There’s no easy way to talk about a game that probably won’t appeal to most people. We could start with the traditional assessment, going over combat, crafting, questing, or any of the other elements that are usually acclaimed for making a game unique, but I think instead we’ll dive right into the one thing that actually does make this at-first seemingly lackluster game stand out from the crowd: roleplay.
PlaneShift isn’t one of those MMOs where there are dedicated roleplay servers for players to go to get their fix for the RPG element; no, the entire game is dedicated to roleplay, which is what keeps its community alive. Currently in version 0.6.3, having been in the early development stages even as far back as ten years ago upon the creation of my very first character, PlaneShift will probably turn most people away due to its “clunky” feel. After all, what fun can you have if the combat is mediocre and the quests leave more to be desired?
Plenty. PlaneShift’s roleplay community fills the gaps and makes the game into a great experience for anyone who possesses an open mind, though it still has to compete with other active roleplaying community hubs like LotRO and ESO, both of which and many others making PlaneShift fall completely off the radar.
Regardless, I can tell of many epic battles–even wars–that have taken place within Yliakum, the stalactite world of PlaneShift, purely due to the interactions between the players. Simply through speaking with other characters, you’ll soon find yourself wrapped up in convoluted plots that can eventually lead up to a grand finale depending on how everyone has played his or her part. You would never think that typing actions back and forth with someone would give you a pure rush of adrenaline, but try standing face-to-face with your greatest adversary, the conflict having played out over days, weeks, even months, and tell me that you don’t feel like it was all worth playing a game that doesn’t have the same polish as others on the market.
Being in early development, PlaneShift still lacks many of the character customization options that you would expect–along with many other desired features–from other roleplaying games, but that’s why the developers have included a description space for those who want to write out exactly how their character is supposed to look. Just hope that somebody reads it; otherwise, you may further diversify yourself only by choosing from among the nine races the game has to offer, some of which not yet possessing their own ingame character models.
Aside from the creation story of how all the races came to reside within Yliakum, there’s plenty of other “lore” you can find buried within PlaneShift’s ingame books. I’d say that PlaneShift is worse than the Elder Scrolls series when it comes to conveying information solely through books; you won’t understand much of anything about the world without spending time studying, which can be either good or bad depending on who you are. One neat feature though is that players are actually able to write their own books into the world, something that you don’t often see in traditional MMOs, and these books can be mass-produced, sold, and traded. You can even ask a GM to place a “book” of yours on various message boards for anyone to read out in the open to advertise events or bounties.
Aside from books, the game’s quests make a very basic attempt at immersing the player in Yliakum’s rich culture. Now, when I say basic, I mean the personalities of the NPCs span from somewhat normal to outright ridiculous in their presentation of whatever task they desire you to accomplish. Either an NPC will refuse to answer a very simple question, such as the location of the person to whom you’re supposed to give this NPC’s prized possession, or this crazed soul will speak for so long and in sometimes such broken English that it’s hard to focus in on what you’re supposed to be doing. Did I mention that you’re required to hand-type most of your responses to the NPCs?
If you can ignore the presentation, however, quests are insanely rewarding and entirely optional. Quests are about the only way to obtain glyphs, which allow access to PlaneShift’s magic system. I’ll admit, if there’s one aspect of the game that really draws me in aside from the roleplay, it’s the glyphs. Glyphs are like little magic runes that fall under one of six “Ways,” either containing a spell, disappointment, or the unlocking of a spell only when combined with another glyph, and you can combine up to four glyphs from any of the Ways together at once. Not every glyph can be combined with every other glyph, however, meaning that there are specific combinations to unlocking certain spells, some of which being overwhelmingly powerful.
While magic does a great part in fixing an otherwise lackluster combat system, we can’t ignore combat as the main reason why most people don’t bother to play this game. PlaneShift doesn’t have a conventional progression system; instead, your character trains a skill associated with the action he or she is performing based on how many times this action is performed, void of an overall “character level” as seen in most RPGs. This may not seem like a terrible system, but combat itself is based solely on a toggle switch, so you press a button and swing away. That’s it. PvP involves some acrobatic maneuvers of strafing and timing your auto-attacks, but you’ll be staring at training dummies for the rest of your life to level unless you find some way to make it look as if you’re at your keyboard so that the GMs don’t accuse you of “botting,” which is a serious offense that you can be sure will never take place during your stay ingame.
And then there’s crafting. Oh, crafting. I’m a player who came from a time before the crafting system was even released, so by the time it was finally introduced, I felt that it was an unnecessary task that the benefits of which could easily be replicated through the killing of mobs; however, the randomized drops from hunting rather than crafting may keep your crafting-based character secured to a seat of wealth and power.
Without much else to talk about, I must mention that the above elements are all subject to change. Combat will see the introduction of a “special moves” system that I believe uses the same mechanic as magic, and I’ve seen statements of dungeons becoming a randomized occurrence formed by wandering tribes of creatures/people, making exploration much more enjoyable. The most exciting thing is that PlaneShift is in the process of converting to Unreal Engine 4, which validates the years’ worth of work with an up-to-date engine. As it stands, however, you will be playing this game only to experience its rich roleplay culture, as there will always be something that you will find yourself disappointed with if you came expecting a completed game. That being said, PlaneShift is always accepting volunteers to help speed up the development process!