Chronicles of Elyria is an ambitious massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMO) being developed by Soulbound Studios based in Bellevue, WA. The small team, currently comprised of 16 game company veterans, is attempting to create an MMO that will redefine how people perceive the genre. The team looked at the vast array of MMOs currently released, and analyzed their game-play to find the flaws within the genre. After doing so, they came up with five game design pillars to counteract those flaws. Those design pillars are as follows:
- The world must be truly dynamic.
- The heroes must be truly heroic.
- Anything in the game that requires character skill (stats), should require player skill as well.
- Event based, dynamic story that is constantly playing in the background.
- Introduction of survival elements for dramatic storytelling.
With those design pillars come some interesting game mechanics that will set it apart from its current generation of MMO counterparts. The first of which that interests me is the introduction of character aging, permadeath, and souls. Your character’s soul will persist after your character dies permanently and will be the same soul that your following characters will have. Your character will age over the course of 10-14 real-world months. Each death in the game will reduce that lifespan until eventually, your character permanently dies. The second concept that interested me was that player skill will be an important factor in the game. While some MMOs rely on player skill to an extent, combat is still based off of spamming the same set of buttons over and over to form a rotation. Instead, the combat will be more akin to The Elder Scrolls games’ combat system or even the Dark Soul combat system. Finally, when you go offline in the game your character doesn’t just disappear. There are Offline Player Characters (or OPCs). Maintaining realism, this doesn’t break immersion within the game. Having you not just log out anywhere and everywhere, but be careful with where you actually log out from. Of course, the development team also developed some AI scripts to help your OPC defend itself, run your shop, or even train.
These mechanics alone are giving me a reason to pay close attention to this ambitious undertaking. Yet those three game mechanics are just the tip of the iceberg. There are multiple other game mechanics that piqued my interest, mainly how they are approaching player housing, yet even more specific within that… basements. Basically, every player has the ability to create their own dungeon to guard their treasures or secrets. You can fill it with traps, tamed animals, hired thugs, and I’m assuming much, much more that will help guard against other players stealing your precious loot. The example posed by the development team is that you are one of the only players to discover how to become a Lich. You wouldn’t keep your phylactery in a bank or just anywhere – instead, you would opt to build your own dungeon filled with all sorts of traps designed to protect you and your phylactery from being destroyed. With the OPC mechanic, that means that if you’re offline while other players raid your dungeon and find you, you have effectively become a raid boss.
That example alone blew my mind. Being able to create my own dungeons and possibly even raids is something I’ve dreamed of after grinding away for years in World of Warcraft. And the fact that my player character could be my own raid boss honestly just makes me giddy with excitement.
However, putting all this hype I’m feeling aside, let’s discuss whether this MMO could be the next big name among MMOs, or if it will flop like many ambitious titles before it.
The first facet of a game succeeding or failing is the scope. That is, can the goals set by the development team be easily obtained? From the footage I’ve seen, I think so. It’s not something so entirely grand that it is impossible to make. The team can easily accomplish all the goals and mechanics they have set out to achieve within the game. The only constraint within that is how well received it is by players.
Continuing off of that thought, the second main issues with a lot of MMOs succeeding or failing is the player base. While this game is in essence an MMORPG, it also draws from other game genres. For instance, the open world survival element from games such as DayZ. Then the action combat element from games like the Elder Scrolls series and the Dark Souls/Bloodborne franchise. So much like The Elder Scrolls Online would cater to Elder Scrolls fans and MMO fans, Chronicles of Elyria has a large player base it will appeal to. Even with the player base that it appeals to, there is the issue of retaining those players so that the world will stay as dynamic and vibrant as they hope it to be.
The third is the payment model of the game. The only information on pricing is the spark of life system. One will be included with your purchase of the game, but each subsequent one will cost you about the price of an expansion. This will be a throwback to arcade style games. You’ll pay for your spark of life which will net you about a year played time with your character. When you permanently die, you then have to purchase another spark of life for your soul to reincarnate. The philosophy behind this is that it forces you to make meaningful choices with your character’s life rather than throwing it away. While different, I think this may ultimately keep players interested in the game because you are tied to that life, and would want to get your money’s worth. Even though they claim that it’s not just a revenue model for them.
Outside of that, I think the final and most important factor to a game succeeding or failing within this genre is the ease of access to the content vs being rewarded for being a skilled player. For example, Wildstar. Lauded by many before it’s release as being the “WoW killer“, this MMO was meant to have an incredibly challenging endgame. A callback to Vanilla (no expansions) or The Burning Crusade WoW. The game itself was fun and I loved it. But there was a LOT of attunement needed to get into raids and be a part of endgame. This turned away a lot of the more “casual” players, leaving only the hardcore players who will put in the grind to be ready to do the endgame content. This game seems completely different in that regard. While its focus is on individual player skill, it still seems open to new players. Instead of being about getting the phat loot at the end of a raid, it’s about being a part of the dynamic world and making your mark in it’s history. The more skilled or hardcore players will have their niche, and the less skilled casual players will have theirs. At least that’s how I think the game will pan out.
Anyway, with all that in mind it’s time for my verdict as to how well I think this game will perform. Personally, I’m rooting for this game. Not to be a WoW killer by any stretch of the imagination, but to just be successful. To push the envelope for MMOs so we stop getting the same game over and over with some polished features here and there. Obviously this is a game that will need a wide, active player base to live to its full potential, but it could easily happen. The core concepts of the game look extremely promising. The combat is interesting and not your typical button spam MMO combat. Aging and permadeath combined with the survival elements and slower pace of the game will help spin it into a fantasy novel of an MMO. Something that I think many people will find refreshing. Also, maps can be created by players! You can create maps for other players that are as accurate or inaccurate as you want. That’s just plain awesome (I’m so ready to troll as many new players as possible when this comes out). As such, I believe that this game could easily forged into the next “big” MMO and breathe fresh life into the genre.
If any of this piqued your interest, check out the project’s Kickstarter page where the team has more information and mechanics that I didn’t even delve into here.
All images © 2016 Soulbound Studios, LLC. All rights reserved.