Saturday, December 5, 2020

Time Capsule


FHX:Restoration is an emulator project that's hoping to bring back not one, not two, but three supposedly extinct mmorpgs: Ferentus, Herrcot and Xiones. Those were names of the localized versions of a game that originated in Korea in 2004, then spreading first to North America and later to Germany before finally looping back around to Korea once again.

If you're interested in the convoluted history of the game, and it's an intriguing story, there's a timeline with plenty of explanatory detail in this video:

I first played the game, as Ferentus, in one of its North American beta releases, probably some time around 2006. I remember it as being quite rough and unfinished but it had some indefinable... something, because even though I probably spent no more than a handful of hours there, I never forgot it.

Now I've had the chance to compare my no doubt rose-tinted recollections with the grim reality and... it's even better than I remembered! I've only managed to drag myself away because I know this is a very short (three day) test and there's really no point spending hours and hours on a character I may never see again (although characters are being saved between tests so maybe there is a point after all).

What's so good about an ancient game that's already failed, several times, to hold an audience? That's not so hard to explain.

First off, it's a dikuMUD inspired mmorpg. Kind of. It's not a purebred clone but it's close enough. You can make a character, jog out of the city gates and start killing wolves and things pretty much tick along from there. That already puts it ahead of the pack for me.

Because of its history, though, it straddles two major development phases of the genre. It looks and plays something like a prettier EverQuest but it has some of the user-friendly features of EQ's vastly more popular successor, World of Warcraft. NPCs have punctuation marks over their heads, there's a functional quest journal, melee classes can solo...

Well, I say they can solo. Of course, I have literally no idea what the game is like beyond the starting levels. It might turn into a hardcore nightmare for all I know. I don't remember exactly how far I got back in 2006 but I doubt I made it into double figures.

Leveling in almost all mmorpgs back then was a lot slower than you'd expect to find in almost any game nowadays. Even the first few levels would typically take a few hours, not a few minutes and once you hit double figures you'd expect things to slow down considerably. 

This morning in FHX I got to level five in a couple of hours, but I was lucky. Well, eventually. Things got off to a bit of a false start, when I broke my longstanding rule of always making either a fighter or a pet class when starting out in a new mmorpg.

I don't know why. I did that. Okay, yes I do. As you'd expect in a game of its age and type, classes in FHX are locked to specific races. And there are only three races. And they're all ones I don't like. I mean, come on, Barbarian, High Elf or Wood Elf? That's a choice?

I looked at the class/race combos and I nearly went with a Wood Elf archer. If I have to play an elf then a wood elf ranger is one of the least offensive options. But I had a vague memory of playing one of those the first time round and of it not going well. 

So I looked at what else wood elves could do and apparently they can be wizards. I rarely play wizards and wood elves are almost never given the opportunity to put on the pointy hat. It sounded like it might be fun.


Yeah, well, it wasn't, really. It wasn't terrible but despite the question marks hanging over questgivers heads, FHX isn't WoW. If you chain-cast fireballs at level one you run out of mana. Often before the thing you're throwing them at is dead.

It took me a while to get the spells set up and find out I had to spend points to upgrade them. Progression is kind of hybrid between levels and skill based, which I'd have realized if I'd read the very extensive and detailed in-game help guide that opens automatically when you log in, only I'd closed that before I got out of the city because I was impatient to start setting the wildlife on fire.

I pushed on with the wizard for a while. She got to level two but she was struggling to handle even cons. She died a couple of times and because I'd selected "windowed" in the options, the bottom few millimeters of the screen were inaccessible, including the chat line. I wasn't planning on chatting but I needed to be able to enter text I could type in /revive, which is what you have to do to recover from a death, if you don't happen to have a cleric with you or a resurrection scroll in your bag.

After going to character select a few times after a death, just so I could log back in and wake up in the town square, it occured to me that maybe, since I was there anyway, I might as well make a new character. I decided to suck it up and make a Barbarian warrior on the grounds that at least that way I wouldn't run out of mana.

I've never liked barbarians. First of, who wants to be a barbarian? Is that an aspiration? I don't think so. It's more of an insult, isn't it? Secondly, who wants to look like a barbarian? Build like a carnival strongman, decked out in rancid furs, hollowed-out skull for a hat? And don't even get me started on the kilts...

