Last year, Legends of Aria at PAX East was one of those games that had a smaller booth kind of tucked near a side wall. This year, their floorspace had expanded a little bit, which would lead one to think that the game, too, was going to expand. As it was explained to me by executive producer Jeffrey Edwards, however, the devs are taking a “less is more” approach.
As you’ll likely remember, Legends of Aria has already gone through a couple of iterative shifts; first as Shards Online, which let players put together their own smaller MMO worlds, and now as Legends of Aria, a full-blown sandbox MMORPG. The game was also working on a quest system, but it turns out that the quests weren’t that interesting to players and so they’ve removed quests entirely. Overall, the training wheels have been taken off.
What’s Old Is New Again
Legends of Aria definitely wants to take things back to the old school where you learn by doing. Considering the gameplay loop is still skill-based instead of class-based, it makes sense. While I was speaking with Edwards, I was online in a persistent build of the game, creating a character and wandering around to find things to do. Sure enough, there were no guiding arrows or even instructional pop-ups. Almost immediately, I just started clicking around, harvesting nearby rocks, attacking wolves and bears for the heck of it, and working out how to craft things. I also found myself going back to old MMORPG habits, talking with all the NPCs in the nearby town to see if there were any things that could be taken care of nearby.
That said, despite the lack of being given instruction, the team is going to work on making a new player experience. Legends of Aria is looking to arrive to Steam in June or July of this year and they want to be certain that they can toe the line between telling players how to play and not entirely holding their hand. As one would expect, it’s a challenge, but the devs believe they can figure it out.
The Balance Between “Risk” and “Fun”
Another thing that has me most interested in Legends of Aria’s upcoming build is how the game is handling its crafting. Of course, you get out into the world and start wailing on rocks, then take those gathered materials to an appropriate crafting station to put them together. What’s different here, however, is that you’re able to craft some useful gear from even the most basic of materials. The tradeoff is that you’re going to need a lot of those materials, which will mean it takes a long time. According to Edwards, it’s a way to make sure that Legends of Aria doesn’t conflate “risk” with “fun”; so many sandbox titles are forcing people to go into dangerous areas when they’d rather not, and Legends of Aria is granting those players their wish. As Edwards put it, they want all players to arrive to their game without feeling like interactions are forced.
Of course, there will be plenty of dangers for players to experience out in the world of Legends of Aria. PvP will, indeed, be a thing and there are going to be things for players to get into on the PvE side of things such as dungeons and the like. It’s all a matter of going out and finding said experiences as opposed to being on-the-rails. Players can speak with NPCs who might need to be taken somewhere, which will happen to pass by some interesting locations in the world. Or, ideally, new arrivals will see another person’s custom-built house or interesting gear and use those cues to see if they can get things like that for themselves. By and large, Legends of Aria’s content will be up to the players to discover and disseminate among themselves.
In spite of this scaled-back approach to design, Legends of Aria has still grown. The game’s world has expanded to include four major towns instead of the one, so there will most definitely be plenty of world for people to explore and learn about.
There seems to be a lot of sandbox MMORPGs coming down the pipeline, but Legends of Aria is one of the first that actually seems to care more about making players of all skill levels and interests feel valued, whether they’ve been behind the game from the very first crowdfunding drive or they’re arriving fresh from Steam. It’s taken a long and perhaps roundabout way to get there, but I might just have a new sandbox that will actually let me play in the sand at long last.