The promise of the sandbox MMO has felt a lot like the search for El Dorado or a fountain of youth recently. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of titles still chasing the dream, though, and Chronicles of Elyria looks to have the best map in this treasure hunt.
A passion project of about 15 years for Jeromy Walsh, Chronicles of Elyria has several systems in the works that combines years of experience and time spent watching what other MMO’s have done. The result, at least in concept, is a game that mixes the best parts of a survival sandbox with the narrative drive and direction of a themepark.
Players start off not at level one, but at a young age, born either in to a family with set parameters you choose from at age 15 or as a ward with fully customizable stats at age 12. Over the course of a calendar year, your character grows up, ages and eventually dies. Permanently.
That said, you can “re-subscribe” to the game at a cost of $30 with a Spark of Life, which reincarnates your character and carries over some of their prior life experiences. Essentially, you build a personal legacy with each generation. In addition, a death that occurs in-game takes two days off of that regular year-long lifespan, so being run through on day two doesn’t mean you’ll have to immediately buy another Spark. Further, doing things in the world’s story or producing things for other players earns you Story Points, which can be used to reduce or outright fully purchase a new Spark.
While the need to re-purchase a new character with the Spark of Life might still sound like price gouging, it goes back to the idea of risk versus reward. Walsh explained that being a regular person in the world is a perfectly acceptable way to play and supports that, but he also stated that heroes in the world of Elyria have to rise up from mediocre beginnings and risk to gain greatness.
As an example, he spoke about a character who buys a plot of land from a player Count. Later, that character buys a couple more plots of land to make a hamlet. The hamlet grows in to a village as more buildings are placed. The player eventually becomes a Count themselves, growing the village to a town, then a city, then a capitol which can span huge swaths of land and provides buffs for players and tax revenue. As a result of that character’s governance skill, the example player is named Duke. With careful management of the duchy, that Duke becomes loved by the other players, and is crowned a King, who can make the laws that govern their land.
This, of course, assumes all the pieces fall perfectly. It doesn’t take in to account attempts on a rising character’s life or invasions of opposing kingdoms or even the possibility of political maneuvering. On the more unsavory side of life, Walsh explains how having villainous players is important, and can even gain a measure of leniency in punishment if they’re more creative in their activity such as forming an assassin’s guild.
To prevent griefing, punishment is meted out by not just jail time but removal of play time, meaning a person who goes on a rampant killing spree could have an entire month cut from their character’s lifespan. The balance Walsh and his team wants to create is to promote about 15% of their playerbase to be deviant, because conflict drives story, without making things devolve in to a blender.
I immediately asked him about how leniency could be offered without creating a conflict of interest or a sense of favoritism like what had plagued EVE so many years back. Walsh stated that direct involvement in conflicts is prohibited, and taking the example of an assassin’s guild, it would take a level of skill and coordination that rises above someone merely running around on the road and stabbing caravaneers.
Regardless of how things play out, the current community of Chronicles of Elyria are being nutured by way of positive reinforcement. When community members offer constructive feedback or recruit other players or otherwise engage with the game’s development, they earn Influence Points. If enough Influence is gained, those players will take part in what’s called Exposition, where those players will be named kings or dukes or other high-ranking positions that will build the entire world three months before the game opens its doors to the general public. The idea, according to Walsh, is to give Elyria a sense of life that only players can provide right from the very beginning.
Crafting in the game, of course, will also be player-driven, though most services will be handled by Contracts. Contracts are player-created agreements that ask for a certain item or amount of items by a specified time. Contracts can be enforced by having bounties placed on them if the contract isn’t completed. Further, Contracts aren’t limited only to crafting: players can also run taverns and item shops via Contracts.
Whatever is done in the game, survival is still a factor. Every action drains your character’s Stamina. Too little stamina and you eventually becomed Fatigued, making every action more difficult. Sleeping is one way tobrecover stamina, or being at a tavern is another. Or you can make camp, but run the risk of your campfire drawing criminal attention. Sleep in the dark, and nocturnal hunters could find you an easy target.
With all of this talk of systems and plans and designs, it was time to play the combat build they had. It was still in a rough state, but I found the combat refreshing. The timing of strikes was vital. Swordfighting in this game felt like the perfect metaphor for the title – a dance of knowing when to strike and knowing when to back away.
It was hard not to be drawn in to the promise of Chronicles of Elyria. It sounds like a pipe dream, but the foundation being laid, the tech on display and the way fights resolve makes me excited for this title. Maybe there is a fountain of youth…Related: Chronicles of Elyria, MMORPG, PAX East, PAX East 2016, Preview, Sandbox