adventure. It has the usual claptrap of quests, character building, and cash shops that hum "moh-money-moh-money" but scratching a little deeper uncovers a game lovingly crafted by its developers. In a world of satisfied clones, this MMO stands apart, its back pockets bulging with scraps of paper all detailed with the type of innovative ideas triple-A companies would love to steal a glance at. Yes, it is totally worth that metaphor.
So there I was cruising around on a turtle, flexing my level 80 muscles at anyone that dare look twice. The rare advantage that press accounts afford a player like me is instant gratification. While my WoW account looks like the work of a 77-year old easily distracted pigeon, here I was further on than anyone else. I also had shiny armour, and this rather delightful mountable turtle.
And so I strutted. I loitered. And I also tried to dance, and then realised I didn't know how to dance. So I rode a dragon instead. I was having such a good time that I didn't realise I had wandered away entirely from my preordained meeting point with my GM, and tour-guide of the day, Vi.
After swapping pleasantries, and proudly showing off my turtle, we got down to business. Roaming out of town we came to the Plains of Ida. This golden, sprawling zone is one of the game's many areas in which players will hunt, craft, and adventure.
Tour begins. Sevencore will be familiar to anyone that has played MMOs in the past decade, in that it builds on the existing framework. GM Vi explains how like other games' hot bar abilities form the core experience of combat, and like any other online-em-up, it is a game geared towards combat grind, quest rewards, and talent tree dabbling. But it's the wiggle room within these systems that makes it so different.
While games such as Lord of the Rings Online limit your abilities to a core few, the developers of this online adventure seem intent on giving you ample reasons to dance your fingers along the numerical keys. In the flow of combat, yellow countdown timers let you know when you can fire off another devastating combo, and a "fury" gauge gives you a special attack that drains the hitpoints of an opponent.
And while there only 3 classes to dip your roleplaying toes into, there are different ways to customize them. Taking the warrior as an example, GM Vi explains how a number of skills are learnt by going out an killing monsters, while an entirely different set is dependent on your level. While you can concentrate solely on one path, whether that be all-out tank or DPS, you can mix and match essentially creating three sub-classes within one umbrella role.
But it's the ideas outside of the functional mechanics every MMORPG has to have that are exciting. Exploring throughout Ida and its Plains, GM Vi notes two players that happen to be following us and the conflicts that can arise. She explains that while the game caters for the casual PvE player, the development team have been very busy crafting a very tight, well thought out warring system.
Player versus Player in Sevencore is very different from how you might expect it to be. While it isn't open PvP, joining up to certain guilds will ordain a player with certain alliances, but also enemies. Enemy factions can agree to kick the seven shades of elf out of each other if they cross paths at any point within the world - which if I do say so myself, sounds like a fantastic way to solve the problems that usually comes with open world PvP.
Taking this one step further, power hungry, sword happy guilds can also dominate entire regions. Scheduled for every Saturday night, "Occupation Wars" take place in which two enemy forces battle it out for the control of a region. The winner gets to claim taxes on all of the goods bought and sold within its held county, whilst also enjoying other perks, and the obvious bragging rights.
And yet it doesn't stop there. This sense of carving up the world includes the peaceful player, and also the charismatic leader. If a guild holds a region between the first and last 3 days of a month, they can nominate a presidential candidate. Like any great democracy, Sevencore gives every player the vote, and after fighting a fierce campaign, a head of state is selected. But why would you want to hold this position? The president gets a number of special points, in which he can either pander to the people and solidify his next term by lowering taxes and providing sever-wide buffs, or instead serve his guild friends by imposing the type of benefits that would help them along.
It's these ideas that make Sevencore stand head and shoulders above its peers, and even above some of its Triple-A cousins. While the game certainly features everything you have come to expect from a themepark MMORPG (levelling, grind, crafting, et all) it also has that extra layer of creativity. This isn't a humdrum F2P that just wants to siphon some cash in the short term; this is an online adventure that demands your attention.
This innovation also further extends to more PvP battles with mounts, as well as lottery like rewards for playing the game, experience boosts for alts, and focus on more intimate raid scenarios. As GM Vi explains the development team's vision, I can't help but think back to my initial impressions and feel slightly disappointed with myself. I wanted to write this game off, but it's all I can do to contain my excitement.
If you are interested in a themepark MMORPG that takes the baton of innovation and runs further, then Sevencore definitely needs to be on your radar. While it may contain a thousand ideas you are familiar with, it packs a special dozen that will influence the entire genre. I'm impressed. And so is my new turtle.