Mabinogi artwork
My summer has been filled with a massive, 10-part adventure called The Saga Iria. It's an event that happened inside the world of Mabinogi, one of my favorite free-to-play sandbox MMOs. Once a week Nexon released a new chapter, and each time I streamed my first few steps into it, often resulting in my immediate and embarrassing death. Actually, make that deaths. I died a lot.

My companion for this wild ride was Mabinogi Community Manager Sabina. Sabina is a "fashionogi" (as they call it in-game), someone who enjoys customizing her characters more than sending them into battle. Mabinogi allows for almost any style of play, from combat mastery to roleplay to fashion obsession.

The community showed up during my livestreams to give me plenty of advice during my hard times in combat because the game is known for its challenge level. It's time to recap some of my favorite moments of those times and discuss what I liked... and didn't like.

Mabinogi screenshot
Before we begin, you might want to brief yourself by checking out our collection of exclusive Iria trailers. We were given the chance to publish them before anyone else, and I was so excited to see how they played out. Unfortunately I still cannot make sense of a good deal involving the Saga, but as I played through it, I knew I was taking part of something massive. You can also check out the collection of livestreams I did with Sabina. They do not show all of the content due to a one-hour time limit for each one, but they will give you an idea of just how challenging the game's combat can be. To be fair, all of the game's systems -- from crafting to fashion -- have a steep learning curve built in. I appreciate the challenge and luckily do not mind getting lost. After all, I feel as if I'm on an adventure when I don't know everything.

Now that you're familiar, I'll recap my favorite moments. I don't have time to go over all of them, so be sure to leave your favorite memories in the comment section!

The connecting thread of the Saga was the story. It's a very complex one, a tale of drama, power, and of course, dragons. It centers around three warriors: the archer Mari, the warrior Ruari, and the mage Tarlach. Although the three started off together, what happens in the Saga will change them forever. During the Saga, I was often thrust into the role of a unique or powerful character. I controlled characters that were normally NPCs, both good and evil. It gave me a good chance to roleplay as something I never would have and to feel what it is like to act essentially as a god.

Mabinogi screenshot
Of all of the wacky cast, I liked two the most. Shamala was a gifted Shaman who spoke in a sort of aggravated shorthand, punctuated by the occasional "grrr." In fact, during a long stretch when she didn't growl at all, I thought something was wrong. The growl returned soon, and I felt at ease. She can turn into a black panther and give clues that she is not even a human at all. Nao also piqued my interest. She's a familiar goddess who appears occasionally during standard gameplay, a pretty character but almost plain. There's something about her, though, and peace and calm radiate from her. The timing of her appearance in the ninth chapter is almost shocking and very effective. You can literally hear my surprise during the livestream.

The Saga is filled with many memorable fights, and most of them are very challenging. Luckily for me I had a chat room that was willing and able to dish out tons of combat strategies, but the numerous different ideas often sent my head into a spin. There were times during the Saga that I felt undefeatable thanks to my temporary position as a character from the story. I played a demon who could smash through crowds of enemies and played characters like Milia, a snotty but powerful young Shaman who seemed to dislike everyone around her.

Mabinogi screenshot
One of my favorite fights involved Ruari, the incredibly strong enemy the story centered around. I fought him and his phantom versions on a wide, dark plain. The fight was almost impossible until I was able to lure the ghostly versions away and then mounted my favorite horse to run back to fight Ruari alone. Of course, the minions eventually made their way back, but not until I had defeated their master.

If there is one thing I learned during my Saga run, it's that I still need to learn more. I have never been a Mabinogi combat fanatic. The fact is that the combat system is more than a bit complicated, and there are so many options to take during combat thanks to Mabinogi's massive skill list that it's very, very easy to get overwhelmed. I found that relying on two basic skills, archery and melee with a mace, did the most good. My highest skill is in archery, but the mace provided me with optional frontline abilities. Mabinogi allowed me to switch between weapon sets on the fly, so if I failed with one, I could try the other.

Mabinogi screenshot
Even then, combat can often be very frustrating, and I can understand why even veteran MMO fans would want to abandon all hope during certain fights. The system is based on a sort of rock-paper-scissors balance, and not knowing exactly which abilities to use to counter others can lead to the pulling of hair. There are times during the livestreams when I literally felt like giving up. I had hundreds of people watching and an official from the publisher on the line, so it was often embarrassing.

Luckily, all of the Saga chapters can be played again, as many times as the player is willing to spend gold on it. If you complete all 10, you get a randomly colored armored pegasus, a wicked-looking pet in a game that is already filled with awesome creatures. I was never able to finish chapters four and nine, but I plan on going back to complete the task. The amount of experience I gained was simply staggering, so I can only imagine what another run-through would accomplish! Players can also unlock the gunslinger skills, a fantastic new ranged ability that puts players in the roll of a six-shooter deadeye!

Granted, I had plenty of complaints during my time in the Saga. First, there were way too many bugs that literally stopped my gameplay. I saw enemies disappear, quests go uncompleted, and baddies act as though they were dead when they were not. Granted, I was able to reload the quests or try again and found that the game was not broken, but it was tough to see so many bugs pop up. Second, the story is very confusing. Even when I go back and watch the videos, I remain confused about certain parts. I can only recommend that players take their time in the Saga and possibly give each chapter a second run in order to get it all down.

After all was done, the Saga Iria was still a blast. The story, although intense and wacky, was a lot of fun to participate in. I gained so many levels and was able to train so many abilities that I'm an even more powerful character. The adventure felt grand, sweeping, and massive.

Just like a Saga should!

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.