Somehow, a new title by Three Rings, the maker of some of my favorite MMOs like Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, slipped through the cracks. I pride myself on knowing about every new MMO that is coming out, even if I don't play them much. For some reason, though, Doctor Who: Worlds in Time slipped under my radar. Hey, nobody's perfect. Needless to say I was excited to check out the title even though I'm not a fan of the current Doctor. (Tom Baker fan, all the way. After that they all seemed too goofy. The theme song is still the coolest ones in sci-fi, though.) Doctor Who is like prog rock: tolerable only in small amounts, unless it's Rush.
Once I logged in, I found a clever little game that utilizes many of the same mechanics of Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights. It's got familiar, puzzle-based, real-time group gameplay that I wish other games would implement. Star Trek Online could solve its ridiculous problem of having only single-player ships by giving players unique "jobs." Those crew members could sit at individual stations and solve puzzle in real time to help do their part. It works in Puzzle Pirates beautifully. Doctor Who: Worlds in Time uses the same instant group mechanic that Spiral Knights does, but it has other problems.
In the end, I was a bit confused and often bored by the title.
I did enjoy the fact that I could pick out a different race and customize my character before jumping into the game. More customization is available through cash-shop purchases or by capturing special gems that can be opened to reveal items. Players are even given their own houses or apartments to decorate. I'm not sure whether the overall design of the apartments could be changed, but I found them to be pretty roomy with a lot of decorations to place. Simply doing missions allows players to earn more furniture and clothes to help them decorate in more ways than one.
I visited Earth and found out that a group of automaton dummies (as in fashion dummies) were taking over the world. To stop them, players go through a series of quests that consist of solving puzzles to perform different actions. There were puzzles to blockade a door, to repair busted circuitry, to combat the enemy, and more. Mostly the puzzles were fun, but the main issue is that the lag that often accompanies Flash-based MMOs can cause a slip of the puzzle that results in mishap. In one puzzle in particular, a circuitry repair puzzle, I had to rotate the board in order to drop a ball into a small doorway. I had to be careful to avoid different blocks that could crush the ball or destory valuable blocks. I would try to rotate the board once, but lag would cause me to think I hadn't rotated it yet, so it would spin more than I wanted, ruining my chance at winning. It was very, very annoying.
The lag affected the game many times. This is exactly why Flash will eventually be replaced by other engines. Even Adobe has talked about phasing it out for use in mobile devices, and Apple left it off of the iPad for a reason too. Flash runs heavy. It can work for many things, but making a browser-based, group-oriented MMO with it is asking for trouble. Sometimes I would be in the middle of playing and a slowdown would occur, making it feel like I was playing through molasses. It wasn't game-breaking stuff, but it made me grit my teeth. The best way to put it is that it made me uncomfortable.
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Still, I enjoyed the gameplay. I liked the customization. I also loved the artwork. The problem was that each quest or stage seemed to be an exact repeat of the last: more puzzles, some of them that took too long, and sluggish gameplay. I enjoyed myself much more when I found players to team up with, but those players always seemed to be offline. I had to ask at one point whether anyone was alive and received only a few responses. I even waited 15 minutes for the auto-queue to line me up with a group of other players, but I found none. Ninety percent of the time, I had to fill my group up with boring NPCs.
I think that a lot of these issues can be fixed easily over time. The performance can be tweaked, and there might be more puzzles added, just as the developers have added more puzzles into Puzzle Pirates. I imagine the current game will look much different from the game a year from now. I want to see more variety in the puzzles and a better way to encourage players to team up. Public meeting instances are usually dead, so maybe hosting one major public area would help players find each other.
Doctor Who is an odd IP in the first place, so I'm not sure that this MMO really delivers the vibe fans might be expecting. Still, as with all the titles from Three Rings, Doctor Who: Worlds in Time is trying something new. If the devs can work on better performance and more variety, they might just have a really fun browser-based title on their hands. Honestly, playing Doctor Who: Worlds in Time made me miss Puzzle Pirates, a game with a pretty active community and real-time gameplay that is based on puzzles yet doesn't feel silly. Doctor Who: Worlds in Time has a ways to go, but I'd be happy to follow it for a while.
Next week, I am back to checking out teeny, tiny little indie MMOs that will have no idea that I am covering them, mainly because indie developers rarely poke their heads out of their programming caves. It's a game called Illarion, a roleplay-enforced game that promises to at least be different. We'll see. You can watch me stream it live on Monday, the 11th of June, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our Twitch.tv channel. See you then!
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!