Friday, July 13, 2012

Tibia (PC)


Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: No level cap, huge world map, constant updates
Cons: No sense of community, lots of botters, no sound, dated graphics

When I say Tibia is an oldschool MMORPG, I'm not exaggerating. Developed by CipSoft GmbH, Tibia has been online since very early in 1997. No, that's not a typo. It's undergone numerous revisions and updates since then, and received a lot of cosmetic overhauls and content updates -- but the core gameplay is still the same as it was all those years ago.
 
Tibia is actually free to play, and uses a subscription model where players can purchase a "premium account" to give them additional in-game benefits. This includes faster health and/or mana regeneration, character outfits, mounts, an astounding number of new areas to play, new cities, new spells, etc. The amount of regular content vs premium content is really lopsided, and while you can enjoy the game as a free account it does not compare to the game if you pay for the premium account instead. They recently introduced a way to buy premium "scrolls" for money and transfer them into the game, so you can at least get a premium account for in-game currency rather than cash if you really want -- though it's kind of expensive.
 
The first thing worth mentioning is that Tibia is a 2D RPG, and the graphics are similar to the old Ultima games (Ultima VI or Ultima VII). This means square tiles for everything, but the tops of them can stick up further to show perspective. There are multiple levels of depth and height, but the map clips the levels above and below you so that you can see whatever floor you happen to be on. If you go upstairs you can see the floor and walls where you're at but you can't see the floors above or below you (though you can see the area below you if it extends further than floor you're on).
 
These days there are some small animations, like twinkling orange specs at the tops of torches or tiled animations for different spells, but they aren't very complex nor are they very smooth. Characters and enemies still have what appear to be two-frame animations that just animate faster if you move faster. You can only walk in four directions with the arrow keys, though you can "push" yourself diagonally by dragging yourself with the mouse or using the number pad (this is much slower than walking in one of the cardinal directions). I really wish the game had WASD movement, though it would break the chat interface.
 
The actual game window takes up the top-left corner of the screen. The bottom of the screen is filled with a scrollable chat frame, and you can type whatever you want and hit enter to send it. You can scroll through the previous things and open up multiple tabs for different chat windows like public chat, NPCs, guild chat, private messages, etc. The right side of the screen has a user interface that consists of different blocks that can be minimized and maximized depending on what you want to be visible. This can include your health and mana, skills, inventory, equipment, VIP list (friend's list), containers on the ground next to you that you have open, corpses you're searching for loot, etc. It's nice that you can collapse some of these (like the skill pane) so that you don't have them eating up your screen real estate all the time, but you can look at them any time you want.
 
As for sound... Tibia has none. No ominous background music, no swords clanging or fireballs roaring, no monsters taunting you, no clicks or beeps for interface interaction. No sound what-so-ever. This is one of the few areas that I'm amazed they haven't expanded to in all the years the game has been around. Personally I would love at least some basic roars and clangs, but for whatever reason they have decided to pass on the option.
 
Tibia is a pretty open-ended game, but it's also a huge grind-fest. You start out on an island, which is a sort of training area called Rookgaard. There you learn how to play the game and hone your skills before setting off for the mainland. You fight some of the weaker enemies in the game, interact with some NPCs, do some quests and get a general feel for the game. The map itself is decent sized, and when I originally reached the mainland in the game I got lost a number of times trying to find my way around.
 
There are some varied tilesets for different landscapes, with lots of oceans and rivers around, deserts, jungles, snow and ice, caves and mountains. There are also over a dozen different sprawling towns in the game spread around the map, and each of them has a different theme. The town of Ankrahmun for example lies in the desert, and the whole town looks like it is made of sandstone and the buildings are in the shape of pyramids. The town of Port Hope is in the jungle, and most of the town is built up on stilts with wooden rope bridges connecting buildings that are made of wooden planks. I really appreciate the amount of variety in the looks of the game, and it really helps to relieve the sting of having no sound at all.
 
