Monday, July 2, 2012

Salem: I Clicked A Lot

I finally got around to using my beta invite to Salem, the 'permadeath-crafting' MMO and boy did I have fun click the mouse a lot. Perhaps if I was female, that could be a euphemism for something more exciting, but as I'm not, it simply means I ended up with a sore finger. I played for a couple hours and there is a lot to like about this game......if you're waiting for the 'but', it's coming, rest-assured.

First and foremost it is a sandbox and that is a always a plus for me. I'm always excited about new sandbox games and I've been waiting for this one for a while. The game uses a study system to replace the traditional leveling system seen in most MMO's. It is interesting and feels a lot more organic than the usual 'you've leveled up now choose your skill'. You essentially get points by studying things you find or make and choose how to distribute them (wilderness skills, crafting, economy, crime, tracking, etc). As I do in most survival type sandbox games I focused first on fishing to get my food (you need food to fuel all actions). I had to study a few rocks, some toys I made, and use the points gained to increase my overall outdoorsy skills, and then the option for fishing appeared. After learning it I had to make a rod and some bait with items from the environment, catch the fish, and then cook it (on a fire I had to make and light).

The only thing more fun than fishing it watching someone else fish....virtually
Isn't it?

Christ I hope there aren't any Dingo's about....or anyone just out of prison.
It's all pretty standard stuff, really, if you've played any type of survival game (such as Wurm). The unique setting (New England is pretty unique, I suppose, at least in game-worlds anyway) and the 'bobble-head' toons set the game apart, but not as much as the much ballyhooed perma-death. I didn't engage in, or have any PVP forced on me in my brief time in Salem. I kind of wish I had, just to add some excitement to the experience and make this post a bit more interesting.

Where my experience with Salem went wrong (note my experience, not necessarily yours) is the endless amount of pointless clicking involved in playing. To be fair, I could have moved via WASD, but instead clicked the map to move..... a lot. Most of my time was spent walking around looking for resources to study/craft with. I have no idea how game designers can get around the endless grind they seem determined to incorporate into crafting games, but I certainly hope they work it out soon. The thought of having to wander endlessly looking for grass to pick is too much for me to bear. I've been through this with A Tale In The Desert- clicking the mouse does not equate to interesting game-play for me. I can imagine my rage at having invested 10,000 mouse clicks worth of play to be grief-killed by some idiot and then starting all over again again.

To be fair, my problem isn't with the crafting system, nor the study system. I do realize that in Salem you can eventually plant and harvest materials that you need for crafting. I only briefly explored the game. My problem was with the endless wandering around looking for resources at the start. Here is my introduction to this great game, one that I'm interested in, and already I'm bored. Wurm involved a lot of wandering but it looked better (using the unstable version), was more immersive (first person and all that), and  the sense of urgency (as you were starving) was more compelling. Watching my bobble-head from a top down view as she covered endless amount of land (I walked north of Boston for an hour of real time so over-population/stripping of resources doesn't factor in) wasn't immersive at all. In fairness the ground should be littered with grass. Why it comes only in pick-able clumps several screens apart is beyond me.

It is really frustrating and this key element- the grind- which game designers are using to keep us playing and paying for MMO's is driving me away from the genre as a whole. What is the alternative, though, in a skill-based survival MMO? How can you 'skill up' without grinding? How can developers make the game fun, and get paid, without using the grind as a hook? I really don't know- and that may make me a terrible hypocrite but then again, I'm not a designer. I'm a consumer. At the moment the indie-game scene is awash with innovative, fun, and accessible single player games while the MMO genre seems determined to churn out games designed to earn money through the free-to-play model instead of games designed to be played and enjoyed. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a game designed to get you to pay for it is not the same as a game designed for you to like enough to buy.

I'm not saying Salem is poorly designed, or only after your money. I have no idea how their free to play model will work. This is also beta, after all, and it is a small, indie game that likely will attract a very loyal fan-base. I'm going to do my best to give it some more of my precious, dwindling game time but, as I said, it's a big pond filled with lots of fish, er games.


  1. I knew you'd play this game so I didn't have to eventually. Bless you sir.

  2. Indeed...happy to serve the gaming community ;)