I’ll be very upfront: I did not have a whole lot of time to play Ethyrial: Echoes of Yore even though I was granted access to a private press build of the game ahead of today’s official launch. There are a couple of technical reasons for that, as the game was taken offline and updated frequently and at random times, which incidentally meant I was getting an erroneous error about not having high enough credentials to access the server. But mostly I didn’t actually feel motivated to play because this game just isn’t great.
This isn’t necessarily because Ethyrial is yet another MMORPG that harps on about the good old days without recognizing they weren’t always that great to begin with. In fact, I would argue that this one gets closer to this rose-tinted ideal a little bit better than some other games do. More specifically, this game is challenging just to play because it feels absolutely slapdash, like it was cobbled together almost at random.
First off, it must be said that Ethyrial is challenging to look at. On some level I can kind of appreciate what Gellyberry Studios was trying to achieve here, mixing together the visuals of Old School RuneScape with some more interesting texture tricks and a somewhat higher polygon count, but this game is actively unpretty to behold and somehow makes its referenced art style look better by comparison. Normally I’m not one to put a lot of importance on graphics, but I can’t stress enough how throw away this game looks in motion. It’s like I’m controlling the boxy characters from that Dire Straits video.
This visual mess is highlighted especially when you move. Every step is on a perfect grid, like my boxy monster was being pushed along a tabletop battle grid but without the elegance or briskness of movement. In fact, “brisk” is a forgotten word here as all of the animations from walking to combat all felt like my character was moving through an invisible mass of gelatin. Thankfully, WASD movement is a thing here, so clicking to move isn’t the only option, but it just made the boxy, sluggish maneuvering feel worse from a tactile standpoint – like poking a dead jellyfish.
I’d played the game a couple of times prior to this private server experience during open tests and demos, and each time the opening segments felt different, so I wasn’t totally surprised that this third experience felt different again… but for the worse . The vague storyline from the last time I played has been tossed out and replaced with guidance to NPCs who offer up instructions on how things work and then kick you out of the starter town into the wider world. That would probably not bother me too much except for the fact that I wasn’t instilled with a sense of adventure so much as a shrug and a sense of being left for the wolves.
That segues pretty nicely into Ethyrial’s more hard-bitten approach to life out in the wilds. When you first get to this open map, you very much feel like you’re underpowered and undergeared despite getting a couple of quest rewards, and things in the wilderness would mostly love nothing more than to kill you. I was laid low by spiders and chickens without being able to put up too much of a fight, which meant any hope of exploration was pretty much tossed out of the window while I took a few moments to grind out individual fights to maybe earn a level or two.
Incidentally, fighting also isn’t great. You don’t actually auto-attack until you tab-target a foe, the couple of skills my character had were basically just a hammer swing but with a cooldown attached, and the animations and effects continued to disappoint. By the way, that glowing white wisp you see in some of my screenshots? That’s to let me know I have a weapon buff running. I think. My weapon also has a PS2-era wobble texture painted on it when that buff is engaged.
Still, despite these complaints, there is the very barest whiff of some possibly good ideas here. For one thing, as hardcore and challenging as this game wants you to think it is, the opening levels are very soloable given time, care, and grinding out in the wilds. The interim level death penalties are also mercifully non-existent, though I suspect there is some milestone level where that shoe drops. By all accounts, as furiously hard as this game wants to be, it would seem like it might do a good job of ramp up into that difficulty.
Also, as terrible as the game looks overall, I still did feel encouraged to wander out a little bit and explore, which is something these old sandbox MMORPGs try to get right. And finally, as I mentioned earlier, this game has been seeing frequent updates throughout development, which leads me to believe that the devs behind the game are going to be attentive and fast-moving when things ultimately go live.
But none of this matters when it looks and plays so poorly – and they want $10 a month in subscription cash for it. Say what you will about Embers Adrift’s well-meaning but misguided ambitions, but at least that game exhibits a wash of polish.
Now, I should clarify that I don’t take pleasure in writing this. Even though I’m venting my spleen a bit in this impressions piece, I haste feeling this way and sharing those feelings with you. We love indie studios and indie MMOs around here, and we generally want them to do well. And I do honestly hope that Gellyberry gives itself time to continue to polish, iterate, and improve the game. But as it stands right now, I cannot recommend paying for this one. I can’t even recommend it as a free-to-play title. Ethyrial desperately needs more years in the oven.