Of course, the game is still testing. I will bet that, like many indie games, it will stay in beta for a long, long time. We players need to be forgiving when developers do this and understand that true release -- even just calling it that -- is just not that simple. I can almost sense the fear in my discussions with some of the developers: they have worked their butts off on the game, they have spent way too much time working on this digital world, and they don't want their work to be misrepresented. This fear is completely rational, especially if we think just for a second about how quickly players not only eat up content, but mercilessly blame developers for every single thing they feel is wrong with the game.
So, follow me after the jump and let's talk about why this game is so good, even if it does still need a little more time in the oven.
Allowing players to build their own areas to be attached to official ones is a brave move on behalf of the developers. After all, how would you police the creations? Would you worry about maintaining some sort of standard? How would you make sure that clueless players would not mistake some random player-created area for crappy "official" content?
In my time in the game, however, I didn't find a single area that seemed out of place. This might be the result of the tools or textures or even possibly the limits on player creations. Perhaps not allowing your players to build anything is the key: give them limits, but let them play within those limits. Not a bad idea. I would not be surprised if good old-fashioned self control had more to do with it. Players might not want to create pieces of crap for their favorite MMORPG. The playerbase is tiny right now, and that might have just as much to do with community guidelines. I literally saw the same people on night after night, but I always met someone new. It was more like playing a game with a group of buddies than a large group of strangers.
While there are several key parts to the game, dungeon-running seems to be a favorite activity. I was lucky enough to be run through a total of three dungeons while I visited the game. I have not had that much fun in a dungeon-type setting in a long, long time. Yes, it felt "old school" to fight mobs that took several (if not dozens) of deaths to defeat, but it felt great to just jump into a dungeon without worrying about making sure that everyone had the same quest, or got the same number of drops, or had the right mods installed. Linkrealms' dungeons are a trip back to the time of stumbling your way through danger with your friends, before watching a YouTube video called "How to defeat the dungeon" was required for participation.
On top of that, all of the dungeons I played in had some sort of theme, trick, or hook that made each involved and special. Last night (at the time of this writing) we had to stand in the empty areas of a wire to close a circuit so we could shock a boss mob to life. I was killed on my try -- it turns out my strength was not high enough to withstand thousands of volts. The first dungeon I went to had me attacking swarms of bees, only to draw them into the waiting mouth of a plant creature. In the end, I saw more neat little tricks in Linkrealms dungeons than I had in a long time. Would the tricks get a little old after visiting the same dungeons over and over? Sure, but the ease of grouping and access make entry less of a battle than with many games.
"The modern effects mixed with the isometric view gave me an odd feeling. It was a touch of nostalgia -- but for a place I had never been."
While not being able to boast the number of skills that Ultima does, Linkrealms has a pretty tight rein on the skills it does feature. In case you have no idea what skill-based means, essentially it is defined as a system that allows players to raise levels in specific skills. In Linkrealms, those skills are raised through use -- if you cast a spell, you gain magic skill. If you swing a sword, you gain skill in that.
I am not comparing this indie project to the 13-year-old masterpiece that is Ultima Online (I resubbed my 11-year-old account recently so I could compare the two games) because that would simply not be fair: Ultima had a much larger budget and time on its side. Still, Linkrealms stands on its own as a unique game, community and world.
But I do have to say that Linkrealms' weather effects, sound (the music is very good in places), lighting, and animations are in most ways much better than Ultima's. They are modern but can still run on very old machines. Some of the magic spells made my jaw drop -- not because I had never seen such quality before, but because of the creativity and execution. This is a game for magic users! The modern effects mixed with the isometric view gave me an odd feeling. It was a touch of nostalgia -- but for a place I had never been. It was also very comforting to play a game that has been almost frozen in time. I could see playing a cool isometric game like Linkrealms 10 years from now!
The custom zones, while very cool, are very hard to work with. The map editor is very buggy. The developers specifically asked me to mention that it is being worked on, right now. Supposedly, once you learn the editor's intricacies, you can really make some cool custom areas to play in. The game is, of course, still being worked on, so things like mana regeneration rates are still being tweaked. I fully expect the editor and the other bugs to be smoothed out over time.
So yes, the game has its work-in-progress areas. This explains the "beta by invite only" marking on the official website. I was able to obtain a few codes for some fellow writer friends, but I have heard that invitations are slowly coming forward. Leave a note on the boards or in the comments section and maybe some of you can get in. Either way, be forgiving. Indie developers are fragile creatures, existing purely on caffeine and stress. We need to let them do their work, have faith that they are working (even when patches come slowly) and be ready to support them. Without us, they'd have nothing. Without them, though, we'd have nothing like Linkrealms.
Next week, I decided to take a look at Runescape. One of our writers is actually taking as deeper look at the culture of the game right now, so my review might add to the overall picture. My name is Spouseaggro, so look me up in game. Now, go log in!
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. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. PDT); the column will run on the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter or Raptr!