Okay, dignity restored. Incidentally, you can see the in-game time displayed in the upper right. You'll find that the NPCs all want you to take leave of telling time by the clock, and instead judge by the length and orientation of the shadows. Seriously. There's a subtle undercurrent of adherence to base-level technologies in Mabinogi, and it might otherwise take you a little while to notice it. There are the obvious trappings, of course -- a blacksmith, a mill, a loom -- but the difference goes deeper than that. You'll notice there are (at least in this first town) no conveyances to whisk you about. All the lighting comes from lanterns, no electricity evident. Everything that you don't buy from a vendor, you make yourself. There is a wonderful sense of the DIY spirit here that pervades every activity.

And from this spirit, a true sense of accomplishment. The NPCs are there to guide you, but will also rebuke you for not getting the point, and later, when they give you quests, state in no uncertain terms that you must complete your objectives on time -- not merely to receive the rewards, but also, somehow, because it's the proper way to live.

The upper left shows your Skills window, where you can assess the status of each one of these special abilities, some of which are passive, and most of which are active. The active Skills may be mapped to an F-key by simply dragging their icons to the empty row of bins at the very top left of the screen. Using these Skills is the most important aspect of combat, as we'll show in just a bit.

More about Skills: Even the passive Skills rely upon points to be upgraded. These points are accumulated by fighting with enemies. For the most part, new Skills appear when you complete a quest that's designed to teach you new Skills. Everything in Mabinogi depends on practicing your skills, whether they're about cooking, fighting, or playing an instrument. The best trick the game pulls off is in making each one of these endeavors attractive enough for you to want to level them all -- there's something just so satisfying to finally being able to turn 5 pieces of cobweb into useable string, believe it or don't. The more you apply yourself to a task, the better you'll get at it, and the higher quality of an item you'll be able to create.

This is the ding, showing you which Skill you've leveled, and what your new rank is. Ranks start at 'F' and travel backward through the alphabet to, presumably, 'A' (though we've not leveled any of our Skills to that stage as yet). Notice the lovely little flourishes on this emblem; little touches like this make such a difference.

This bluff overlooks the sleepy town of Tir Chonail. It's a post-agrarian society, but just barely. The fields are available for tillage, but there are no NPCs doing so. There's a windmill, an Inn, a combat/magic school, a bank, a church, a general store (which Mabinogi calls the General Shop, which annoys us for some reason), and a blacksmith. Farther out of the town boundaries is a shepherd with a flock of sheep. Every one of these establishments is presided over by a named NPC, to whom you can go to ask a variety of questions. Mabinogi uses a keyword system for conversation, in which topics are, for the most part, the same from person to person, though visiting one vendor and asking about a particular topic can unlock a quest offer from a different vendor. More on this in a bit.

Occasionally, the stars will align during a random beatdown session, and you'll be rewarded with the Big Lucky Finish, which is a more powerful blow that will end the combat with a bloom of light. It's not something you can rely upon or plan, but it's nice when it happens.

This is the road down to the village proper. In the distance you can just make out a column of light -- this is the indication that you have a quest waiting to be fulfilled. In this particular instance, it's to meet the town mayor, Duncan.

And here he is ... but wait, who's this winged girl, all of a sudden? Well, it turns out she's the fairy that lives in your sword. Her name is Eiry, and she's available for you to ask questions of at any time. Sometimes she pops up when she feels you need a little help. In this case, she's explaining how to find Quest information on the minimap.

Now that you've met Duncan, the Quest may be completed. Hitting 'Q' will open the Quests window, where you will see the Quest in question. Clicking 'Complete' will give you the experience allotted to this Quest, plus a bit of gold, which is dropped on you from a passing owl. Owls in this game are the messengers that give you both random Quests and rewards for Quest completion. Much like Bubo did in Clash of the Titans, except not at all like that.

Here's the expanded map. Note the two colors of text: brown text lists place names, like 'School' and 'Inn'. Blue text lists map features like 'Sheep' and 'White Spider Alert'.

And now, a girl in a bikini.

We've delivered Nao's Letter of Introduction to Duncan, and he's thrilled, as you can see.

A few things going on in this picture. First, the Quest window is open in the lower right corner. There are two Quests displayed, and one of them is selected, which opens the beige window shown to the left. Along with the window comes the big neon pink arrow, currently embedded in Duncan's torso and arm. That's the direction in which you'll need to go to work on this Quest.

