Back in the mid-17 century, exploration and taming the new frontier were the impetus of people who savor the idea of adventure and knowledge. There is something about entrenching in a new environment and having a fresh start that might have captivated the pilgrims to venture out and tried their hand in making a name for themselves in “the New World”. Of course, this is no easy task to accomplish, as these travelers had to adapt to their surroundings and had to make nice with other people or suffer dire consequences.
With this in mind, the folks from Paradox Interactive has created Salem, a sandbox MMO game set in the time of pilgrims and settlers in the eponymous city. It is a predominantly a crafting game that has players create a wide variety of trinkets and items that aid them in having a stable and secure living within the New Frontier.
So how does this game fare? Read all about it in our Salem review!
Salem welcomes you!
Roughing It Out
Salem’s graphics and character designs are a bit bland and somewhat outdated when compared to more recent MMOs, but it possesses a quaint charm about itself that is endearing as you progress; the avatars look very cartoonish and contrasts to the dark, Gothic motif of the game. The atmosphere is also surprisingly immersive – the city of Salem evokes a very dreary and, at the same time, bustling town where players can talk and trade with others; the backwoods where your home base is located feels isolated. Regardless where you chose to have your settlement, your home is situated essentially in the middle of nowhere! The ambience surrounding your homestead gives a foreboding and ominous feeling that you are really alone in the wilderness and you have to get your wits about in order to survive the night.
As for the game’s story or plot, there seems to be no narrative that propels the game whatsoever other than the fact that players are thrust into the setting of a mid-17 century settlement and just leaving them to figure out the rest of the game. There is a tutorial and a help box for reference, but other than that, players are left to fend for themselves and quite literally rough it out, pre-colonial style. It would have been nice if the game had a workable back story about it as well as memorable characters or some clear objectives, but there is nothing of that sort to be seen; one’s own character is the protagonist of an unknown story that only the player knows.
A great opportunity has been missed by not capitalizing on a fairly interesting theme in terms of story, but Salem makes up for it with its game system.
A Study in Crafting
Controls-wise, the game plays just like a top-down RTS where players move their characters via W,S,A and D as well as the mouse buttons. The user interface has a mini-map, the survival bars, and an action box located on the lower right; the action box contains all the other actions one can do within the game such as crafting, building, and going to the city. At times the controls feel clunky and very cumbersome, but once you get the hang of it, you’d be able to navigate it smoothly (or as smooth as the game allows it to be). There are four survival bars that the player must take note of – blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Each bar corresponds to the character’s health and capacity to do other tasks such as foraging, chopping wood, fending off wildlife, crafting and studying . Players have to manage these bars so that their characters won’t die.
At its heart, the gameplay of Salem revolves around a very intricate crafting system. Players need to gather resources found outside the city that they would use to craft various items in order for them to level up their characters. Resource-gathering entails looking at the mini-map and left-clicking towards the direction of the icon or icons that players would want to collect until it becomes visible on the playing interface; right-clicking the object would make a pop-up appear which players can choose to pick up the said object. Once the corresponding items have been collected, a new item can now be crafted and studied.
The study system is also something worth noting. Studying one’s crafted item provides experience points that are used to level up new skills that are useful in life in the wilderness such as game-hunting, self-defense, foraging and so on. But apart from leveling up the survival skills, players can also opt to hone their intrapersonal prowess in order to become better traders when going into the city. It is quite a surprise that the number of things one can craft in the game seems to be endless – as you level up, you gain access to new skills that can help you create even more new stuff to spruce up your settlement. It also helps that items you can craft provide the player with the necessary ingredients he or she needs to collect.
These two systems are pleasant components of the game because they provide depth and evoke a highly immersive gameplay; Salem entices gamers to dig deeper into the seemingly countless objects they can craft as well as what new skills they can study, all of which are reflected by their characters’ capabilities.
Getting the hang of crafting and studying, however, takes a lot of practice and patience – when you want to craft something, looking for the necessary items for crafting, requires players to traverse a huge expanse of flora and fauna; this proved to be frustrating at times, as you tend to just aimlessly search for the next item needed for that item you wanted to make. While players are given the “recipes” for all the crafted items, they do not tell where to get the ingredients – most of the time, it’s a trial-and-error kind of thing, and you’d resort to a scavenger-hunt type of excursion through the forest and backwoods until you either give up or try to craft something else. Choosing what new skill to get after studying is also tedious somewhat as each skill has long descriptions that are a labor to go through – most of the time, I just get the new skill that I think is essential such as being able to forage properly, or learning how to utilize the hides of the game you’ve hunted.
You Only Live Once
Another peculiar facet that Salem has is the fact that a player’s character can only die once. Yes, you read that right – a player can only die ONCE in this game. You can die by encountering wildlife and not being able to defend yourself ( I’ve had an experience with a poisonous snake that followed me all the way to my homestead and didn’t let up at all!). When any of your survival meters reaches zero, you would get knocked out for a few minutes, and after you wake up, the game would remind you not to let any of your meters reach zero, otherwise you’ll die (in the game) permanently.
Being an MMO, there is a social feature within the game that is present, but it is not as emphasized as much as the crafting and studying system; players can still interact with others, but if one chooses not to, nothing is lost in terms of experiencing the game.
The PvP element is also incorporated, and the inclusion of a permanent-death surely gives PvP a whole new meaning – the only safe zone in the game is the city; outside it, it’s every man for himself. There is also the “Criminal Acts” button that players can turn on at a whim and steal from other players’ homesteads and such.
Salem also has a cash shop, but unlike other free-to-play MMOs, players do not need to buy from the shop. There are stalls and kiosks in the city proper that sell some materials to players, but collecting the bits and pieces for items and skills by yourself is much better as it is more rewarding and fulfilling.
That being said, Salem’s longevity as a replayable game is refreshingly high, mostly in part of having so many things to do within its sandbox world. One would be pressed to see his or her character progress from being a vagrant living off the land, to being a well-versed, popular and successful pilgrim who owns a huge, burgeoning homestead and has tamed the “New Frontier”.
On the outside, Salem looks like a seemingly light-hearted game that had a simple concept going for itself but would eventually get lost among other MMOs Upon a closer look, however, you’ll find a game that ran with that simple concept and made a pleasingly immersive and deep gaming experience, complete with a well-thought-of crafting and studying system that feels highly rewarding each time you get to craft new items coupled with a very broad open world to explore, Salem is a pleasantly good game that is worth checking out!Related: F2P, Review, Sandbox