Rise and Shiny: Revisiting Salem

Salem screenshot

A few months ago, I dived into Salem, a hardcore sandbox MMO that promises actual permadeath. That means if your character is killed while in game, he or she stays dead and loses everything. Not of your possible scores of skills are passed on, all items are lost and your homestead -- similar to a deed in Wurm Online -- can be destroyed. Heck, your homestead can be destroyed even if you're not dead. People can literally block your path, call you names, and attack you over and over. It makes me cry!

Nah, it's not as bad as it sounds. It never is. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it's that you should really try a game for yourself before you believe everything you hear about it. Don't worry about trolls or griefers because the worst that can happen to you is that you end up leaving the game to find a better one. That's why we're called gamers.

Salem is actually about 50% killer and 50% silliness. I don't want to describe the killer part as "bad" because there is something the game is offering that so many others are not, and that's real danger and actual permadeath.

Salem screenshot

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag, but it's uniquely stylized. Characters are big-headed pilgrims and settler-types, and the ever-present possibility of losing your grip on life gives the cartoony graphics a nice edge. It's a fun combination. While I love most of the textures that paint the world, some of them just do not combine together so well. It's often hard to make out certain details in the landscape thanks to the mixed up textures and objects. The whole game really feels like a good-looking game that was messed up by the texture guy when he forgot which ones should go where. Other than that, the buildings are cute and the character models are fun. Heck, I like them much better than the drivel that makes up the ugly character models in a game like Lord of the Rings Online.

The control scheme leaves a lot to be desired. Click-to-move is OK, but whoever decided that holding down the middle mouse button to rotate the camera needs to be fired. Just kidding; that would leave but one dev left to work on the game. How about instead they just re-map the camera rotation to something better and standard like the arrow keys. The pathfinding in the game is also horrendous. In a game that makes players control avatar movement by clicking on the landscape -- a landscape filled with objects that can block a character's path -- pathfinding must be smooth. During my livestream (embedded below), a player told me that the pathfinding was intentionally left in a horrible state to prevent botting. If that's the case (which I doubt), then the other team member needs to be fired, leaving only the volunteer mods to continue on with the game. Agh! This is getting hardcore!

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Other than funny textures and wacky control schemes that leave wrists aching, the way the game plays is pretty cool. You can find your way out into the wilderness and try to make it on your own, slowly building up a shelter, and you might even be able to build a walled fortress filled with windmills and gardens. Check out my first hands-on withut the game to see more screenshots of just how involved it can all get. If you've played Wurm Online, you'll have an idea about how involved you'll have to be in order to enjoy the higher content in the game, but you can definitely solo your way through it. I wandered around constantly, picking up random items called inspirationals, items that you study in order to fuel the learning of more skills. As I mentioned last time, it's one of my favorite mechanics in the game and is a unique way to level a character's abilities. You can also craft or create these inspirational items and slowly become more skilled at all sorts of things. It's poorly explained, generally, but you'll get it soon enough. It really doesn't matter, anyway, being that you'll probably be killed at some point and lose all progress.

The potential of permadeath will either turn you off or not. I know readers who expressed interest in the game but have an actual fear that a favorite avatar will wind up a pile of bones. When I hear this, I want to yell, "Have some guts, wimp! You're a gamer!" but generally I just move on to the next article. You can sell items to earn silver, and that silver can be very, very handy. You can store that silver in the bank and pass it between characters so that if you die, your new character can go and pull it out. If you're particularly lazy you can just buy some skills, a bunch of silver, and items from the cash shop. Yeah, real hardcore, I know... but hey, I have no problems with the selling of power as long as it's done correctly. It's just a game, and some of us just want to buy cool stuff and play.

Salem screenshot

There's much more to Salem than I can fit within one article. The city-building is as in-depth as in any game I have seen before, but you can go at it alone and have a blast. Be prepared to walk a lot, though, and to find yourself frustrated when you get stuck on hills or bits of landscape. Overall, you should be OK. You'll occasionally be trolled or killed, but we all know how silly trolls are. Don't let it get you down. Think of the death of a character as something that gives the game depth -- because it does. I also love how simple and honest the mechanic is. If you die, you die. Get over it and try again.

Salem is not perfect at all. In fact, it's very rough in most places. But if you really need to, you can just blow some real-life cash to help you out. Join some friends or an existing group in game and you'll find the game truly open up into a wonderful world. Well, one of guts and bile, but still a pretty cool one.

Next week, I am covering Scarlet Blade, the new MMO from Aeria games that is making waves for its use of half-naked avatars, including those that appear to be teenage girls. Oh, expect me to tear this one apart, but I will also be commenting on the gameplay. It's not that bad, really. I'll be livestreaming the game live on Monday, the 1st of April, at 5:00 p.m. EDT. Check it out on our livestreaming channel.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!