I'm tired today. I was up too late playing The Therian Saga, a new browser-based MMO by Studio Virtys. It's a seemingly simple game and might even appear to be easier than it is, but I have found these last several hours of play to be more immersive and satisfying than much of what I have played over the last several months. Essentially, the game is an in-depth representational game, meaning that most of the time you will spend your time giving commands and watching -- or waiting for long periods -- for the commands to work out. Think of the gameplay sort of like Words With Friends with some real-time combat. No, you won't be spelling against your enemies, but the pace is definitely casual with optional, faster combat.
Let's just get this out of the way: Yes, there is an energy mechanic in this game. Don't run to the comments section to post about how games have changed and MMOs are nothing like they used to be or to ask me how I can cover such a thing when I call myself a fan of immersion. The truth is that the energy pool mechanic existed before social gaming and was once considered a vital part of gaming. An energy pool is just a stamina pool; hardcore sandbox fans should appreciate that. Of course, how a developer integrates the energy pool into a game is the source of the controversy. If you made an MMO and made energy its basic or most important stat, I'd hope that you'd consider the multiple ways people play MMOs.
The Therian Saga uses an energy pool, but it is not the only source of activity. You can combat monsters, trade, and roleplay as well. I've run out of energy a few times, but it was almost always timed to my break or when I was going to bed for the night. I would put my character to sleep, queue up several activities, and wake up to find a refreshed -- and wiser -- character waiting for me. Of course, you can buy items that refill your energy in case you didn't want to wait, but paying for a few new character slots prevents you from running out of things to do. Think of it as being like EVE Online in some ways: Maintaining different characters is a good way to stay active.
Moving across the map is simple enough. You click on the ground and choose what you want to do. You can travel to the location, explore the location (spend an amount of real time and look for any number of things), or camp there (create a camp that you can perform different tasks from). Movement takes real time, meaning that if you want to walk across the land, it will take you some time. You can't just tap on an area of the world and walk there, being that your character has to be skilled in the specific types of terrain in order to do so. There are hints in game that lead players to believe that there will one day be air and water travel, but for now, travel is a matter of deciding where to go and watching or waiting as the character makes her way there. So far most of the content I've been exploring is kept within a relatively small area, so travel has not become an issue.
Combat in The Therian Saga appears very simple, at least in the lower levels. When a player enters a dungeon or other combat situation, he will automatically be brought to a screen where he can choose which characters will fight. As of right now, there is no multiplayer combat, but if a player is hosting a combat-skilled companion, that companion will aid in the battle. You simply drag the members of your party to a creature and attack, and the game works out the turn, depending on your skills and equipment.
After combat, a player can continue in the dungeon to finish a quest or can flee at any time. Fleeing does consume energy, and during combat a player can easily be damaged in specific areas of his body. A player can take a potion to heal up or can rest, but until the wounds are healed, activities cost a lot more energy.
Players can duel each other or fight in an arena, and there are promises that the game will open up combat options later. Combat is interesting, but it's not the main reason to play the game. There is even talk about political battles coming later on in development. Personally, I love the balance that the game strikes between combat and everything else. Fighting in an MMO should be slow and dangerous, and up to this point, I have found only a few MMOs (like some MUDs, for example) that make combat feel appropriately dangerous.
Crafting is where it's at in The Therian Saga. The system is remarkably simple but can result in nicely made items that come from complicated recipes. A player essentially needs a batch of materials (either collected or paid for), some recipes (plenty of them for free or cheap at the beginning), and the tools to start crafting. At first, players will need to be located at particular areas in the game world, representing crafting stations or friendly NPCs who will train new heroes. Later on, a player can build a house and can create crafting tables inside.
The developers use a golden shield as an example. A player might need to slowly raise her skill until she can create the basic shield, but she can add unique materials and use specific tools while crafting and can come out with a golden shield. Sure, it might not provide much protection, but it will bring a lot of prestige! That's a very simplified example, but so far the crafting at even basic levels is a lot of fun.
The map in The Therian Saga is so nice (I'm a map nerd!). I love a map that looks and feels inviting. Scrolling in and out of the map is seamless, making me think that if the game continues to grow, we will someday see the rest of the map open up. Many MMOs do not utilize the mystery of the map very well. There is no speedy travel in the game (although there are some skills that might be used in travelling by air and water later on), and a player cannot simply walk wherever he chooses. There are stats to consider: Is your plains level high enough to allow you long distance travel? Can you make it through the hills or the mountains?
Exploration allows players to open the map up and to find hidden goodies and quest items or locations. One of my newbie characters accidentally made his way off the newbie island without exploring enough, so you can imagine my surprise when my second character found a location that I hadn't seen before. While a player is exploring or moving around the map, he can also create a camp that acts as a resting point. I made an alt just for exploring, and as I type this, he is slowly making his way around the map, looking for areas when prompted by a quest, new areas to gather materials in, or just new places to explore.
I have just started with The Therian Saga and already I am hooked. Maybe that's because of its newness or its inviting artwork and sound, and it's very possible that one day the game will become a repetitive drag. This is always possible with any title. There's something very special about The Therian Saga, however, and it really scratches an itch I've had for a semi-AFK MMO that can be played as much or as little as I want.
My press account did come with special cash-shop goodies for testing purposes, including maxed character slots and extra bags. You can buy cash-shop funds with in-game gold; it will just take you much longer. I found that the cash shop is not overly expensive on the whole, and I know I'll put a few bucks into the game in appreciation for the fun I've had so far.
Interested? Sign up and play the game for free at the official site.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.