If your plan in life is partially to cover indie MMOs, a niche within a niche, you're bound to come up with some odd games once in a while. You're also bound to come up with boring, bland, bad, horrible, incomplete, waste-of-time, hideous, and of course, amazing games. I went back to my recently thrown-out roots and grabbed a game at random for this week's column: Illarion. Did I find a bad game or an incomplete game? A bit of both, but the game and its creators deserve an explanation.
Making MMOs is hard. We all know this, or at least we should. If you don't, and if you are one of those players who get upset every time their favorite free-to-play title asks them to spend five dollars (usually every six months or so), then you really need to understand that making MMOs is hard.
I understand this, but I still have to cover games honestly. So let me first say that what I found in Illarion was honestly confusing.
The funny thing is that Illarion's website does a pretty good job if you consider how incredibly indie this indie is. I have found websites for games that have hundreds or thousands of players that do not cover as much information or look as put-together as Illarion's. I'm not saying it's a work of art, mind you; I'm saying that when I am scouring the internet for indie MMOs (remember: niche within a niche) and I find a website that looks like it was created by someone who might be actually competent enough to run an online world, I get excited.
So I clicked the link, I signed up, and I loaded the game.
Now, I had actually looked at the site and game once before, but had no idea until I found an old batch of screen captures from one of my weird gaming weekends when I try to find a month's worth of indie or browser coverage. Still, I did not remember the game feeling so appealing while at the same time so repulsive. The controls hurt right from the beginning. They're not hard on my wrists like an action game and aren't broken; they just lack the responsiveness I normally like from click-to-move. Plus, the arrow keys don't control your character by going up or down, North or South. They go Northeast, Southeast, Southwest... you get my point. It's just odd, but I used the arrow keys so little I forgot to use them in places that demanded their use.
For example, if you watch the embedded livestream in this article, you will see how I eventually have to cut the stream off early because I literally got stuck on a tutorial island. I'll admit, it made me angry. I was tired and had been on one of my previously mentioned game searches. It turns out the NPC I asked for help (per his instructions) was actually broken; I asked the support line for aid, which led to the developer's email. I didn't know that I was supposed to move my character over the area by using the arrow keys, thus activating the portal to get me the heck out of that tutorial black hole.
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Once I got out into the real world, seeing "there are four other players online" in the information window made me realize that I would probably never see another player in the game. It turns out I was correct, although I did come close. Once I finally got the normal, browser-based help chat working, I found a helpful player who instructed me to go to a certain area of the world where I would find -- gasp -- actual players. I was so excited because the game's site brags about forced roleplay and about how using speech is the main way to activate quests and interact with NPCs. I was down for some hardcore roleplay, even if the group was tiny.
I was killed by some sort of monster right before this helpful player told me where to go, so I spent the rest of my time following on-screen commands ("go south to be revived," "go southeast to be revived") and trying to find a thing to resurrect myself with. I never found it, so I logged out and was unable to connect later. At the time of this writing, I still haven't gotten back into the game. The Java-based client just started acting like a teenager who has locked herself in her room and just will not cooperate.
"Maybe a third time will be a charm and I will log back into Illarion within the next few months and find a much different game. In fact, both the developer and the helpful player in the chat said that the game is being so revamped that almost everything in it will eventually change."
My time with Illarion was much too short. The game is still quite intriguing. It offers forced roleplay, a tiny but dedicated community, and graphics that bring on those old familiar feelings I got during my Ultima Online days, the first MMO I ever played back in '99. Maybe a third time will be a charm and I will log back into Illarion within the next few months and find a much different game. In fact, both the developer and the helpful player in the chat said that the game is being so revamped that almost everything in it will eventually change. Unfortunately, I said, I couldn't wait, and this week of exploration had already begun. I would have loved to see a note about this massive change on the website -- it might have saved all of us some time.
Still, I don't want to say that the game is bad. It seems to work at what it does but needs a good set of instruction videos and more players. These are the main issues that the indie developer faces: how to grow large enough to see these kind of needed improvements, how to hire a staff to take care of the game properly, and how to create a game that works well enough to hold on to new players. I wish the Illarion devs luck.
Next week, I am looking at another possible odd-duck of a game: Tynon. It looks great but is being referred to as a social game with just enough MMOness to make it coverable here. We'll see, but to be honest, I am happy either way. I love turn-based games and stylized graphics, and this game has both. I will be livestreaming the game on Monday, June 18th, at 5:00 p.m. EDT right here on Massively's 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!