I also managed a little light leveling in Norrath over the weekend, a mentored-down run through Karnor's Castle that took my Warlock to level 94. Even with full vitality, server-granted double xp, a 20% Veteran bonus and a 110% xp potion running, though, leveling in the 90s is slooooooow.
|Istaria's extensive map.|
Last year, when The Bend was under enormous pressure as a very unwelcome addition to Tier 2, Christmas Day saw a miraculous change of fortune. There seems to be some desire to turn this into an annual tradition even though our current, unexpected position as top WvW server NA hardly justifies the effort.
I did spend some time in The Mists over the holidays but I spent a lot more in Magus Falls and just about all of Christmas Sunday was taken up with Wintersday achievements for my third account and an orgy of bank sorting that lasted almost eight hours. I know how to have fun, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
No, the one thing that tempted me not just to go online over the winter break but also to patch up and log in to an MMO I haven't looked at for a long time was a simple press release. Every year whoever it is that runs Istaria (the game that, as Syp points out, might as well never have changed its name from Horizons) sends me a catch-up email detailing all the things that have happened to the game during the year.
|Anyone up for Christmas at the beach?|
It always makes me curious enough at least to visit the website, which is looking better-maintained and more attractive than ever, with forums that show a lively and current interest in the game. This time the lure of a Winter holiday event offering "shoulder pets" was incentive enough to get me to hit Play.
Well, I would just have hit Play, had Istaria been one of the many MMORPGs I'd included in The Great Updating a few weeks back. Ironically, even though the icon is right there on my desktop, I skipped it because, to quote myself, Istaria is one of the MMOs "I really can't see myself getting back to any time soon". Twerp.
Last September, apparently, the management re-organized the F2P offer so that you need to log in once a month to keep your free account active. If you have an old, free account it remains valid and your character remains safely mothballed but you need to go to the account page and reactivate it before you can patch and play.
With that sorted out there was the inevitable hefty patch. That took half an hour. Eventually, though, there I was in an all-too-familiar position: staring bemusedly at a screen full of icons that no longer signify. Fortunately, Istaria is a very old-school MMO that uses very familiar controls. It all comes back quite quickly and painlessly, even how to use that weird, floating flying saucer thing that carries your heavy loot.
What turned out to be a lot harder was finding the darned winter festival itself. Of course, if I'd read the press release or the update notes with anything like my full attention I'd have known it was all happening in somewhere called New Koraelia, which would at least have given me a hint on where to go. I found that out about an hour in with the help of Google and the excellent Istaria Wiki.
|Hmm. This looks familiar.|
In my last two attempts to play Istaria I have never left the starting areas of Spirit Isle and New Trismus. I hadn't quite appreciated just how big the world of Istaria is. When I scrolled the world map all the way out it was pretty impressive. And daunting.
Fortunately, Istaria also has an extensive teleportation system using large, shimmering portals that look very, very similar to Asura Gates. They are at the same time more and less convenient than the Tyrian equivalent, offering menus and prices and multiple options.
It took me some considerable time and concentration to work out which station I needed for the next connection. Before I finally found myself standing at the foot of the long slope up through the snow to New Koraelia's Winter Festival grounds I first visited Kion, the desert home of Istaria's cat people (why is my character not one of those?).
|Kion, City of Saris. Or should that be Kion, Kitty of Kats?|
I wandered around there for a while, picking up a quest or two and appreciating the newly-added ambient sounds and behaviors of the locals. Cat people are scary when they growl. After a brief visit to a balmy palm-fringed crescent isle just off shore, to which I walked, underwater, there being no swimming in Istaria, eventually I stopped lollygagging and got on with it.
Istaria's winter festival is run by Gnomes (Why isn't my character a gnome? I don't remember but I'm guessing racial choice is limited for F2P accounts). It's called Gnomekindle, which raises disturbing images of gnomes being set on fire, and is a recent innovation according to Hermey Misfit Gnome (actual name) who sent me to visit the Elves to find out what a real Winter Festival might be like.
|Oh come on, that's Felwithe. It's even called Feladan ffs!|
Well, that set off another bout of portal travel, taking to me to an impressive city filled with what must be High Elves rather than the usual Wood variety. It reminded me of Felwithe. A lot. The elves there were typically flowery and patronizing as they described their ancient traditions in rich and convincing detail. I did wonder why we weren't celebrating with them instead of decorating trees and feeding reindeer with "Mayor and Mrs Clause". Then again, who would you rather spend Christmas with, Gnomes or Elves?
As a level 11 Scout it turned out there wasn't a whole lot I could do to help after I'd returned to Hermey with the elves' encouraging words. Most of the Gnomekindle quests I acquired seemed to require the dismantling of golems or slaughter of winter wolves that could send me back to my bind spot in a matter of seconds.
|Never ask an elf a question if you haven't got half an hour to spare.|
There was one quest to kill Treants that I could manage, though, because I remembered killing plenty of treants back in New Trismus and supposedly any Treants would do, even the saplings. Back to New Trismus I went, where I competed for a while with a young dragon for the small spawn of walking trees.
The dragon player was clearly trying to communicate with me, presumably with a view to sharing treant-killing duties, but Istaria has an arcane conversation interface that I have yet to fathom and while I was fiddling with the controls trying to get a signal he finished his wood-chopping and vanished, leaving me with the spawn all to myself.
|Istaria, the only MMO with proper snowdrifts.|
Just as well because the quest requires fifty bits of wood and it's not a guaranteed drop. Probably seventy or so treants will have to die before I get the planks I need. That's a lot of grinding and even then it'll only gets me a couple of Express Checks at most. I need three to buy a snazzy red santa suit from Dolly Day.
Luckily the treants also drop blue ornaments, the currency required by the gnome who sells shoulder pets. I think he wants seventy or so. Treant kills are probably going to run into three figures before I get there if my interest doesn't run out first.
|You just decorated the one tree then, Hermey? Ran out of treants did you?|
I do like Istaria. It's surprisingly visually pleasing for such an ancient MMO and the old school game systems are comfortable and reassuring. There always seem to be plenty of players flitting about, many of them dragons, which makes the place seem lived in despite the total radio silence caused by the complete lack of anything resembling a default general chat channel.
Were there but time enough it's a world I'd like to explore. Sadly the days are too small for all the fun there is to fill them. I hope to get my shoulder pet, which I think should be a treant, given the provenance (and the creepiness of the other two choices - a maggot or a spider - who wants either of those two inches from their face?) but I'm not promising anything.
If anyone's looking for a well-developed, lovingly-maintained, regularly updated true old-school MMORPG, though, they could do a lot worse than try Istaria.