Leveling up in Tibia takes a long time, and the higher you get the longer it takes. There is no level cap; you can level up as high as you want. Every level gives you additional health, mana and walking speed. Different classes gain different amounts of health and mana, but the speed is constant. At level 1 you practically crawl around the map, but wait until a level 300+ runs by you; he pretty much just glitches across the screen in big spurts because he's so fast.
 
As for your other skills, Tibia doesn't have the traditional strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc. that you find in many RPGs. Instead Tibia uses a skill system, where your skills get higher as you use them more often. Swing that sword enough and your sword skill will go up a level; cast enough spells and your magic level will go up; catch enough fish and your fishing skill will go up. Skills include axe fighting, sword fighting, club fighting, fist fighting (really worthless in this game), magic level, distance fighting, shielding and fishing.
 
Initially training your skills (leveling them up) is pretty easy, and they go up quite nicely while you're grinding away killing enemies anyway. After a while it really starts to slow down, and you'll find yourself training your skills instead of killing enemies just so you can more efficiently kill them later. This usually involves taking a really weak weapon and hitting some type of enemy that heals itself periodically (like a ghoul or monk) while at the same time having a couple of weak creatures like rats or snakes hit you. The weak weapon insures that you don't kill the creature so you can hit it many times and raise your attacking skill, and the weak creatures hitting you raise your shielding skill in the process. It starts taking hundreds of hours of efficient training just to raise one skill point. A knight is the class that raises melee skills the fastest, and with 99 sword fighting you will still have to hit something with a sword weapon nearly a quarter of a million times to raise that skill up one more point -- and this will take you well over 100 hours of constant training.
 
There are four classes in Tibia: the knight, the paladin, the sorcerer and the druid. The knight can wear some of the heavier armors in the game and wield the best melee weapons. His melee and shielding skills go up fast but his magic level and distance skills go up really slowly. He gains 15 health per level but only 5 mana, and is the de facto tank class in the game. At high levels he has a lot of health and does moderate damage, and this is the class I originally started the game with. You end up grinding up a storm killing weak to moderate enemies constantly to level, and it's really a boring endeavor.
 
Some time ago they introduced "shared experience" into Tibia, and this really helped to mitigate the boring prospect of playing a knight so it's not so bad these days as it was for me. I used to play with a friend who was a paladin, and I stood there tanking strong monsters with my shield and high health. We got some loot and made a little money, but over a year of tanking all these enemies I leveled up from about level 60 to 65. During that same time my friend leveled up from about 45 to over 100. This was because he got nearly all of the experience for killing the enemies while I mostly just took damage from them. Thank goodness those days are over.
 
The paladin is not what you are expecting, as it is the ranged class in Tibia for some reason. It still has access to many holy spells and can raise shielding pretty quick, but it raises the distance fighting really fast and magic level at a medium pace. It gains 10 health per level and 15 mana and is widely considered to be one of the most versatile and well-rounded classes in the game. Since it has a decent health pool, mana pool, does good physical damage and can use a moderate amount of magic too, this is a well-rounded character that's probably your best choice to start out with.
 
Sorcerers and druids are pretty similar in the fact that they both have a ton of mana but very little health. They both get a whopping 30 mana per level, but only 5 health. They both cast a lot of the same spells, both raise magic levels at a good pace and everything else slowly. They differ in a few spells, but those spells are what actually makes them who they are. Every class has some sort of spell to heal itself, but druids actually get two additional spells: heal friend, and mass healing. This allows them to heal another person by name and heal everyone within a few squares all around them. They also specialize in ice and earth magic. Sorcerers get more attack spells instead of healing, and they specialize in fire and energy magic.
 
Sorcerers and druids (and paladins to an extent) can also create "runes", which are basically spells stored in stones. These can be used later by any class that has the required magic level to unleash the spells without spending mana. This is the main weapon in a mage's arsenal, and you end up spending a lot of time and mana creating them so that you can hunt enemies with them later. You can also buy these from NPC shops, but it's not very cost-effective to do so and you're better off making them yourself or buying commonly used runes from other players.
 
