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Developer:
Artifact Entertainment
Publisher: Atari
Platform: PC
Release Date: 12/2003

by Mingtian




Welcome to Istaria! Welcome to a world where a select few are somehow not affected by death like the rest of us. Those inhabitants, known as the “gifted”, have been asked to take part in a great undertaking: the defense of Istaria against the invading hordes of Withered Aegis, bent on making it not such a nice place to live in.


I must confess that I played Beta Horizons for a while and so, when I installed the “real” game, I wasn’t doing it totally cold. I elected to do a fresh install and even with a Pentium 4, lots of RAM and a fast connection to the internet, it took me over two hours to install the CD's and then get the game updated on line. So if you’re chomping at the bit to play this game, I’d suggest having an alternative activity planned for installation day. Now on to the game!


Choices, Choices

When you first get into the game you are faced with choices about character creation. It would be wise for anyone to visit the Horizons websites before making choices because this is a very, very complicated game. There are some racial bonuses that would be more beneficial to you depending on your choices of fighting and crafting. Fortunately, you can get some skills later on to make up for less than optimum choices.


Different races start with different base amounts for their attributes (Strength, Dexterity, …). For instance, I am a Gnome. I don’t have a lot of physical strength. So when I chose to be a fitter and carpenter, relying on skills that use a lot of strength like mining and chopping down trees, my tiny gnome body (cute as it is) was not as good at this as some other races, like the Half Giant race. After a time, I made up for the deficit by spending the training points that I got by leveling with a strength trainer. Also, since I am a Healer, a specialization of the Cleric fighter school, I have some buffs I can apply to myself, one of which is Strength. I also got myself some jewelry that adds a great deal of strength. This being said, I am still not as strong as a Half Giant with similar enhancements.


Strength actually adds to your skill when mining and performing other crafting tasks. Other attributes like Dexterity will benefit other crafting skills. Predictably, Strength will also add to your fighting ability, as will other attributes. Then of course there is the Multi-class issue.


Multi-class Complexity

As if the crafting system wasn’t complicated enough to amaze anyone (more on that later), this game allows you to join many classes or “schools”. There are “base” schools with no prerequisites and the specialised “prestige” schools. For instance, if you start as a Warrior base school, you can, amongst other choices, go on to become a Reaver or a Chaos Warrior . To do this your Two-hand slash skill has to reach a certain proficiency level. If you are a Cleric, you may stay one or, when your life skill gets to a certain point, you can become a Healer. Now let’s say that you start as a Warrior and you decide you’d like to be able to do a bit of self healing. You visit the Cleric trainer and join the Cleric school. At this point you are back to level one, as a Cleric. That is your Current School.


You have kept your hit points and you get a “rating” credit for your expertise as a Warrior. Any strength or other attributes you improved when you were a Warrior are still there but any special Warrior abilities/spells are not useable unless – and here is another bit of complexity - they are skills that are common to both Cleric and Warrior. You also will lose the armor you were wearing. Beware. You may be standing in front of the trainer in your undies, while the nice plate armor you just had on will be in your inventory, useless to you. And that wonderful weapon you wielded can’t be equipped anymore. You can change back to Warrior any time you wish and you will be back at the level that you had achieved before you switched from Warrior to Cleric. Your character panel shows all the schools you’ve trained and where you got in them.


Here is another example. I trained up to level eleven as a Druid. Druids can use two-handed weapons. But as a Cleric or Healer I cannot use a two-handed weapon and I cannot wear the same armor that Druids can wear. I can still cast a few Druid spells but not very many of them. So why bother training Druid at all? Because of a few skills that are very useful that I could not get any other way.


Here is one thing that I would like changed in the game, almost everyone has begun to do some Cleric training and, as a result, they are all healing themselves. I don’t believe that anyone but someone currently practicing the Cleric or Healer school should be allowed to cast strong heals or to resurrect other players. Just my two cents but I think it cheapens being a Healer, Cleric or Paladin.


Keeping Track: the Interface

Horizons has a very, very easy to use and customizable interface. I use the mouselook myself but you can walk around the world of Istaria with the keyboard, using any keys you wish to bind for that purpose. The keyboard keys are completely changeable to your wishes. The chat windows have tabs you can make and name, so you can stack them. If a message comes in on one window, the tab glows. You can fiddle with font size, color, window opacity, and stick them anywhere you want. You can have as many hotkey bars up as you want or just have one bar and switch using keystrokes. You can drag commands such as “open cargo disk” to a hotkey if you wish. Or you can put your tools, formulas and spells on them. There are panels for your spells, for your formulas and to see the character equipped gear. As for the inventory, it is viewable as a text list or as icons.


