Salem Online - Will it fall from grace before it rises to fame?By: Darth Meraj posted at Aug 08, 2012 2:18 am
Salem Online, advertised as “The Crafting MMO”, is a upcoming free to play game developed by Paradox Interactive. You may recognize them from such games as Magicka, Mount & Blade, and the Majesty series. These games are some of their most accomplished and well known throughout the industry. Will Salem become one of the most recognized? It's hard to determine so early in it's development, but even though it has potential, it also contains massive obstacles to overcome.
This is Paradox's first Free to Play MMO. They are so new to the genre that the original Salem Online page contained the basic format they have for their website, which includes a “Buy” button. This mislead a lot of people and eventually Paradox has decided to move Salem onto it's own URL. You can visit the new site here http://login.salemgame.com/ and their new forums here http://forum.salemgame.com/. I can understand this is a big transition for Paradox to take on, but I feel they weren't prepared enough to make it so early. This leads to a very poor representation of their ability to provide meaningful polished interaction between users and their website. The result is something that may hurt their population, before the game is even open to the public.
Putting aside the issues involving Paradox's website, I'd have to say their biggest challenge comes in the form of Salem's graphics. While the graphics themselves aren't the heart of the game, they determine everything about how well the game performs in the category of visual appeal. Let's face it, if you are going to spend hours at a time crafting valuable goods that allow you to progress, it should be something you'll enjoy looking at. To be straight up honest with you, the graphics of Salem look like something that came out of a domestic garage in the year 2000. On top of that, despite how dated and poorly constructed the graphics are, the game doesn't even run perfectly on my computer. When I'm in a town or an area that is heavily constructed on, I lag. My computer has 3 gigs RAM, a dual core 2.4ghz AMD processor, and a Geforce 250 video card.
When I saw a thread on the Salem forums that advertised improved image models for inventory items and other icons, I kinda chuckled to myself. Then I saw a Paradox employee congratulate the person on making such nice looking textures. What? Is it really so easy for a player to improve upon your graphics and you just don't seem to care? What does that say about the developers? I think it's pretty pathetic that they have made other games that looked polished, beautiful, and fluid, but then produce animations, models, and textures as bad as Salem has. I understand that there is a certain look they are going for in their environment and character models. They are going for weird, but it's hard to enjoy the weird factor when it's so terribly executed and boring.
Speaking of poor execution, Paradox has also failed at making movement fluid. It's so frustrating to walk around in a world that feels as if you can only follow a block pattern. Even though it isn't restricted to just walking in four directions from your character's location, it still feels clunky and at times it's downright frustrating. If it's pretty difficult making your way around open ground, just imagine how often I raged while attempting to maneuver around objects. I cannot recall the number of times I've bumped into a tree or other path blocking material and cursed the damned path finding structure!
Structures. Look at it the word long enough and it becomes awkward, almost as much as Salem's user interface. The UI can be confusing at best for a new player, mainly due to the very unique humor system. There are 4 humors in Salem, each one having a specific impact on your survivability and overall performance. First and foremost there is the all important blood humor, which determines your life. If you run out of blood, you fall unconscious. If you continue to take damage after falling unconscious, you will die. Permanently. The next humor is Phlegm, which basically works like stamina, as it determines how long you can perform tasks such as running, climbing, and building. The next two stats are unusual in their name, but it's pretty easy to understand their purpose. Yellow Bile and Black Bile are the final stats. The yellow is for combat actions while the black is for skill increasing actions. The Black Bile will be your first and foremost used, along with Phlegm.
The reason I mention the four main stats of Salem is that they have a pretty unique UI. It's in the shape of a diamond and each of the four corners will degrade as your stat runs low. It doesn't seem most people enjoy this type of representation, but I don't think there's anything wrong with it. There is a modified client for Salem, two to be precise, that changes the humors into flat horizontal bars instead of the original diamond. Although I think it is easier to determine how much of a stat resource you have left based on the bars, the diamond setup looks better.
Another UI element that is significant to Salem's game play is the mini-map. This will be your only tool to help you get a bearing on what's around you. I personally think it sucks at doing it's job and others must agree because within the modded clients they added unique icons for nearby nodes. The implemented node icons aside, I don't feel the mini-map really helps you know where you are and where you are going. To combat this, Paradox really needs to address the subject of Cartography as a survival skill in Salem Online. If you wander too far off from your home and you lose your sense of direction, there is almost no way to find your way back. There aren't any significant landmarks that will give you your bearings and there isn't any clear cardinal directions that help you make a path. Isn't the main point of Salem Online to pioneer into the wilderness and colonize it? How can you do that if you can't even make a simple map or mark unique locations for direction and distance?
Although I have given so many negatives about Salem Online, there are things I look forward too and I hope this game can succeed. Flourish even. The idea of real communities interacting in ways that create consequences, especially permanent ones, is one thing that will keep this game going.
Salem Online is going into Open Beta fairly soon. I implore you to sign up and join the game when it does become open to the public. Give your feedback and ideas regularly because the developers need to hear what you think!
Looking for more information on Salem Online? Check out these links for helpful data!
Video Interview with Paradox Developer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1u_po8mYzI
Salem Online Wiki - http://salemwiki.info/index.php/Main_Page
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