Why I Don’t Crowdfund: Legends of Aria

I tend to take a pretty dim view of crowdfunding, especially where MMOs are concerned. It seems the last resort of those whose ambition outstrips their ability, and neither the developers behind crowdfunded MMOs nor the players who back them ever seem to appreciate how time-consuming and complex MMO development can be.

My character in Legends of AriaStill, there are one or two crowdfunded MMOs I’ve kept an eye because their concepts intrigue me (though not enough to actually back them). One is Legends of Aria, formerly known as Shards Online. Its promise of letting players run their own servers and design their own content is tantalizing, but I wouldn’t want to design my own content (or play amateur content) in a game that isn’t fun at the baseline.

Thus, when Massively Overpowered started out handing out trial keys for the closed beta, I was eager to give the game a try.

Normally when I do my impressions on a game, I tend to take a top-down approach and provide a general overview, but in this case I think it would be more educational to describe my experience with the game in detail, from beginning to end.

My first impression was that Legends of Aria has absolutely lovely log-in music that hits a perfect balance of soothing yet epic. My second impression was that the character creator was bugged such that it took me two tries to build a character without her being obscured beneath another avatar I couldn’t get rid of.

The character creation options are quite limited, but I was still able to make a character I felt pretty good about. The addition of diverse clothing choices was a nice touch.

You also get to choose your starting skills, this being a purely skill-based game without true classes, though there are basic archetypes you can start with. I chose to be an archer, but I tweaked my starting skills to have a little magic.

Starting out in Legends of AriaUpon logging in, my character woke up on a beach with no memory [wince] and was greeted by a sparkly globe that serves as the game’s only source of guidance. This is a true sandbox, with no quests at all so far as I can tell, so you need to figure out goals for yourself.

Being me, I just wanted to kill things. I asked my sparkly accomplice about this, and it recommended I seek adventure and glory at the local graveyard. Having chosen this as my destination, it put a waypoint on my minimap to guide the way, and I set off.

So far, so good.

On my way, I came to a town, where I met three NPCs. One offered me skill training (but I couldn’t afford it yet), another didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all, and the third vanished from existence when I tried to click on him.

Outside town, I encountered bears, deer, and some trees with severely bugged graphics. I tried fighting some of the wildlife, and that’s when things really started to go down hill.

Combat in Legends of Aria seems to mostly consist of standing there and auto-attacking. You have active abilities and spells, but half the time they just fizzle, and even when they do actually activate, they don’t seem to accomplish much of anything.

Combat in Legends of AriaAnd this goes on for really quite a while. Them bears don’t go down easy. I lost about half my health in the first fight, and then had to spend another good thirty seconds slowly getting it back through a combination of bandages (which have a cooldown for some reason) and healing magic (which, again, only works about half the time). I never did figure out how to recover mana or stamina. Maybe the food in my backpack?

Finally, I reached my destination: The graveyard. There, I encountered two skeletons and a zombie, who promptly massacred me. I got one skeleton to maybe half health before dying.

Let me remind you: This is what the game told me to do.

I was able to resurrect at a nearby… shrine? A pop-up informed me I would lose all my equipment until I recovered my corpse, but when I resurrected, my inventory was restored to me unchanged. I’m not sure if this is another bug, or some mercy afforded to people in newb zones.

I hurled myself into the skeletal meatgrinder a few more times just for the sake of being thorough, but I met with no greater luck.

And that was pretty much that. After about thirty minutes of dealing with bugs, spectacularly tedious and old school gameplay, and generally terrible design, I decided life was too short.

Graphical bugs in Legends of Aria

This is not how trees work.

I feel like the skeleton of a good game is here. The open-ended character building and organic skill progression appeals to me a lot in theory. But the tuning and implementation are so far from anything resembling fun it’s hard to imagine anything being salvaged from the experience.

Yes, it’s beta, but even for a beta, this is pretty shockingly unpolished. It feels like an early alpha at best. It’s also worth noting you can already buy beta access via founder’s packs, which makes this a soft launch as far as I’m concerned, and Legends of Aria still feels like it’s years of intensive development away from a finished product.

I don’t think it matters how good the player creation tools are. No one’s going to bother investing in a game this outdated and poorly executed.

It’s a shame. But I can’t say I expected much different from a crowdfunded game.

