Early Impressions, aka Welcome to My New Addiction
This is likely one of those games that you either "get," or you find just isn't your cup of tea, for whatever reason. The problem is that once it "gets" you, it starts to sink its teeth into you deeper and deeper, and every door seems to open another that you want to peek -and then dive- into. If you are an obsessive completion-ist, enjoy micro/macro-managing, or have ADHD, or worse like me, have all of these attributes, this can be decidedly bad news. Hark mentioned a "crazy grind" and while that's really not a mis-representation, it's certainly an interesting one given that this game seems tailor designed for a Young Hark
You will start to crave the next unlock in the same category, or covet the one next door thatís teasing you. You'll see someone using skills that you didn't know existed and want to try them yourself, which means it's time to re-think your character again. In some sense the game is the ďgrindĒ and the ďgrindĒ is the game. Itís up to you whether you want that to have a negative connotation or not.
There are a ton of interwoven sub-systems going on to effectively create a complete sandbox environment. The more important thing is that these developers have paid a lot of attention to detail, so it's not just a bunch of features slapped together for the sake of it. Every cog in the wheel has its place, and the player is given full reign to figure out his place in the grand scheme of things. Little details like the way a given resource (including on a mob) becomes more or less plentiful the more or less it is accessed, are essential to making the game (grind) fun.
The core of it all starts seemingly simply with resource gathering, crafting, and PvE. Then you add character development, farming, building, and PvP systems. Each piece is its own system and gets more and more complicated as you get into it. And each piece has different elements to it and interweaves with the others to some extent.
Your character - unlike most RPGs, a single character gets access to every skill the game has to offer, whether itís crafting or for a weapon. Like Guild Wars, your weapon defines what base attack or defense skills you have immediately available to you, limited to 4 primary buttons. Your armor pieces determine the rest of your active skills, e.g. your boots might offer choices to increase carrying capacity or give you a speed and energy boost. If you so choose, you can swap gear out and after a short delay, boom - you went from an archer to a cleric. You can mix and match pieces as you like, so youíll see people wearing plate helms with leather armor and cloth boots to get the exact combination they want. Itís a really fun system for people who like to experiment and/or min/max for a particular effect. You may have different sets for different types of PvE and PvP, as well as for gathering and crafting. There are also single slots for food and potions as well, each of which give different short term benefits. The caveat is that in order to keep progressing further and unlock higher tiers of a particular type of gear, you have to use them for that purpose. So for instance if I want to advance my use of cloth hoods, I have to kill a certain amount of stuff while wearing a cloth hood. Therein lies the grind that Hark mentioned; everything you want to specialize in will require a similar level of effort, along with a base/core that goes up with every action you take. Of course thatís all in the way you want to think about it. For those of us that like to create alts, itís practically the same as starting a new character from scratch to try out a different build. The difference is in this game you can still take advantage of the things youíve already leveled up while trying something new. So for instance last night I was able to bump my bow/hunter weapon to Tier 3 in about 10-20 minutes, in part because I was wearing Tier 4 armor while doing so.
Resource Gathering and Crafting - this is the heart of the economy, since everything needs resources. But thatís kind of oversimplifying. This starts with your basic collect lots and lots of stuff. You can refine lower tiers of stuff to higher tiers assuming you have the required skill. And of course the higher crafted items require higher and higher tiers of refined material. Eventually youíll have to decide how much time you want to devote to doing this, but there are options such as purchasing a laborer to collect for you. But that opens its own mini-game in that you have to keep them happy to work for you. Crafting has its own complete set of skills and requirements, and there are so many things to craft itís crazy. You could focus on a weapon type or an armor class, or even on furniture. You donít have to craft, but it can be beneficial, particularly if you coordinate and share specialties within a guild. If you use other peoplesí crafters, you will have to pay for the usage, so you have to decide is it worth the cash to do so rather than spend the time/energy to do it yourself.
Farming/Cooking - this game allows you to purchase your own independent island, and pretty much place whatever buildings you want on it. Iím lumping a bunch of systems together here. Throw some farm land down and the game becomes its own little Farming/Cooking Sim, reminiscent of a number of mobile games. Check back on your crops, (you can even have horses and oxen) while they grow over time, and then harvest them to sell or to cook or to use in potions. The food you make is required for higher Tier workers to craft and refine things, but different kinds can also be used for player buffs. You could seriously play this game and never touch PvE OR PvP, just use the market to buy/sell what you need and hang out on your island crafting and making food. Yeah itís a little silly when I actually write it down, but I got a kick out of harvesting carrots and beans and then making a salad that I can use to enhance my crafting for 5 minutes.
PvE - so you could just avoid combat altogether, but then youíd be missing out on a ton of fun. The PvE content at first seems a little light, just killing random stuff you see. But then you notice dots on the map where there are more tightly concentrated batches of mobs, and also small instances with ďbosses.Ē Thereíre also options to enter an ďexpeditionĒ (closest thing to a traditional quest) which sends you in a randomized map to kill most everything inside. If you succeed you get a nice cash bonus. Nothing extraordinary but theyíve done a great job with the details, mixing up mob AI and abilities, and creating details in the maps that can help or hinder you. Weíve faced mobs with their own pocket healers, a multi-shot stun grenade launcher, mobs with damage shields, and a guy using a whip to pull you into him. Itís similar to a lot of old school MMO gameplay, but the 2.5D perspective changes things up a bit. Itís easy to instinctively panic and move to the wrong spot (or even get thrown), thus aggro-ing another group. Targeting is (intentionally) more difficult (keep in mind it has to work for a tablet too), so working together as a group becomes even more difficult, and critical, for the tougher content. The large array of different possible character builds/skills keeps things fresh and exciting, particularly when you start to group up and try to synergize with each other (or not).
PvP - after all these hours, Iíve yet to see an ounce of PvP aside from generic dueling in cities. There are zones which are ďfullĒ PvP as well as others where you have to flag yourself to enable it, but then everyone can see that you are enabled. And then there is instanced GvG which Iím told resembles Guild Wars arena style matches. It will likely be a while before I go looking for it, but I suspect it will be a lot of fun, if PvE is any indication.
As I mentioned above, this game takes crafting elements from a number of games, a skill system and arena combat from Guild Wars, plus a PvP, sandbox, player-driven-economy mentality straight out of Shadowbane.
I believe the game will be free to play with IAPs when it releases in July. But due to the complexity and variety the game has to offer, I feel like interested parties would benefit from trying it out earlier to learn as much as they can so as to avoid confusion in the early phase of the game.
TLDR - if you like sandbox crafting games or have been waiting for a new Shadowbane-like experience without the crashes, come on in. Or wait until July when itís free.