A little bit about Quests here. There are two types of Quests: actual Quests that will give you something upon completion, like gold, an item, or experience, or some combination of the three. The other type of Quest is gotten by speaking with a vendor NPC and asking for a job. If you embark on a job you got from a vendor, you only have a few hours, game time (though an 'hour' is actually only a few minutes) to complete it. If you don't make it back to the vendor with the job requirements completed, not only do you not receive the reward, but you'll also get taken to task for either being lazy, or slow.

Also, you can only receive jobs at a certain time of day, usually in the morning. Vendors will tell you to come back later if you ask them about jobs during non-job-acquiring hours.

On our way to the Quest spot, we notice this Pokémon quietly sleeping in its nest. We think it's Tweetmanderlaxachu.

Despite what it may look like, this is not rectal prolapse. The red object here is a bunch of cherries, which in this particular case, serve a dual purpose: these cherries are the subject of the current Quest, and can also be eaten, which serves to maintain the marvel of fighting fury you see in action before you. To get the cherries from this bush, it must be attacked repeatedly. Sometimes a branch will appear, but it may be ignored. There might actually be a use for the branches, but at this stage of the game, that purpose was not forthcoming.

Have at thee, bush! Deny me not my rightful bounty!

After having gotten the cherries we needed to fulfil the Quest parameters, we go to our final Quest destination: the General Shop. Here, we're to give the cherries to the General Shop vendor, Malcolm. Notice the coziness of this interior! Everything about Mabinogi is warm and inviting.

Without warning, up pops our sword maiden again, giving us information about how to add Skills to the hotkey interface, which is a simple matter of dragging them to the proper open slot.

Here she's describing how the Skills work. Don't judge by this illustration, though: the actual throbbing icon is a lot easier to discern than it seems in this image. What happens is, to use a Skill, you press the accompanying F-key, and wait for the skill to 'charge'. Once it's charged, it will automatically expend itself on the nearest selected enemy. This is important to keep in mind once combat begins, as once you've committed to charging a Skill, you can't cancel it until it's ready to be employed. If you've started it charging too late, you run the risk of being attacked in the interim.

This is how to identify what the enemy is thinking about. Like Metal Gear Solid, Mabinogi uses exclamation marks to notify you of a creature's intent. One bang for when the creature's aware of you, and two bangs for when it's about to attack. Pay close attention! You will also see what your enemy's charging up, so plan accordingly! This is a refreshing take on game combat, and it's much more active than the simple 'click to attack, then sit right back' method employed by so many MMOs.

Here's how polite things are in Mabinogi. There's a book on the floor we wanted to take a closer look at, so we clicked on it to pick it up, only to be told 'I do not have the right to pick up this item.' No wonder all the doors are unlocked; everybody exists on the honor system!

Here's Malcolm in all his homely glory. Here, you can see a highlighted item from his inventory. Stats include both Defense Rate and Protection, though what the difference is we haven't delved into at this point; Durability, that dreaded component of items; Proficiency, a mysterious and intriguing stat; and Upgrade. Ooh, we can't wait to play around with that one!

Back outside for a look around town. Ooh, the sunken living room concept of the 70's has made a huge impact on city planning!

And apparently there's a hidden portal to Lord of the Rings Online somewhere around here.

Heading off on another quest, which you can see by the text floating over our avatar's head. Unfortunately, we weren't paying strict enough attention to what Ferghus the Blacksmith was telling us, and got confused about where to go, despite the Quest directional arrow.

So instead, we decide to scamper about town willy-nilly. That's Ferghus in the distance, obviously displeased at our performance. In general, it's not wise to upset a man who can bend steel with his bare hands.

But look! We've managed to complete a different Quest regardless. It helps when the Quest-giver is a fetching lass such as this one.

As noted in this screenshot, pressing the '/' key will give a detailed notice about the area you currently inhabit.

And here we come to the death-equivalent analog in Mabinogi. Instead of dying outright, the game merely states that you are 'completely knocked out'. You have the option of reviving yourself, with various penalties -- notably the loss of whatever experience you had recently accrued. However, you may also choose to 'Wait for Rescue', but presumably, this refers to traveling with a group. We waited for a significant amount of time before finally choosing to 'Revive in Town', which conferred the lowest penalty.

First Impressions: Mabinogi concludes here!

The Hyborian Insider shows off AoC combat