Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MMO Review: Shaiya

I want to start reviewing online video games, specifically MMOs. For those outside the gaming set, that's short for MMORPG, which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. These are games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Ultima Online, &c.: the setting is a fantasy world with humanoid races, magic, and medieval technology (more or less). Your perspective is either first-person or hovering directly over your on-screen character. You run around, kill monsters, fulfill quests, amass treasure, and improve your skills in combat, magic, and other disciplines. Get it?

Well, those games cost a lot. You buy the initial game, you buy all the expansions after it, and you pay a monthly subscription fee. At the same time, there are a number of video game companies that are producing free MMOs. They seriously don't cost any money to own and play, and they usually take less than 2 GB of space. Some of them make money by giving players the option to purchase powerful weapons or flashy armor/clothing that can be shown off in the game. That really matters to some people and it's a lucrative source of income.

Gamers and geeks already know about these, but I still think a bunch of people don't, so I'm going to review those games that I've downloaded and tried out. My criteria aren't demanding: I don't have a broad gaming database and history to compare them against, but I can speak as a beginner who'd like to get into gaming. I know what I like and what rubs me the wrong way, and I'm going to share some of that here.

Tonight I'm talking about Shaiya, a product of Aeria Games.  The game starts out with you choosing to ally yourself with, essentially, Good or Evil.  If you're Good, you can play a Human or an Elf; the Evil side gets the Vail (dark blue-skinned humans) and the Deatheaters (enormous orc-like creatures).  Each race comes with a choice of three classes, variations upon themes of melee or magic.  There is very little customization in the character creation process: four or five options in the categories of hair, face, and height.  Some players like endless customization options and other games will offer those, but this one sets you up to look nice and places more focus on the gaming itself.

The controls are pretty intuitive: W-A-S-D, and you can steer with the mouse while you're running, or you can point-and-click to your destination.  One drawback: the program does not enable you to run around objects, so you either scramble over them or find yourself trapped, running in place.  Other games plot a trajectory for you and let you jog around trees and fences when they come up.

Outside of that, it's a very pleasant gaming experience.  The music is great and the graphics are smooth.  They pay attention to little details like weather patterns, the sound of footsteps on various kinds of terrain, and stuff like that makes for a pleasant experience.  It's important to note that the translation to English is very well done here, which goes a long way towards making you care about the society within the game.  Attaining quests and figuring out where to go next is pretty clear, as well.  All in all, it's pretty easy to leap in and start playing if you have some gaming experience; if not, you're led around well enough and can attain some proficiency in short order.

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