Choose My Adventure: What Legends of Aria taught me about sandbox MMORPGs


As much as I enjoy the new guard of MMORPGs, with their quick-hit content and action combat models, I’m also not completely ignorant to some of the ways it used to be. I cut my teeth on this genre in EverQuest Online Adventures. Most of my deeper love of the genre was born from years in Final Fantasy XI. And, yes, while I also logged some time in World of Warcraft, my first “real” themepark MMO was City of Heroes. That said, I never really got in to the whole sandbox thing. I completely missed the Star Wars Galaxies¬†boat and have only recently decided to explore this kind of MMORPG thanks to this column.

So just where does Legends of Aria fit in to this exploration of mine? Definitely in the school of hard knocks category, but without really feeling extremely frustrating. In fact, the more I think on my time in this game, the more I wonder whether I just did it all completely wrong. Or maybe this game illustrated the threshold for how much of the olden ways I’m willing to put up with.

Obviously, this game is meant to be played with others. Striking out alone in Legends of Aria feels a lot like some of those pulp stories where it’s one person against all of the wilds of a strange land, except perhaps not as exciting. About the only thing that really seems feasible to do solo is gathering and crafting — something I probably should have asked about a lot sooner.

I suppose my stubbornness won out over any level of common sense. Looking back, I probably should have tried to make some contacts in-game a while ago. At the same time, I sort of wanted to see just what was possible in this game without any laid groundwork, to see if just popping in and striking out was remotely possible. I wasn’t exactly expecting a guided tour, but I admit that I also wasn’t totally prepared for the crushing burden and loneliness that would roll over me like a slow tide.

That’s the rationale I keep coming back to and I’m glad I followed that instinct, but there’s still that niggling voice in the back of my head telling me that I screwed this all up. Badly.

Perhaps, though, that’s all a symptom of the larger cause of the way Legends of Aria approaches the sandbox MMORPG. As some of my previous MMO gaming experience perhaps illustrates, I’m not completely ignorant to some lacking quality-of-life features and design choices that are now par for the course. That said, this game doesn’t take the training wheels off so much as also removes the handlebars and expects you to perform at the X Games.

The absolute bare necessities are missing here, like a way to know if an enemy is capable of making your lunch or an alert about the whole reagents system in magic. Even a stronger sense of class identity would have been nice, but instead you get a character who gets better at swinging a sword at the barest, most incremental levels. I’m not asking to be able to take the blows of the Tighty-Whitey Trolls when I hold a shield, but I’d also like a sense that I’m being afforded a bit more strength as a tank. As things stand, my character is a milksop at everything — a new kind of homogenized class.

I also feel like striking out to new lands should be just a bit more rewarding or interesting. When I ventured out of San d’Oria and the Ronfaure Woods in Final Fantasy XI, I was both awed at some of the things I found and terrified of the dangers surrounding me while also spurred on to grow in strength so I could venture further. Here, I was beset by the same types of trees and wasn’t entirely sure what was dangerous and what wasn’t until I started being chased and subsequently mauled.

I suspect that would change if I were to venture further out, but Legends of Aria’s death penalties forced me to play at a frustratingly risk-averse pace and to stay in my own lane. This logjammed sensation wasn’t helped by the fact that I saw someone in town literally walking around with a wyvern in tow and just… what the heck, man, I want a dragon friend.

Perhaps, though, all of this is impotent; Legends of Aria is still in active development after all, and some more refinement is likely on the way if some of the things in its experimental server are an indication.

I, too, recall some of the good old days, but I also recall being given at least a bit more leeway or agency to do things my way as well. Then again, maybe this was how it used to be in sandboxes and I’m the idiot for not knowing that? I’m constantly in a mental tug-of-war, parsing what design choices underwhelm or are entirely missing and whether the “true” sandbox MMORPG really is meant for my sensibilities.

I don’t feel satisfied that I’ve really gotten the full tale of Legends of Aria, so I would like to revisit this one again later down the line, particularly after its had some more time in the oven and after I’ve made contacts out-of-game. Even though I shouldn’t really have to, clearly I need to. The trick, of course, is to not be twinked out and carried the entire way; I contend that I’m a soft, doughy thing, but I also would like to develop myself a bit, too.

That’s another CMA for another month, though. For now, we’re off to Gielinor!

In what ended up being a pretty close round of voting, RuneScape won out as the next adventure we’re taking. This time around, my husband will be in tow as we begin to strike out fresh in this new land.

First impressions are already good: I’ve gotten a very carefully thought-out tutorial under my belt and have been granted a few starting weapons and skills. So that leads right in to the first poll for this adventure.

What weapon should I primarily use in RuneScape?

  • Swords. Simple. Effective. Choppy. (33%, 22 Votes)
  • Bow and Arrow. It's probably safer. Probably. (21%, 14 Votes)
  • Magic. Use your staff and possibly reagents oh no not those again. (32%, 21 Votes)
  • Mix and Match. Suggest combinations in the comments! (14%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 66

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Next is the general direction of our adventure. I’ve completed the tutorial zone and the very first quest granted to me in Lumbridge, so a few choices have opened up to us.

Where in Gielinor should we go first?

  • The Lumbridge catacombs. Beat up the undead and get some skills. (24%, 13 Votes)
  • Varrock. The tutorial is kind of aiming you to that area. (39%, 21 Votes)
  • Start wandering. Get out of town and see what quests or things await. (37%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 54

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As per usual, polls close at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 5th. Here’s hoping to some more streamlined sandbox goodness. I’d be shocked if a game with the pedigree of RuneScape hadn’t buffed out some of its rougher edges, frankly.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Chris each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures – and you get to decide his fate. Which is good because he can often be a pretty indecisive person unless he’s ordering a burger.
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