Monday, June 15, 2015

Here We Go Again : Villagers and Heroes

What I really need is a new MMORPG. That's what I'm always telling myself as I look at the twenty-plus already waiting on my desktop.

There's that Age of Conan box still sitting, sealed, on the bookshelf to my left, for example. That's a game that always looks great in screenshots. I ought at least to give it a try before Funcom go out of business. Or what about SW:ToR? It's clearly going somewhere these days although I'm not sure anyone knows where. Wouldn't it be terrible to ignore it for five years and then find out it had been great all along? That's a mistake I don't want to make again.

Anyway, I blame MassivelyOP. They will keep putting out these little teasers for things that sound interesting, MMOs I've never heard of, or ones I'd forgotten were still around, like Villagers and Heroes.

V&H is not a new game. Far from it. It's not even new to me. It started off several years back as a cheerful little browser-based romp going by the ultra-generic name of "A Mystical Land". I played it briefly back then and found it mildly amusing, especially in the way some of the NPCs were so blatantly rude to the player characters, but it never really stuck.

At some point there was a name-change to the scarcely less-generic "Villagers and Heroes" Some gameplay tweaks followed but although I popped back once or twice it still didn't grab me. Now here it comes again, this time trading under the title Villagers and Heroes: Reborn. The screenshots from the latest revamp looked promising, it was already installed, the icon was even right there on my desktop, so...

I tried my old login details and they worked. The new version of the game updated in a few minutes. I read the extensive patch notes while I waited. AVG threw a fit but I overrode that, gave it the relevant permissions and off I went for another round.

Apparently I'd made it as far as level nine last time. There was my old character. The graphical revamp appeared to have turned him nut brown. He looked like a seventy-year old farmer. I ran him around for a while until it occurred to me that since the entire start of the game had been given a makeover I'd be better off starting from scratch.

The game, which is F2P, allows you three character slots. Since there are four classes, the extremely traditional Warrior, Wizard, Hunter and Priest, I'm guessing you can buy at least a fourth slot to make up the full set. I already had a Hunter so this time round I went for Wizard.

Character creation is excellent. Really, really good. The whole look and feel is solid, professional, warm and inviting. There aren't a whole lot of subtle variations to be made to how your character looks but the choice is reasonable.

All the time you're on the character creation screen some plummy-voiced old thesp chats away in the background. He seems to have an agenda of some kind, or possibly a grudge. Maybe against you. It gave the whole thing a vaguely sinister, off-color air that I liked a lot. I wouldn't trust him to get me a donut from the commissary, I know that much.

As you go through the selection of starting skills and abilities, choose which part of the realm you hail from and flip through the pages of your biography, each choice you make adds a detailed paragraph to your character description. It's a very effective way to give every character an automated version of the kind of detailed background dedicated roleplayers would make up for themselves but no-one else ever bothers with. I thought it gave at least as good a result as GW2's similar system.

V&H also has by far the best random name generator I have ever seen. I spent about fifteen minutes just playing with it. It brings up a huge variety of names in a range of formats - ordinary one-word names like Norman or Rose, forename and surname pairs, portentous titles, typical fantasy gibberish, surreal combinations and straightforward names you might imagine working alongside in an insurance office...

I almost went with Katie Buck Mutton. I could feel her character coming through so strongly just from that name. Too strongly. I thought she might just take me over. I plumped for something plain and simple and in I went.

There's one of those fly-past introductions to the world, voiced by the same unreliable narrator. It judders and jerks, which is a known bug, and if it had lasted more than the minute or so it did I think it would have made me motion sick. Then you touch down in the new starting zone, Ethos Island.

Even back when it was called A Mystical Land this was always a game with strong, clear art direction and visual flair. The revised visuals keep the cartoonish look but bring it very much  up-to-date. The colors zing, everything looks solid, rounded, firm. It's one of those games that looks better when you're inside it than it does in screenshots (some games are the opposite) so, given that it looks good in screenshots...

When it comes to gameplay, V&H isn't breaking any new ground. It has been described as a "PvE Sandbox" and maybe it is but it sure has a lot of quests too. I like MMORPG questing. I like to read all the text, listen to all the dialog, follow all the plots. Anyone who doesn't like doing these things is not going to have a epiphany while playing Villagers and Heroes but for people who enjoy a well-written MMO quest with a sense of irony, a fluid prose style and a light touch, there's plenty here to enjoy.

I found myself caught up in the main storyline rather easily. Just what did failed Mayoral candidate Rhoda drop into the spooky old well after dark? What made Clementine deClancy vanish? What do the blood symbols on the note Chauncey's brother found mean?

The main-line quests are presented in great detail, first in the initial quest dialog and later in a diary-style write-up in your journal. Someone who actually knows how to write spent a long time over this stuff and it shows.The side-quests, of which there are many, get the same attention on the dialog but only a brief note in the diary. Every aspect of the UI, from the Quest Journal to the Inventory to the Crafting Window, is crisp, clean and very user-friendly.

It was nice to see that the residents of the realm haven't received any kind of politeness makeover. The unbearably snobbish Clementine dismissed me as a "filthy little ant" and Viggo thinks I have "a hooligan mouth" and sent me on a quest to get some soap to wash it out!

As I wandered about trying to find some I bumped into various crafting and gathering  trainers, which derailed my good questing intentions. Although I took Tailoring and Plant Lore at character creation, after a couple of hours play I somehow ended up as a Smith and a Miner. Doesn't matter - in V&H you can do all the things and on the evidence so far you'd want to because all the things are fun.

So, here I am in Lower Ethos Island down by the docks, looking for parchments stolen by the disturbingly intelligent local rats. I know how to Gnogment my weapons and I already killed a Daily Bounty Boss. If I was in the market for a new MMORPG this one would be in with a fair chance. Better than fair.

Good thing I don't have time for another MMO then, isn't it?


  1. Looks to be fun, indeed :)

    I hope my computer will run it (Allods sadly didn't work out), when I have the time (same boat). It reminds me of Eldevin, and as such I hope the Dev team won't make similar mistakes (e.g. concentrating on preform group content, when the number of concurrent players is usually around 100/Realm at best)

    1. Allods has such low requirements it runs well on my cheap windows tablet. It has some well-publicized installation issues though or so I read on the forums. Maybe it's that.

      I also noticed a resemblance to Eldevin, which is another one I started and then stopped. Too many MMOs and too many of them worth playing, too.

  2. I'm in the same boat as you are - with Heavensward coming this week, I don't need another MMO. But I also tried out V&H last week just because of the PVE Sandbox label after I saw it on Massively OP. I haven't gotten very far into it yet, but it's been pretty cute so far.

    1. The "PvE sandbox" tag puzzles me. I know they added all these quests and storyline for the new version but as far as I recall the last version had loads of quests too. What makes it specifically a "sandbox" I can't quite see, unless just having an extensive crafting system counts.

  3. Hello!

    I am a dev for Villagers and Heroes, I mostly do content design.

    I just wanted to thank you! It was so encouraging to read your article, and I really appreciate that you took the time to play the game and write such a detailed review / synopsis of our new changes. Puts a smile on my face!

    Cameron (Diet)

    1. Thanks for dropping by! It's a really fun game and I'm very pleased to be able to share it with whoever might read the blog. If only I had enough time to play all the good ones...

  4. Hello,

    Nice review!
    Any chance you might be able to put it up over at Steam?

  5. it is on steam!!! I play it on there, and it is free to play!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide