Istaria: Horizons Re-Review
When asked to review Horizons, I really was not sure what to expect. All I really know about it was that it was an older fantasy based MMO with a couple of points of interest. We'll start with the playable races. Not only does Horizons offer a deviation from the standard races with visibly non-human choices like the Saris (neat looking cat creatures) and the Sslik (lizard folk), but they also give MMO players the much desired ability to play a Dragon. Second, they have a fairly detailed and interesting crafting system. I'll be honest. I do not personally care too much for crafting in games. More often than not, I find it to be tedious, boring and pointless... It just reminds me of playing "The Sims" and I am one of those people that cannot stand that type of game. I like my items pre-made for me so I can spend my time exploring and killing. Call me old fashioned (or deeply disturbed), but it's just not my bag. I respect that some players love it; I even respect the fact that its presence creates a well-rounded game and broadens the game's fan base. Still, I never do it. That being said, I was told that I should at least take a look at it. It was supposed to be pretty good. Fine, I will look.
Now, I am not one of those reviewers that feel the need to compare one game to all the myriad of others that are out there. First, it's not really fair. Horizons sets out to be a unique game and is totally separate from the other games on the market. I also do not really think it is fair to compare it to recently released titles like World of WarCraft. Let's try to remember that this game went live in 2003, more than a year before WoW hit shelves and well... wowed us. What you are about to read is an honest look at Horizons from the perspective of someone who has never stepped into Istaria (the Horizons game world) before.
There are a few things that I look for when I look into buying a new computer game. One of those things is story. Whether it is an FPS, RTS or MMO, I always want a good story. If I do not have that, then I have no motivation to play the game. The problem that I ran into with Horizons was not exactly a lack of story. Rather, my problem was in knowing that there was obviously a very rich and well thought out story, but that it was difficult to find and put together. My quest for story started with the website. A cursory look at the site did not turn anything up, so I decided to head on into the game and try to find something. Once there, I found a few titbits of information, enough, I suppose, to piece together a general feel for who I was in the game, but not enough to catch my interest in the way that I expect. For me, with a game, that's usually as far as my search would go. This, however, is a review, and so I looked just a little bit deeper than usual. Story and Lore can be found either through paying very close attention to the NPC dialogue or be looking into the community boards and doing some reading. The only problem that I found with the first was that unless you have a very good memory for large blocks of dialogue, it is very difficult to follow. Secondly, using forums to find lore is not ideal, as they are easy things to navigate and investigate for story purposes.
- Some Specifics: The premise of Horizons seems to be that player characters are residents of Istaria who have died and are returning to the world. This more or less gives the characters an air of immortality and actually explains why you can die again and again and again (I know because I died... a lot. I kind of suck).
- Most Notable: Once again, there seems to have been a lot of thought put into the Dragon experience. The story goes beyond that of the regular bipedal characters and branches into the coming of age of Dragons and their own particular form of advancement.
Bottom Line on Story: Hard to find, but well thought out. I just wish there was somewhere I could go to get a good overview of the underlying narrative.
The tutorial is an important part of any game. It is a player's first introduction to an MMO's world, look, gameplay and style. It should, therefore, present all of those categories as strongly as possible while still showing a player how to do the basics: move, fight, craft, gather, cast spells, use inventories, manage skills, etc. Horizons did some of this right and some of it, in my opinion, wrong.
I'll start with the good. During the tutorial, the game told me how to do almost anything that I could want to. In that sense, the tutorial really serves its purpose. Where I think the tutorial falls down is in its presentation. As you move into different areas in the tutorial zone screens appear offering helpful suggestions for gameplay. This, in and of itself, is actually quite useful and intuitive. What I could not really understand was why those helpful hints appeared in light "Windows" blue, printed in what looked like Times New Roman font. This does not fit in with the general look and feel of the game. The result of this is that not only is the idea of immersion shot straight out the window, but I, as a new player who really did not know how to play, was made to feel like an outsider who needed to be led by the hand through the game. What this has the potential to do is to make new players feel even more clueless so that when they join the community of the game, they feel excluded and shy. This could keep them from exploring the community and cutting them off from one of the strongest aspects of this game; it's established players.
Bottom Line on the Tutorial: Good basics with a presentation that breaks a player's sense of immersion and could make new players feel stupid.
Honestly, there was a lot that I found intriguing about the look of Horizons. The first thing that I have to say about it is that the graphics are, unfortunately, a little bit outdated. This is not entirely surprising though, seeing as Horizons is not exactly a new release, and hit shelves nearly two years ago. That being said, for the most part, you should expect a fairly solid (if antiquated) looking game with fairly interesting environments and props (although their teleporters really, really reminded me of Stargate). The dragon playables were thoroughly enjoyable to watch. I'm one of those dragon fanatics that tends to pick apart any media representation that I find ("Dungeons and Dragons Movie" dragon = dumb, "Reign of Fire" dragon = Very yes). The people at Horizons hit my expectations pretty much on the head. I loved the way the dragons looked and, more importantly, moved. Too often you see dragons that move in a very rigid, silly way. Horizons' dragons were believable enough to impress me and more importantly, entertaining enough that I would recommend dragon-lovers have a look at Horizons for dragon-play alone.
Bottom Line on Visuals: They are old, but passable, with a special nod to the dragons. Even watching them sit is great. It is not like a dog, more like a big old fire breathing flying lizard. Awesome.
I do not have a whole lot to say about the sound in this game. It certainly did not impress me. Do not look for anything in the way of blow-you-away sounds or music. While both are adequate, I still feel that they are ho-hum and typical.
Bottom Line on Sound: Meh.