When I saw Legends of Aria last year, right after it had dropped the Shards Online name and expanded to be a full-fledged MMORPG, it looked pretty good. Not spectacular, perhaps, but it definitely looked like something you could point to and agree that it was ready for the prime time. I was reasonably impressed with what the team had on display in terms of graphics, especially considering the size of the team behind the game.
This year, though, the game is looking significantly better than it did before. Where before I thought it looked good for an indie title, now it’s looking pretty nice for a title, period. And it’s still just as indie as it’s ever been.
Obviously, there isn’t a long stretch of time between what the team discussed at this year’s GDC and PAX East, so most of the talk that MOP’s Andrew had with the team still applies and I won’t rehash that here. The centerpiece of the team’s presence at PAX East was about showing off the game’s improved demo, by which I of course mean “the actual game running on live servers,” because the stuff that was there for the demo stations was also on the live version of the game. Which is, again, to the team’s credit.
One of the biggest elements of the game’s newest build that struck me – aside from how pretty everything looks now – is the fact that there’s now a much more minimalist and intuitive UI in place. Opening up your character sheet shows off your character, with associated items around your character to open up your skill list, ability list, bags, and so forth. It’s very lightweight, but it also looks like something that’s easy to understand at a glance even as a new player.
New player guidance is also one of the top elements on the list for future development. At the moment, there’s not a very good guidance system in place, and that’s partly by design. The original experience had players getting tutorial quests, but the designers found that it led to people expecting more quests, which isn’t really how the game is meant to be.
That doesn’t mean that new player guidance isn’t important; it’s part of the struggle to balance between “entertaining the people currently playing the game with new stuff” and “giving new people a reason to try the game.” The current plan is to offer a revised tutorial area with guided dynamic events rather than explicit quests, to get players accustomed to what can be done without undue handholding.
The new character creation interface shows signs of that, as well; players can now choose between several starting skill packages based on what they want to do, or experienced players can start with a custom build. It’s a useful little setup to help you shape your overall direction, although it’s obviously not selecting your “class” or anything similar; just enough to get a toehold in the game.
An improved pipeline for coloring items helped as well, giving the option of more diverse item and hair colors. The current in-game version isn’t the final one, though; what we’ve seen is just the first pass of what will eventually be expanded to a full color swatch. What’s there now is just a proof of concept.
It’s great to see that the team behind the game is still moving forward and making a fun little game for anyone invested in the old-school design principles; seeing how much better the game looks only a year out is heartening for its future. The current plan is for a more complete launch later this year, so players can look forward to it sooner rather than later. (And of course, you can pick the title up through the official site right now to get into the closed beta rounds.)