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Reviewing a Pilgrim’s Sandbox

George Dimmock Posted:
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Salem is the first MMO to come from publisher, Paradox Interactive, that seems to be making huge progress this year with titles such as, Impire, Dungeonland and March of the Eagles on their roster. Salem bills itself as a true sandbox MMO with an emphasis on deep crafting, set in 17th Century New England. It’s also the “sister-MMO” to indie cult classic Hearth and Home.

Aesthetics - 7/10

Salem has a certain charm to its aesthetics. There’s not a lot you can do with a Java based game such as this, but a great job has been done to accommodate for this time period. Zones are generated around different seasons. For example, the zone I was placed in was in Autumn. Leaves cover the ground, and brightly coloured trees covered the surrounding area, with their leaves dropping in the process. It’s a good take on each zone, and adds some charisma to the game.

The UI is generally easy to navigate, and is laid out quite well. One issue I did have whilst playing through, was navigating the build menus. As Salem has a pretty large emphasis on crafting, trudging through the menus to craft and build should be relatively simple. In my case, I felt that it felt a bit too cluttered at times. Clicking through to build menus, which then lead to categories and another window to select an item to craft/build, became a little confusing at times.

Sound is lacking on the most part, as well. Throughout my time playing, there was no music, and with a game which has a certain amount of vibrancy and friendly presence, so to speak. It would have made the game more fun and motivating to play along to some charismatic 17th century music.

Gameplay - 9/10

For me, my time playing Salem has been a pretty perfect experience. It’s surprising because I’ve had a bad experience so far with sandbox MMOs. But Salem provided a hugely fun and absorbing playthrough.

At the start of the game you spawn within a dock. From there you are taught the very basics of the game, and you’ll also be able to customise your characters looks. From there you’re put into the main city hub, Boston, the only area which isn’t build by players. Here you’re informed that you’ll be transported to your very own homestead in which you have to build up to make your living and name within Salem.

Each homestead, from what I’ve seen, is generated around one of the four seasons. My homestead was in Autumn, so pretty much everywhere was covered with leaves and bright crimson trees. Once you have successfully spawned in your given area, you’ll have a shelter made from wood to survive and a vast open wilderness to fashion, craft and create all sorts of items, with the intent on building your small homestead into a vast town or city. One thing to note at the start is your inventory is incredibly small, so a lot of back and forth from the wilderness to your home is involved.

Salem employs some pretty odd mechanics and systems, some of which are rarely ever seen in MMOs today. For example, the four basic survival bars for your character: Blood, Phlegm, Yellow Bile and Black Bile. These are integral to your character and represent its health, carrying out certain tasks increase and decrease them, so it’s important to keep these in check.

Studying is another main system of Salem. By obtaining items such as wood, insects or plants, you’ll be able to study them. Studying an item will increase one of fifteen proficiencies. Each proficiency has a cap of 500. Once it is capped you can increase the proficiency by one, or you can choose to spend the points on skills such as Foraging or Colonial Tradesmanship. Gaining new skills progresses your character, enabling you to build and craft new tools and structures, integral for the progression of your homestead. Obtaining certain items will increase different proficiencies, even increasing a few on the study of one item. Leveling up the proficiencies is also important to gain access to higher tier skills.

The crafting system in the game is pretty simplistic. Gathering and foraging a set amount of items is required to craft items, after you have gathered the required amount, just click and place the object, then your character will begin to craft or build. I’ve been playing Salem for just over two weeks now, and at the moment I still only have access to little over the basics. Obtaining items to carry out buildings and crafting, can be a chore at times, but is rewarding at times. It’s the basis of Salem and it is what the game has been built around, so if you do not enjoy crafting then this game is definitely not for you. But when you have a steady flow and have figured out Salem’s mechanics, it becomes a very rewarding game at times.

Interestingly enough, open world PvP is present. Each homestead is connected throughout the game world, making it a fully persistent world. So stumbling into another area owned by a different player is common. Permadeath is also a feature of Salem, and introduces a certain hardcore aspect to this light hearted game. So once you’re gone, you’re gone. Something which seems very interesting to me, is the ‘criminal acts’ feature.

‘Criminal acts’ can be turned on and off by the click of a button in game, although I haven’t gotten the chance to delve further into this. The assumption made is that this feature makes it possible to commit crimes against other players, such as stealing. It certainly seems very appealing and adds a lot of depth to the game.

Like most free-to-play games, Salem does have a cash shop, but do not fear, it’s not a pay-to-win title. There are stalls within Boston that sell items in exchange for bought currency. But the items on offer can all be gathered. To get the full experience out of the game, I’d recommend to gather everything yourself, as the game becomes incredibly rewarding if you take this route.

Innovation - 9/10

To me sandbox games always seem very innovative, no matter what experience I have with them. Salem particularly, is one that stands out further than the others. The four humours system and the implementation of its studying mechanic make Salem unique and innovative in its own right. It’s very rare a game like this increasingly makes the effort to differentiate itself from everything else on the market and it is refreshing to see this.

Polish - 7/10

Salem is relatively well polished, but some issues do remain. There are a few lag issues present, sometimes making the game feel a bit sluggish. Movement also needs some care and attention, as more than often my character has issues navigating around the environment without getting stopped by an object, rather than being able to walk through it. Service wise, taking a look at the website and twitter feeds, developers are constantly present and available. Even sometimes playing the game.

Longevity - 9/10

With everything that Salem has to offer, you’ll find yourself occupied with a huge amount of things to do for a few weeks. If you stick with the game, you’ll start to reap the rewards and see your homestead expand exponentially. With it’s present progression and crafting mechanics, you’ll never be short of something to do. Not to mention the open world PvP system. Salem has a huge amount to offer, for a title that has not even been around for a year.

Social - 5/10

Socially the game has all the relevant system in place to interact with other characters. Although the main point of interaction is the main city hub of Boston. This really isn’t the aim of the game and even within the main city the main chats are not bustling with activity. Salem could benefit for emphasising the social aspects more, and could make for some interesting scenarios.

Value - 9/10

At the moment, you won’t find a free-to-play title which offers a huge open sandbox world with deep and innovative mechanics, other than Salem on the market. The features in use offer an amount of depth which isn’t present on the MMO market today. The four humours and progression systems are innovative in their own right, offering a unique and individual experience.


Salem is a stellar and charming sandbox title from Paradox Interactive. Set in the 17th century, Salem boasts a charming art style, while offering a hardcore and innovative free-to-play gaming experience. Something which is rare to come across in the current MMO market. The building and crafting system allow your character to progress and your homestead to expand, giving a rewarding and unique experience. 

  • Appeals to hardcore gamers
  • Deep crafting
  • Innovative game mechanics
  • Vibrant & charming art style
  • Lacking social functions
  • Some annoying bugs present


George Dimmock

George Dimmock / George Dimmock is a Freelance Journalist and a regular contributor to MMORPG.com. He's been playing MMOs since 2005 and recently writing about them, amongst other video game related junk. Studying for a degree in Journalism at Lincoln University, UK, when he's not writing or studying, you can find him on Twitter, @G_Dimmock