As it goes, this new version is really just a more localized and tweaked version of the previous game. The big difference for me came not in the form of quests and content, but in playerbase. The game space was flooded with players, most of them pining to hit level 30 first or run off to reported huge PvP matches. Again, I kind of felt left behind. Yes, I was given some handy experience potions and stat-increasing aids, but normally I play a First Impressions game a few hours a day for five to seven days. I had this game for only about three days.
Click past the cut and I'll tell you more.
Yes, I understand that the first levels of many games are simply a build-up to better things, but for my sanity's sake: give it some variety. I was so excited when I was finally asked by an NPC to retrieve something, simply because it was something different than running for miles and miles only to kill a handful of monsters. As my luck in this game would have it, once I ran to the spot to dig up the item, a pop-up suddenly appeared telling me that I had finished digging it up and that I should return back.
What? No digging animation even? I ran this far for that?
In this way, Pandora Saga is its own worst enemy. The game looks great -- sort of a combination of Final Fantasy XI and Vanguard -- and the combat animations are fluid and fast. The problem comes when you realize that you are being duped into mindlessly killing monsters by a bunch of spiteful NPCs. Hell, if they want me to kill all these monsters, that's fine. In fact, they can keep the experience and the reward. Just talk to me, NPCs -- just let me know a bit about you. I'm so lonely.
"There was a rumor in chat about a level 20 ability that allowed you to call your mount while out in the wild, but that announcement only made me feel a little more like a chump for actually expecting an enjoyable low-level experience."
There are weird examples of design sprinkled throughout the game. Mounts, for example, are only available at stables outside of town (as though the streets of town cannot support the weight of a mount). Once you get on your ride, you can get to your destination much faster. This is good, being that the smart alec NPCs are asking you to run, run, run everywhere. Once you get to your hunting spot, you jump off of the mount and kill away. Once you're done, however, you cannot call the mount back; you simply must run back to town. There was a rumor in chat about a level 20 ability that allowed you to call your mount while out in the wild, but that announcement only made me feel a little more like a chump for actually expecting an enjoyable low-level experience. Why even have the first 20 levels, if all they serve to do is make the player feel like that moment in time is worthless?
Let me take this another way, though. If you are a player who enjoys a small grind (or maybe even a large grind at later levels), and who enjoys grouping and hardcore gameplay, then you will probably enjoy Pandora Saga. If you liked Final Fantasy XI, then you might enjoy Pandora Saga. I wish I could recommend the kingdom vs. kingdom PvP, but I did not make it to the appropriate level in time before the wars began. Fortunately, this is just the beginning of this game. While it might not seem like it, I did enjoy the potential that the game offers. As I said in my earlier column, I will leave the game on my hard drive and explore it some more later when it goes into launch mode.
I would like to take a moment and say that the GM staff was amazing during this experience. GMs helped me and the rest of the community during the event. They joked around and generally kept on eye on things. In particular, a GM named Bux did a fantastic job of keeping me informed and even protected me when I was on the way to join a kingdom for PvP.
"The developers know that any player worth his salt (which does not include me, by the way) can grind through those initial 20 levels in a few days and afterward will have a character that was well invested in and fought for. I get it -- the grind is a tool in a lot of ways."
So, throw in a working mount from the beginning, take 10 minutes to walk me through the lore of the place (not on the website, but in the game), and pepper in the occasional quest that is not a "kill-ten-rats" quest, and I will change my opinion. Until then, I await the open beta and release.