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Horizons: Empire of Istaria Review
developer: Artifact Entertainment
PIII 850, 256MB RAM, 64MB Video Card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Dec 09, 03 (released)
|» All About Horizons: Empire of Istaria on ActionTrip|
Next to First Person Shooters, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) top the list for games in development and slated for release in 2004. Coming out at the back end of 2003 was an offering from Artifact Entertainment. We first got acquainted with Horizons in May of last year at E3 and then got more up close and personal during the beta process in the fall of 2003 (See our hands on preview here).
At E3, Artifact Entertainment told us that what set Horizons apart from the huge group of MMORPGs flooding the market, were several things. First, the game has a large number of starting player races that include the typical MMORPG stand by of Humans, Dwarves and Elves but players can also choose to play as Lizard men (Sslanis), cat people (Saris), Half Giants or, in a first for the MMORPG market, Dragons. Second, the game would cater to gamers who enjoyed slaying monsters for fun and profit and to those that enjoyed creating items and selling them to others in-game though a robust (and extensive) series of craft schools. Third, while the game would not feature a Player vs. Player component, subscribers would not miss this challenge since a series of server wide world events would give players plenty to keep themselves busy. While all the claims sounded promising at E3, we had to admit this was E3 after all, and the whole point of a gaming trade show is to make products look and sound as good as possible.
As a quick refresher, players enter the world following a great war with an enemy known as the Withered Aegis. The war left the land with blighted areas scattered about that still spawn undead. Many towns and structures were destroyed and lay in ruins or are in need of repair. The once great Empire is on its knees and needs your help rebuilding the infrastructure, regaining the lost crafts and helping beat back the ravaging undead hordes to their master's doorsteps. The player takes on the role as one of the Gifted who show great power and the potential to help restore the Empire. Choosing from one of nine player races, four base adventure schools and three base crafting schools, the player enters the Empire of Istaria to make his way in the world.
So, now that Horizons is out and I have been playing for a month, the questions have to be asked: Does the game live up to its creator's claims? Were Artifact Entertainment's efforts enough to cut the MMORPG mustard? Read on and find out.
When Horizons arrived on store shelves on December 9th, I was at my local Electronics Boutique to pick up my preordered copies (one for me and one for the wife, of course) along with the strategy guide. After opening the boxes at home and starting the install, I took a minute to leaf through the manual. The terms 'minute' and 'leaf' apply here because the manual is one of the smallest I have ever seen for a MMORPG (a mere 26 pages). I could not help but feel grateful for my time in the beta and for the foresight to get the strategy guide. If I had no prior experience with the Horizons through the Beta or did not have more resources to call on while playing, I would have felt lost. Granted, the game has a comprehensive tutorial when you first create your character that covers movement, camera control, hotkey setup, how to harvest resources and craft items in your chosen school and inventory management.
Also, players encountered in the game have done an excellent job of helping new players out when trying to understand how something works, but there is no substitute for a good manual. A person who shells out 49 dollars for the initial product, pays a monthly fee following the initial free month, should not be forced to spend time online looking for more information about prestige classes or to fork out the 17 bucks for a strategy guide. Better documentation would have lowered the aggravation level many new players experience and provide a better game experience from the start. I would recommend that as a new player; get involved with a good, supportive guild as soon as you can. Your guild will be your best resource for learning the game, getting items crafted, and having people to group with.
Logging onto the game is accomplished through a web page. Double clicking on the Horizons icon on your desktop launches a web page where you choose which of your characters you want to play, after that the main game executable is launched. While a web interface raised a few eyebrows among veteran MMORPG players as a questionable way to access the main game, it does offer the ability to monitor your account, receive notices about upcoming world events, review notes from the publisher on patches, check server status, and manage your characters.
Graphically the game looks very good. Terrain is diverse and varied through the land of Istaria, from lush rolling hills to dry scorching deserts and spooky blighted areas where the ground is cracked and evil green light seeps through. If you have a good graphics card and a fast machine, you can crank the graphics, climb a mountain, and see for what seems like miles into the distance. The world itself is quite large and as you run around exploring you will notice, quite a few of these areas are unpopulated. You will some times run for 5 to 10 minutes without seeing another player or a monster. While this does help to convey the impression of a large game world, it can also be boring. I hope that as time goes on, Artifact Entertainment will fill in the vacancies with new structures or hordes or slavering monsters thirsty for adventurer blood.
Characters in combat perform a small number of move animations dependant on the type of attack you execute and the weapon you are using. Spells have nice lighting effects associated with them and as you increase the level of the spell, the animation grows larger and more elaborate.
One of the best spell animations is the resurrection spell. White light swirls around the player's corpse lifting it, rotating into the air. You hear the rushing of wind mixed with a cry of anguish from the player as the body is infused with life. It is a very dramatic animation and fits well into the epic fantasy setting.
8.3 Very Good
Wide variety of adventure and crafting classes, unique and enjoyable craft system, switch classes at any time, world events;
Launch Bugs, sparse documentation, lag issues, huge world that is (currently) sparsely populated with NPCs.