In recent years the rise of “sandbox” MMO games has escalated to the point that every company seems to be attempting to make the next big “Ark” game. Almost identical clones of the game with little to offer over the last except different textures or universe settings. What happened to the good old days of true sandbox MMO’s? Are companies just out to make a quick buck on the backs of other company’s success? Thankfully at least a few are still working towards making a truly great sandbox MMO, and recently I’ve had the chance to play one of their games.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen the name Legends of Aria posted on our website in the top five voted games for a while, but I was always skeptical about it. It seemed to offer a throwback, almost identical to Ultima Online. Was I truly ready for such a game? Would it even be worth the time and effort? They surely couldn’t do the game justice could they? I had my doubts, truly, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen so far.
Legends of Aria is a true sandbox MMORPG developed by a very small team called Citadel Studios, founded by Derek Brinkmann, aka “Supreem.” This is their first title under this studio name, but don’t let that fool you. Derek Brinkmann and Tim Cotten both worked on Ultima Online, while Chris Ondrus worked at Bioware and Bethesda on games such as the Elder Scrolls series and Ultima Forever. Needless to say, they aren’t new to development, nor to the genre. If anyone can make a spiritual successor to Ultima Online, it’s these guys.
Just keep in mind this is an indie game. Legends of Aria is the first game to be produced by Citadel Studios. This means they don’t have the funding, or the team size, to get things done as fast as AAA titles. This can be a hindrance to some players, as some bugs or crashes won’t always be fixed instantly and may take some time. It’s the nature of the project, something you truly need to keep in mind while playing games such as this.
Gameplay is fun, if bare bones
Gameplay is fun, just don’t expect to have your hand held at all, not even a little. The game favors true sandbox mode where you, the player, are in total control over what you do. The game plays in an isometric setting with the ability to move your camera around 360 degrees. It has that old school feel, but with a modern twist to it. Classes are fluid, you can be a Warrior Mage, a Ranger Mage, or any combination you choose. It’s purely based off your stats and skill selection. You will have no traditional quests, with no NPC or story to direct you where to go. The world is open, and you are free to explore anywhere you want, while killing whatever you want assuming you’ve got the skill to do so. This isn’t always a good thing. My first few hours in game I was utterly confused. I had no idea where I should go, what I should do, or even how to obtain new abilities. You cannot simply allocate stat points, or skill points, you instead earn them through training. Which is another way to say go grind it out on mobs. The task at hand was daunting, and without the help of an amazing guild, I wouldn’t have progressed much further than spawning in the first time. A big shout-out to Guardians of Tethys for their help and guidance!
There should be some kind of direction at the start. Even if it’s just to tell you to go hunt mobs, the game is extremely vague in regard to some things. You would think to train for Bashing, you’d visit a Knight, but no the Trader in Valus trains Bashing. The same applies to Healing, he also trains you healing, but this guy is a general goods vendor, not the first NPC you would think to visit to train for Bashing or Healing.
Combat: Slow but effective?
Expect combat to be slow. This isn’t a modern day super-fast grinder game. Your weapon has an attack speed rating, the lower the number the faster it attacks. The faster a weapon, the less damage they do. Coming into the game expecting a faster paced combat system will leave you very disappointed. Mobs have levels, you cannot see them, but they are there. Just because you can kill one, does not mean you will gain skill level ups for your weapon or abilities. Take Trolls for example, if you go there below 40 lancing, you will not gain a single point in lancing by attacking the Troll. You may be able to kill it just fine, but you won’t gain the experience for your weapon. This is how the game forces you to slow down even more. You must find the mob that gives you the most experience for the current skill you are leveling up. You cannot simply go to the top and power level. This is a great thing to me, but others I can see being upset by being forced through a narrow window. The grind to GM on a skill is long. Expect to spend many hours grinding from 80+ to gain a skill point. It seems to slow down drastically at that point.
Bandages are a huge deal for combat. Your healing skill increases by using bandages, which in turn allows you to heal yourself for more with each bandage. Potions are available, but not always cost efficient. In my experience, your healing skill should be a priority while leveling up. Bandaging will be your primary heal, while potions supplement the cooldown period of your bandage. I see this as both a positive and negative for the game. If just about anyone can heal themselves for say 100 HP with a single bandage, it truly takes away from the other classes such as Support Mage with healing spells. While it’s a good thing to have them for when you’re alone, I just really would like to see Support Mage being a little more viable or required.
The game world is not huge. It’s large enough for the moment, but not huge by any measure. One thing that has really stood out to me is the Gateway system. In games like this I really expect to have to travel to get around. Walking, or by horse, but not simply teleporting. Each main town has a Gatekeeper that will allow you to teleport from one Gateway to another. Allowing you to fast travel from one town to another, without the use of portals from a mage. This is good for simply allowing you to travel quickly, but it is bad because it makes distance a moot point. PVP will play a large role in Legends of Aria, simply allowing you to fast travel to any area on the map is overpowered. If you get engaged in a PVP encounter across the map from your guild house, all you have to do is make it as close to a gate as you can, so your guild can warp in and help you. The same goes for raids. I wish it was limited to only a single hub town. That would allow mages to utilize their portal spells more than simply for mob or dungeon locations. It would allow for more strategy when dealing with PVP. For now, its “Let’s all meet at Crossroads!” with the entire guild showing up instantly.