Revival: An Old-School, Open World, Player Driven, Lovecraftian MMO?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

 Yes, it is a real thing. Revival is an MMO from Illfonic that promises some really enticing things. Set in a feudal-ish world with a heavy dose of  Lovecraft in the mix, Revival boasts a player driven economy and political structure, a completely skill-based combat system and an open story driven by player and community actions. These aren't exactly new ideas, but most of today's MMOs adhere to rigid story structures and highly controlled game economies. As tempting as it is to name Revival as the herald of a return to old school MMO sandbox games, I'd recommend a bit of temperance. This is a game still very early in its development, but already setting off some warning bells.

The game's mission statement is thus: " Revival is the rebirth of the player-driven, sandbox, fantasy role-playing world. Player agency, world persistence, and absolutely zero compromises are the cornerstones of our quest for a living, persistent, dark fantasy role-playing world." As a longtime tabletop gamer, this message struck me in all the right places. I've always wanted to have a more meaningful impact in the game worlds I inhabit. I think most players out there would love to feel as though they were more a part of the game, like they were less playing a role than inhabiting that world. It's also something we've all been promised from countless games, and very few have delivered on those promises. I'm looking at you, Destiny.

Player, NPC or Live Storyteller? It's too early to tell.

Making a sandbox work in the context of an MMO can be a hugely taxing endeavor. IllFonic seems to have looked this task in its metaphorical eye and spat in it. On top of the player-driven, choice and consequences world, they've promised to have a dedicated team of developers solely focused on what they call live storytelling. Here is a selection from Revival's site describing the approach:

Storytellers do more than simply kick-off content packages and peruse game metrics. Our tools allow us to reach into the world and act as directly as any player. From the lowliest wandering beast, to the greatest monster of the deep, and everywhere in-between.
Far more than a simple cadre of guides, Storytellers can take possession of any creature in the world. They may deliver prophecy, raise armies, or guide adventurers to new lands. They may appear as man or beast, beggar or god. The Storytellers are hands-on content creators that can (and will) interact with the playerbase at any time, creating dynamic stories and opening the door to endless possibility.
Our Storytellers will have their hands on the reins of warlords and kings, dark gods and cults, but even the simplest mob may be driven by a Storyteller if the mood strikes, or if it serves the storyline. We may even drop in just to mix things up. Anything that can be imagined is in the realm of possibility, and that is the true power of Live Storytellers.
It's a tall order to have a team so omnipresent, especially for a game servers in multiple regions across the globe. I can't begin to imagine the resources a team like that must require. If executed as promised though, it could lead to some very interesting gameplay, especially when dealing with the inevitable trolls.

At this point, Revival appears to be a classless MMO, instead allowing players to decide which skills they with to learn and use in combat. The basic combat systems we're familiar with in MMOs have been changed as well. No toolbars for hotkeying abilities or extensive skill trees to slowly grind through. Skills, both combat and mundane are improved by using them. Learning new tricks in combat takes time but "when a player learns a new combat style and assumes its stance, the eight attacks available to them change to match the new style," creating a more fluid combat dynamic.

A view of  he town. Just like real life, you can't afford any of these houses.

My first impressions of Revival are hopeful, but the game is more concept than anything else for the moment. IllFonic has set release stages for potential players to experience.. Essentially, these development milestones made available for play in a sort of early access platform. The first stage "housing," allows players to walk around their virtual domicile and.. That's it. This is where I got a bit skeptical. You can stake your claim in the game world now by purchasing virtual real estate in Crown's Rock, a small island town. These homes range from hovels and apartments to grand manses and estates and cost anywhere from $36.62 to $386.40. That's real money dollars, not virtual coinage. Yes, it seems Revival real estate is approximate to Star Citizen's ships.

I can't justify those kinds of costs, just to explore a house. These are not the gate fees that the average player can be expected to afford. Revival seems o have an answer to this issue by stating that many servers will be free to play and that "Revival is built to be fun for players, whether they spend money or not." However, the game will have subscription based "Gold servers" offering more content. These gold server are also the only place to experience the "24/7 Live storytelling" we talked about earlier. So the game may be fun for everyone, but it's built to be better for those that drop more money on it.

It's too early to say anything for sure yet. Revival has my attention, but without clear models or demonstrations of the systems they promise and some clarification on their pay model, it will be a difficult sell.