This week my job was a bit harder than it usually is. This week I had to revisit Pocket Legends and Star Legends, the entirety of the Spacetime Studios lineup, in order to catch the updates and differences since both games were recently adapted to play within the Chrome browser.
See, the device that you play an MMO on does make a difference. While I haven't found many players who have an issue with moving up to a finer machine with a larger screen, I almost always receive a few comments in any of my mobile MMO columns about the lack of fun involved with playing anything on a screen that will fit in your hand. While I understand the difficulty in downgrading your monitor size, the mobile market's reception of Pocket Legends surprised even the developer. People are playing it, for many hours, on screens that are very small.
But now we have the ability to play it in our browser. Does it make a difference in the experience? Click past the cut and I'll let you know.
Whatever you think about the two titles, no one should deny that they were blockbusters within the mobile market. Players who never would have thought about downloading a smartphone MMO gave these two a shot, and many of them kept on playing. Spacetime has said several times that it did not expect players to sit on their tiny devices for many hours at a time, but they have. The fact is that the game was designed at the beginning to be played in quick, waiting-room sized chunks. The game provides instant access to quests and quest locations. Crawling through a dungeon is rarely a solo adventure, thanks to a well-made grouping system that puts players into a current group automatically. Anyone can pick the game up, play literally 30 minutes, and not pick it up again until the next day.
One of the key differences between Pocket Legends and many of the current smartphone MMOs is the inclusion of standard MMO mechanics. Other titles are often simplistic and feature graphics that are flat or barely 3-D. Pocket Legends has been called the "World of Warcraft of the mobile market" mainly because it has real, three-dimensional characters in it, characters that operate in a real, three-dimensional world. Pocket Legends even includes class-based play along with MMO standards like a skills and hotbar. The game includes a bit of a minimap, gear to obtain, and boss monsters to fight. When PL launched, it seemed almost magical that finally someone had created a "real" MMO that worked great on palm-sized devices.
This is not to say that there have been no problems with the games. The fact is that many of the standard systems that Pocket Legends (and later Star Legends) contain, systems that set them apart from the mobile market, blend them into the standard, client-based "real" MMO market. The titles might be spectacular mobile games, but they seem a bit lacking when compared to a "real" MMO.
Spacetime has taken both titles much further, however. Pocket Legends, for example, has added so many features that a comparison between the earlier versions and the current versions would take all of this writing. One of the key additions has been the breaking down of zone walls within the game. Normally players would have to teleport to travel between zones. While this system worked, it wasn't exactly immersive or open to exploration. Portals are still featured as gateways between zones, but now players can literally trek between them all if they feel like hoofing it. This has made the world feel much larger and more realistic.
Spacetime has shown that it wants to pack as much content into its tiny titles as it can. While I was initially worried about the lack of spaceship-type content and travel in Star Legends (aka "Pocket Legends in space"), the developers have already added in the building blocks for what I believe to be the future addition of actual spaceship content. I have no worries about the future of Star Legends now, especially as someone who checks in on the title every week and gets to see new stuff added all the time.
Now we have the browser versions of both titles. I talked with Spacetime at GDC 2011 right before the company released the clients for the browser, and it appeared as though everything was going to work out smoothly. Now that I have played both of them through the browser on devices ranging from my netbook to my gaming desktop, I can say that the games still have some distance to cover. If anything, the games now have to do more to stand out against scores of other browser-based MMOs that have been developing for the browser much longer. Still, when you stand back and really compare the Spacetime lineup to the rest of the browser and even client market, the games have a few distinctions that already set them apart.
Both games can easily run on any device, for example. If your buddy is on his phone, he can play on that and you can join him on your netbook. Both experiences will look primarily the same (except for the fact that the browser version strangely doesn't allow for widescreen play), and both will play the same too. Both titles could even be thought of as the exact same universe set within different timelines. If you started to grow bored of the fantasy setting in Pocket Legends, you can jump into Star Legends for a bit of the old pew-pew. Now all Spacetime needs to design is a time travel system that allows the same characters to go between the universes, opening them both up even more.
It's easy to forget that the designers have also included gameplay that is self contained and can be digested in smallish chunks. Both games can sometimes feel like a great multiplayer Nintendo DS game or a social, "Facebook"-style game that was finally done correctly. You jump in, kill some stuff, get some cool-looking gear, and get out. If you feel like it, you can play for much longer, kill more stuff, and find even cooler loot. You can even shop in the wonderfully designed cash shop, buying everything from potions to gear to pets.
I'd like to sum up by saying that the recent addition of the browser to the Spacetime family is a brilliant move. It's obvious something is up between the developers and Google, especially since the search engine giant has begun to make quite a few strides toward gaming recently. Chromebooks need to sell, as well, and providing a line-up of games to offer on the devices is only good business. I like the fact that I can now play Star Legends or Pocket Legends on any device in my house and can offer the same experience to anyone who might be near me. This is going to be perfect for the holidays!
Next week, I will finally be looking at Dungeon Fighter Online, a side-scrolling crawler from Nexon. It looks fun and a feels a bit nostalgic, so join me here next week to hear what I think about it!
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. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!