After almost four months in open beta, with changes coming thick and fast, Nadirim was finally launched at the start of November. The free-to-play (F2P) browser-based MMO from Twisted Tribe is continuing to be updated even now and it’s an incredibly important time for the team. This hidden gem with a refreshingly original setting is desperately awaiting valuation. The question is, are you going to treasure it, or wish it had been buried by the sands?
Aesthetics – 5
The game’s top-down camera angle and travelling along an invisible grid immediately invokes feelings of old-school Diablo and Final Fantasy which should make most gamers feel right at home. More important than this, however, is the setting – it’s just so refreshing. In a genre populated by forests, jungles, post-apocalyptic wastelands and the depths of space, deciding to try and make a desert appealing is no mean feat. But Nadirim excels brilliantly in this regard, bringing a new take on Arabian Nights to life. The sands feel as if they’re teeming with life and the ever evolving story helps you appreciate the variety in the world through the various enemy groups you’re fighting. The lusher elements of desert life are beautifully detailed and every oasis feels different, contrasting spectacularly with the more barren areas. My jaw was permanently on my keyboard.
There is one caveat, however: Nadirim will not suit everyone in terms of graphics. Everything in the game is hand-drawn by the artists and whilst it looks exquisite…there’s no animation. When your character moves, a dust cloud surrounds their feet, but that’s it. In battle, spells are in no way flashy and you’ll have to make do with character movement just about extending to which way you’re facing. This put me off incredibly hard for the first ten minutes of play but, to be honest, after that I stopped noticing. The lack of animation works in terms of the game’s art style which completely seduced me and, ultimately, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you get hung up on it.
The UI is pretty standard MMO fare, with the skill bar being bound to the keyboard. As combat is turn based, this doesn’t really matter as you’re perfectly fine to click which skill you want to use, without the pressures of real time battle. The menus are accessible and easy to use (once you stop looking for things that were removed in the beta, like talent trees…).
I do have to give a special mention has to the game’s sound. With an original score, Nadirim’s soundtrack is authentic and goes a long way towards cementing the Arabian atmosphere the makers are after. In combat especially, the music rises to crescendos at tense moments then dies down when you’re planning your next move. If you hang around in the same town long enough, it’s going to annoy you but otherwise, it’s the final layer in creating a vibrant world.
Gameplay – 8
There’s good and bad aspects on offer in terms of Nadirim’s gameplay, though Twisted Tribe have promised future is bright. At the moment, there are only three classes on offer – the warrior, the sage and the rogue. You’re unlikely to level more than one as, whilst they have different skills, they’re all self-sufficient and powerful in their own ways. There’s two more in development, the nomad and the caravan master, but no concrete word as yet when they’ll appear. The story is engaging and expanded by well-constructed mini-cinematics. When new patches launch, even if they don’t progress the main story forward, side quests help pad out the lore.
In terms of combat, if you aren’t a fan of gushing, then skip a couple of paragraphs. It is, without a doubt, one of the best implementations of a familiar system in any MMO in recent memory. If you’ve played any of the Tactics series of games you’re going to know how to fight in Nadirim. Combat is turn-based and takes place on a hexagonal grid. Each turn consists of a move phase and an action phase which can be done in any order using skills you stick on your action bar and unlock by levelling up. The amount of strategy and adaptability built into the system is startling. Depending on your class and the enemies you’re facing, you may spend most of your time trying to extend or close the distance between you and your foes. In a particularly memorable battle, I was chasing after archers with a longer range than my sage whilst attempting to avoid the bandit swordsmen defending them.
It gets better. The strategic combat continues by making you think about chaining abilities, as some skills offer extra moves per turn or increase the strength of others. Do you finish off that crocodile and risk his croc-lover killing you, or do you cast Magic Ward on yourself to lower damage taken and get another turn, then use a heal-over-time (HOT) spell? It prolongs the fight but could prevent your death. It’s all about learning your limits.
It’s choices like these that make every battle fresh and exciting. Additionally, up to four players can fight together in tricky battles against NPC mobs, or players can duel each other one-on-one with up to twenty spectators. The combat is rounded off with a “help me” button in the top right, which can be clicked when you’re struggling and want a friendly passing player to hop in and help out. It creates a great sense of community, and there’s an overwhelming feeling of heroism when you help someone else out of a tight spot.
There are downsides, however. The in-game tutorial is brief and based on pictures alone. It fails to really convey what the game is about, and some of the information is given to you long before it’s relevant and is forgotten by the time it becomes so. The tutorial images can be accessed again on the website but I needed a helpful friendly player to tell me that by the time I actually reached that stage.
Additionally, the flow of the game is hindered by one of its fundamental features – the energy system. Along with health, energy makes up the resources with which you play the game. You expend energy when accepting quests and battling. It completely refills when you level up, but otherwise regens at the lowly rate of 1% every three minutes. In the early levels, it doesn’t matter too much as you’ll usually level up and get a full refill before you run out. However, it can make the game feel grindy at higher levels. My standard MMO tactic is to grab all the quests for an area, then dash off to complete them. The level of frustration I felt when I attempted to do this, successfully got all the quests but then didn’t have enough energy to initiate the required battles is indescribable. It really did hurt my enjoyment of the game.
