Ah, the desert. Great sand dunes, long shadows, and the sun burning hot all day. It's no place for the weak of heart. Designing an entire game that takes place in that setting isn't easy, either. Sure, many MMOs feature a desert zone or area and might feature a desert people whom we can choose to play. Generally, though, MMOs are lush and full of green. Perhaps gamers just prefer elves, forests, and wet weather effects?
Nadirim has pulled players into a great expanse of desert and asked them to find adventure. I have to admit that desert area in games like Vanguard: Saga of Heroes are usually not my favorite, but I can understand their appeal. The desert is one of the last alien landscapes in our lives. Most of us have trees around us or a local swimming pool or at the least a green lawn to trim. Then we imagine an area devoid of anything leafy and it feels surreal.
Luckily, Nadirim does a good job in many areas, so it was a pleasure to step into the sand. Click past the cut and I'll tell you more.
Let's talk about the graphics first. Nadirim is interesting in the way it places your avatar onto a still, storybook background, one that features no movement at all. Of course, this is just a beta, so the devs can always add other animations later, but I still found myself pretty intrigued by how pretty and detailed the world is. I'm not sure I care how animated the characters on the screen are as long as they are original and done well. Nadirim isn't trying to feature finely animated, realistic-looking characters. What it seems to be going for is a walk through a hand-drawn fable. The effect is actually really nice and can run wonderfully on a basic laptop.
When you enter combat, things become slightly more animated. When I first played in beta, combat was just a series of turn-based attacks from still figures. Now the developers have added a small, hex-based battle area that you move around. This has opened up some strategy in the game, and I often found myself using my turn just to run away from the enemy while I waited for a healing ability to recharge. The first problem of the game shows itself during combat, though: there is no grouping yet. In other words, you can see other players and talk to other players, but there is no way to trade or group during combat with other players.
When I first heard that I was basically being forced to solo in the entire game, my heart sank. Such a neat game with such beautiful graphics and music and I would not be able to do anything but watch other players! Still, I'd witnessed how much the game had come from closed beta to now, so I knew that changes had to be around the corner. I was alerted to a news post on the official website that talked about the grouping features coming soon, and then I received an email from one of the developers that basically said the same thing. The combat groups will be open and others can join your fights. Up to 20 people can observe the fights and can join if someone drops out. It sounds like the devs are keeping things running for minimal specs while still having a unique take on how players will enjoy combat.
Getting around was also an issue due to the lack of a decent mini-map. Sure, I had some sort of map that would pop up in game, but it was so vague that it was useless. Again, I have been told that it will be fixed soon, but in the meantime, I had to struggle in figuring out where I was supposed to go. Though I had a small green arrow that floated at the base of my character that helped find most of my goals, I still wound up so lost that I had to go looking for the answer on the forums once I was asked to leave the newbie town. Someone in game finally gave me a pretty good description of where to go, and I eventually made my way out.
So yes, the game is still truly in a testing phase. It is funny how we MMO gamers tend to think of open beta mainly as some sort of soft launch, so in some ways it's been nice to play a game that's using its beta as a chance to, you know, test things. (I consider this column to be my report.) Even if it is in testing, I still felt like I was playing something pretty darn unique and beautiful. It only takes one view of the time-lapsed art videos on the official website to see how much care is being put into the details of the world. Sometimes during play, a pop-up appears in the middle of the browser window and an animated cutscene blares across like a comic book come to life. Stylistically, everything flows nicely in the cutscenes and the little story bits are a great way to suck people in. I got excited every time that little window popped up.
I've heard complaints from other players that the game becomes a pretty harsh grind later on, but I didn't experience any of that. Of course, I was playing the honeymoon levels of the game. Everything is shiny and interesting and new when you are playing your first 10 or so hours. Something tells me that the developers will be adding all sorts of content and updates to the game, but that they will be doing it with a lot of care and attention to detail. They have a very solid foundation already.
So, the verdict? Well, it's a wonderfully unique, beautiful and sometimes spellbinding world that just needs more work. More time in the cooker. To be put back on the shelf for for aging. (You get my point.) But it's still very playable and definitely something I will be keeping an eye on. If more more games like Nadirim were made, I might start to favor the desert zones.
Next week I am finally going to dive in LEGO Universe. Now that it is freemium (notice I did not say free-to-play), I plan on giving it a good look while armed with a controller. Here's hoping I won't be disappointed. After all, it is LEGO.
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, Facebook, or Raptr!