Villagers and Heroes screenshot
Villagers and Heroes is a favorite of mine, but let's be honest: The game looks old. When talking to Damon Slye, President of Mad Otter Games, I found that many people agree. According to Slye, it's one of the most frequent concerns he hears from potential new players. The engine that the game currently uses is old and needs to be upgraded big time. And that's just what the developers are doing with this large patch and expansion that should be due in early March.

I sat down with Slye, Associate Designer Cameron England, Head Writer Sarah Skibinski, and Head Artist Adam Alexander to discuss just how different the game will be once the patch goes live. I was given access to a test account loaded up on gear, cash, and other goodies. Even though I found my backpacks full, I mainly wanted to look around the game and explore. Fortunately, the difference between the original client and the new one is literally night and day.

Villagers and Heroes screenshot
Let's talk graphics first. I've embedded some screenshots in this column that show off some of the new textures, effects, and shadows that you'll find in the patch. For best effect, check out the embedded video; in it, not only did I talk to the developers for nearly an hour, but explored the newer graphics in different situations. The new graphics include a day and night cycle -- a beautiful one at that -- that really gives the game life that it didn't have before. I'm a sucker for a proper day and night cycle even if it doesn't affect gameplay, and Villagers and Heroes does it right.

Current players who run the game on a decent gaming rig, including those with higher-end onboard chips, should not only see a better-looking game but experience better performance. Even though I ran the test client on its highest settings, I still had nice performance. The game wasn't exactly a power hog before, but it's nice to see that the addition of bells and whistles should affect only "about 10 percent of players." The game's community features a lot of younger players who run on borrowed or hand-me-down equipment; most of them should have no issues running the new client.


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Everything feels brighter, more alive. The housing in Villagers and Heroes is a real stand out. Now, thanks to nicer graphics, villages and individual housing plots feel more real and much more immersive. Even the grass received some tweaking. As the sun sets, it casts long shadows that track smoothly across the landscape. Other more modern MMOs often feature shadows that move across the landscape as well, but they do so in stops and starts. I was surprised at how smoothly everything flowed in this refreshed environment.

So let's talk about the sandbox elements of the game. If you're familiar with Villagers and Heroes (formerly called A Mystical Land, by the way), then you know what a simple-to-learn, complex sandbox it is. You can learn all 10 crafting professions but need to pick two combat classes. Gathering for crafting materials is as easy as going up to a node and gathering from it. Even if it's out of your skill range, you will still attempt to use it, albeit with a lower chance of success. Once you get those materials, you can learn to craft almost anything you might need for combat. On top of that, you can use the Gnogmenting device (the kids call the process "nogging") to easily switch weapon stats with another weapon's look. You simply drag one weapon to one slot, drag another weapon to another, pick the feats (special attacks or abilities that come on weapons) you want to save, and voila! It creates a brand-new, more powerful or more capable weapon. In the example I showed on the stream, I combined three bows to create one awesomely powerful bow. That means that weird players who want to look plain while in game can keep a newbie's look while retaining powerful stats.

Villagers and Heroes screenshot
The team let me know that even more customization is on the way in the form of color changes, additional abilities, and more weapons to make your character stand out. I was mostly excited to hear that, as I am someone who would rather spend time tweaking a character's unique traits than anything.

On top of the new graphical changes comes new content. On my test client, I had the developers' ability to turn invisible, so I could sneak up to a new massive raid boss, basically a killer purple dragon. While we chatted, we took a few swipes at her (with our buffed characters, no less) and barely scratched her hide. She'll definitely be a worthy foe for those brave -- or stupid -- enough to take her on. Players will also make their way into a new zone that is occupied by short, blind, pig-like creatures who have been enslaved to craft a massive stone army for Lord Pyrrus, the new baddie in all of this.

Villagers and Heroes does a great job of balancing linear, combat-focused content along with sandbox freedom and crafting. Now, with the new graphical updates and additional quests, players should have plenty to look at and do. I tend to take my time in the game and have even attempted to keep up with owning a home. Unfortunately I found that paying my rent in-game was forgotten almost as much as it was in real life, and eventually I lost my game house. Damon let me know that it's very cheap to afford a house in game, and players could simply log in once per day and earn enough through daily check-in rewards. Now I just need to remember to log in daily!

You can still play the game through your browser, but there are plans to phase that out in favor of the client version. The game is free-to-play with plenty of additional digital goodies for sale in the cash shop. Thanks to the team for sitting down with me to show just how pretty the new client will be.

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.