In the world of browser gaming, most of the MMO games we see try to struggle reaching for the standards at par with client-based MMO games. As such, we often find ourselves playing something too complicated, hyper-unrealistic, feature-deprived, or just plain silly. Browser games are often the guilty pleasure of most MMO gamers. The risks involved in playing are minimal in terms of bandwidth, time and effort spent, compared to full scale MMO games. Rarely do browser games push the envelope. Crystal Saga isn't one of those rare instances. Like most browser games, it's a simplistic MMORPG. But what makes it so special?
A New Saga
Reality Squared (R2) Games is a newcomer to the game publishing business. Primarily focusing on browser-based MMO games, R2's primary offering to the gaming population is a humbly-presented Crystal Saga. It took me a few seconds to register the thought that Crystal Saga is a browser-based game. From all the ads I've seen plastered through different MMO-related websites, I had this assumption that Crystal Saga was a client-based game – somewhat in the ranks of Aeria's Grand Fantasia or Gpotato's Iris Online. Oh, how my assumptions were sorely debunked after checking out the game's site. Yet despite playing through Crystal Saga, I was impressed at how well it delivers itself as an MMORPG. It offers a complete MMO package in the ranks of Perfect World, 4Story, Runes of Magic, Allods Online, and Iris Online. Ah wait, it sounds like I'm clumping random games together here. Think of it this way: most of the typical MMORPG staples found in the games previously mentioned are found in Crystal Saga. Like I said, it doesn't push the envelope for browser gaming, but it does try to set a standard nearly similar to full-fledged MMORPGs.
A Saga's Frontier
The game starts with a humble beginning. Just as you would expect from a browser game, character creation is a very limiting process. New characters are born from a name, one of the 5 available archetypes (Knight, Rogue, Priest, Ranger and Mage), and one of the 5 identifying faces of either gender. After spending a couple of seconds in the character creation screen, the game loads up and takes your character in the obligatory starter town. Mind you that load times in-between maps or screens are short and swift, but slow connections obviously have to wait longer. After testing load times while having direct downloads hogging the bandwidth at the same time, the game surprisingly still trudges to load. No hang-ups occurred. The game maximizes the browser's space (or you can go full screen and still have a good view of the game without horrible pixelization).
A short tutorial will run through the screen before the game allows you to move. Controls are based on a point-and-click interface: mouse lets you move and interact, while the keyboard houses the shortcut buttons. A few introductory quests here and there will get you going in no time. Mind you, Crystal Saga's quest-load is quite moderate. It's enough to get your exp pumping to the next levels, but not too much that it overwhelms and confuses your gaming itinerary. Expect the typical monster-hunting or item-delivery quests to come your way most of the time. In occasional instances, the game does get you to grind to the next level. The grind felt a lot like Ragnarok Online: early levels shades the exp bar quite generously, but slowly wanes down to a trickle at later levels.
Adding to the game's package is a moderately-robust skill system. Each class is given two skill trees to choose from, segregating two different play styles and skill sets. The trees are linear in progression, with 3 branches at the most. Think of the skill trees similar to a dumbed down version of World of Warcraft's talent tree. I meant that in a good way too. The two different skill trees keep pure builds simple to construct, yet the selection is enough for a customizable skill set suited to your needs. In addition to skill building, the game also lets you decide your stat build, providing you with at least 3 stat points to distribute per level.
Other staple features of the game include a pet system, the use of mounts, titles and achievements list too. Pets are no mere aesthetic in the game, to my surprise. This feature allows your pets to assist you in combat, level up, evolve, use skills, and even let you distribute stats accordingly. It's just quite strange to have a human archer as your pet though. But that's me being nitpicky. Mounts are also a separate feature from the pets. Though they do not assist you in combat, your faithful steed also needs to be fed (like the pets) and can be upgraded in order to change its appearance and increase its move speed.
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