Ah, the good old days, trading at Vesper bank, killing things down in Deceit, taming some dragons.
Wait, this isn’t an Ultima Online review, this is Linkrealms! UO brought to the 21st century, but with the same graphical feel as before the 3d rendered version.
The company responsible for bringing forth this child of the classic MMO is Mythyn Interactive, based in Utah, USA. It has been a long journey for the studio as development has been going on for over 7 years and we are now in a closed beta stage. However, the studio has announced the game is near to completion, at least for launch content. From my view in game, I’d agree, the majority of the mechanics and a reasonable amount of content appear to be there, I’ve unfortunately not been able to spend weeks in this game yet, but from the first impressions I got, I may just have to!
Now closed beta does mean we have to expect some bugs, maybe the occasional client crash, and those lines of code that just won’t play ball even though the devs have spent hundreds of hours staring at them. Keeping that in mind, what I’ve seen has been relatively bug-free, with a reasonable amount of polish for a closed beta stage.
Linkrealms is a sandbox MMORPG with the isometric graphical style that many gamers from the 90s and early 00s will remember. Sandbox, what does that mean? Well, in a sandbox MMO you are far more in control than most MMOs. Don’t like the town’s layout? Build your own with some friends! Like wielding giant two-handed maces but still want to throw fireballs? Go for it, level up mauling and sorcery and you can do both! Don’t like getting your hands dirty? Train up a pet and level up spiritualism to send an army of minions to do your dirty work for you!
The only downside that comes with the sandbox genre is that because the developers don’t want to restrict you, they struggle more trying to put in a rich world full of lore. At its current stage, Linkrealms contains a vibrant world with lots of things to do, but it's somewhat lacking in scripted lore. This style of game is about only one story, after all. Yours! Go write your own story with the help of your friends as you try to dominate your server.
When I first loaded into the server, hardcore PvP, I was greeted by a brief tutorial that helps you learn the basics, mostly.
Once you complete those three tutorial rooms, you are out in the real world! You are dropped in the central town and left to your own devices. A few NPCs are around to offer you quests and sell you basic supplies. Here is where the learning curve begins, and it has a pretty steep one.
On the topic of learning curves, I personally like nice steep ones, and I was a few hours into playing before I realized I could set up hotkeys to cast my lightning spell, instead of clicking it in my spellbook each time! So if you decide to play this game, bring your thinking cap and spend a while playing detective to find all those glorious little tricks that make the game far more fun, and make you look pro too! When it comes to PvP, do you want to be the guy who has to manually switch between your staff, bow and sword? Do you want to scroll through your spellbook to find the appropriate spell or be the ‘l33t pvp haxzor’ who casts 3 spells, bleeds the enemy, then begins to turn the target into a pincushion courtesy of his crossbow in less than 10 seconds?
Did someone say PvP? Of course, how could a game recreate the glory days of UO without some serious full loot hardcore PvP? Before we talk about the actual PvP though, let’s mention the map structure, which can play heavily into PvP and also explains where the game gets its name. A map has ~250 realms, and while the they aren’t interlacing, they are segmented, so each realm is separate and transitions to neighboring realms on each border. They can occasionally be a little tricky to spot during say, a high-speed PvP chase. You’ll find out how much of an impact these transitions can have below.
After I had enough of killing goblins and snails in town, I ventured out into the realm world, which of course means I am now a free target thanks to my choice of servers. So I wander around a little, try my hand at killing some spiders, then find a little beehive dungeon to play around in. Things are going well, though those the spiders did kind of hurt. Then while exploring the beehive, two people show up in a guild, looking kind of scary. Outnumbered and outgunned, I prepare to make my last stand, then I notice a ladder to freedom just ahead past some more honeycombs, so I turn and smash my way free, as a cripple attack hits me, slowing me down.
Now he’s dead I hear you say, well I say NEVER!
I make it up the ladder, dodge their attacks with erratic movements, and use trees and objects to cover the line of sight. Cripple wears off, so I begin to flee the 5 or so zones back to town. They are on me most of the way, and I get crippled once or twice while escaping, but I’m wily enough to evade any real damage. I then ran into a corner and saw my life flash before my eyes, but with some quick thinking, pro tier dodging and lots of luck, I doubled back through the enemy. I caused one of them to misclick and cripple himself, SUCKER, then I zone to the northwest, wait a second and zone back as they run in. My juke buys me a precious few seconds lead that gets me home safe!
Edge of my seat action from the second the chase started, right through to the end! Next time, I’ll be ready for those guys and teach them a thing or two! Now you are probably thinking that had they been higher leveled, or if they’d had top tier gear, I’d have been one-shot. Well, I was doing some research on the forums for this review, and one of them maxed the ability on the weapons he was using and had a pretty powerful crossbow. This was compared to my average at best abilities, and rather terrible gear. It shows that the game’s PvP is a skill contest, and not the straight up level or gear contest you see in a lot of games.
Now had I died, I would have lost all my gear and my hard-earned argents(gold) and I’d have to do some dungeons to replace it all. *sad face* However, if I were smart, I’d have put the money and spare equipment I don’t need at the moment in the bank where it’s nice and safe. Scared of going to town in case you see someone who hates you for stealing their epic boss loot from the corpse of the final boss in the top-level dungeon last week? And yes, you can do that! Why not hide your ill-gotten gains in your own home. These can be claimed using a claim spike, purchased either in-game with argents or via real money for those of you with real jobs that keep you from having farming time! Your home can be secured with locked doors, telepads, traps and maybe even some loyal wolves set to kill anyone who gets inside. You can also build farms and shops at your home to earn money, or use your home as a guild hall for your friends to work out of as a base of operations. I told you the game was sandbox, right? Play it your way, so long as that doesn’t involve taking my loot!
Not a PvPer? Well don’t worry, Linkrealms caters to the less bloodthirsty adventurer, too. There are fully separate PvE server that have limited PvP rules for certain areas and agreed combat. I unfortunately cannot comment much on these features as I haven’t tried them out much. However, I can say the game content is the same either side, just the PvP servers will have to deal with added risk, and potential reward from killing gankers.
As you might be starting to gather, Linkrealms is more than meets the eye!
Don’t let its small 350MB folder size fool you. This game has enough content to keep you engaged for weeks if not months, even for someone who bores relatively quickly, like me. The graphics will take some getting used to for a younger gamer. Even I am borderline on being old enough to truly appreciate this game, having come to UO as its glory days declined. I bore with them, and you may well learn to love them.
Oh, and did I mention the game is free to play on launch? Yep, our friends at Mythyn Interactive won’t be charging subscription fees, nor even an initial purchase! Doesn't that usually mean pay to win? Nope, the studio’s stance on pay to win has been made abundantly clear, there shall be no purchasable items or effects that will allow a player to gain a power boost. Presently, the only item you can buy with real money that has any noticeable effect are claim stakes, to claim a realm as your own for a limited time. These are also reasonably affordable in-game. After a few hours as a noob, I could nearly afford one!
The main issues I found are the initial clunkiness of the game, and how hidden the controls were. It's definitely the sort of game that would benefit from having a more experienced friend walk you through when you start. Otherwise, I strongly advise new players to search out the newbie guides on the forum.
As someone who missed the true glory days of UO and wanted to see them return, I may be somewhat biased here, but I feel the graphics are spot on to what was intended. The gameplay hits the mark, and the content at this stage is more than adequate. Please carry this work on, and I hope to spend many a month PKing and being PK’d on this game alongside all the UO veterans. Though I’d like to see some tweaks, primarily to UI, I have to award a solid 8, and a mention how Linkrealms has a hand on the ledge of 9.