It's been a while since I last played Eden Eternal. I have enjoyed it off and on over the last year, but mostly because of how much I loved the graphics. As a matter of fact, I would vote Eden Eternal as one of the best-looking MMOs out there, up there with The Chronicles of Spellborn, Guild Wars 2, and Ryzom. Sure, it covers a more stylized branch of the graphical tree than other games, but that's a pretty important job. Every year designers try to make games that look fun and bright, but they almost always come out generic. Eden Eternal is just awesome to look at.
How is the gameplay, though? Being that the last major patch we talked about consisted mostly of graphical updates, I didn't expect to enjoy the game this time around as much as I did when I first discovered it. Luckily I enjoyed myself just as much -- if not more -- thanks to the game's easy pace and sandbox gameplay.
Sandbox fans can often come across as snobby as a Victorian at tea-time, but for good reason: Sandboxes are rare creatures. Those of us who enjoy open gameplay tend to feel a bit protective over those few titles that allow open character development and adventure. I might be a huge sandbox fan myself, but I will be the first one to call out the BS that comes from both the fans and the developers. "Sandbox" often carries about as much meaning as "punk rock," meaning very little at all. Some will define sandbox as open character development. Others will define it as open character development but only if it is seated in an open world. Some go so far as to say that no instancing is allowed, and open PvP has to be present... it goes on and on, only proving that genre definitions are often the biggest scams. I say this: A sandbox is a game that is mainly defined by allowing players to build a character in almost any way they want. Of course, the boundaries of that character are defined by the boundaries of the game. In other words, if flight is not something that the game is physically built for by programmers, than players cannot say "Hey, this isn't a sandbox because my character cannot fly!"
Eden Eternal lets players build a character in much the same way as games like Ryzom or Wurm Online do. Sure, the abilities and skills are much different, but the end goal is the same: Players can define how they want to play within the game's parameters. In Ryzom, players can choose from any one of four main branches of development: crafting, gathering, combat, and magic. In Wurm Online, players can pick from a large list of skills and make a character that is an expert or novice at any number of those skills.
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Still, even the best sandbox does not offer an unlimited number of things to do and skills to level. Well, unless you consider Second Life, a game that is actually a world that is actually whatever you want it to be. So, if the skills in every sandbox are limited and defined by the game's parameters and abilities, then Eden Eternal, with its adjustable classes that can be switched on the fly, is as sandbox as any other title I have seen. There's no rule that the classes or skills in a sandbox have to be named after "real" activities like "firemaking" or "digging."
How do you raise your specific class skills in Eden Eternal? By grinding missions, of course. You will spend a lot of time killing monsters and gathering bits of digital stuff just to gain experience that will eventually translate into points that you can "spend" on adjusting different class skills. If I am playing as a thief, a melee DPS character, I can just stick with it for all time and become better and better at the class, or I can spend the points I gain on another class. Say I want to try magic -- I simply switch to the magic DPS role and concentrate on those skills. It's remarkably simple, and switching between classes is very, very helpful when grouping with other players. In fact, the system reminds me of Ryzom in the way that players can switch roles so easily that grouping is no big deal.
Many people would say that a sandbox should not have "levels" or linear, quest-based content like the kind you find in Eden Eternal. I'm not sure why these people are so confused. After all, grinding out a digging ability in Wurm Online is a linear, upward trajectory. The mission might be player-made -- gaining a high level in a certain ability, for example -- but it's still the same upward movement. The fact is that I can choose to ignore missions in Eden Eternal and pretend it's Wurm Online. I like the fact that Eden Eternal has strong lore and a linear story behind all of the grinding, in contrast to the many sandboxes that have almost no lore at all. That seems to be another unspoken rule from the sandbox crowd: Sandboxes must not tell you anything. I'm guessing that questing or storytelling is not considered "hardcore," as though a world with definition through lore is somehow less defined than a world that has none at all?
Either way, players can make a unique and cool-looking character in Eden Eternal. The questing and grinding is light and easy to swallow, but it's pretty typical. Luckily the game has more fashion to play with and character progression to tweak to make it stick out from the rest of the foreign-import pack. The art work and world design is so wonderful and fun to look at that I enjoy it even if just for exploration. The dungeons and group content are fun even if they're crafted from the same molds we've seen before.
I take Eden Eternal as what it is: a fun, great-looking romp through a stylized world of familiar questing but unique class development. The cash shop provides some cool items for decent prices (like my killer glasses!), and if you take some time, you can have a unique character that can fill almost any role.
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!