Horizons: Beta Impressions
Doing respect to a game that is in the middle of a beta is hard indeed. Presented with an unfinished product, the previewer must keep in mind that what he is playing is probably not exactly what the game will end up like once it is released.
That being said, MMORPGdot was given a chance to try Horizons and test a few of it's features as they are now. Horizons plays much like other mmorpgs out there. By default it's played with a third person perspective (although there is an option to switch to a first person view), and uses standard keys to move about. The nicest aspect of the controls is that all keys can be remapped according to the player's liking, something that is an absolute must in this day and age of gaming.
The player begins his experience by choosing his race, of which there are an impressive number (9 to be exact). The choice of race does not hinder the player's possible choice of class, which is only chosen once the player is within the game world by visiting one of the 4 basic class trainers (Scout, Warrior, Cleric or Mage). Each race has different basic attributes to start with that can influence whether one class is better suited for a particular race rather than others. Character customization is rather elegant, if only a bit familiar. The standard options and sliders are all here: different faces, adjustable height, muscularity and hair colours to name only a few. But, unfortunately, having been treated to SWG's magnificent character customization interface, it's quite hard to find anything outstanding about Horizons', although it seems adequate enough.
It is to be noted that players can choose to play as Dragons in Horizons. That choice is very interesting, and most players seem to try it at least once before moving on to other, more conventional races. Trying to keep things under control, Artifact Entertainment (Horizons' developer) decided to make Dragons everything that other races are, with not much more immediately distinguishable features other than a very high strength and unique abilities, which still have their equivalents within other races, at least at lower levels. This ends up being a little disappointing from the outset. Playing a Dragon should come with hefty penalties so that not everyone will want to be one, and rather serve a particular play style better than others. But somehow it's difficult to accept that a new level 1 dragon does about the same damage as a human warrior, has the same amount of health points, and moves just as slowly as everyone else…
Content and the classes
Entering the world of Istaria, the player is treated to a colourful world. The graphics may seem a little crude at first, but they do the job quite well, and allow players with lower-end systems to enjoy the beautiful landscapes no matter what. In fact, the landscapes and various static contents are Horizons' strongest feature so far. There is a lot of content already, from various ruins scattered around cities, to stingy graveyards haunted by the undead. It's fun to look around and spot a singular looking landmark from afar, and running towards it to discover that it is an intricate structure that brings weight to Istaria's world.
Players have a choice of many classes that they can concentrate in. Initially presented with a small array of options with the 4 basic classes, the player will be able to choose from more advanced classes later on as higher levels and better skills are reached. For instance, a Mage may choose to become a Summoner when he gets high enough Summoning skills within the Mage class. Those who are familiar with DAoC might see some similarities here.
Among Horizons' strongest features are the trade skills. Artifact promises that players who wish to pursue trade skills may do so without ever having to fight anything at all. Although this still has to be proven true, the crafting skills already seem robust enough to allow this. Players may encounter trees, or stone outcroppings and such, from which they can harvest resources along their travels if they have the necessary tools. These help to fill the game world with more content so that it never feels empty. Although I haven't dabbled very much in any of the trade skills, what I saw of them seemed to rank among the most complete set out there. From armour smithing to Spellcrafting, all essential crafts seem to have been covered, and should help the player community meld together as time goes by.
The world of Istaria seems pretty big from what was seen so far, although the character's slow running speed might have something to do with that feeling. Still, there is almost always something interesting to be seen on your travels, and going off from the beaten path always has some reward to it.
The uncertainty of a beta
Artifact still has some technical problems to iron out with Horizons, and since the game is still in beta there are many things that will be changed and fixed before release. But I have a few lingering reservations about the game after investing a dozen hours of play or so. The combat system, for one, seems a bit lacking so far as it does not involve much more than pressing a button once in a while (although that can also be said of many mmorpgs that are on the market today). The different races are a nice cosmetic touch, but whether it affects much more than that is still a little unclear. Dragons, for instance, are quite disappointing at first. I understand there has to be some level of control over their population, but feeling as if it's just like playing a human with scales and wings (useless wings, I might add) doesn't add anything to the game. In fact, you could take dragons out of the game completely at this point and it doesn't seem like it would have much of an impact.
Horizons also draws a lot from other games that preceded it, especially Dark Age of Camelot apparently. Although that's not necessarily a bad thing, it can also be a crippling flaw unless something is done to make Horizons more into its own game, give it something to truly distinguish itself from others. As of right now it's still questionable whether that is possible or not, but at least Horizons is worth a look if only to find out if they succeed in overcoming these interrogations.