I could do an opening paragraph explaining the Penny Arcade Expo, but judging by the outrageous foot traffic during this weekend’s video game-centric convention in Boston, I’m guessing most of our readers already know about it. Instead, allow me to introduce the first of this week’s PAX-inspired first impression previews: Therian Saga by developer Virtys. An MMORPG by name, Therian Saga is a much slower experience when compared to the likes of the industry’s heavy hitter, World of Warcraft. But as will soon be explained, this is a conscious design choice that sets the game apart from many other titles that share space in the crowded genre.
The central component of Therian Saga is crafting, so those who love to collect resources and build their own items and equipment will feel right at home. After customizing a character, players chose a profession before starting the adventure. Professions are NOT classes that lock characters to a specific skill set; in fact, all of the games 30+ skills can be accessed and fully maxed out by any character, given enough time and effort. Skills, such as specialized crafting and fighting styles, are improved through repeated use, rather than earning experience to level up. That said, professions instead impact the narrative arc for each player, with each profession opening up additional quest lines to follow. Following a D&D approach to narrative, actions and responses to story events will differ based on the player’s skill set; whereas some stronger characters may break down dungeon doors using brute force, ultimately awakening enemies elsewhere on the map, a more stealthy character will have the option to pick the lock and loot the treasure room with ease.
In addition to crafting items and weapons, the object of the game is to build a community and defend it from other players and invaders. The bigger and more successful a community becomes, the more likely it is to be targeted by adversaries. In these instances, combat against “players” will actually be against shadow AI, using the actual player’s latest stats and party formation as opposed to live battles over the network. Combat also occurs while exploring dungeons, during which time players can search for loot, gather resources, and complete objectives. The traveling party can accommodate dozens of pets and hired companions, but only four characters can be brought into combat. (Party members can be toggled on the fly when outside of combat.)
To aid players in their efforts, Therian Saga includes a guild system which allows players to not only team up in defense of their shared community, but swap resources with one another to facilitate skill specialization and crafting. For those who don’t have time to micromanage moment-to-moment gameplay, there is also queue system that allows players to plan out their entire day all at once. Want to spend a day gathering resources? Queue it up and check back in tomorrow to find the previous day’s tasks completed.
Therian Saga has actually been in Beta for over a year… in French; the team’s native language – they are based in Quebec City – has served as the playtesting hub while polishing and feature implementation was finalized. The game is completely free-to-play, and Virtys made sure I understood the game is NOT play-to-win. In fact, paying for things in-game simply decreases the time it takes to complete certain actions, such as resource gathering, but every player has access to every skill, quest, companion, and location. Available for any browser that has Silverlight installed, as that is the program used to run the adventure, the open English Beta is now ready to go. Those interested can register and find additional information here.