This week, editor Pwyff checked out Shaiya Online, and discovered that while the game doesn't have a lot of aesthetic options, it's still quite pretty and it caters to a wide variety of players.
Whenever I hear someone complaining about how they'd like to play an MMO without the monthly fees, I usually try to get them to try out one of the hundreds of free to play MMOs out there, if only to eventually lure them over to the high quality subscription games that await them on the other side. In this way, a solid tactic being employed by many MMO development companies is to simply look at what's popular in the pay to play world, and then try to emulate it as a free to play MMO. Runes of Magic is a good example here, in that, despite the fact that it has some unique features that set it apart from World of Warcraft, it is still considered, by and large, to be a free to play spiritual cousin to the subscription based behemoth.
While I certainly have nothing against these F2P adaptations of successful MMOs, I'll admit that the first thing that entered my mind when I started up Shaiya Online was that the game has a lot of that Lineage II flavour, albeit a little bit less developed in comparison to its pay to play cousin.
Shaiya is a free to play MMORPG developed by the Korean company Sonov Entertainment, and published in North America by Aeria games. While this F2P MMO hasn't garnered a great deal of attention from major media, it's definitely a solid game for players who want that F2P MMO experience and lots of PvP. I noted earier that Shaiya has some of that Lineage II flavour, and this is mostly due to the grindy nature (more on that!) that's inherent within both MMOs.
A lot of Shaiya's artwork, however, is also very similar to that of Lineage II, with a great deal of Asian aesthetic influence, skimpy female armour and a gorgeous landscape. While I've heard rumours that the man who did the art for Lineage is the same one who did art for Shaiya, I have no conclusive proof, although I can definitely see it being true. Unfortunately, while Shaiya strives to imitate the Lineage style of art, armour aesthetic in the game definitely feels small, as players note that there is simply not a lot of graphical variety when it comes to player uniqueness.
Where Shaiya strives to differentiate itself from most MMORPGs, however, definitely resides within its unique difficulty modes that players can play under. These modes being "easy mode," "normal mode," "hard mode" and "ultimate mode." All affect how quickly your character grows and what sorts of penalties are incurred upon your death. Easy mode is for players who are new to MMORPGs, and it grants players 2x the EXP over normal mode. Unfortunately, easy mode players have a level cap of 30 under this restriction, and they don't gain as many stat points or skill points per level up. Normal mode is the mode every player must go through to unlock the higher modes. Despite its name, normal mode is often considered to be an 'easy' mode for most players because, while normal mode grants regular exp for everything, players simply don't get as many skill points or stat points as when they play under hard mode or ultimate mode.
Usually, a player will power their way to level 40 to unlock hard mode, and then they'll remake their character under hard mode. Hard mode unlocks more skills, items and quests, and it also grants the second highest amount of skill points and stat points per level up. Unfortunately, EXP required in hard mode is about four times more than that required in normal mode. Fewer 'hardcore' players will play the game under hard mode, because deaths in hard mode only take an EXP loss and the gains under "Ultimate mode" are only fully realized by a dedicated player. Under ultimate mode, players gain the highest amount of skill points and stat points when they level up and they have access to the best armour and weaponry in the game (although getting this gear is quite difficult and time consuming in itself). Unfortunately, when an ultimate mode player dies and is not resurrected (I believe this also applies to PvP!) within 3 minutes, their character, literally, is deleted.
In this way, Shaiya Online does offer a great deal of diversity for players who want different things from their MMORPGs. Power gamers can get great advantages (with great disadvantages!) in harder modes, and players who simply want to enjoy the game can have an easier time simply playing under easy mode or normal mode.
Combat in Shaiya is also fun, but it really doesn't do anything inspirational or 'new.' Much like World of Warcraft or Lineage, spells are dragged to a hotkey bar, and they are invoked by simply pressing the corresponding hotkey. Shaiya does try to differentiate itself, however, by allowing players the ability to double tap a direction to have their character quickly roll in that direction. I'm uncertain if this actually helps at all in PvP, but this tactical movement does make me feel like I'm doing a little bit more in combat than spamming 1-2-1-2-1.
Another way that Shaiya Online strives to make itself unique is by trying to be a "sandbox" game, where players can wander the countryside, questing and hunting wherever they wish to go. While the game marks where potential quests can be obtained, Shaiya does a nice job of making you feel like there's a lot of exploring to do. Unfortunately, since the map is so large (some players may disagree, since there don't appear to be many zones, just one big map), running to and from destinations can be a bit of a chore, but it isn't equivalent to travel-heavy games like Final Fantasy XI.
All in all, Shaiya offers a great deal of playability for gamers who like to tailor their character growths and engage in some fun large-scale PvP. While the Shaiya world may start to feel a little bit small for those who have traveled its lengths and experienced all that there is, the same can be said of any MMORPG of this style. Shaiya simply strives to let its players enjoy themselves for as long as they can. Maybe you should check out the 'easy mode' aspect of the game to see if this is the MMO for you!
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom