Updated Thu, Dec 17, 2009 by Ralsu
Outspark’s Secret of the Solstice (SoS) is a pleasant trip through nostalgic gameplay elements in many ways. The overhead view, graphical style, and fast paced combat remind me of great console adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Landstalker. Even so, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about SoS as a MMOG after weeks of playing around with it. Many of the best features in SoS seem better suited for single player experiences.
Our hero is seen here killing gobs. Or blobs. Or are those fobs?
A Graphical Style to Make the Early 1990s Jealous
If you have played Ragnarok Online, then you already know what to expect in the graphics for SoS. If you missed RO, let me catch you up to speed. The world is colorful and almost cartoony. Characters are chibi-style with small frames and large heads. Just imagine populating any MMOG with bobble heads; it’s a bit like that only cuter. The bobble heads aren’t a bad thing, though; they are a small part of the image on the player’s screen, and the player character is more a vehicle to participate in the action than a persona brought to life through pixels.
To accentuate this point, SoS presents content from a top-down perspective (three-quarter) centered on the player. Removing the over-the-shoulder and first person cameras used in most MMOGs drives home the message that this game is about the action on the entire screen rather than the player’s view through the eyes of the avatar. It made me consider bringing out the old Nintendo Entertainment System to rescue Princess Zelda one more time.Don’t mistake my description of the graphical style for saying the game looks bad or that there is zero character customization because neither assumption is true. It’s simply a matter of focusing on the experience over the appearance. Along those lines, enemies start out as gobs and blobs and fobs (you get the idea). They’re not very distinct, but they fit the theme. Later, the enemies are more striking, and the spell effects are suitably flashy without being over the top. Trees are cute little puffy things, and houses are as adorable as they can be without being constructed of gingerbread.
Polish Your Resume in Case You Need a New Job
SoS chooses the oft-used, rarely-appreciated technique for class selection: all players start as Xenians, an unspecialized fighter type. At level 10, players can move toward more traditional roles along the path of the squire (warriors), apprentice (casters), neophytes (rogues), or acolytes (healers). Were SoS a single player game, the ability to play through multiple times with different skill sets would be a blessing, but the whole “work your way up to a class” thing seems a bit tired in MMOGs, especially when players truly don’t get to test a class until achieving a certain level (see Deco Online for a game that implements this class feature well). It is very disheartening to reach level fifteen and THEN find out you don’t like your class.
At the very least, SoS does present players with a decent mix of skills from across archetypes that should give insight into what the classes are like. The level curve steepens significantly around level ten, so some classes may fare better at solo play than others. I only tested the squire and apprentice, and it was a chore to reach level ten in both of those classes. After flying through the first 7-8 levels, I started to hit a grinding wall and really lost motivation to continue leveling my generic characters.
Be Prepared to Imbibe More Than the Town Drunk
One misconception I had upon entering Secret of the Solstice was that health potions were to be conserved as a rare commodity. On the contrary, SoS functions like many adventure games in that potions are the primary way to replenish health and magic. Combat is fast-paced with monsters chasing players all about the fields and training onto you when they leave the screen. Respawns are quick (even in the beginner area), meaning you’ll likely have to pop a few potions to survive unexpected spawns of aggro mobs.
The potion mechanic poses both a treat and a problem for my gameplay style. It’s nice to not have to rely on other players to heal me. It’s great to not feel compelled to roll a healer to increase my chances of survival during solo play. At the same time, the potion mechanic again makes me think the game would be awesome as a single player adventure game, and players learn to spam their way through content any time potions can be used so liberally. Reliance on potions stalls the growth of strategy and careful gameplay styles, replacing them with a zerg and spam mentality. Again, this is fine for adventure games, but this is a MMOG.
The graphics won't win any awards, but the adventure-style gameplay is charming.
Do Your Chores or You Can’t Go Outside
Early quests in SoS are far from epic. Players will perform chores for various NPCs around the starter town during those mundane Xenian levels. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s a little more realistic that you have to start by collecting packages or cleaning a house than the games where the gods come down to little ol’ level one you and ask you to defeat the ultimate evil. Higher level quests get more exciting and feature some pretty cool dungeons. Sadly, most of it was not memorable to me. Perhaps my experience with the whole game was colored by other aspects, but the story seems completely and utterly forgettable.
Grouping is fun when you find mature players, but the game fosters the Leroy Jenkins playstyle a little too much for my taste. Yet again, I found myself wishing the difficulty were scaled for me to play solo.
If I were to describe Secret of the Solstice to my best friend in the most brutal terms possible, I’d say it’s a charming title that should have been a dungeon crawler adventure game but that tried to get in on the MMOG bandwagon instead. Some of the best features in SoS scream for the game to play offline in a single player experience. While all of those features are still enjoyable in a MMOG, they make for a lackluster experience. Without a doubt, Outspark will find an audience that is bananas over this game, but I can’t help but feel confused by what it is trying to be. I never got around to all of the bells and whistles (crafting and such) offered in SoS because I was not motivated by the gameplay.
(2.5 / 5 Hammers)