Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Oh, I Remember This One! Well, Sort Of...

Spring is supposed to be the time for having a clear-out, isn't it? When it comes to house and garden I'm no bucker of that trend but it's the very beginning of the year that often finds me sorting through my virtual cupboards, searching for things I'm sure I remember enjoying, once. I blame all those end-of-year round-ups for sowing the seeds of doubt, making me feel there might be something, somewhere, I might have overlooked; that I could be having even more fun if only I made a little more effort.

Honestly, it's probably for the better most of these things stay locked away in the past, dimly remembered, safe in their rose-tinted, nostalgic haze. Does anyone really need to revisit a game they haven't played since the Obama administration, just because a desktop icon happened to catch the eye for the first time in years? If you find a forgotten .exe while cleaning up your hard drive, instead of sending it straight to the recycling bin, should you really decide instead to find out whether the game is still running?

Nope. Pretty sure not but does that stop anyone? I doubt it. Certainly never stops me.

As recorded, I've already patched up and logged into Final Fantasy XIV again, a game I never had, or most likely will have, any intention of playing in anything but the most casual of fashions. I've also expressed a desire to revisit Elder Scrolls Online, a game I've never been felt than lukewarm about at best. It can only be a matter of days before that, too, gets updated, posted about and forgotten. Until next time.

I'd be fooling myself if I didn't admit that half the attraction is the possibility of finding something fresh to write about, even if what passes for fresh in this context is nothing more than rehashed leftovers, a description that applies equally to both the games themselves and whatever it is I find to say about them. If I ever had anything of substance to recount concerning FFXIV or ESO, you can be certain I exhausted those insights years ago, but don't think that'll stop me trying again.

It's perhaps one thing to return to a well-known, popular mmorpg, looking to find out if and how it's changed before reporting back with the perspective of distance. By definition, people play popular games. Someone might be interested. Re-visiting titles that few knew or cared about the first time I wrote about them with any expectation that they'll draw more interest now they're older and even less well-known would seem to be the very definition of a futile waste of everyone's time. 

All the more reason to do it, then! It's with that attitude in mind I give you my second (Or is it third by now?) First Impressions of Villagers and Heroes! 

In case anyone's forgotten (Form an orderly line...) V&H is the game originally known as A Mystical Land. The creation of the marvelously named Mad Otter Games, AML originally appeared in 2011, when it was playable in a web browser and boasted "full Facebook integration". It changed its name to Villagers and Heroes in... well, I don't know exactly when, but before November 2013, which is when I posted about the game, observing with a touch of sarcasm "At some point in the recent past Mad Otter, the company behind A Mystical Land, must have decided having the blandest name in MMOdom did them no favors in the 'getting attention' stakes so they changed it to Villagers and Heroes, which frankly isn't that much of a zinger either."

Name aside, the game must have something going for it. It's still here a dozen years later and judging by the new characters running through the tutorial and starting zone alongside me an hour ago, it's still getting that attention, somehow.

Being on Steam has to help. When I had the notion to take another glance at the game this afernoon it was purely because I was going through the icons on my desktop, tidying them up, when I spotted one for "A Mystical Land". Had it been there since the game was actually called that? Surely not...

However the it got there, seeing the name again made me curious to know if the game was still running. I clicked on the little picture of a shield to see if anything would happen.

The launcher still worked but it couldn't find a connection to the server. I went into the folder and found two other options, neither of which could find a connection either, but somewhere in the nest of failure screens that appeared while they tried I spotted a mention of Steam. Surprised to find the game might be available through that platform I checked and sure enough, there it was

From there it was a simple 3GB download and I there I was, back at character creation. Playing through Steam meant starting over but it seemed like a small price to pay for the convenience, not to mention I'd made precious little progress the last time I played. It wasn't as though I had a lot to lose.

