Weren't the 90's great? We had the Spice Girls, the first Gulf War (incidentally my favourite of the "Gulf Series") and the film Titanic. That decade simply had everything. Peroid. To help us remember just how "OMGAMAZE" the 1990's were, is The Pride of Taern: an isometric MMORPG with the tagline "I can't believe it's not Black Isle." This Polish creation is dripping in so much nostalgia, antiquated design, and end-of-the-millennium funk, that it will have everybody misty-eyed, wearing their cap sideways, and forever remember the glorious, heady days of the best decade "evur."
Riding in the DeLorean
Alright, so that opening gambit sounded more than a little sarcastic. The Pride of Taern is an unashamedly retro MMORPG, and while it is a startling transition from the shiny lights of newer games, this nasal-gazing throw back is something of a treat.
Perhaps it is the fanboy of Black Isle forever pounding away at my insides (which makes me sound like I ate one: I didn't) or the fact that is just feels so different. Whatever it is, there is something to love within this newly translated browser game.
From tip to toe, Taern is about 15 years behind the times. The graphics ooze a charm reminiscent of the classic RPG Infinity Engine, as well as the later Ultima games. Characters move slow and bulky, scenery is largely painted on; and any kind of effect or visual sparkle is relegated to your own imagination. The saving grace is that it's browser-based, and if you are as sad as me, you will disregard all of that "DirectX 11 stuff" and sit rubbing your legs whispering sweet nothing's to the monitor. "Do you remember Candlekeep?...You dirty girl!'." Just me?
The developers have clearly taken influence from the aforementioned studio and BioWare, with notable nods to games such as Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate. Rather than the usual run-of-the-mill grindathon, Taern tries to invoke a sense of narrative and story. Character dialogue, albeit slightly mistranslated, is actually interesting to read, and the old-school nature makes it all the more endearing.
This epic storyline runs from the very start of the experience. You begin your adventure in your house with your mom - yeah, alright it's not exactly Commando - and after dispatching an intruder, you are informed that your home city is under attack, and you must find your brother who is somewhere within the war-torn location. Cue more action, and finally a touching moment with a pockmarked, bleeding sibling. He dies. You're sad. Battles ensue.
The combat of Taern takes place in a turn-based Heroes of Might and Magic style. You queue up your actions, either melee, ranged, and magic, choose how many action points to dedicate to it, and also delegate AP to your defence.
It's a simple arrangement that for the most part works, but it lacks some of the excitement that you crave. With presentation so close to 90's RPG's, you might expect combat would follow suit, so taking a different direction in influence jars slightly. Entering battle drags you out of the atmosphere, and brings you into something more approaching a Square Enix game - which isn't a bad thing, but I have to question just how much pastiche was on the game's development drawing board.
But regardless of a few shortcomings, the overall feel and direction of Taern is solid. Rather than subscribing to the same old tired channels of gameplay, Whitemoon are trying something a little different with an engaging story - and let's not forget this has been around longer that The Old Republic.
Innovation is less easy to find in other areas, take for example the class system. Taern has traditional point allocation with categories for strength, dexterity and the like, but there is nothing of a DIY class-creator here. The game offers 8 jobs in total, which will give you some variation in play-style, but perhaps more customization is an oversight from the developers.
Pride of Taern will shine ultimately in how engrossing the plotlines can be. Weaving an intricate tale is hard within MMOs and developer's regularly battle with left-click happy punters, but Whitemoon do appear to be wielding a sword of +2 storytelling, so there is hope yet.
Opening quests' engross the player, bringing them on a journey more akin to older RPG series - there are choices of whether to kill or not, and even moments of persuasion, intimidation, and guile. It's not all sword-swinging and grind, and that's what will bring Taern its kudos and loyal following.
In all, Pride of Taern is an intriguing, dated, and nostalgia-ridden prospect. It's not a looker, its combat seems a little iffy, but I'd be lying if I didn't say he had me at "isometric". Its free-to-play, it has an expansive world, and a nice story to boot: what do you have to lose really?
It remains to be seen how Taern will go over with fans not acquainted with mid-90s RPGs - but if you are one of those that shed a tear at the closure of Black Isle, and still wish that BioWare loved top-down camera angles: well this could be for you.