Rise and Shiny recap: Zentia

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Rise and Shiny recap: Zentia
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 or Twitter me @Beau_Hindman.

It's hard for a game to strike a perfect balance of fun and challenge. In fact, I'd say it's the result of otherworldly forces as much as it is the hard work of the developer. Many of the greatest games I have ever played are a conglomerate of many factors that were beyond the control of the artists, writers and producers who first crafted the world. Sometimes, the crew must simply hope that its ship floats, and that it happens to set her to sail just as the weather is perfect.

Then a game like ChangYou's Zentia comes along, a game that has all the wonderful qualities I am looking for -- as the result of some very smart, specific design choices made by some very creative people. Sure, I discovered the game on accident (I wasn't actively looking for a game the day Zentia fell into my lap), but the game has obviously been crafted with precision and care.

If you'd like to read up on some of the details of the game, you can check out our E3 coverage here, or read an article of mine here. Also, you can get your closed beta key here. Otherwise, see me after the break, and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section!

I know it will sound like I am gushing in this article, because I am. The more games I find to play, the harder it is for one to really stick with me. Don't get me wrong -- I can have a good time within a cardboard box -- but it isn't often that a game not only stays on my hard drive but makes me purely happy. Mabinogi has that effect on me. Free Realms, Vanguard, Earth Eternal and a few others -- they're all games that have a dent-shaped in my heart that looks just like they do.

For me, the point of playing an online video game is to experience something outside of what I would normally experience in real life. I don't log in to grind away as though I had just clocked in at the local mill. I certainly don't log in to compete with other players for some kind of invisible prize. This might sound horrible, but I don't really log in for much of a challenge. In fact, once something becomes too challenging, I don't tell myself "let's try 32 more times!" I had a roomate once who did that, and the sessions would generally end with his throwing his PlayStation controller across the room or smashing his keyboard.

I want a game that is a balance of life skills, adventure, lore and the toy factor.

The toy factor is what you experience with a game that can run on many PC configurations, makes you feel happy without being cheesy, and gives you an experience that is simple to understand. Zentia features the toy factor in spades. Some games tinge your playtime with frustrations or linear hand-holding. That's not what a toy does. A toy excites you and throws open the doors on a huge, open world that is filled with places to discover. Zentia is a kaleidoscope of creatures from under your bed, beautiful scenery, and dollhouse clothing options.

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The cash shop has a lot to do with the fun of the game. As I write this, the developers are hosting an event that hands out 200 coins to each player and lowers the price of every cash shop item to one coin a piece. Needless to say, I have tried every piece of clothing on and ridden every mount available, although I am curious as to how much the prices will be when the game goes live.

The 22 pre-made races seemed to set off some players who thought this meant there would be no customization, leading to nothing but a series of clones populating the game. While this is true in the earlier levels, very quickly characters started showing uniqueness in their armor, weapons, and appearance-slot items. In fact, I would say that even with the pre-made characters, the level of customization is somewhere between World of Warcraft and EverQuest II.

"Zentia is a game that, even if I were to cover it in 4000 words, would still leave something left to be discovered. "

Quests are pretty standard, asking the player to go on massive killing sprees of cute creatures and boss monsters, but sprinkled in between are fantastic little story quests or gathering tasks that keep the gameplay fresh. One of my favorite quests consisted of finding a young girl who had fallen down a well. As I walked up to the tip of the well poking out of the ground, I could hear the cries echoing from the hole in the ground. What followed was a tragic update issued by the ghost at the bottom of the well. The sound design and animations actually had quite an effect on me. Little moments like this fill the world of Zentia, just waiting to be stumbled upon.

It would be a very long column indeed if I were to describe to you all of the neat little systems and tools the game offers to make your playtime fly by. The pet system is standard in its execution but unique in its use and effect, and the mounts are impressive, scary, numerous and sometimes humorous. If you want to see some of the best mounts ever to be ridden in an MMORPG, look no further. Where else could you ride on a 10-person dragon mount, or strap yourself to the back of a massive scorpion -- stinger hovering over your head dangerously?

This column is really just a first-impression series, so it should be obvious that I am skipping over many details of the games that I feature within. I want you to know how the game made me feel during that first week or so as a player, so that you might know what to expect but might still be surprised. Zentia is a game that, even if I were to cover it in 4000 words, would still leave something left to be discovered. Yes, I like it that much. And yes, I think you will too.

Next week we will be looking at A Tale in the Desert V, a non-combat community-focused MMORPG from eGenesis. I am on the Shard Amunet under the name of Beau. Let's go dig in the dirt!

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