While its Kickstarter didn’t pan out, Hero’s Song from PixelMage Games secured funding elsewhere, and during PAX West 2016, I had the chance to see the game in action for myself. From the creation of the worlds you host on your PC to the hunting and adventuring in the world we just created right there from scratch on John Smedley’s gaming laptop.
It really is as impressive as it sounds, but I liken the world building and how it works as akin to when you make Civilization build its map. Because Pixelmage uses, well, pixels, it’s able to generate a massive world for you and 200 or so of your friends to play on in minutes. But it’s impressive nonetheless, given that you choose four gods (for the smallest map) or up to 8 for the largest and the amount of influence you as the world shaper gives them determines every finite characteristic of the world and its races.
Want a dwarven-ruled world (who wouldn’t?) make Cor one of your heavy influencers. More elves? Put in Silea. But it’s not only the races are determined by the gods’ sphere of influence: the very terrain itself is affected by them. Silea will make the world seem more wooded, while Cor will result in a lot of rocks and mountains. Oh, and there’s also the Underworld ruler – you have to assign a god there too, as when you die (at least the first time) you are sent to the Underworld to fight or bargain your way back to the world of the living. If you die in the Underworld, you die for good and must begin life in your world again.
After shaping the world, and giving it a name (as well as choosing whether to make it publicly searchable or private), you’ll move on to creating a character. Except, it’s not really creating a character. When you create the world, a whole timeline of events for up to 10,000 years is created and played out randomly. Civilizations rise and fall, races thrive and die, wars are won and lost, and powerful items are littered throughout the world as relics for the players to find. This will all be illustrated via an interactive tapestry when you create the world and you can make it an old world or a young one based on your preference.
So, when you choose your character you’re basically picking one of the existing NPCs in the world. They have their own lives, their own stories, and a tale on how they got there. You can change their names, and in the game you can alter their looks. You can alter their class, and choose from one of sixteen by the November Early Access launch, though 21 will be included when the game fully launches in early 2017.
John, who demoed the game for me, along with Bill Trost over my shoulder (a phrase I never thought I’d say) chose to run as a Paladin and entered the game. There will be a little back-story and setup when you first enter the world, but for our demo we were just thrust into this randomly generated vista and off we went adventuring. Right away, I was struck by the artistry of the landscapes. While not everyone appreciates the pixelated art, it’s plain to see how well done and thematically sound it is. The characters themselves are not pixelated, but rather 3D models with a pixelated rendering that makes them look both more animated and still fit in with their surroundings. They’re not final, and I think I’d like to see them tweaked to be a bit less cartoony in proportion, but their clothing and weaponry looked right at home in the medieval setting that immediately drew parallels with Ultima.
Combat is of the point-and-click ARPG variety, with a hotbar for your spells and items. Anyone who’s played basically any ARPG in the last 20 years will feel at home. Movement seems a little slow, but John says they’re still toying with character and enemy run speeds and that it could possibly change based on class and skills. Enemies can be pushed back, knocked down, and tossed all over the map too, though the animations for doing so are a bit wonky in the alpha client. What was most impressive about the combat is that monsters and NPCs have natural factions. Minotaurs will fight the Gnolls, Orcs will attack towns, and so forth, all based on their relationships with one another and how the players interact with them over time.
In a lot of ways, and John and Bill echoed this when I brought it up, Hero’s Song is what EverQuest Next could have been with more manageable tech and art tools. There is a near limitless number of worlds that can be generated in Hero’s Song, though all will share the same gods, races, and so forth. The events of each world will differ from one to the next, so while you may join a world with the same initial gods, it’ll never be the same world. The terrain, people, monsters, and history will all be unique. Ergo, the future and how the world evolves over time will also change.
The Ultimate goal of the game is to attain level 50 and Ascend, which is a process done via extremely difficulty Trials which Pixelmage will reveal more about later. That said, John and Bill don’t want people getting too used to their characters. Death, and even perma-death, is to be expected. They don’t want everyone and their brother becoming a god, rather Hero’s Song will play a bit like a more prolonged Rogue-like, where death is just part of the game.
Pre-orders are live today via IndieGoGo. The standard edition goes for $19.99 while a Collector’s Edition for $49.99 includes the soundtrack the renowned Inon Zur, a digital strategy guide, and a wallpaper pack. No special perks beyond that. It’s a Buy-to-Play game, with no further microtransactions. Early Access is due in November, and if we’re lucky here at MMORPG, we’ll be playing a bit before that to give you all some hands-on impressions. For now, what do you think? Is Hero’s Song something you’ll give a shot?