I don’t want to waste anyone’s precious time. Should you play Aberoth? Probably not. It’s free, but there are numerous alternatives for free PC games that have more to recommend them, including games that might fall into the “charming retro MMO” category…a category Aberoth only manages to fit into by technicality.
The initial introduction to the game itself via the launcher is the first indication that quality might be a serious issue. New players are greeted by a 640 x 480 windowed splash screen with a crude series of drop-down menus giving players options to “scale” resolution…which, if enabled, merely results in a larger windowed screen with the actual pixels blown up out of proportion. The reality is, the only way to play Aberoth as it was designed is in 640 x 480 windowed mode, which might have been fine in 1997, but this is 2015 and it’s not a good look.
There are also options for players to go to Aberoth’s store. The storefront, in keeping with the overall presentation of the game itself, looks like a 1996 website, replete with basic webfonts and rudimentary forms and formatting. If the background had been set to an animated clipart .gif, it could be passed off as an Angelfire or Geocities website with no questions asked. The store itself seems to follow the trend of f2p MMOs offering premium customization and in-game options for players, if not the basic aesthetics.
There is a lot of 1990s going on here…did I enter a time warp? Is Aberoth a clever time-travel portal, perhaps on par with a plot device in Interstellar? I open a browser and check my student loan balance. It’s the same as it was in 1997! I must be in 1997! Wait…I am using Chrome for a web-browser, not Netscape…and upon closer examination it seems my student loan balance is the same because of the interest on the principal. Damn you, Stafford Loans and the irresistible temptation you provide to cash-strapped, poverty-stricken students! Damn you, Christopher Nolan, for not helping the Aberoth developers with this eyesore! Speaking of interest, Aberoth’s unsightly affront to my eyes is rapidly causing me to lose interest in the game before I even play it, but I solider on for the sake of the review.
Once a player has spent roughly 15 seconds exploring the options in the launcher, there’s nothing left to do but start the game. With expectations as low as Aberoth’s native display size, I begin my lo-fi adventure.
As soon as I log onto the server, I enter the rough pixel world of Aberoth to find my character surrounded by three dreary brown walls, facing a grey gate which appears to a be cell door. I mean, I guess it’s a cell door. It’s kind of hard to tell what anything is in Aberoth, the description of “charming retro graphics” seems to be another way of saying “this game needs a designer who can score higher than than Stevie Wonder on an eye exam, STAT!”
The in-game text instructs me to click on the key and then click on the door. I spend several futile seconds slowly traversing the boundaries of my cell, in an attempt to find the key. Eventually I locate it. It’s a pixelated blob, resting on the ground next to a slightly larger pixelated blob that represents an Orc standing guard on the other side of the cell door. I click on the key and then click on the door, trying hard not to question the fact that my character has somehow acquired the key from the other side of a locked door, or the ease with which I saunter past the Orc guard without the slightest sign of pursuit or even a decent walking animation.
Agonizing seconds later I am introduced to in-game combat. A bat, represented by several black pixels, falls to its death after approximately 500000 mouse clicks on its flapping, blocky body. I am still too preoccupied trying to reconcile how my character was been able to get the key from the other side of the locked cell door to fully bask in the glow of my belated victory, but I march on nonetheless! If my attention had been focused on the Battle of the Bat, I might have stopped to ponder how horrible the combat, but that would come…later.
Slaying the bat is apparently the last part of the Tutorial Caves. Huzzah! I exit the cave and plummet down to the earth and continue my inexorable journey to the right side of the screen. This leads me to an NPC and player area congested with floating text and rudimentary architecture that makes navigation confusing and disorienting. An onscreen prompt in the caves had given me instructions on how to set my player’s name status. Unable to try at the time, due to the mechanical issues with fighting the bat and trying to comprehend how my character had retrieved the key to the locked cell door, I had neglected to name my character. I take the time to pause and attempt to give my forlorn block a name, but I am denied. Instead I am told I must acquire four more gold pieces through the slaying of bees, rabbits and bats to achieve this status milepoint.
Resigned to my fate, I leave the sanctuary of the player haven to test my mettle against the treasure-laden bees of Aberoth! Eventually I deduce that the floating small points represent bees and after agonizing minutes of wasted time I defeat four of them. Aberoth uses a real-time combat system consisting of arbitrary attacks triggered by mouse clicks. Simple enough concept, but lining up your character with the enemy is a chore and far more difficult in practice than in theory. With five gold pieces in my inventory and a growing sense of unease at the prospect of further monotonous playtime, I name my character “Getmeout.” Not a heroic name, but one that accurately sums up my feelings towards the tedious gameplay and environment of Aberoth.
Stopping in an empty section of the forest, I minimize the game window to get a cup of coffee. Upon my return, I find that “Getmeout” had fallen to the attacks of a bat. Perhaps my reputation has preceded me? It doesn’t matter. Weary of playing a game that left me disappointed before I even joined the server, I shut Aberoth’s launcher down with heart-felt relief.
When I review and play a game, I try to keep the game itself in context. Aberoth is obviously the effort of an individual or small group of individuals. As a proof-of-concept or first-time effort, I would call it a success in demonstrating knowledge of several basic elements of game design. There’s networking, there’s a playable setting, hitboxes, collision and animation are represented. But that doesn’t mean it’s a fun game or one I can recommend. Here’s what really matters: I played this so you didn’t have to. There are hundreds…THOUSANDS of free games you can play on your PC. You can play Aberoth…but you really shouldn’t.