Horizons: Empire of Istaria Preview

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Artifact Entertainment
Release Date:2003-12-09
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Spanning several years of development, Artifact Entertainment's Horizons: Empires of Istaria is finally nearing completion. Last week, I was lucky enough to try out a beta version of the MMORPG, and was escorted through many aspects of the game by Artifact's David Bowman. To ensure that I was able to experience the game to its full extent during the hands-on session, Bowman provided me with a very powerful warrior to adventure with. David himself lead the expedition with an Adult dragon character, one of the nine playable races in the game.

To start off, David explained a bit about how the mechanics work in the game. All vital information, from your current party to the monster you're fighting, is accessible via several interface windows along the edges of the screen. Each and every interface window can be resized, moved, and manipulated in order to set your display however you feel it's most efficient. The options screen is quite advanced, as well, providing a great number of audio and video settings to ensure the best performance from virtually any system specifications. In addition, you can assign keyboard shortcuts for many regular tasks.

Once I was happy with my display and other settings, I was brought into a nearby town and introduced to crafting. David explained that literally any item in the game can be crafted, as long as you possess the formula to do so - therefore making powerful armor and weapon formulae some of the higher demand items in the game. Checking the inventory of my enhanced character, I found that the formula for a two-handed sword had already been placed there, so I went ahead and "scribed" it. Once a formula is scribed, your character will always possess the ability to craft that particular item. David had me equip my smithing hammer and stand near the town anvil, after which he handed me some bronze to work with. Seconds later, my character was wielding a bronze two-handed sword.

Now that I had a weapon, David escorted me outside the initial town to an open area filled with "newbie" creatures to do battle with. The maggots and zombies were no match for my enhanced character, so David spawned in a more powerful reptilian creature called a Ruxus. At this point, David showed me how to use some of my abilities, which included some nifty combat maneuvers to enhance the amount of damage I dealt during battle. Each maneuever is accompanied by its own realistic animation, which adds a nice touch to combat. Additionally, a timer is assigned to each maneuver so that you cannot continually use it. Using these abilities to my advantage, the Ruxus went down easily. At this point, I quizzed Bowman about any defenses that monsters or characters might have against particular combat maneuevers. He explained that there are five different combat stances, and each one has advantages and disadvantages toward certain attacks. For example, a stance might allow some of your maneuevers to do more damage than usual, but will in turn make you more susceptible to other attacks. Due to these offensive and defensive options, combat should provide a great deal of excitement and keep everyone in your party on their toes.

The entire world of Horizons is seamless, so you will never see a loading screen as you travel from zone to zone (even when you head underground into a dungeon!). However, David explained that there are a few methods of teleportation, and transporting great distances in one shot will require a short loading screen. To provide an example of teleportation, David lead me to a nearby "travel gate". This portal allowed us to transport to any location in the game instantly, but don't get your hopes up yet - massive transport like this won't be quite as easily accessible once the game goes live.

Our first destination was a floating island, where David pointed out another floating island off in the distance. Such physics hint to the advantage of flight, and David showed me how his dragon character could indeed fly. This ability is not automatic, David explained, but instead becomes more advanced as a dragon progresses through "rites of passage". Dragon characters will begin as a juvenile (which cannot fly) and will have to complete a rite of passage in order to ascend to adulthood. Once an adult, a dragon has a limited flight ability and is able to use its breath weapon. A second rite of passage will cause an adult dragon to become ancient and grant variable breath weapon effects and a more advanced flight ability.

Next, David brought me to an area where another character had begun building some sort of large structure, most likely a keep or castle. To introduce me to the mechanics of housing, David handed me a huge number of resources and asked me to contribute them to a tower being built on the outskirts of the building. Once I clicked on the tower, a window was displayed that showed exactly how many resources the building currently had and how many more it needed to be finished. I allotted the needed number of resources and contributed them. Seconds later, the tower stood before me. At this point, Bowman explained that anyone can contribute to a building in construction, and that the owner of the building can leave money on the structure so that each contribution can be paid accordingly. This provides a money-maker for those characters who have a surplus of resources and would like to donate them to a random building. Additionally, anyone who contributes resources to a structure gets their name inscribed on it. Very cool, indeed.

The next stop introduced me to something called a "blight maelstrom", which David explained is under control by the Withered Aegis, a common enemy for all races in the game. These maelstroms will appear throughout the world from time to time, although they will not be completely random. Each one will be placed by a server admin and will be constructed as part of a dynamic ongoing storyline in the game. David explained that because the world is so dynamic, areas like dungeons can be added on-the-fly and may only be found when a player stumbles upon a hole in the ground that wasn't there previously.

Our final location was the Dwarven capital of Aughundell, which resides underneath a mountain. This was our first underground area, and it was a pleasant surprise to see no loading screen as I ran my character down into its depths. After exploring a bit, David showed me a quick way to return to the initial town we were at. By clicking the "recall" button, you can instantly teleport your character to the last shrine you were bound at. There is a few second delay from the time you press the button to the time you actually teleport, however, so evading death will not always be a foolproof option.

Once back at the beginning area, David concluded the meeting. From what I saw during this demonstration and the time I've spent exploring the world since then, Horizons looks to be heading in a fantastic direction. The game possesses fluid graphics that can easily compete with any other game to date, a large selection of character creation and advancement options, intricate crafting and combat systems, an array of player housing choices, and a huge world to explore (100 km x 100 km!). Because of all these things, Horizons will definitely prove to be a serious contender in the world of MMORPGs.