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ESO: Summerset Is Pretty, But Hollow

Having not played the original Morrowind or even ESO’s Dark Elf zones from the base game, the first expansion for Elder Scrolls Online largely passed me by, but given the standalone nature of ESO expansions (or “chapters,” as they somewhat obnoxiously insist on calling them), there was nothing stopping me from jumping straight to the next.

My Bosmer shows off her elk mount on the mystic isle of Artaeum in Elder Scrolls OnlineWhen Summerset was announced as the setting of the next one, I was excited. As an Aldmeri loyalist, I’ve wanted to visit Ayrenn’s homeland pretty much since I started playing. The inclusion of Razum-dar, objectively the best character in the game, only sweetened the deal.

So I pre-ordered. I even sprang for the deluxe edition, which is a decision I find retrospectively baffling.

In case it isn’t clear by now, I’m feeling more than a bit of buyer’s remorse.

Taking in the Summersights:

First, the good news.

Summerset is ridiculously, stupidly, unbelievably pretty. I’ve never been the biggest fan of ESO’s visuals — finding both the art style and the graphical fidelity underwhelming — but hot damn this expansion looks good. The white sand beaches, the pale blue of the ocean, the brilliant colours of the flowers and the greenery, the stately architecture… it’s all just breathtaking.

Beautiful vista #24601 from SummersetAnd that’s without getting to the island of Artaeum, which is a delightfully whimsical departure from ESO’s usual low fantasy style.

It’s not just the environments, either. The new armour models are also incredible, and even the new monsters look beautiful in a horrible kind of way. There is no part of Summerset that isn’t a total feast for the eyes.

The music’s pretty good, too, and hey, it’s always good to see Raz again.

But once you move past the superficialities, Summerset has thus far proven a pretty underwhelming experience.

What a Bummerset:

Going in, I was excited about the possibilities for interesting stories in this area of the world. Might we finally explore the Maormer in detail? Perhaps the Sload would take centre stage as a threat unlike anything seen in ESO before? Or maybe we could get some spy games with Raz and Ayrenn?

Then it turned out to be “Daedric cultists are trying to blow up for the world for reasons.”

The beaches of Summerset in Elder Scrolls OnlineYou know. The exact plot of 95% of ESO to date. Again.

What a waste.

Now, I’m only about halfway through Summerset right now, so maybe there’s some epic twist I haven’t gotten to yet, but right now it feels like I’m just retreading a story I’ve already seen several times before, and didn’t much enjoy the first time around.

It’s not just the story, either. I thought by now ESO would be innovating or improving its mechanics in some way, but aside from the improved visuals, there’s absolutely nothing to distinguish Summerset from any of the zones that launched with the game. The quests are based on the exact same mechanics. The delves play the same. Even the much-vaunted new Abyssal Geysers are just a reskin of the old Dolmens. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Dolmens, and I like Geysers, but again, it’s nothing new.

In fact, if anything, quest design seems to have gone downhill since launch. I don’t remember ever having to do this much back-tracking or repetition in the base game.

I was also hoping by now they might have some more interesting rewards. From the perspective of an endgame player, it’s hard to get excited about quest rewards when a forty-five minute quest gets you only enough gold for one day’s mount training, a pittance of XP, and a single piece of gear that’s little more than vendor trash.

The mystical island of Artaeum in ESO's Summerset expansionFinally — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — this expansion might be too Elfy. I’ve come to the conclusion the High Elves are by far the least interesting Elves in ESO, but they’re getting 100% of the spotlight in Summerset. That makes sense lore-wise, but it gets old when every single NPC is either a haughty noble or a scholar with their head in the clouds.

I’m almost starting to sympathize with Syp’s point of view here.

I will probably finish Summerset at some point, but right now I’m struggling hard to find the motivation to keep logging in. I look back on the wit and personality of Thieves Guild and wonder how this is even the same game.

It does also have me pondering my future with ESO as a whole. I’ve tended to view it as my new “main” MMO following TSW’s demise, but my actions have not even come close to backing up that intention.

I feel like I should love ESO. On paper, it’s pretty much everything I ever wanted from an MMO. Open build system, level-scaling, strong commitment to story, highly soloable, action combat… But somehow it still struggles to hold my interest.

I think it’s some combination of a story that’s usually interesting but rarely exciting, an incredible sameness of content design, and a very stingy approach to in-game rewards.

Yet another tranquil scene from Summerset in Elder Scrolls OnlineIt’s such a good game, but yet it’s so hard to get excited about.