Only FHX barbarians aren't exactly like that. I made a female barbarian and she looked... kinda cool. Athletic build, funky boots, clean, shiny hair, cute vest, shorts... she looked more like a sports instructor at summer camp than a barbarian.

The good first impression translated into an even better second one. I picked up a couple of quests the wizard hadn't managed to finish and took the barbarian out to kill some wolves and spiders. She tore through them with barely any downtime. Even the lack of any form of self-healing didn't slow her down. (I'd gone with Knight as a class - I guess I could have picked Paladin for the heals but paladin is the elf of classes...).

By the time she dinged level three her bags were full. Inventory in FHX uses the grid/size method. Each item takes up a certain amount of space and you can carry as much as you can fit into the squares. Which isn't a lot. 

I'd already found the bank when I was playing the wizard so I went back there to stash the loot I didn't want to sell. To my surprise it appears bank storage is by account, not character. All the wizard's stuff was in there. That's a mixed blessing. It's very convenient but it also mitigates against bank muling later on. 

As I was banking something very old school happened. I got drive-by buffs. Really good ones. The kind a high-level gives you that last ages and turn you into a kind of entry-level god. It's such a familiar experience from the golden age of mmorpgs and something that almost never happens in modern ones. Can't happen, usually, because the capacity for doing it has been designed out altogether.

When you get buffs like that you don't waste them. I thanked the buffer and legged it out of the city gates in search of something significantly higher level than me to bully. Over a hill I came across some level five wolves and past them a camp of level six bandits. The buffs lasted around an hour and I spent most of it grinding.

It was glorious. Because I was in absolutely no danger (my hit points had jumped from around five hundred to two and a half thousand, my armor class had gone up accordingly and I was regenning so fast the rare hits I did take didn't even make a blip on my health bar) I had time to admire the combat animations and visual effects. 


They're really excellent. Simple but elegant. I think it shows in the screenshots, most of which look almost posed. The accompanying sounds work equally well, all of which makes grinding mobs an aesthetically satisfying proposition. It feels smooth. Really smooth.

As for the mobs, they all dropped useable loot - armor, weapons, crafting patterns - which is exactly how I like it. Well, I have a minor issue with wolves and spiders dropping boots and tunics but that ship sailed decades ago. 

The main problems were lack of inventory space (what could be more traditional?) and the peculiar design choice of making almost everything that dropped require level five to use/equip, even when it came off a level one mob. All that did was make me more determined than ever to ding five, though, so maybe someone knew what they were doing after all.

Even with the buffs progress wasn't fast by modern standards. Of course, the one classic power-levelling buff I was missing was a damage shield. Get one of those and all you have to do is collect as many mobs as you can find and wait for them to beat themselves to death on your spikes. My barbarian had to do it the hard way and her sword didn't hit much harder even with the strength buff she'd received.

In the end the timing worked out just right. The last of the buffs were wearing off just as she dinged five. Then it was back to the bank to sort through the loot and get dressed. No more short shorts and bare midriff: on with the leggings and tunic. It did make her look considerably more like a barbarian, albeit one with access to a loom.

And that was where I left it. I had a great time. If this was an open beta or a launch I'd be adding FHX to my "currently playing" list. If I had one. Which I don't. But the principle stands. As it is, I'm putting it on my "watch with interest and play when possible" list. I do in fact have one of those. 

I'm not sure at what stage of development the FHX Restoration team consider the game to be at right now, but in the starter levels it feels pretty solid. I had a few disconnects from the server and there was that one issue with the incorrect resizing of the windowed display option but other than that everything played perfectly.

It's interesting to compare FHX to Reign of Darkness, which I posted about the other day. They have a very similar aesthetic. I enjoyed both dipping a toe in both of them. FHX, though, still has that mysterious something about it that's kept it in the back of my mind all these years. It's a feels thing: hard to pin down but you know it when you... well, when you feel it.

I look forward to seeing where things go from here for FHX. I have the website bookmarked and the game installed and I look forward to the next test, when, with luck, I'll have more time to play. It'd be nice to see what's out there, beyond the woods and fields that ring the city walls.


  1. That looks really interesting. I like the Roman aesthetic of the urban area. Once it's stable and playable all the time I will probably check it out.

    1. I'd guess you might find it quite interesting. Compared to other games of the era it's aged visually quite well - certainly it looks better than either EQ or DAOC. I'm curious to see something past the starter areas. I really have no idea how much content it had when it was live.


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