The world map was just introduced recently and it is fantastic. You can zoom in and out, see your group mates, see everyone around if you choose, or see no one at all. It shows cities or your own icons you have placed and named to mark your own chosen locations. There are around 25 icons you can choose from to mark your map. You can find any coordinates just by moving your cursor over the map. Your location is also shown by coordinates on your radar, which you can, with one click, broadcast to your group members. You can keep the map minimized on screen or use the key binding of your choice to bring it up.


Looking for a Tinker to craft something for you? Use the Player Search panel. You will get a list of all those Tinkers who are on line. From there it’s easy to send a Tell. You will also see their level and Guild affiliation on the same Panel. Looking for a group? Just check the "looking for group" (LFG) flag and you’ll get a list of all players currently looking for others to hunt with. Put yourself on the list just as easily.


Crafting and Adventuring, Partners


Yes, Horizons is a crafter’s dream game. The game is made so that you will never get anything looted that will, by itself, do an adventurer much good. Sure you can sell the Bronze Golem Fragment you looted. There is some crafter dying for it. Take it to the Consigner and sell it at a price you choose, less a fee for consignment. Or pawn it for the current going pawnshop rate and get immediate cash. The game, however, was created so that Adventurers need crafters and crafters need fighters.


For example: A Jeweler wants to make some Jewelry that increases the wearer's Mining ability. This jewelry could help the Jeweler mine his own ore, or it could be for sales purposes. The Necklace of Mining doesn’t just use the ore for the jewelry though. To add that Mining "technique", it requires the carapaces from Sand Beetles. Now Sand Beetles are not exactly running up to you and offering you their carapaces! In fact, they tend to be a bit nasty about it. They’re at least level 18 and they attack in groups. The Jeweler either isn’t of a high enough fighting level to kill enough of these beetles for their loot or doesn’t want to take the time to do it. That is where the fighter comes in. The Jeweler can find one and make a deal to get the carapaces.


Some high level crafting materials like gold can actually be “mined” from dead mobs such as in the case of gold, obtained from dead gold golems. Not that I can do this, I’m only level 26 and those golems are level 55!! Adventurer needed! So you see, there is a lot of trading in the game between various crafters and fighters.


Furthering the Storyline: Crafters and Adventurers both needed!

The Withered Aegis, or WA as we call them, have not been happy with the defeats we dealt to them. Events vary on each server according to how the players have worked. On my server, we haven’t freed a subjugated race of Satyrs yet. On other servers, they have done this by completing certain tunnels and repairing some devices. In order to get the crafters close enough to do the tunnel repairs, level 75 and higher mobs have to be kept at bay. The more of these that are killed, the madder they get naturally. Without going into great detail, a recent added plot line has it that in the Elven city of Feladen, which has long been overtaken by the WA, there is a machine that, if dealt with, will contribute to the freeing of the city from the WA. This will require high-level fighters and craftsmen. The developers at AE are happy to keep us always one step behind them, however, constantly putting in new twists and turns.


Crafting, and learning Horizons


When you start the game after you’ve chosen your race and your fighting school, you can train in one or more crafting schools. The trainers in the tutorial hall will give you tiny tasks and tools that can get you started. Then you are on your own.


You emerge in Istaria on a Newbie Island and you can easily see the handy signs pointing you to “Ore” or “Flax” or, if you want to take a break from crafting, to “Monsters”. I feel simultaneously that this is pretty bad, having those signs, yet it kind of strikes me as being funny too. Be that as it may, when you’re learning Horizons, you are glad for any help you can get. This game is not easy to learn by any means, even if you’re experienced.


You can join as many schools of crafting as you like, but you won’t get experience points (xp) in a school that doesn’t use the skills of the school you are currently using. For example, as a Blacksmith you can get xp for logging, woodworking, smelting, mining and several other actions. But if you become a miner, your mining skill will advance much quicker. You can be a Blacksmith until your abilities let you join a prestige school such as carpenter and then you will get more xp for woodworking but you won’t get any xp for making metal tools. You can still make them because you were a Blacksmith and you keep your skill but you get no xp as long as you’re an active Carpenter. You can switch back and forth merely by visiting a trainer and rejoining the other school.


There are resources such as copper, iron and platinum, cedar, elm and oak and many other types of plants, gems and animals (yummy, minnow soup) that can be harvested. These are grouped in “tiers” which progressively require higher skills to utilize. If you’re trying to level in one school and you switch to another, you may find it easy to level up if the new school uses similar skills or you may find that you have gone back to square one. These are common sources of confusion and one reason why I am suggesting that anyone who plans to play Horizons reads, reads and reads.


