City of Eternals, a New Blend of Social and MMO Gaming, Goes into Public Beta

City of EternalsFor a year now, game developer Ohai has been working on a Flash-based massively multiplayer online game called City of Eternals. After having gone into testing last fall, it has just gotten an upgrade and gone into public beta. Here’s a closer look.

This well-designed, Flash-based game is especially notable for pushing boundaries between social and traditional online gaming. It not only tasks players with the MMO-style goal of bringing order to a chaotic vampire-run city, it also has players doing less intense activities, like building and caring for their avatars, and decorating a living space.

To begin, just go to the game site and click play. You’ll be asked to log in using Facebook Connect. This means you don’t need to go through a separate, cumbersome sign-up process. This is the first of many ways that the game uses Connect.

Each player starts out as a new vampire in a city called New Valencia. You and a friend have just been attacked and killed  by a group of vampires while walking through “Central Park.” You’re immediately asked a multiple choice question that will determine which of five themed vampires houses you will become a part of. Like many other role-playing games, each theme provides you a different set of options throughout the game.

Once past this introduction, you begin the game: you crawl out of your freshly made grave and are promptly greeted by a vampire quest giver that teaches you the basics of combat and gives you the task of slaying a zombie.

CombatCombat is simple enough with a mere point and click interface. The avatar transforms into a fiercer-looking creature and a combat menu with various abilities appears. As players fight, they use basic attacks until bigger and better ones become available (i.e. after the player does three bites they might be able to drain blood), and as they level up, they unlock more advanced techniques for later encounters.

As far as progression goes, it follows the standard World of Warcraft format of choose quest, do quest, deliver quest to garner experience; also like Warcraft and other MMORPGs, players can eventually level up various professions such as anatomy, gathering, and so on to make items for use.

Early on, most of the quests are tasks that merely have you talking to objects and people to learn the premise of the story and how to use various basic features. This is wonderful on many levels, because it not only lets the user ease into the game world, but there is a lot of lore going on in New Valencia. If you’re interested in knowing more, you can always look at Ohai’s lore and backstory pages, but in a nutshell, over the ages in which New Valencia has existed, various bloodlines have formed, eventually turning into the modern day houses that the player joins. The issue, however, is that for the longest time, the vampires lived off of “hema,” or artificial human blood, and now, this tradition of not feeding off of humans is fading (hence the introduction), and the city faces civil war.

HousingLike virtually all MMOGs, this game has equipment that can be used to better your character’s performance in battle. However, you can also purchase clothing simple for aesthetic expression, and as an added bonus, your friends will see what you buy as well.

Beyond clothing, City of Eternals even gives you the option to fully redecorate the house you are given at the start of the game. This isnt’ to be confused with the “Vampire House” (your chosen faction), but is actually a virtual space that you can not only customize, but your friends can visit as well. In fact, this is yet another pleasant addition since our first play. Perhaps it hadn’t been added yet, or it had a level requirement, but early renditions did not seem to allow redecoration (or at least not in a manor we could decipher).

Items are purchased in one of two ways, either using an in-game currency called Rubies or a purchased virtual currency called Ohais.

The city is pretty sizable, so it does take some time to find the vendors you’re looking for. Note that there’s an instant teleport to the housing vendor, part of the new update to the game that the company rolled out recently. Most items costing Rubies require an abundance of them, while those costing Ohais are relatively cheap. Useful items such as health potions and bags for inventory space also follow this rule, coaxing players to advance themselves faster at the cost of real money.

MinionsThe last major feature worth mention is yet another social one: Minions. Yes, you can employ your Facebook friends as your personal minions. What sort of jobs can they do? Oh this is good: Why, they can be your accountant, a bodyguard, or oh yes, a concubine or boy-toy. Once hired, your minions can then go out and do little missions for you at the cost of Rubies. Each mission will take X amount of hours to complete but will earn you special items and double the money back or more. As you play and level up, more minion slots open up for further jobs, which is good, because they are then placed in what’s called the “Tower of Tribute.” In short, as they play, they earn you points that are put towards special rewards that you can use yourself.

This Minion feature, too, is new and improved. In our previous look, it was significantly simplified to just drop lists and basic menus (sort of like a basic Mafia Wars-type of game). Furthermore, the Tower of Tribute did not exist (which really is a great addition). Unfortunately, it did look like the best minion job had been removed: We could no longer make our Facebook friends succubi. Luckily, our disappointment was short lived when we were informed that it was merely just moved to a level four minion job.

With no downloads, no accounts, and personalized Facebook integration, there really is nothing to complain about with City of Eternals on the game play end. For a free MMOG, it is actually a lot of fun and got in the way of finishing this review. Honestly, the only gripe that can be had is that the visuals are a little simplistic. The animations are a little stiff and awkward looking, and more visual variety within the city would be more than warranted.

In the end, City of Eternals is a lot of fun and very deep for a free – not to mention social – MMO. Whether you play through networking, combat, or through crafts, this is something to feed everyone’s social dark side.