I have to be honest. Well, you should hope I would have to be honest each week, but let's just say that I often need to cull the many thoughts I have about some of the games I find, simply for sake of space. I try to avoid using too many general terms or categories about MMO gaming because there are always exceptions to every rule. In this case, however, I have to be very general.
There is a certain subsection of MMOs that seem to come from some foreign land; they have an odd name, possibly host broken-English text on their websites (loose instead of lose is one of the earmarks), and are hard to figure out. I'm possibly the most open-minded and schooled dude you could meet when it comes to MMOs. I'm proud of that, but when I see one of these odd ducks, I cringe. I know I'm in for a week of suffering through bugs, figuring out the very basics of the game, and trying to find an ounce of fun to report on. Also (and this is the bad part), they always seem to come from places that are blond and cold. Like Norway. Or Sweden. You know, the places really great, dark death metal comes from. It turns out this game is from Poland, but that's still very cool.
So when I found The Pride of Taern, I thought I was in for another week of busted English, horrible gameplay, and not an ounce of fun. At this point, however, I've had a freaking blast.
To explain myself further, I'll just point to the official site. It's... odd. I've seen sites like this before, basically "landing pages" that are built to get you into the game quickly. Heck, most Western MMOs now use landing pages, some of them very, very annoyingly. If you look at The Pride of Taern's, you'll see some great art (I love that the art is not perfect), a trailer, an intro, and a few links. The forum is barely alive; the news is one paragraph long. And I just noticed while taking a second look at the site that it says "closed beta." What? Didn't the home page just say "officially launched"?
See what I mean? These little things bug me. Maybe I play too many games.
Anyway, getting into the game was really easy. Good on the designers for that. Some of these oddball games take forever to approve a signup, or they bug you with horrible captchas that just do not work. Forget all that security and silliness; let me worry about that. Get me into your game, developers, and I will probably play it. Bug me with more than three steps and I probably will not. Once I was in, I got to make my character. Again, the hand-drawn art appealed to me. The characters were unique enough but ugly. I like ugly. The great thing about many indie games is that the developers cannot afford to make their titles good-looking. The world is already filled with too many MMOs that are empty souls with a pretty exterior.
The game immediately became immersive after I made my character. Sure, the tiny screen size made it a bit of a strain on the eyes, but there was a neat little story about finding my brother or something. And of course, a combat tutorial was included.
Combat is where The Pride of Taern shines. In fact, I have a feeling that later on in the game, it is nothing but combat, and forced-group combat at that, but that might not be a bad thing. At first I didn't like the combat, but I have to admit I skipped the tutorial pop-ups and didn't quite get it. I had to make a second and third character later to finally get how it worked and see how wonderfully simple it was.
Basically, your character is armed with a set of standard class-based attacks and can learn new ones later one. You can also level these attacks individually to further customize your character. The really fun part comes when you are faced with only 10 seconds to make a life-and-death decision about what to do next during combat and are able to click on a preset set of abilities and fire away. You have five abilities slots to fill out with whatever you want. Once you place the abilities you decide how many ability points you want to place on each one. You have a total of 12 points to spend, so you have to choose wisely. At first I placed all of my points into my attacks without realizing that I needed to slot some into defense. So, for example, I might put a basic archer ability in the first slot and a more specialized ability in the second. Then I assigned four points (out of a possible five) to the first shot and four to the second. If the character I was facing used a lot of ranged attacks, I would place the remaining four points into ranged defense. I could save this loadout and easily click between presets. Later on when I bought a "premium" account for around $12 US, I was able to save up to four preset loadouts. I made one for melee defense, all-out shooting power, and a few experimentals. You can also make up a loadout on the spot if you want.
Look, I am no math nerd. I am certainly no theorycrafter. But I do understand its appeal. I especially understood it while playing The Pride of Taern. I had a wonderful time making up loadouts and seeing them succeed -- or fail, of course. In fact, failure came so often and so unpredictably that I started to think that the amateurs behind the game surely must not know how to code. Later I realized that they probably really knew how to code, and I was just too stupid to figure out how to kill a damned spider.
I emailed the developers, something I don't do often but have learned to use as a tool for these first impressions, and asked about the game. According to the dev I chatted with, the team has about 10 people now (a respectable indie dev team size). He said the quests become "less important" later on, while grouping becomes more important. My heart sort of sank at the thought of forced grouping for two main reasons. First, Final Fantasy XI is possibly one of the coolest MMOs ever if not for the forced grouping that, even today, is almost mandatory. Second, I do not group. I don't have time for it generally, and I am a selfish games writer.
However you feel about grouping, you should give ThePride of Taern a try. Stick it out and it really becomes a game of turn-based kickassnessocity. Watch the trailer after you have started to enjoy the combat system and try your hardest to not scream at the screen, "I WANT TO BE THERE TO KILL THOSE GIANT MONSTERS!" Of course, the wonderful combat could simply turn into a grind later on, something I saw signs of early on. The quests could fade away and the game could become nothing but a series of repeated, forced group fights. Until that happens, though, I am very happy I threw down 12 bucks for the hours of fun I had this week. (An optional purchase for extra goodies.) Congratulations, Whitemoon -- you just might have a killer title on your hands. Now, about that website...
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!