By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Linkrealms is a self-stylized “Old-School Sandbox MMORPG.” In many ways it follows the example of the games of yore, such as Ultima Online. If you’re a sandbox MMO player, you’ll probably understand that pedestal that old-school Ultima Online is placed on within this community, and you’ll instantly be interested at the prospect of a more modern MMORPG trying to fill those shoes. But you’ll probably also have a bit of apprehension, which is understandable. So, does Linkrealms succeed? Well, that’s what we’re here to decide.
Your first slice of the nostalgia-pie is character creation. It feels very similar to old-school MMORPG character creation. Few options, clunky interface (which I will get into later), and an overall sense of “I hope I won’t be gimping myself…” despite the fact that there is a warning that your choices in character creation essentially don’t matter. I’m not sure how I feel about that, as I’m part of the school of thought that choices should have consequences. Not necessarily negative consequences, though. There are a few race choices, which only have an aesthetic effect as far as I can tell, and some ‘starting classes’ to help point you in the right direction.
I had difficulty figuring out how I felt about the Character Creation in Linkrealms. On the one hand, it’s true to its goals in emulating an Old-School Character Creation experience. But on the otherhand, why would you want to do that? They sucked and there are still plenty of old school MMOs still around (Ultima Online, again). So why do we need the same exact clunky experience that isn’t fun? Personally, I don’t like it.
Simply enough, the graphics are fantastic. No, not because they’re masterpieces of artwork in incredible HD and every corner is a new vista to be stunned by. They’re fantastic because they so completely capture the aesthetic of the old top-down and isometric 2D Games from back in the day. They look great in their own unique way that will invoke the nostalgia is anyone who was a kid in the 90’s and early 00’s. The graphics are easily one of my favorite things about Linkrealms.
The simplest and nicest way to describe the controls in Linkrealms is…Shitty. Yep. Old-School games have a lot to offer the modern gamer. There’s nostalgia, of course. But then there’s the rich lore and deep sandbox features like open world PVP, player property, and other stuff that the new MMOs seem to be rediscovering lately. But the complete package comes with their shitty, shitty User Interfaces. Why, why why why would you want to have that in your game?
On top of that, the default controls are unconventional by modern standards. You have to use the mouse and then you can go into your settings and begin creating keybindings. Then there are things like alt+I to open inventory. That’s another relic of the past I don’t like. It’s very common for old games to have things like inventory require a key combination to open windows. Thankfully that died out, except for in Linkrealm’s. If you haven’t noticed, I am a little salty about the controls and UI in this game.
‘Invalid Item’ was the most annoying thing I came across while playing, especially in the beginning hours of the game. I’m not even sure if this was a bug or just some sort of obscure game mechanic that was never explained to me. But nine times out of ten, when I tried to use an item to process another item, such as a hide stretcher of some hide to make leather, I would get “Invalid Item” whenever I tried to use it. It happened with the juicer, too, and every other processing item. Sometimes, picking up the item and moving it around my inventory would help. The most frustrating thing is that it could just be a normal mechanic that I couldn’t figure out and nothing was ever mentioned to me. Perhaps there’s a limit to how often you can use these items and then you have to take a short break? Maybe it was related to inventory weight? Perhaps it was just that I was standing to close to a certain NPC or object. Who knows.
Well, eventually I figured it out and it turned out I would sometimes triple click without realizing it, which caused the issue. This is why I’m not happy with Linkrealm’s UI and archaic control scheme. In the past, I would have just accepted this as part of the game. Sure, I would be annoyed but it would have barely phased me. Now, though, I’m too used to convenience and it was just an annoying experience. And these things keep popping up while I’m playing Linkrealms and each time I ask myself, “Why am I bothering?” Then either the Nostalgia leaks in and I keep going or I just force myself to stick with it because I’m here to review the game.
You would think a game like this would attract a lot of older players, people in their late twenties and early thirties and such. However, almost all of my interactions with players were with those who appeared to be younger. It was very similar to playing Runescape, in a lot of ways. In some ways that makes sense, but not what I expected. Whether this means that community is good or bad is up to you.
Gameplay is where Linkrealms shines. Sandbox MMOs are something special, they take the term ‘virtual life’ to a whole new level. They allow you to do things other genres simply won’t such as having a home, raising crops, fighting cockerels… There’s simply a ton of things to do and the game allows players to ‘create their own content.’ These are all key features of the sandbox genre, but Linkrealms takes that to an extreme. It’s called Linkrealms because players can create their own ‘realms’ which are all linked together.
There are two servers to play on. The original server offers open world PVP with full loot and other PVP sandbox staples. It resembles the original Ultima Online. Then there’s the PVE server, which is PVE focused and doesn’t have the non-consensual PVP features. Essentially the PVE server is similar to Trammel in Ultima Online. The experience learned from Trammel was that if given the choice, a majority of players will simply go to the PVE server and neglect the PVP server altogether or only visit when they wanted to participate in PVP (which wasn’t often).
