Project Gorgon

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I am not entirely sure why, but this weekend I decided to buy into Project Gorgon on Steam.  Now in theory I could have been playing it for free all of this time given that based on the titles I have…  I played both in Pre-Alpha and Alpha.  I remember picking up the game in the past and finding it undeniably charming… but also very raw and unpolished…  which was not something I was looking for at that time.  However with several games either out or on the horizon that seem to be vying for the “Everquest Nostalgia” demographic…  I thought I should probably give it another shot.  Knowing how shoestring of a budget the game has been lead me to just go ahead and purchase it on Steam even though in theory I could have still logged in via my original account that I linked to while setting the game up.

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Part of the charm of this game is that it plops you into the game with no real warning or advisement about what you should be doing.  This can be a bit maddening if you are not in the right mindset, but in doing so the “newbie island” helps to set your focus on how this game works.  There are clues and directions out there…  but you need to spend time pouring over quest text and scribbling down notes as you go.  Which is handy because they do in fact give you an in game notepad to do so with.  One of the sequences on the island involves going around and scribbling down coordinates that you will ultimately need later on, and not writing down the correct coordinates could have dire consequences.

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I am extremely late to the game, because I know that some of my friends have been playing for ages.  However I still felt like I needed to talk a bit about it this morning to try and explain why it is so damned charming.  Compared to modern MMORPGs this is going to feel extremely spartan but I believe that is in large part the point.  This is a game where everything has an equivalent skill that can be raised, including death…  and a game where you have no classes or true levels to speak of.  You go out into the world and do things, and those things ultimately give you skills…  which you then blend together into something resembling your own personal “class”.

For example everyone can have a primary and a secondary combat skill.  I’ve chosen sword for my primary and bow for my secondary allowing me to play a EQ ranger sort of flavored character starting combat off with ranged attacks and finishing it up close and person with sword slashes.  I could have gone with other options which would have had their own leveling system and their own sets of attacks.  I’ve not actually encountered anything that would come across as traditional magic in the game, but I am certain it is in there…  just has to be discovered and unlocked like everything else seems to be.

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I am currently in a mode where I am just not sure what is useful and what is not.  It seems like everything that drops can in theory have a use…  but I may not be able to discover it yet because I lack the skill to do anything with it.  I spent a large amount of time yesterday learning how to cook and garden so that I could ultimately create some hashbrowns…   to gain favor with an NPC to be able to do something else.  Similarly there are half a dozen combat quests that I am slowly chipping away at as I go out into the world and take down mobs.  There is a significant amount of learning the lay of the land going on…  which of course has its own skill associated with it called Cartography… that increases as you clear the fog from various areas of the map.

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Like I said literally everything seems to have a skill associated with it that can be raised and that will ultimately unlock abilities if you get them high enough.  Combat right now can be extremely challenging because there is no formal “con” system like Everquest or DAoC had to guide you.  In theory you need to fight something… before you can really determine if you are strong enough to be able to hunt them regularly.  Since Death is its own skill…  dying over and over to something eventually makes you heartier and raises your maximum health and in theory doesn’t seem to have much in the way of negative effects.  There is some sort of a hardcore mode that acts more like Everquest or a similar game…  but that is not a thing I will ever be enabling.  What makes it even more entertaining is that you gain “Bonus Death Experience” for dying in new and interesting ways…  turning it into a bit of a mini-game to see if you can figure out new ways that you can shed the mortal coil.

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Anyone who played Everquest during the Shadows of Luclin expansion will recognize this scene…  with lots of vendors lined up in an area that looks very reminiscent of The Nexus.  The positive here is that each of these stalls is an NPC that can be rented by the players allowing for a much better shopping experience than players having to AFK all day to sell their wares.  One of the things you are going to need to get used to in playing Project Gorgon… is that it is a much slower paced game hearkening back to an era where there was plenty of time to throw out chat messages in between attacks in combat.  As a result from what I hear there is an amazing community that has grown up in the game and based on the forums at least… I would say they are more than willing to help new players get started.

There are certain aspects of the game that really lend to this…  for example it uses an EQ item drop system allowing players to just throw something on the ground that anyone else can pick up.  As a result there are often tons of viable items just laying around in town that high progressed players have discarded because they are not actually worth trying to sell.  One of the concepts that is hard to get used to is the fact that vendors have a limited amount of gold on them, and each of them will only buy certain items.  There is one vendor in town that will buy pretty much anything…  but you are going to run her out of gold very quickly and have to wait seven days real world time for her funds to regenerate.  This means that you need to get to know which vendors are the best options for buying which items…  either that or just drop it on the ground for someone else to use.

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Another really interesting system in the game is that you can “Hang out” with certain NPCs while offline, allowing you to do some measure of progression while not logged into the game.  You can only have one of these activities selected at a time and as far as I can tell you don’t need to be anywhere near the actual NPC when you log out to make it happen.  For example in the first image of this post there is a little note at the bottom the screen saying that I finished hunting Myconids with Mushroom Jack, which was a 4 hour long Hangout I chose before logging out for the evening.  Generally speaking you need to get to a certain faction level before these start opening up with NPCs, but doing so gives you an interesting way to push up their favor and also potentially gain items.

It took me awhile to figure this out, and in my sluggishness at arriving at this conclusion…  it lead me to miss out in a very important item on the newbie island that I am deeply wishing I had.  In fact I am starting a second character just to try and get said item…  and in theory will swap it over via the extremely expensive shared account storage.  The only problem I see with the game right now is that since I seem to be able to eventually learn how to do everything…  I question the need for alts.  At some point during my play through I decided to drop unarmed combat as my secondary attack and pick up a bow…  and even though it was grossly behind in skill I seemed to be able to catch it up quickly.  If you have the time and money… you seem to be able to do every possible tradeskill…  so I question what the hook is for running up additional characters?

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Over the course of the weekend I played eight hours of the game, and in doing so have become hooked.  While doing this Tam was apparently playing Shroud of the Avatar, which I myself booted up last night to see how the two compared.  They are both vying for that 90s era early MMO nostalgia… and quite honestly Project Gorgon scratches the right itches for me personally.  Shroud was extremely well funded and had a relatively large development crew to create…  but comes off as this extremely janky product.  Project Gorgon however has at its core a husband and wife development team, and a composer…  and a relatively low funded kickstarter…. and comes off as this completely charming and competent version of that Everquest era game that ultimately FEELS better to play.

Sure it needs more work, for example the game consumes a ton of system resources… far more than it should for the level of graphical fidelity.  However client optimization will come in time, and based on the little note you see before logging in the team realizes that is a problem.  However what is there is extremely sticky, and extremely impressive for such a small development team.  I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the game because each time I play I figure out something new.  Hell there are entire areas of the first major zone that I have not explored…  and with it likely NPCs that I have not talked to or encountered.  Ultimately this game is not going to be for everyone…  but if you ever wanted to see what playing Everquest felt like back during the early days Project Gorgon is a great starting place.