Villagers and Heroes, formerly called A Mystical Land, surprised me. I had gone several weeks if not a few months without logging in to the game for longer than a half an hour, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that the game not only had been improved but had added systems that I thought it never would. In other words, the game was suddenly a world, a fully realized browser-based MMORPG. Despite my feeling that the game was going to languish in state of semi-completion, suddenly it had housing, more crafting, a better UI, and a fully stocked cash shop.
I've streamed the game before, but now I find myself logging in a lot more than ever. And now, after hosting a livestream with associate designer Cameron England (embedded after the cut), I'm really having fun with the game and have noticed that it offers a lot more than games that are much more well-known.
If combat is your thing, then Villagers and Heroes is an OK title. There are four classes: Wizard, Warrior, Hunter, and Priest, and as you level those classes, you can place points into different active and passive skills. It's standard stuff, but the reason it works is the fact that it is featured in a game that offers crafting as its main course. Crafting MMOs are rare, even though crafting is often featured in many MMOs. Combat in Villagers and Heroes feels like just one more option alongside housing, crafting, gathering, trading and grouping. If combat were the main thrust of the game, I would be a lot less eager to recommend it, but it works well because while you're out in the wild fighting off beasties, you are also gathering, meeting others, crafting, and learning about the land.
The simplicity of the game is refreshing. In order to gather something -- say, fish from a fishing hole -- you click on the bubbling water and wait. If you catch something, it flops up onto the ground and soon flies into your backpack. If you want to gather wood from a tree, click on the tree and hopefully you'll succeed in looting some wood. Want to mine some ore? Find a node and click on it. Easy, simple, and smooth. At first I thought that the groups of gathering nodes, with their different levels, meant that each one represented a different amount of experience received. If I was a level 4 miner and tried to mine a level 7 node, I thought it meant that my experience payoff would be bigger. As it turns out, the higher level meant that I had a smaller chance of gathering materials; the experience gained was generally the same no matter which node I used. The groups of differently leveled nodes mean that friends can run through the wilderness as a team and still be able to work together.
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There are 10 different gathering professions: mining, fishing, bug lore, plant lore, smithing, cooking, tailoring, woodcrafting, gardening and ranching. The coolest part is that one character can become an expert at all of them. So Villagers and Heroes is a browser-based, class-based, sandbox-crafter's paradise with nicely interactive housing. Well, something like that.
"There are gathering nodes within each neighborhood as well, so players could spend an entire play session hanging out with neighbors while crafting away."
Housing is great in Villagers and Heroes. If you've played Lord of the Rings Online, you'll be familiar with how the housing works. There are instanced housing neighborhoods, and players can rent a house either with in-game gold or by purchasing a title from the cash shop. The rent is a little annoying to keep up with especially if you are like me and play casually, but it's important to note that you're not just paying for a small house to decorate; you're also renting a place to grow crops and raise livestock. All of the players within a neighborhood can now work on neighborhood projects by donating goods to each project. Once those projects are completed, everyone benefits by having crafting areas right outside of his home. There are gathering nodes within each neighborhood as well, so players could spend an entire play session hanging out with neighbors while crafting away. Guilds can also own their neighborhoods, a great choice for players who might want a little more privacy.
What I really like about Villagers and Heroes is the way it loads an entire world in my browser. It's the rare title that makes me feel as if I am accessing an entire "real" MMO in my browser. Normally,RuneScape and a few others are the only ones that do the job. On top of that, Villagers and Heroes offers questing and dungeon-runs like other "normal" MMOs. Sure, players are subject to an energy mechanic that puts a limit on how many times they can use a node or craft an item, but it's a very generous pool of energy, and on the rare chance that you run out of energy, you can simply go out and kill things while questing. It's basically hard to find yourself with nothing to do in the game.
The game is very charming, too. At the time of this writing, I am also playing through Age of Conan for a future article, and I have to say that as I get older, I find it harder to take these games "seriously." Sure, I seriously love MMO games, but I want to enjoy myself while playing them. The titles that attempt to be hardcore or serious sort of make feel as if I am playing with that guy who gets way too angry during a game of Monopoly. Add in the fact that AoC is for "adults" (although the in-game chat will convince you that few adults actually play the game) and you have a recipe for being a little creeped out.
Villagers and Heroes is not trying to be anything but a charming game that is for all ages. It looks a bit different from anything else you'll find, and it's just relaxing to play. Crafting, gathering, questing, fighting, and housing are just simple. The music is nice, and those swirly clouds ramp up the Sunday morning easy feeling. Call me a carebear, a wimp, or whatever... I don't care. I like to have fun while I game, and I truly love adventure, but sometimes I just want to do it without worrying about half-naked orcs and racist chat logs.
I play Villagers and Heroes because it's so accessible. I'd like to see some tweaks to the cash-shop prices, and we definitely need to see the basic inventory space expanded, but overall spending a few dollars in the game will get you plenty to play with. It's unfortunate that the developers have somehow forgotten how to contact the press about their game, but I'm here now. I'll be sure to keep a closer eye on it. If the last year has been any indication, the game is being updated at a pretty healthy rate. Check it out if you want to see how an indie developer can put a unique spin on the sandbox genre.
There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.