Tibia Review - Fourteen Years and Counting
Neil Kewn - OnRPG journalist
1997 was an exciting year for video gaming. We saw the birth of Diablo, Grand Theft Auto and Age of Empires. The original Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 home consoles dominated the gaming spectrum, and MMORPGs were reserved for backroom geeks and their Pentium Pro computers. It would take another two years for the fabled EverQuest to hit shelves, and Warcraft was still just a real-time strategy game. Yet, the foundation for what would become a multi-million dollar industry and worldwide phenomenon had been firmly laid. Tibia is one of the oldest MMORPGs in existence, and over fourteen years since its launch players are still populating its servers. I'm going to find out why.
CipSoft GmbH is currently in the process of translating Tibia's desktop application into a Flash-based browser game. I am playing the client's closed-beta.
Like a fine wine...
Tibia is a top-down two-dimensional game employing a point and click control method. Maps are basically textured grids, with your character moving from one square at a time in one of four directions (up, down, left and right). The visuals aren't particularly pleasing to the eye, nor have they improved much over the years, but that isn't what Tibia seems to be going for. The game mimics the classic fantasy RPGs that graced consoles like the NES in both gameplay and visual presentation, making for an experience that is profoundly retro. Whilst some may enjoy such a throwback to a bygone era, playing Tibia can be a frustrating experience for those accustom to the fluid 3D worlds commonplace in today's MMOs.
And fluidity is what Tibia is sorely lacking. Clicks, at least in the beta browser version, don't always register and performing the most trivial of tasks can be a nightmare as the game patiently decides whether or not to let you climb a ladder. Positioning seems to be everything, and with a ridiculously limited set of movement options it can take multiple clicks to make your character pick up items or perform abilities.
...It only gets better with age
Nostalgia only takes the game so far, it's clear that anyone who commits to Tibia needs to have an abundance of patience. Travelling is slow at the beginning, and progress takes time and effort. The majority of Tibia is controlled with the mouse, with actions assigned to a right-click menu which crops up when interfacing with objects in Tibia's large world. Abilities and items can be assigned to the action bars positioned around the game screen.
Upon logging in for the first time, a series of tutorial missions and quests introduce you to the historic sprite-filled world. It's not until level eight you are given the option of choosing a class, of which there are four available - Druid, Sorcerer, Knight and Paladin. Like the majority of other MMOs, gaining experience and levelling up is the main objective in Tibia. In addition to an overall level, there are a number of individual skills that can be mastered depending on what weapon you wield and action you perform. Fighting with fists, swords and axes all build up its own relevant skill, whilst additional activities like fishing can also be performed.
Combat in Tibia is very reminiscent of that in EVE Online (or should that be vice versa?). The user interface consists of several panels, each containing actions and information about the game. One such panel is populated with the names of enemies in the surrounding area. Clicking on a name initiates combat. It's a simple solution that deals with Tibia's horrible navigation, bringing at least some flexibility to combat. Of course fights can still be started by clicking on actual entities in the world, and a handy auto-follow feature means you won't be desperately clicking squares to chase after opponents. There are three different fighting styles available, each giving a bonus to a particular combat skill - these can be switched on the fly.
It's common for MMO fans to mute their game whilst playing, opting to provide their own soundtrack to accompany their daily grind. With Tibia, you have no choice. The game is completely devoid of audio. I originally thought this was just omitted in the beta, but no. There is no music and zero sound effects - the world of Tibia is silent.
The game prides itself on being free to play, and for the most part it is. To help with funding players are encouraged to upgrade their account to Premium, offering more areas to explore and more items to collect. The Housing feature is also available to Premium members, giving players the chance to rent houses which can be furnished and visited by other members of the population.
The game takes a novel approach to interacting with non-player characters, too. Instead of skim-reading through quest logs and collecting a shopping list of tasks, you are encouraged to actually have a conversation with the non-player characters that litter the world. They can be greeted by saying "hello", and the conversation progresses through a series of keywords. Whilst you can't slaughter them, there are several different server options available each offering a different PvP experience. Similar to classic RuneScape, Open PvP worlds will label player killers with a cross to signify their murderous ways, and Hardcore PvP offers a free-for-all kill fest.
Tibia has never been considered the finest MMO in the world, and it does have its flaws and frustrations. Fourteen years is an extremely long time in video gaming, and it's fair to say that Tibia hasn't moved with the times. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. The community has remained loyal and appreciate what Tibia has achieved during its tenure. The fact the servers are still running is a true testament to its popularity and addictiveness. It's a simple, easy to grasp MMO with a formula that has become tried and tested over the years. It's not for everyone, but those looking for slice of classic role-playing gaming then Tibia might just be what you are looking for.