With this in mind though, the game is F2P and one of the main items offered by the premium store is elixirs to rejuvenate your energy meter. It’s hard to begrudge it this considering the amount of work gone into development, but it really does jar with everything else. It becomes especially noticeable when you’re trying to access the third city, Zenithar, which requires you to be level 17. There’s a dearth of quests at this stage, making everything slow down and feel like a grind anyway, without the additional gating caused by the energy system. The next patch promises to fix the lack of quests, but it’s an example of a feature that’s clearly inspired by finance rather than enjoyment.
At the moment endgame consists of completing quests for epic loot, and more of these are added almost every two weeks. Additionally, the area surrounding Zenithar is full of bosses on a thirty minute respawn timer that can be taken down by players working together. On the horizon is both a party system and instances the likes of which are seen in World of Warcraft and Rift, but until then there is plenty to keep you going what with the huge range of cosmetic gear and armour available. Again the beautiful artwork comes into its own by adding incentive to gear up, as every weapon looks different and can be clearly seen in all its glory whilst in combat.
Innovation – 7.5
The true beauty of the game is that whilst it doesn’t invent new systems or techniques, it successfully takes the familiar features of previous games and puts them together in new ways. One of the standout examples of this is how the battle system works incredibly well with the art style. I seriously question if the lack of animation could be excused if the hand drawn art wasn’t so good, and the close-up, clear visuals in the battles makes character customisation both noticeable and appealing.
Of course, once again, special mention goes out to the setting. It really is unlike anything I’ve played before and the whole package comes together in a very refreshing way. It’s familiar enough that you’ll be able to leap right in and know what’s going on (there is genuinely a “kill six rats” quest) but presented in a new way that I personally felt was enough to keep me playing beyond the introductory section.
Polish – 8.5
During my time in Nadirim I experienced no bugs whatsoever. Even with the amount of content being rolled out every one or two weeks, it’s always exceedingly well put together and has very few issues. With the big patches coming up, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not they’ll be teething problems, but I’m fairly confident that they’ll be dealt with swiftly. Additionally, the Game Masters are online very regularly and participate in general chat, which is a bit of a break from the norm. But they’re both accessible and visible should help be needed, which is reassuring. How sustainable this is should the game’s popularity increase remains to be seen.
Longevity – 7
The fact it’s F2P and requires no downloads is a huge plus for the game, as it makes it easy to dip in and out at will. When I hadn’t played for half a week, I got offered free gems to buy premium items should I return which was another nice little incentive. Despite this, at the moment, with an endgame consisting of outdoor bosses and no group function, things are a little ropey. Persevering is well worth it, however, and some of the loot on offer is particularly impressive.
One of the best things about Nadirim is the speed with which they release updates. Every one or two weeks, fresh quests and features are released into the game. As the quests reward top-notch loot, this is an alternative for those players who can’t be bothered waiting around for bosses. If you start playing now, chances are by the time you’re at the level cap of 25 the party system will be in the game along with the first instances, as they’re due for release in early 2012 and should really add to the game’s lifespan for you. As it stands currently, though, after 25 levels of questing and killing outdoor monsters, I wasn’t a huge fan of repeating this ad infinitum.
Social – 8
The game’s forums are a hive of useful advice and fan made guides, which is great to see. As I mentioned, the GMs are a regular fixture in the world chat and generally very helpful. For me the greatest shock is that the developers regularly have a presence in game, talking to players about what they want to see and how they think the latest patch has gone. Such a move has divided the community, with some thinking it’s great whilst many prefer their developers remain faceless deities, ruling from on high. Regardless, it’s unusual enough to merit a mention, though again how long it’ll continue if the number of players grows remains to be seen.
By the time you read this, player trading and friend’s lists will have made it into the game (they’re due out in two days as of the time of writing). Guilds and parties are high on the to-do list and both should be out in early 2012. That they aren’t currently in the game is a serious issue, but hopefully one the friends list will go some way towards rectifying. The high score is merited in my opinion because, despite this, players are encouraged to group to fight boss mobs, the “help me” button remains a triumph and the overall design of the game works hard to encourage social interactions in new ways.
Value – 9.5
For a F2P game, the amount Nadirim offers is astonishing. Devs say that only one-fifth of the world map has been revealed so far, which measures a whopping 17,718 screens, and there’s much more to be revealed. The premium shop is, by the standards of similar features, very reasonable and regularly has discount sales. The regularity of updates is the one thing that really makes me think the game is great value. The devs seem to have made it their mission than no one will ever manage to complete everything before a new set of challenges is deployed. The game doesn’t even take up any space on your hard drive, which should give an indication of how low maintenance it is.
My personal advice to you is that you give Nadirim your undivided attention. The damn thing is F2P and, for a browser game, it’s world-class. Many bigger MMOs could take a lesson from this game and, hey, if it isn’t your cup of tea then simply close the tab you were playing in and move away. If you fancy an original setting, combat so good it should be locked behind a screen asking you to enter your date of birth and a world that looks set to get increasingly more detailed and expansive in the coming months; you owe it to both yourself and Twisted Tribe to give this a go.
If you’re hoping for talent trees, intense spec choices or mind-blowing spell effects then keep walking, buddy. The talent trees from beta are gone for good, replaced by a wealth of skills which must be picked between as only a certain number may be taken into any given battle. What the game lacks in animation it really does make up for in graphics and gameplay but, if there’s no way you can enjoy a game without enough flashes to give you seizures every twenty seconds, then Nadirim won’t cut it for you.
As a personal plea, do try it out. I myself spent the first half hour hating the way my character didn’t move and wondering how in God’s name I was going to rack up enough hours to write this review. Now it’s done, I can tell you for certain that I’m not ready to empty the sand from my boots just yet.