World PvP and fantasy-monsters besieging a city make the cake-and-eat-it-too attitude of Pandora Saga. Jumping into this game is like jumping into a fairly simplified world full of a multitude of player races, classes, and a jumping off point in the middle of a three-way war. It’s hard to get a good bead on PS as a game except that it contains a vast world and there’s people to get into it with day and night.
In fact, my experience is that with only a few minutes in, I already had a party of other players with whom I came to explore the world with.
Pandora Saga is a fantasy-themed PvP-heavy, free-to-play, 3D MMORPG developed by Rosso Index and published by Altus Online. The game starts people out in relative safety within the starting city of Astir. It’s set amidst a horrible war (the basis of the world PvP) between three different factions: The Kingdom of St. Pfelstein, The Empire of Latuga, and The Confederation of Varik.
Gameplay: Fantasy-themed PvP MMO does what it says on the tin, let’s pop the tab
It looks like the developers of Pandora Saga thought a bit about how normal MMOs develop UIs and tried to make it so that players would have a somewhat immersive experience. There’s still a lot of glitches with the standard UI—although the game does its best to teach you to use it, I kept finding myself lost in how to do certain things.
The first combat development I regarded as somewhat innovative in the game is that melee strikes are non-targeted. Magic, though, you still have to click and select a target to shoot them down with your little fireballs (or other effects) perhaps there’s later magic effects that don’t need targets. Swinging a melee weapon like a sword, damages everything in a small cone in front of your character; and hitting enemies from the side or behind inflicts extra damage.
The problem came when the action-bar had already been filled with various things (mostly UI abilities) and I couldn’t tell that my wizard character had any spells. I’d received only training in how to swing my sword; it took me a while to figure out where to go to find my spells (spell in this case: a small ember fireball) and then I had to switch out my action bar to slot it.
The game exploits an emerging class-system where the player chooses a major archtype upon creation: Warrior, Mage, Scout, or Acolyte (Cleric)—and as the player progresses through levels each one can branch out into elite or specialized classes based on play style and attribute choices. Warriors get Gladiator and Knight; Scouts go for Archer and Provocateur; Mages go Wizard and Sorcerer. I’ll leave it up to the reader to see how this might function.
Players get a fairly big morphology of character races to choose from. There’s the standard humans, elves, and dwarves; then there’s the really tall myrine, the hulking enkidu, the tiny lapin (so cute). The enkidu are giant ogre-like monsters with lantern jaws and what seems like a cantankerous disposition—although some of them do run shops in town—and the lapin are tiny, halfling-like creatures who seem to be primarily spellcasters.
Each race has three potential buffs it can take chosen at character creation. I say the lapin are spellcasters because all of their buffs involve magic—except for one which involves giving any enkidu in the party heavier defense. Enkidu obviously seem to be more or less for tanking and beating things down. Each race has something of a professional responsibility that’s outlined by these boons.
Pandora Saga tries really hard to make an immersive gaming experience with the internal narrative. In fact, most of the quest events and giver trigger cinematic events that pull the camera around and show characters chatting with one another. The best example of this is the newbie quests designed to set the new player in the city, give them places to go, and things to do.
The city itself felt a little odd, although the game has the standard movement controls of WASD—it also allows click-to-move; but unlike other games of a similar genre, there’s no autopilot. This doesn’t bother me because I find the autopilot I find in many of these games to be a little silly (however useful it is.) The city is also split up into small “zones” split by dotted line barriers. Zoning through the city seems a little bit claustrophobic; however, chances are it greatly reduces the processor and graphics needs of running the game.
Graphics and Sound: Nice looking game, but don’t come for epic music or good sound FX
The graphics in Pandora Saga are more medium-high and serve the function of the game nicely. The game is entirely 3D and runs fairly quickly, in a window, and the models are fairly complex. The environments are striking and easily navigated although it suffers a little bit from some sort of weird parallax projection that sometimes makes the distance look closer than it is.
The characters themselves, of the various races, are obvious when you see them and there’s a great deal of equipment that can customize the characters themselves. You start out pretty threadbare (and in some cases somewhat skimpy) and often with a sad weapon of some sort; but you’ll see numerous people walking around town with hulking weapons of godlike proportions.
Animations are minimal, but they’re there and they add enough effect to the characters. Walking, swinging swords, throwing spells, all of these trigger the obvious animations and there’s even splash FX and other glows that occur when striking an enemy or throwing a spell. I saw the firey-foom effect enough times when throwing fireballs at gigarats (or maggots.)
Music, I think, is where Pandora Saga really started to wear thin. Initially the music seemed actually pretty good. In fact, I rather liked it. The first thing that caught my attention is that the music in the city and in the wilderness outside reminded me of Final Fantasy music. Swelling orchestra, low beats, something that sounds like a woodwind section and an epic sweep of music and vaulted harmonies.
However, the music is on an extremely short loop.
After listening to this for more than ten minutes you’ll, like me, go looking for the Options tab to turn the background music off.
Perhaps the developers of PS really just need to sit down and get a proper score for the game to fix this problem. As everything goes, this is a minor issue and can be remedied just by turning off the background music.
The sound FX also don’t have much to go for in this game. Actions all have their own sounds, from swinging a blade, hitting an enemy, taking a hit, and spellcasting. There’s very little diversity between the sounds, but they are distinct and you know what’s coming when you hear it. Although, I don’t recall the PvE enemies having any sounds at all. This game is primarily about the world PvP anyway.
Fremium: Cash shop sells consumable buffs for a system where breakage is a risk
Like most free-to-play games, Pandora Saga runs on a freemium model with a cash shop that sells buffs, equipment, and other items to greatly enhance gameplay. Although, this seems to be where things get a little bit dicey.
The microtransaction currency is called a Pandora Point (traded for Crowns) where PP run for about 700 to $1. This means that some equipment in the game can run as high as $20 for the necessary upgrades for an elementally enchanted weapon. This includes an item called a “hammer,” a device that is consumed during upgrade on failure. As a result, the cost of the hammer becomes a cost-risk that could obliterate a weapon, hammer, and other valuable items.
Note: Most of my information on this comes from February and June of this year; Altus Online could have changed PS’s mechanism by now—but it seems unlikely.
Conclusion: There’s a community but stay in groups when outside of town
As a game, Pandora Saga seems to be well-built. After a few growing pains attempting to understand the interface, it works a lot like most other MMORPGs on the market, which are also not without their own flaws. Every time I’ve logged in, there’s always been people chattering away at the town courtyard amid vendors standing, selling wares—also, I notice there seems to be a Game Master (GM) standing staff doing community relations all hours of the day as well.
Going outside the city can get hairy. So travel in a group. New players are constantly flowing in, so it isn’t hard to tap someone, party up, and venture forth. Although I didn’t run into any of the world PvP personally, I know from experience that games like this contain a lot of high level players who will pulverize you if they see you.
Complaints about the cash shop and the nature of it being overpriced seem to be endemic to this game. The example with the hammers and item upgrades might be indicative of the culture of the freemium model of the game; it also shows that there’s a lot of players paying attention to the game play and that people are spending money into the shop. No game without a healthy player base can easily claim that sort of attention.
Pandora Saga has merit as an MMORPG. It officially launched February 2011 and its still around so perhaps it’s a good time to go in—just go in with friends.