To put it simply, it is widely considered that Trammel is what started the downfall of Ultima Online, so I have to admit that I’m a bit worried about the effect this will have on the game’s server. I prefer PVP, so I obviously chose to play on the PVP server. And it seems, right now, decently populated. However, I’m not sure if I should chalk that up to the transition to F2P and being on Steam, or if it’s something that will stay. Only time will tell, but I am worried.
Unfortunately, while Linkrealms certainly looks like a retro 2.5D MMO, it also plays like one. I was hoping when I originally looked at the Steam page that I would be getting a game that mixed the aesthetic of the old school MMOs like Ultima Online or maybe even Mu Online, but with improved quality of life features. While Old School MMOs are a fantastic source of nostalgia, they are also an impressive source of frustration. Their clunky UI’s, bug-ridden code, and glitchy gameplay all make for a rather… unique experience. And, like I said, unfortunately Linkrealms has all of this. They take the Old School, retro aesthetic to a whole new level, and I’m not sure if it was done on purpose or not.
But I’ll admit that there is a certain charm to it. Nostalgia is a hellava drug. When I first logged into Linkrealms and started playing, I was a bit frustrated. However, within an hour I was transported back to my own little personal Golden Age of MMO gaming, over a decade ago when I was thirteen going on fourteen. Any MMO I could get my hands on was incredible. And most of them played a lot like Linkrealms. I again felt like I was that geeky loner who sprinted off the bus, through the door, and straight to my computer to play whatever MMO had my fancy at the time. Nostalgia is powerful, and if you were playing MMOs over a decade ago, you’ll be hard pressed to not find something to trigger it within you while playing Linkrealm’s.
This game has a hefty feature list, so I’m obviously not going to be able to talk about it all. The skinny of it is that there is something for everyone. If you like to craft, there is an interesting and in-depth resource collection and crafting system. If you prefer combat, there are tons of unique monsters to slay and challenges to overcome. If you’re into PVP, there is the PVP server and it will provide you with one of the best sandbox PVP experiences you could hope for.
When you start the game, you’ll be lead through a decent tutorial on crafting. It’ll have you do the basics of resource gathering and processing, creating basic potions to drink. Then you’ll get into some more advanced stuff such as killing animals for pelts to process into leather which can then be used in tailoring. The crafting is very traditional and no different than in many sandbox MMOs, so you won’t be blown away from the complexity, but you’ll find it familiar.
Personally, I’m more of a fan of the crafting you can do in games like Mortal Online, Wurm Online, and Star Wars Galaxies. Each of those games is a sandbox MMO, with crafting that required experience and knowledge with the system to produce high quality goods. Linkrealms is not like that, preferring a more simple and straight-forward resource gathering system and your typical ‘choose-from-list-of-recipes’ crafting. You do need to raise your skills to successfully craft things and there’s even some things that WILL require you to do research, but in general it’s not something you will worry over and may not even be something you’ll want to spend much time on.
Combat isn’t going to be as intense as you’ll find in more modern MMOs. If you’ve ever played Ultima Online, it’s very similar to that. At the start, it’s as simple as turning on combat mode and clicking on a target. Later on you get into other abilities, spells and whatnot. This is one of those games where the combat becomes intense because of the high stakes and strategy that goes into it. I personally prefer that type of combat, but that may be since I spent 7~ years or so playing Wurm Online which is similar in some ways.
The game has a Claim system, in which you can ‘upload’ realms that you’ve created using the game’s editor. It’s an interesting system that I’m still a bit iffy about. I’m more a fan of normal player housing that you find in games like Star Wars Galaxies or ArcheAge. Or a more brick-by-brick system such as that found in Wurm Online. This system allows for a lot of creativity, though, which is awesome. I love visiting players’ houses in games to see how they’ve decorated. This is similar but with a bit more potential.
Linkrealms is a unique game in that it captures a specific time in MMO history, before everyone tried to clone World of Warcraft, and we were plagued by a thousand Free-to-Play Asian MMOs. Its closest relative would be Ultima Online, but it shares qualities with many of the sandbox games available today. Its crafting and combat are passable, but the strategy and planning that go into both exceed expectation. The Claim system allows for a lot of creativity, which is good because there isn’t too much of that in other parts of the game. Overall, now that Linkrealms is Free-to-Play on top of being on Steam, you should definitely download it if you’re looking for a retro gaming experience in the form of a sandbox MMO.
Features: 4/5 – You won’t run out of things to do, that’s for sure.
Customization: 3/5 – The Claim system saves Linkrealms’ Customization score.
Graphics: 3/5 – It fits the style it’s going for very well, but is otherwise not the most impressive I’ve seen.
Controls: 2/5 – Rage inducing until you finally get familiar with it.
Community: 4/5 – It’s a decent community from what I saw.
Overall: 4/5 – The stars are aligning and I would say that now is a great time to give the game a chance. There is a certain sub-group of MMO players who will find Linkrealms to be the perfect home for them.