You have to respect a game that uses a very bad (and by bad, I mean good) pun in its title. Life is Feudal is a sandbox MMO led by Vladimir 'Bobik' Piskunov and features some very intriguing realistic gameplay. We had a chance to catch up with Piskunov at PAX East to discuss the game and see how it would be different from other medieval or fantasy sandboxes.
The first major departure from many MMOs in the medieval or fantasy genre is very basic, according to Piskunov: there is no fantasy to be found here. Despite the inspiration from Game of Thrones, there be no dragons here, nor is there magic. The LiF team chose to focus on a more realistic style for their game, although their goal wasn't a slavish adherence to historical accuracy like can be seen in the Society for Creative Anachronism. With a sprawling 21km by 21km landscape, players can settle in a number of places and build up their fortifications. Terraforming the land is a major feature of the game as well, and instead of mining nodes on the surface for example, players would actually have go to through the steps of digging a proper mine out to get ores for crafting.
There are two separate skillcaps available, one for crafting and one for fighting. Crafting has a very realistic progression toward each step of the process, with no MacGyver style glossing over various steps to get to the end result. Players will unlock new recipes during their progression, making things such as alloys possible in the future. Players also get the ability to create anything they want, but they have to learn how to do it. For example, let's say there are two Alchemists with the same materials for a mixture. Alchemist A will mix them and get Result A, while Alchemist B with the same reagents will get Result B. What this means is that players won't be able to just google up some answers on how to create various items in crafting, they'll have to trial and error their way through and actually learn their own recipes.
When it comes to skills, there are 25 crafting skills and 5 secondary crafting skills. There are also 25 combat skills. Skill points are distributed into various skills and players can respec at any time. Each skill has stats assigned to it, and players can select which skills to raise, lower, or leave as-is. The system appears very flexible to allow a player to customize precisely how he or she wishes to play their character. The game has no levels, but as a player progresses toward the top of the skill bar, it takes longer time and more effort for each new tick, so players will race toward the end but then slowly creep up on the cap once they hit a certain point. Players can also train up some skills by learning from other players, and this can even happen if either or both players are offline. Much of this system will be familiar to players of Ultima Online, which LiF credits for inspiration.
In terms of character creation, players will all be human, but both male and female avatars are available, and each can encompass any of the skin tones present in real life. However, there are no 'racial perks' available for choosing to look one way or another. I was also terribly amused by the 'You CAN NOT' list on their FAQ page.
Combat gets particularly intriguing with a full loot system in place, and the fact the game has no NPCs, just players and wild animals and free PVP. The animals can be killed for skins and meat, or they can be tamed and used by farmers for fertilizer. Combat itself is physics-based with absolutely no targeting mechanics. As we were discussing how it would work, Piskunov was demonstrating how a player would move his or her mouse to simulate how wide of a swing a player's sword would make, with the speed of the movement adding to the power of the strike. It made me think of the Nintendo Wii's Wiimote and how players would use it in the Legend of Zelda games to great effect.
Formations in combat would also play a part in larger battles. One player is designated the battle leader and chooses a formation such as a phalanx or a wedge-shape. Other players would jump in that formation zone, much like a telegraph in other games, and receive a bonus to their attacks. The greater number of players in the zone, the larger overall bonus to all. The battle leader can also call special orders in and that will give other bonuses or buffs to players in formation.
Guilds are also an important factor in the game. A group can create what's called an Order, and they build a guild monument that claims the area around it and proclaim themselves a country. As they upgrade the monument, they get more space claimed around it and can become an kingdom. It doesn't appear that it's simply a matter of 'bigger guild gets more space', a problem in other MMOs where players had to be in the one or two biggest guilds to get anywhere. If two monuments are in close enough proximity, the influences of each Order come into conflict, and that means they can either settle it on the battlefield or via diplomacy.
On the battlefield, siege mechanics and the previously mentioned battle systems come into play. One country may openly challenge another. Approximately 24 hours after the challenge is issued, battle commences. Players have that time to gather their forces and plan their battle. Players have to accept the invitation to battle, and if they do, they're put into an instance with the other players who agreed to fight. This instance will be an open field battle, no buildings, just ground and trees. Piskunov said the winner of the battle will downgrade the loser's monument and thus lessen the amount of space the losing Order will have claimed. Once an Order's monument regresses to level 1, a siege challenge can be issued. This time, the battle doesn't include an instance.
In terms of the gamespace, the realistic approach is very much evident. There's a day/night cycle, and for those fans of proper darkness, you will be pleased at how Life is Feudal handles it. In the screenshots available in their press kit, it seems as if the only light available at night is via torches and lanterns, with only a minimum of moonlight to help light your way (assuming it's not cloudy). The game also features weather systems, and all of these will affect the growing of crops and trees for crafting and food.
As of right now, the game does not feature ground mounts, but will in the future, and they're looking forward to adding mounted combat as well. Players can train up riding skills already, even if there are no mounts as yet.
Life is Feudal, the MMO, is a combination B2P/F2P model. A basic version is available for free, but players are limited in location and skill level caps, but players can buy special in-game currency with real-life money to get off their newbie island and into the general population. There is also a shop using this in-game currency for cosmetic items, although they're still debating what sort of entry fee they will use to prevent trolls and cheaters from getting in. The game is currently only available for PC and is being marketed toward the hardcore sandbox player.