Chronicles of Elyria: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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Chronicles of Elyria is getting a huge amount of attention thanks to its Kickstarter campaign, currently at $673,000 out of $900,000 with 25 days to go in its campaign. A lot of the attention comes from the very unique concept that the game bases itself on, that your character actually grows up, lives, and eventually dies of old age. Characters age over the course of 10 to 14 months, with that exact life expectancy based on player actions during that time frame, and after death are reincarnated more powerful than before.

It also creates an interesting monetization strategy that is effectively an annual subscription. When your character dies, reincarnation costs one spark of life, which costs real money. Each death in-game takes away approximately two days off of your life, however the campaign has some murky explanation that more important players actually receive more severe penalties upon death. It isn’t completely clear, but it looks like the more influential your character, the more time that death takes off of your play schedule.

“…each in-game death reduces your overall lifespan (by approximately 2 days) and brings your character that much closer to permadeath. However, if you’re an influential player (the king perhaps), each in-game death is more impactful, leading to permadeath in just 4 or 5 times.”

Otherwise Chronicles of Elyria is gunning for the sandbox realism crowd. Your character stays online and continues to do things while you are offline, combat has more focus on your ability to dodge and parry than simply spam buttons, and there are no NPC quests or mini-map.

One thing that I’ve talked about in great lengths in the past is that hardcore sandbox MMOs tend to confuse hand-holding with providing important features, an important distinction that makes Eve Online a massive success while Mortal Online and Darkfall feed off of scraps in the dumpster out back. It looks like Soul Bound Studios is getting the picture, because the game is boasting several features you don’t normally see in MMOs of this genre.

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First off, players will be able to give quests, using the example of an offline player character merchant being able to task players with bringing him needed reagents. To force honesty on both sides, the merchant can issue a contract which both sides must agree on and fulfill with the threat of consequences if they don’t hold up their end. It’s a very simple function, Player A provides resource and Player B pays him by this date otherwise someone will be penalized. It is so easy, in fact, you wonder why games like Mortal Online and Darkfall didn’t add it in.

Which doesn’t mean your ability to BS other players is being diminished. While the game doesn’t provide a mini-map, it will be possible for cartographers to and map makers to create maps to sell to other players. According to the Kickstarter campaign, it will also be possible to lie on the maps. It is also possible to change the name that NPCs use to refer to towns by how popularly the town is titled, meaning you’ll possibly be traveling from Dongton down to Dongville passing by Lake Dong and of course Butthole Creek.

Let’s be fair, the way the contract system is being advertised sounds ridiculously complicated on the developer’s end, but can potentially be the powerful tool that sets CoE apart from its failed brethren. According to the campaign page, you’ll be able to sign trade contracts, set up trade routes, create a shipping business, hire assassins, employ people to bring you resources, all kinds of stuff. I really want more details on this, though, because it can make or break the atmosphere especially when it comes to enforcing those contracts.

One bit I don’t entirely buy is the idea that the system will reduce griefing. Every sandbox developer thinks that they’ve found the cure for rampant griefing and Chronicles of Elyria will have to prove that it is different. You see, the problem with sandbox games is that the differences between griefing and playing as a bandit are very difficult to tell, especially when you’re building a computer system to identify and sort the two out. Banditry is a valid style and kinda popular in the sandbox community, it isn’t that players find the conduct acceptable as much as they don’t like the idea of developers restricting gameplay.

And it looks like Chronicles of Elyria thinks that they can curb griefing by simply punishing players for killing each other. It’s a bold move, one that could backfire horrendously by merely lowering the life expectancy for griefers who didn’t intend to stay long anyway before moving on to their next game, while alienating players who want a more fleshed out world in which to play bad guy. It sounds great on paper, but could seriously affect the long term viability of the game as the direct financial punishment of death makes the game feel more restricted.

“If you kill another character in-game, your face goes up on a wanted poster and a bounty token is created for you. This not only keeps you out of cities, but also means you can be taken to ‘jail’ which significantly reduces your lifespan, adding real financial repercussions to your in-game decisions.”

I expect to see a fair amount of buyer’s remorse from people who pledge at higher levels in return for pets/mounts/equipment only to find out (hopefully they read the pledge details) that items can be lost and pets/mounts can be killed by NPCs and presumably other players. There has been a fair amount of criticism over the fact that backers at the $120 level and above will receive three months of early access to the live game, not to mention the kind of rewards you get once your pledge starts hitting four digits.

Alternately, you can bet that the campaign is going to get roasted for perceived pay to win.

Overall, I want to see more of Chronicles of Elyria. There is a good long while until the game comes out, so we have plenty of time to get acquainted.

(Source: Kickstarter)

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