Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Minions of Mirth Review

Minions of Mirth, developed and published by Prarie Games.
The Good: No monthly fee, can host persistent worlds with custom content, single player and multiplayer action, plenty of interesting features
The Not So Good: Insane learning curve and there’s no manual or tutorial, older graphics
What say you? A MMORPG geared towards veteran players and modders that’s certainly not for beginners: 6/8

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games are very popular on the PC. They are raking in the dough and new ones keep cropping up all the time: Everquest, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Dark Age of Camelot, Guild Wars, Asheron’s Call, City of Heroes, the list goes on and on. So, how about a new MMORPG? Well, lucky you, we have Minions of Mirth, a game geared towards modifications and new, interesting features. Plus, there’s no monthly fee! Now that I have your attention, let’s check it out together.

Minions of Mirth is slightly outdated in both the graphics and sound departments, owing to its independent developer roots. I’d say the graphics are slightly better than the original Half-Life, so Minions of Mirth has cutting edge effects for 1998. They are far behind those seen in Morrowind (which was released way back in 2002) so don’t come into this expecting to be drawn in by the graphics. They are essentially placeholders for the game, a way of representing the action so the player can see what’s happening. In fact, if your party is comprised of more than one character, you only see one at a time displayed on-screen, and that pretty well represents what’s going on with the graphics. There are hardly any sounds in the game and all of the chatting is done through text instead of sound. The most sound you’ll hear is the background music that clocks in at around two hours, so at least we have something. Well, I can say that the graphics and sound are pretty much what I expected going in to this, so I’m not disappointed as expectations (however below average) were met.

The first thing I thought when I loaded up Minions of Mirth was: “What the hell am I supposed to do?” You see, for such a complex game, Minions of Mirth has absolutely no printed documentation or tutorials. This is unheard of in today’s gaming environment and completely inexcusable. There are tons of things to do in the game and the developers just assume you’ll figure out how to do it. There’s little to no direction when you start the game and most new players will probably be turned off by all the confusion that could have been easily avoided by just writing a simple manual. This really makes learning the game way more difficult than it needs to be, especially since a lot of the game is less than intuitive. The game does have some in-game help that roughly outlines how to start and the first quests serve as an introduction to the game, but that's not enough assistance to new players. This is disappointing because Minions of Mirth actually has some cool features for a MMORPG. It seems that the developers tried to fit everything they could think of in the game, so it can be a little overwhelming at times. Minions of Mirth features the same gameplay for both single player and multiplayer; the characters you create for single player don’t carry over, so there’s really no reason to not play on the game’s main servers. You can play by yourself while online and just ignore all the other people that you see, or you can play cooperatively or PvP (player vs. player) with others. There are no monthly fees for multiplayer, which is a wonderful trend in recent MMORPGs for our wallets. You can also host your own server with a persistent world and include original content that you have created, which is a neat feature stemming from online shooters.

The character creation system is pretty standard for the role-playing game. You are given a choice of ten races from halflings to humans to elves to stuff not seen in Lord of the Rings. You can also choose to play as a monster, which is imaginative. Your character is rated in several categories that you can initially customize based on their class and level up as they gain experience. Eventually, your character can be trained in three classes and become an all-around star of virtual worlds. You can also create a party of characters so that you can tackle all the potential opposition; however, the group is rendered as only once character on the screen, which is disappointing. Once you enter the game, there’s the classic “find quests and complete them” gameplay that we’ve come to expect from RPGs. Quests are sometimes difficult to find in Minions of Mirth, and there isn’t a central storyline or logical progression to the tasks like in other games. There is a lot to do if you can figure out how to do it, however. You can build your own clothes and weapons, join a political party, buy and trade items from vendors (who restock at fixed intervals like a real store) or other players, and summon pets. There is also a robust skill and spell system that includes some interesting effects, such as teleportation, invisibility, rage, and accurate shooting. Minions of Mirth is also very mod-friendly, as you can change pretty much everything in the game if you invest some time and energy.

Minions of Mirth has all the ingredients to be a good game: single and multiplayer gaming, lots of cool features, and no monthly fee. But boy howdy, it’s not user-friendly to new players. The complete lack of documentation is dumbfounding and will probably cause all but the most dedicated players to move on to other RPGs. And that’s too bad, because Minions of Mirth has potential to be a mod makers heaven and seems to have been made with that in mind. The little additions that Minions of Mirth has made are neat, such as customizable clothing, numerous spells and skills, and pets. It is difficult to find some appropriate quests for your skill level sometimes, and I wish the game held you hand a little bit more, especially when starting out. There’s a good game here underneath all of the layers, it’s just up to you to find it.