If you have not read this week the Chronicles of Elyria developer journal yet you can catch up with the abridged version here, though of course nothing beats the real thing over at MMORPG.com. It is a rather packed journal, and still some ended up on the Soulbound Studios cutting room floor so we better make a start discussing it all.
There was less straight controversy in this one, yes I am looking at you last week’s talent system, but it was full of fascinating detail on some pretty crucial features. Including some of the first things we are going to see when we get hold of the game, the beginning of character customisation. Firstly let’s ignore the idea of choosing a soul and lets focus on the nitty-gritty, the UI. Now we know this is not a finished product, but if we are at a point where we can judge the ideas we are certainly at a point where we can look at their implementation too.
Personal opinion straight off still needs some work on the border and scrollbar. The aesthetic is not quite as neat, as crisp, as I was hoping. The detail being top and bottom only is good, but what is currently there is a little off. My guess is they are using the same detail as around the menu on the forums and have not got the re-sizing quite right.
However, that is just borders and can be fixed. What really matters is the navigation, and that has a lot more going for it. You are not overwhelmed with information initially, enticing graphics and key information only, then you can show as much or as little as you need. Though it is neat, I wonder how easy it will be to compare souls. Will the skills of two souls fit into the window at once to see which is better? The window doesn’t quite seem big enough if they are not adjacent souls.
The other thing we need to see is additional information in order to inform the user of what they are looking at and what it means. While they have been clever in revealing only a small amount of information at a time it is still a lot for a new user. Hopefully clear descriptions and advice will be forthcoming. Especially about some of the less obvious features in the display, such as the alignment which is actually hidden (from me at least) in the center of the soul graphic.
That actually leads me on nicely to talking about some of the features announced in the journal and as we just mentioned it lets start with alignment. It sounds great. There we go that one done on to the next. Oh fine, it was one of the many features this week which spoke about the story and how we will become part of it. Both our characters and our souls have destinies, ones that drive story around us and can be intertwined with the larger story of the world:
The moment your character is born some large set of story quests are dynamically generated and silently follow you around wherever you go. Any time you come in contact with another NPC, loot an item, reach a certain age, commit a crime, or a slew of other things, the Soulborn Engine looks at your pre-defined list of plot hooks to determine if any of them have been triggered. Like a key turning a lock, if everything lines up and all preconditions have been met a story will unfold.
Affinity is advertised as your way to influence that destiny, rather than be tied to it. You can choose the dark or the light, or you can start neutral. Your actions, your choices all take you down a certain path and which ever you choose your destiny respects and presents you stories that suit the side you have chosen. Importantly the “right” choice is not going to be labeled and it will have a noticeable impact on the story options we are given. It sounds like they are learning from the mistakes of games that have attempted the good vs bad divide and left it only as surface fluff with no real impact.
One of the other really interesting effects of affinity actually ties in with the concept of soul mates introduced in this developer journal. Each soul has a twin, if you find your soul twin (soul mate) then you can share skills with each other. It sounds like a very interesting mechanic, however, it is another one of those elements of chance that has been added to the game. We do not know how likely it is your twin soul will be in the world at the same time as you. With quite a few souls for each player to choose from, could it be your twin wasn’t chosen? That there is no one out there for you? Seems sad, but maybe some of us are forever alone. Though it might be worse. You might find your twin but they went towards the light while you wallowed in the darkness. You are exact opposites, that can not both exist. That means even against all the odds, you tracked them down, you found your soul mate and now… they must die! A small chance of getting a bonus, but also have a small chance of getting a mortal enemy which I will be honest sounds a lot of fun.
Soul mates is another niche mechanic. The game seems to have some great systems that will only impact handfuls of the population. Talents given out to just a few percent, and soul mates having a chance of being even rarer. They are certainly interesting ideas but they are not the crux of the game, they are add-ons, things that add depth but ultimately will not shape the world. We are still getting the bones of the world, the support system underneath, but hopefully, soon we will start to get given the meat.