Updated Mon, Apr 13, 2009 by Ralsu
A magazine advertisement for Pioneers of Iria, the expansion to Nexon’s Mabinogi, might focus on the addition of the new races, Elves and Giants. A banner ad on a website might boast that Iria, the new continent, is three times larger than the original game. A news blurb on a forum might tout the new skills, items, and features. An email to former players might try to entice them to patch up and play again with information about changes to the Rebirth system and the inclusion of the Quest Board. All of that fancy marketing language is impressive (and accurate), but there is one reason above all others I think players should try Pioneers of Iria: you get to explore the unknown.
Before Pioneers of Iria, the last expansion for any game I seriously played was Rise of Kunark for EverQuest II. I remember the love affair every player had with the Sarnak race. They were cool looking, they were evil, and they had the best balance of stats and racial abilities in the game. And that last bit was the problem. I enjoyed my time learning the lore while running quests in Gorowyn with a million other Land of the Lost rejects (thanks, Coyote). My problem with Rise of Kunark wasn’t a lack of new quests, new skills, or new races; instead my issue was that fifteen levels in, I felt like I was doing the same things all over again with a different character model. I felt compelled to try the new race because it was statistically superior to my choice before the Sarnak became available. Sadly, the lore of the Sarnak around Timorous Deep did not disguise the fact I was only starting over to min/max, or metagame (which kills the fun for me too often).
That I do not experience metagaming déjà vu with Pioneers of Iria is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the massive amounts of fun I have had so far. When a game has been out as long as Mabinogi has, the temptation to play one of the two new races is great. Certainly, Elves and Giants have their advantages: nimbleness and brute strength, respectively. Even so, these two new races are most fun to play when you do so to experience their lore. Embroiled in tribal warfare, the Elves and Giants have long spilled each other’s blood in vast expanses of Iria, and the plot thickens now that humans have discovered their continent. Some humans will side with the Elves, but some will aid the Giants.
Forget the political intrigue for a bit. Sony Online Entertainment rightfully could argue that EQ2 provided the same thing with the Sarnak. The inhabitants of Iria live a vastly different life. Their continent contains plains, deserts, and snowy regions. They ride different mounts, command unique technologies, and keep atypical customs. Iria feels like a new land instead of just another land tacked onto an existing game. Returning players feel this sense of exploration doubly, but even new players can get an impression of how different the continents are with only a few hours of play time.
Lastly, I’ll plug the shape shifting abilities of the new races as a gameplay element that heightens the experience of novelty in Pioneers of Iria. The first time your Giant enters Beast mode, you’ll know what I mean. Neither the mechanic nor the concept is revolutionary, but the result (the most important part) is near to flawless.
Those who have appreciated the focus on adventure in Mabinogi before should check it out again. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to find out if players outside of Korea and North America will be able to play it soon. The fact that gamers have to work around the region blocking indicates interest is high. I’m sure Nexon wants your patronage.
Players who did not enjoy Mabinogi prior to Pioneers of Iria probably won’t change their minds just because of the expansion. The core gameplay is not altered enough to tell you it’s a different game. Still, many features implemented with the expansion make the game better (Quest Boards, Mana Tunnels, free Rebirth at character age twenty, and more). At the very least, the content found in Iria is not merely more of the same.