I'm very glad I did re-roll. Had I been able to recover my dormant character, I'd not have had the pleasure of what surely must be one of the most impressive character creation processes in all mmorpgs. It really deserves a whole post of its own but to save trying everyone's patience I'll try to shoehorn it in here.

Firstly, the character creation screens look gorgeous. Significantly more impressive, it has to be said, than the game itself, even though V&H looks reasonably attractive for its vintage. Character creation, though, employs a highly successful storybook design that marries clarity with subtlety in delightful fashion. It doesn't look dated at all.

Better yet, it feels great to use. Not only is the whole process of making a characer tactile and intuitive, it's imaginative and evocative as well. As you proceed, you make choices from lists that combine to define not just the usual gender, class, appearance and skills but also the emotional timbre and cultural background of the character. You even get to pick the style of house you'll live in.

There's a lot of choice and much of it appears to be meaningful, although to what extent, if any, it affects gameplay is unclear. Taking apparently detrimental personality traits like "Shy" or "Fearful" does feel like a risk without that knowledge. 

Then there are the regional or ethnic bonuses. There are half a dozen or so heritages to choose from and each comes with its own set of traits, something I didn't realise until I'd picked mine. At that point I could still have gone back, checked all of them and chosen again, but on the grounds I'd probably never play enough for a mistake at character creation to matter, I pressed on.

As you make your various choices, a detailed narrative appears. It's well-written and lengthy enough to scroll right off the screen by the time you're done. There's also a quality voiceover to keep you amused as you consider your options. All told, it's a very impressive introduction.

I ended up with a "cool, laidback hunter" from the heavily forested province of Greenhaven. She has an affinity for finding plants and bugs and she's handy with a saw and a chisel. It's probably the most detailed resume any character of mine has had since the launch of Guild Wars 2, another game that attempts to send you into its world with a fully fleshed-out backstory, whether you wanted one or not.

Based on my thousands of hours in GW2, the chances of any characters I play ever conforming to the narrative prepared for them by someone else are negligible but I appreciate the effort. It makes me want to go back and create a bunch more characters just to see how they turn out.

Once I knew who I was, it was into the game itself and quickly through a very brief tutorial that I don't remember seeing before. It's a fairly traditional checklist of some usual rpg tropes although I have to say it is unusual for the very first task you're given to be catching a minnow. I know we all like a bit of fishing in our mmorpgs but that seems a tad outré.

As it happens, it also seems more than a tad irrelevant because I got attacked before I even reached the river and things moved on apace from there. I never caught my minnow and no-one seemed to care.

The tutorial also appears to be atypical in that it features some moderately amusing dialog and charming voice acting. Also in that you can die before you get to the end of it. I didn't but the player in front of me did. I watched him drop. Stood well back while it was happening, too!

The final, boss-like fight that finished him off is peculiarly challenging for a tutorial. I was forewarned by having watched the other guy fail so I was ready to kite the Ghost of Mallok all around the harbor, plunking him with poison arrows and waiting for his hefty health pool to tick down. Even so, it was a damn close thing. I was on about 3% health when he finally gave up the ghost. So to speak.

With him out of the way it was on to the boat that takes you to the game proper, at which point I found myself on familiar ground once again. Since I've written about that before and it doesn't seem to have changed all that much, I'll finish there for now.

Whether I post about the game again remains to be seen but I will say that Villagers and Heroes is another cross-platform game, meaning I could in theory play it on this mythical armchair gaming device I still don't own. Then again, even if, as the website boasts, " Crossplay is seamless between mobile and PC! Unlike other crossplay games." (Their emphasis.) I don't imagine the Android or iOS versions allow crossplay with Steam's walled garden. There's a standalone PC client. I bet you'd need to use that, which would presumably also allow me to retrieve my old account and character.

I guess I'd better not make too much progress on Steam just in case...


  1. Interesting. This is making me sit up and take notice.

    1. I suggest watching the Josh Strife Hayes review I linked in today's post before bothering to try V&H. It's harsh but ultimately fair, I think.


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