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Rise and Shiny recap: Istaria

Beau Hindman
Beau Hindman|@Beau_Hindman|July 25, 2010 10:00 AM
Each week Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. Some of the games will be far out of your gaming comfort zone, and some will pleasantly surprise you. We will meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT), followed by this column the Sunday after. I welcome any suggestions for games, either in the comments or at beau@massively.com.

Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted is not a new game, by any means. You probably remember it being called Horizons. I have tried this game probably several times over the last few years. Despite having a decent enough time with each attempt, I never had as much fun as I have during this last week of playing. Let this advice stick: give a game several chances, if you can. Don't let a developer's financial woes dissuade you from giving it a go again. Most of the time you can try it again without spending a dime.

I'm glad I returned to Istaria. Everything seemed to click for me, more than it did before. It could be that I never took the time to really get to know the quests or the abilities my character gained, and it could be that I played mostly solo during that time. Over this last week I adventured with an elf and a few dragons, and found a world, game, and community that was pretty darn inviting.

Don't get me wrong, the older graphics will turn off many players. However, I am asking you to ignore your knee-jerk reaction. Not only are the graphics pretty enough in some areas (and especially at night), but some of the player races are downright cool looking. Free accounts are limited to only one human character, but for the standard subscription price you can have access to all the 11 playable races, as well as a housing plot.

The one race that everyone seems to pine for is the race of dragons. As someone who played with and was impressed by the winged beauties in the past, I can tell you that they are a pleasure to play. They feel very hefty and solid, and thanks to a press account I received, I was able to feel how awesome they are while in flight. Yet they don't seem overpowered compared to the rest of the races. I have to admit to taking the high-level dragon out for only a few basic spins around the block, but he felt equal to a demon-woman of the same level (also a loaner).

I decided to start a "real" free account, one that provides limited access. I could only make a human character, but that was fine. I decided to go for a scout. The newbie island experience was much more fun that I had remembered, and the "mundane" tasks were actually very helpful and simple to follow. Of course, my history with gaming taught me how to use selectable text to further the next step in a quest, but even if this were my first game I think I would have figured it out relatively easily.

I have to stop here to say that the music really made a difference while I was doing some of these standard new-player quests. It switched between styles as I ran around the landscape, my favorite being the tune playing during my visit to the crafting area. While I know players, like my wife, who generally turn off the in-game music as soon as they log in, I keep it turned on and up if it is good. The music in Istaria is some of the nicest I have heard in a long time.

Once I was off the island I found plenty of players running around, one of them exclaiming "People still play this?" in the newbie chat channel. Frankly I was as surprised as he to see so many players, even if it was just the new-player town. The newbie chat was always helpful, and if I had a question I could just ask one of the other players standing nearby. The experience reminded me of Ryzom and its incredibly dedicated community. If a player has stuck around Istaria through all of its changes, then he is truly dedicated. Funnily enough, as I was already contemplating looking at Istaria again for Rise and Shiny, a member of the community reached out to me and suggested it. Fate, perhaps? It goes to show that one community member can often make a difference.

There's something reassuring about seeing an "older" game that is not only hanging in there, but doing quite well. Sure, it might not have state-of-the-art graphics and might not be the easiest to figure out in the beginning, but there is something to be said for older games that do essentially force a player to slow down. With newer games, I have had to place self-imposed blocks in my path to stop me from leveling too fast. It's fun to work on one quest or quest chain all night; it makes the payoff that much greater. However, your character in Istaria develops semi-automatically, gaining pre-assigned powers as he levels up. You do acquire points, however, to place into many different skill sets that will help you fine-tune your abilities. It's a pretty in-depth system, but definitely feels a little "older."

I would love to have played Istaria more over the last week, but I was out two nights due to illness. I really didn't even get to play that much on the press accounts, but I did get to log in the high-level characters to experience parts of house ownership and high-level spells. Needless to say, there is a lot to experience at the endgame. Since there is so much to look forward to, Istaria will be staying on my hard drive for a long time. I am slightly ashamed to say that I should have looked back at this game a while ago!

Next week we will be looking at Dream of Mirror Online, an odd little anime-influenced game by Aeria Games. I have had some experience with the game, and there is some fun to be had. I look forward to diving deeper into the game! I am on the Sapphire server under the name BeauHindman. Join me during the week to try it out!

Now, go log in!