Earth Eternal is a funny beast (pardon the pun). Originally slotted to be released in 2007, Sparkplay Media then obtained a swell of extra funding and decided to put their project back in the oven a bit longer. Now over two years later Earth Eternal is open and ready for anyone to try, with a fully-functional (but not necessary) cash shop. They're calling it Open Beta, but all characters and progress made from here on out are there to stay, so Sparkplay is treating it like a live game. And thus, we're reviewing it as such.
Browser-based MMOs are no new invention. Runescape has been doing it for years after all. But one thing that many might argue has eluded the browser-based game is a level of quality that we may be used to in our client driven games. I believe I can safely say that Earth Eternal has put this old contention to bed. There simply is no better put together MMORPG out there to play within the confines of your Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.
I've spent my fair share of time in games like Travian and Runescape, but traditionally browser games have rarely held my attention for longer than a week, probably because with the exception of the latter there just usually isn't much depth to them. After several spent with Earth Eternal however, I think it's safe to say I've found a browser-based MMO I can keep coming back to now and again, even if it doesn't quite replace my daily diet of higher profile releases.
However, let me state this before the review goes any further... Earth Eternal is unabashedly taking a lot of its ideas from World of Warcraft, just as Blizzard's behemoth took from its forefathers. Whether you are sick of this trend or find such similarities as a foregone conclusion in a world after WoW is another story altogether. I would not give negative marks to a game for simply playing like another in the same genre. But I would feel no remorse in shaving off points if the game copied elements blatantly and badly, but luckily with Earth Eternal this is not the case. The general look and inherent feel of the game are quite good, even if derivative.
There is one initial drawback that almost had me ready to close my browser before even playing and that's the load times, especially when first booting up the game. Perhaps because Earth Eternal sports some of the best visuals you'll find in a browser-based game, when you first boot up the game there's quite a bit of staring to be done at a slow moving loading bar. Luckily, because I was already there, I just opened a new tab and went puttering around on Facebook while I waited. But I probably could have made myself a sandwich with the time as well.
Once the game does actually load though, you'll probably be glad you waited. There are 22 races to choose from in Earth Eternal, and while none have any particular advantage over the others, the main difference is looks. After consulting with my fiancée on which animalistic biped I should choose, I eventually landed on a Fangren (a doglike race) because it reminded my betrothed of our pup. Not all of the races are zoological in nature however. While many resemble animals such as owls and foxes, a few are more akin to creatures of myth like the Cyclops or the Sylvan.
Unlike the selection of your race, the amount of classes a player has to choose from is rather limited. The standard fantasy basics of Knight, Rogue, Druid, and Mage make up the rather small list of choices. It's worth noting however that players are not bound to only the skills of the class they choose. There's nothing preventing a Knight from dipping into the spells of the Mage or even the healing Druid if he or she pleases. You'll just want to be careful how thinly you spread yourself across the available classes. You can't level up every skill to the maximum level, so you'll more likely find more use in focusing on just a handful of specific skills. So while there may be a limited number of actual classes, players are certainly not limited in how they level their characters and assign them skills.
As stated previously, the actual gameplay of Earth Eternal will feel very familiar to most any seasoned MMO vet. The WASD keys control movement while spells and skills are assigned to the usual hotbars. Spacebar will send your little anthropomorphic avatar vaulting into the air, and the usual trappings of an MMORPG UI are right where you'd expect them. But the real matter is whether or not Sparkplay has taken these familiar things and crafted them all into a game that feels right. It was always my experience in Runescape and other browser based games that the controls felt clunky, awkward, or unresponsive. I'm thrilled to report that this is not the case in Earth Eternal. Movement is a breeze and feels on par with its boxed brethren, and combat is both fluid and impactful.
There are some differences that help Earth Eternal stand out from the games it so heavily draws upon as well. The game employs might and will to serve as your mana pool for spells and combat abilities, and also something they call "charges". Charges are built up through the use of certain spells and abilities, and when you have enough built up your character will be able to unleash powerful "Execute" abilities. It's not revolutionary by any means, but adds a nice touch to already solid combat mechanics.
For a free game with an optional micro-transaction model, I expected to find myself with one or maybe two quests per level, with the rest of my game time filled with endless mob-killing in order to level. But for my own time spent with Earth Eternal, I never did run out of quests to perform. Sure enough most were of the "Kill Ten Rats" variety, but for me at least that helps disguise the fact I'm just doing the same thing over and over again. Maybe I'm in a forgiving mood, but I can't harp on Sparkplay Media for following industry standards. It also helps that the progression rate in Earth Eternal is more on par with what Western gamers are used to. When you're leveling at a decent rate, there always seems to be less of a grind, because the task of advancing your character doesn't seem so daunting.
You may have noticed by now that I've not spent a great deal of time detailing the story of Earth Eternal. That's because to do so would be a fairly herculean task. The official website of the game has a downloadable document of over 140 pages worth of lore and history. The folks at Sparkplay definitely take their world seriously and I encourage you to check it out if you like to know a bit more about the worlds you play in. For my part all I needed to know was that I was a Fangren, and that I should hit things with the pointy end of my sword.
In the end, I can't really say too much bad about Earth Eternal. The item-shop is populated by things every player can get in game by simply using their in-game gold to buy credits, and what's more is that the item shop goods are never really something that gives other players an unfair advantage because there is no PvP to worry about balance over. The loading times, repetitive quests and rather derivative nature are pretty much my only complaints with what is altogether a rather impressive browser-based experience. Surely it's not something that's going to rock the foundations of the MMO industry, but I highly doubt it was meant to do so. Sparkplay Media set out to make a fun, friendly traditional PvE experience and in that area I believe they've more than succeeded. If I can one day get this game working on my Droid, I'll be a happy camper.