Sometimes, this column scares me. I eventually had to learn to play the games I write about week after week ahead of time, else I could end up with a really boring, crappy or broken game that I have to suffer through for a week. Occasionally I cannot vet a game and go old-school R&S by jumping into a game without looking. If I'm lucky, I stumble across a real gem. This week, I took a chance on Eldevin, a browser-based MMO by Hunted Cow Studios (maker of Fallen Sword and other titles), and I got lucky. Really lucky. It turns out that Eldevin is a great example of good indie development.
Sure, the game isn't perfect, and many modern or younger players might be initially turned off by its older looks and isometric camera, but for those of us who enjoyed Ultima Online or RuneScape, Eldevin is a fantastic title. Heck, it should be a good game for anyone who gives it a chance.
It would be easy to describe Eldevin as a sandbox, but I think it's more of a mutt. Sure, you can run around and do what you want to create the character you want, but as you gain levels and become more used to the game, you'll realize that it's a bit more of a linear experience than you'll find in most sandboxes. This is not a bad thing at all, and the game manages to give players plenty of choices to create unique characters while leading them into linear storylines and specific areas.
You'll start off able to use any weapon, crafting item, and skill you can think of. Within minutes, I had a character who pulled monsters with a bow, smashed them with a shield, and lit them on fire with a spell all within the same fight. Now that I've played several hours, I have learned even more abilities and can do more damage to enemies with even more different abilities. In that way, the game is a pure sandbox, but eventually more specific decisions demand to be made.
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Every few levels you will gain access to a specific, class-based skill. For example, I get ranger skills at levels 1, 2, 5, 8, 14, and so on. I have to learn the skills, however, as they are not automatically gifted to me. I will also start earning talent points at level 5, which means that I need to start being more specific with my decisions if I want to master a certain skillset. I tend to learn a little bit of everything because I enjoy being a jack-of-all-trades, but I'm not sure how harmful a more broad approach will be later on in Eldevin. This is not a game that is as open as, say, Ryzom, a game that allows players to learn every single skill in the game if they had the years it would take to learn them all. As we know, players tend to specialize, even in a sandbox.
Adventuring is relatively straightforward. You can pick up a quest from NPCs or other places and simply follow a waypoint that leads you to a door or other location. Sometimes the location will be a dangerous dungeon, so the game will warn you that you need to form a group to go in. Luckily, it also provides group totems that place you into a pool with other players around the world. Once they join, they will be teleported to the location, and you can all go in. Combat would normally come across as pretty bland but for the fact that players have access to so many little tricks, spells, abilities, and weapons. I fought in a small group where one player pulled much of the aggro. Occasionally I would stop firing my bow to send out a wave of heals to the tank, and we continued on this way to success.
Combat is by far not the only way to enjoy yourself, however. I found myself spending more time in Eldevin City, a major area that is right next to the newbie area. There is a lot of life in the city, animated NPCs that go about their everyday business cleaning or carrying freight. There are also sneaky bandits, drunks who fall over, mothers caring for children, and a lot more animated goodies that make touring the city a joy. Sure, you'll begin to recognize the circular patterns of the AI after a while, but I was surprised because I've witnessed that much life in a game's NPCs only in titles like RuneScape.
At one point I sat down in a pub so I could take a quick, real-life break, and an NPC waitress walked up to my character and asked what I wanted. A menu automatically popped up on my screen, so I ordered some bread. She went off to the kitchen and came back with the meal! My character puts his shield and axe onto his back before entering a building and can lie down on a bed and sit in chairs. There are a lot of charming roleplay-ish moments in this indie MMO. There are a lot of quests, as well, and I kept myself busy by helping the poor, stealing hams, gathering bandages and bedding for the sick, and fighting plenty of monsters. Along the way, I became a better ranger but kept up with magical abilities as well.
The game does feel a little empty once in a while, however, especially when I compare it to the monster hit that is RuneScape. Still, the day and night cycles and wonderful sound design give the game a sense of realism. The community is present and can be accessed through a world chat. Almost everyone I came across was helpful and friendly. It's possible that the very free nature of the game might eventually pull in more players, including bad ones, but I have faith that the developers are aware of the importance of keeping a lid on community behavior.
The cash shop is the primary means of monetization. It's mostly harmless stuff and is not pricey. You'll find pets, vanity items, potions, inventory expansions, and other cash-shop standards, but you'll can also just buy a subscription. With it comes more experience, better PvP points, a removal of a gold cap, better loyalty point pay-outs, a monthly stipend of cash-shop funds, and rested experience. I have to wonder whether games like this are not too free. Time will tell.
I'm barely covering all that is offered in Eldevin, mostly because I didn't see it all. Not by far. My week flew by in the game because it was so fun just to explore and complete quests as I found them, but I can see the possibility of a truly hardcore player running out of content. Luckily the game offers plenty of crafting and gathering skills as well as grinding and roleplay.
I really liked the graphics even though they might be described as "dated," and I loved the sound design. I enjoyed playing a character who could do whatever he feels like. The quest variety was great. The cash shop is mostly harmless and cheap.
I didn't like the tiny fonts that made reading the sometimes massive amounts of quest text a literal headache. I also do not enjoy the fact that the UI and chat have no options for moving or adjusting size. In fact, the game looks most dated in its UI. I also did not like the controls although I am used to the style in RuneScape. Most players I know will absolutely hate the controls, but the developers have said that implementing WASD is a priority. I also did not enjoy all of the running and walking needed, but there are dragon flight paths for faster travel between major locations. The lack of mounts is a bit disturbing, however.
If you like old-school, open-character world exploration and questing, Eldevin is for you. Give it a chance and take it slowly, and you'll find a nice community and fantastic adventure and the chance to build a character that is unique in many ways. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Next week I will be jumping into the Founder's Beta of Aura Kingdom. Join me on Tuesday the 17th of December at 4:00 p.m. EST while I stream the game live along with developer team members. Check it out here on our livestream page!
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!