Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 8 PM Central time, followed by this column the Saturday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau at massively dot com.
Pandora Saga is a great looking game, for sure. The very first thing I thought upon logging in was "This looks like Final Fantasy XI ramped up." Perhaps it all falls under some kind of overseas sub-genre of Anime-esque entertainment, featuring one giant race, one cute race and a couple regular ole' races. Frankly, I have never been a fan of Anime and can actually stomach the more "realistic" stuff less than the cutesy, giant-headed style, so Pandora Saga took some getting used to.
Once I did, though, I found a pretty stout game that would work well for someone that has the time to dedicate themselves to one game. Even then, I think that a strong guild is must, being that many quests require a good deal of murdering. Come to think of it, this game is a lot like FFXI.
Before I start, I would like to say that I played FFXI over the last few years, on and off, never getting above level 20. The game had something, though -- some kind of ever-present hint that there is great adventure to be had and great power to be wielded. Of course, the game forgot to tell me that in order to achieve these great things, I would have to suffer through snobby groupmates, incredible amounts of grinding, and empty zones.
"I had a feeling that I was deep, deep, deep within the newbie zone and would remain there until finding a guild or someone to party with."
So, when I started noticing the similarities between the two games I panicked slightly. The worst part about FFXI is the way it asks you to go through the Seven Layers of Hell just to achieve mild power. After killing my 20th maggot, I realized that Pandora Saga was going to do the same. This wouldn't work. To be completely honest, I need a pretty specific game for this weekly column. Not specific in style or look, but in what it asks of me. I cannot have a game ask me to play for eight hours at a time, because it just won't happen. I cannot have a game that asks me to play in completely empty zones, either. Pandora Saga made me feel like all the cool kids were off having fun without me, and a game shouldn't make me feel that way.
Still, it's a interesting game. The landscapes are grand and the character models are nice looking. But from what I have found so far, the game offers only the basic classes and basic abilities you have seen before. You learn a new skill automatically, something I stumbled upon after I decided to investigate some of the in-game shortcuts. Combat acts like you would expect: double clicking selects a target, moves your character, and starts the auto attack. My special abilities "cost" points to use, but resting quickly restores the pool.
Crafting comes in the form of upgrading weapons at a blacksmith, and will imbue items with additional stats. Although I didn't toy with the system at all, a fellow adventurer told me that the refining can often lead to much more powerful weapons. Once again, I wished I cared about such things, but I really do not. If you are the type that enjoys tweaking every little skill point or carefully placing stat enhancements, you'll be a happy camper. Some of the weapons I saw were pretty impressive, and much of the armor was detailed and beautiful.
There are also mounts to buy, but I rarely saw any players on them. I had a feeling that I was deep, deep, deep within the newbie zone and would remain there until finding a guild or someone to party with. When I did party with someone, I had a blast. Granted, we were both just killing oodles of monsters and picking up the bits after, but we were chatting and figuring out the game together. Grinding is great for that, and is sort of relaxing when you are with someone who seems to be equally as lost as you.
Perhaps that is the most disturbing part of Pandora Saga: the lack of other low-level players. I hate to continue to bring up FFXI as an example, but all fun in that game was killed for me by a much-higher level playerbase. If I found someone, they were either busily fishing or shopping and did not want to be bothered, or they were just passing through. It's not to say that the players aren't helpful, it's just that in games that require groups to level, the higher level players want nothing to do with those lower levels. They did their time there and would rather spend time somewhere else. I can't say that I blame them. We all talk wonderfully about the good old days of grinding and impossible numbers of mobs, but when it gets down to it, none of us would ever repeat those experiences.
So, Pandora Saga felt epic, beautiful, majestic, a little bit haunting in some areas, slightly dated and lonely as Hell.
Will the game stay on my hard drive? Actually, yes. See, the absolutely brilliant thing about free-to-play games is that they can always sit there on your desktop, just waiting for you to pick them up where you last left off. Although I will never achieve great things in Pandora Saga, I can slowly make my way through the game. Maybe, just maybe, I will find a guild or a group of friends to level with. But until then, I will not be charged a dime. It's kind of perfect.
Next week we will be looking at Sacred Seasons 2, a great little Flash-based Facebook game. Don't worry, it's a real MMORPG, with chat, groups and everything. My name in game is Beauhind, and I will always try to be in Channel 1.
Now, go log in!