All classes can become "promoted" after level 20 at the cost of some gold. This gives them faster health and/or mana regeneration and the ability to use some new spells and abilities, as well as giving them a new title. A knight becomes an elite knight, a paladin becomes a royal paladin, a druid becomes an elder druid and a sorcerer becomes a master sorcerer. This only applies to premium accounts, and when your premium account expires you lose your promotion and continue playing as an unpromoted character until you purchase more premium time, at which point your previous promotion kicks back in.
 
There are a wide variety of enemies in Tibia. At first you'll mostly kill simple enemies like rats and spiders; then step up to orcs, minotaurs and dwarfs; then to cyclops and demon skeletons. Eventually you'll be hunting vampires, dragons, mages and ancient robots. You'll come across massive demons, spell-slinging warlocks, turtles, sea serpents and giant spiders -- there are a good number of different enemies to tangle with.
 
There are only a couple dozen of each type of weapon or armor in the game, and you can't really enchant them or place gems in them or anything special to improve them. This means for much of the game you'll be using the same equipment, with only a small upgrade here and there. Some of the lower stuff you can buy from NPC shops, but most of it you have to find rarely in a strong monster or buy from another player who has found it. There are also a spattering of quests here and there, some of which can net you some decent rewards, but unlike most modern RPGs many of the quests are tough. You won't find many "go out and kill 10 skeletons and bring me their bones" quests in Tibia.
 
What offsets some of the ease of having no level cap is the fact that Tibia has a rather harsh death penalty. If you die, you always lose some experience and some percentage of your skill progress. You also have a chance to drop some of your items. There are some blessings you can travel around the map and acquire, and while they do cost money they lower the percentage of everything that you lose. If you have all five blessings you won't drop any equipment and will lose only a small percentage of your skills and experience.
 
CIP updates the game frequently as well. It receives minor updates here and there, but twice a year they have major updates; one in the summer and one around Christmas. These major usually add new items, creatures, towns, hunting areas, outfits, etc. to the game. They also nearly always update at least some of the graphics, so over the years tibia has become pretty polished despite it's simplicity. It's nice to see such an old game still being given attention.
 
Years ago I played this game a lot, mostly because it was a simple game that worked on dial-up internet, but these days I don't play so much. I get in the mood to play it occasionally, so I do for a few days, but it doesn't hold my interest so much anymore. Over the years a lot of the player base has changed, and now well over half the players don't speak English at all. There are also a multitude of cheating "bot" characters who run programs that make them automatically run around killing enemies, leveling up, collecting loot, etc. This clogs up so many of the good hunting areas that sometimes it's hard to find somewhere to kill things, especially as a free account where you don't have as many options to start with.
 
CIP claims that they're against all the cheaters and botters, but they've really failed hard at stopping them or even slowing them down. Between the lack of real players as opposed to botters, and the fact that even most of the real players you do find can't speak English, Tibia has lost much of it's sense of community that it once had. A couple of years ago English was the official language and you "had" to speak English at least in public channels for that reason. They seem like they just don't care so much today. With the increased popularity of RPGs and MMORPGs, Tibia is just too dated to compete so they had to relax some of their rules to keep people playing. Now around a quarter of the player base is from Brazil, another quarter is from Poland, a pile from Mexico and another pile from Sweden and then it finally gets to the United States population.
 
Tibia is still a decent game that still has potential, but unless they do something drastic to restore the community feeling that it used to have and get rid of the botters I cannot recommend the game. Walking around aimlessly for an hour looking for a place to kill some enemies isn't fun, especially when you can't find anyone who speaks your language to kill time with. Coupled with the fact that when you're in town your screen is constantly spammed with bots who are trying to sell gold, it's not a great experience anymore. To top it all off, the game was $5/month once upon a time; now it's about $12/month. For that price I could play any number of better games like Warhammer Online or World of Warcraft.

Pass on this one unless they do some serious overhauling.

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