Construction

Many materials that are gathered or mined are used as components in buildings such as player made houses, stores, workshops or in community structures such as bridges, guard towers, and tunnels to various locations. If a player or a guild creates a new shop or workshop or a storage silo they can make this useable by everyone or restrict its use to a chosen group.


Buying land is difficult, as there is competition for it and it is expensive. Building takes a lot of effort and can be achieved by having friends or guildmates help or by hiring workers to do this. If you own land and wish to build a shop you can allot funds for each type of construction. Any builder can then be paid when the material is added to the structure.


Fighting and Grouping

There has been plenty said about how “slow” and “boring” the combat is in this game. All I can think of is that people either encountered lag or else they were only very low level when they made those remarks. At the time of writing, I am a level 26 Healer who also trained in Mage and Druid. I have so many combat choices that I had to finally just decide not to use all of them because, between all the various heals I have and all the attacks, combat stances and buffs, I can’t react quickly enough if I even allow myself to consider the full line of actions I can perform in a fight (running away is also an option :) ).


Sure, I admit it, I’m not the best fighter out there. But even if I was quicker on the draw, there is the mob AI to consider. They can be pretty good at fighting back. They also have different combat stances that you have to match accordingly, or you take worse hits. In addition, they were recently given some new skills, making them harder to kill. Of course, when I was level 3, I would target a flame beetle, use up the one or 2 trained skills I had and then just sit there and wait for one of us to die. But now that I have so many options, fighting isn’t slow at all.


It is possible to solo in this game and to do it well (at least that’s what I hear, hehe). It’s also possible to find a group and have a smashing time. There are group xp bonuses that are very nice indeed. You get some loot from fighting and some direct coin also.


Gameplay and Issues

It’s easy to move around and talk, craft, fight and trade. There is still some instability like crashing out when you open a trade though. At this time there are “broken” features, like silos which can be built but not used. Dragon flight hasn’t been introduced but there are some upcoming things for Dragons such as some sort of “rite of passage” quest . Hopefully, it won’t require any Gnome kabobs.


The game looks quite nice on the whole. There is a lot of variety in the terrain and racial architecture and some neat effects too. There are downsides too, however. I have seen better graphics – AC2 for example, had far better visuals. Also, most players have had to turn down their video settings in order to get rid of lag and framerate issues as they move around the world. Most players have set their view distance at a lower setting for example. I prefer to keep mine at maximum so that I can see farther and get as much of the scenic view as possible. However, I get some slowdowns as a result of this decision. It has lessened over time however as the developers work on the problem.


During huge events the combat and movement lag can be horrendous. We are now promised that this will be a thing of the past. There has been lag since Beta and, sometimes, when you portal into a town, you arrive under the ground instead of above it. However, I have to say there has been steady improvement and hope that all those issues will very soon be resolved.


At this time you can construct various buildings but there’s no furniture yet. This game is still very much “in progress”. In all fairness, AE has been working very hard on it and every few days there are some additions and fixes being applied.


Almost everyone seems to have joined a guild. This is probably because players depend on each other so much since you can’t just loot what you want and you can’t always find things in the shops when you need them either, even if you have money. There are also some community groups, sometimes known as councils, that work on repairing bridges. Recently, a bridge that led to an island was repaired and this opened up plots of land for purchase and consequently, allowed the creation of a new player town. This sort of community activity is exciting and makes it always new when you log on.


One extreme downside is that the game is set up so that people are segregated according to the part of the world they live in. Despite promises to give us “international accounts” but also to charge more for these, AE has not even come around to doing this yet. And they’re not really saying when that will be resolved. So if you live in the USA and you have friends in Europe, you can’t play with them at this time, and in the future it will cost you more to do so.


In Summary


Horizons is an intricate and fun game. If you like crafting you will think you’ve reached Heaven. If you do adventuring and crafting you will wish you had ten more hours a day to play. If you’re not interested in crafting but like group events or community building, you will still enjoy Horizons because, if anything, this is a game which requires coordinated efforts. A strong fighter is very useful and very well regarded. But if your preference is to solo hunt and collect lots of loot, then this is probably not the best game for you.


Final Grade: 86%


System Requirements

Minimum:

  • PIII - 850Mhz or AMD Athlon 850Mhz
  • 256 MB RAM
  • Geforce 2 Video Card
  • DirectX 8.1b
  • 56.6Kbps dial-up modem connection


Recommended:

  • P4 1.4Ghz or AMD Athlon 1.4Ghz
  • 512 MB RAM
  • Geforce 3 Video Card
  • DirectX 8.1b
  • DSL or Cable modem connection


Note: As mentioned in the review, the game is sold separately, through AE's partner Game Network, in Europe. That version has its own multi-lingual website at the following URL: Horizons Europe.


Many thanks to Darekin for his screenshots of the gnome blighted robot and tower.




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