My Colony For Some Pants: Salem Enters Open Beta

By Nathan Grayson on March 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am.

EVE Online might have 500k subscribers, but can it do this? CAN IT?

Having grown so tired of the traditional MMO formula that I can be rendered comatose for 40 years by the merest utterance of the phrase “vulture gizzard,” I’ve been watching Salem with eager eyes and a saliva-stained jaw. As we’ve mentioned previously, it’s an exceedingly sandbox-y colonial MMO focused on crafting, establishing in-game settlements, and never trusting anyone ever. So one could argue that it’s more EVE or Wurm than WoW, though it appears to be largely a beast of a nature all its own. And now it’s in open beta, so you can play it! And you and you and you and you. But not you. Oh gosh, please don’t make that face. Fine, argh. You can play too, but only if you’re good.

Encouragingly, Paradox is aiming its celebratory trumpets straight at the community for this one, and it’s hoping an influx of new, naked (literally, if the above video is any indication) open beta players will escalate things to a new level.

“By designing Salem with less of a traditional MMO structure, and instead presenting players with a persistent community sandbox with high-stakes consequences for conflict, Paradox and Seatribe are allowing the Salem community to shape their own experiences. The in-game society that has sprung up during closed beta – including a bustling barter-based economy, vigilantes and mob justice, and rival settlements, have all happened as a result of players’ choices and actions. With the new addition of more players during open beta, it will be fascinating to discover what the community ultimately makes of the world of Salem.”

Honestly, the top-down view and anything-goes approach to player society is giving me vague flashbacks to early Ultima Online. That’s encouraging in ways I can’t even begin to describe, so I can’t wait to remove my pants and become a pilgrim as well. Of course, that’s all high-level, exceedingly sophisticated stuff. For those of you who frolicked through the unsullied forests during closed beta, was the nitty gritty – crafting, PVP, basic resource management, etc – solid? I think I have every right to be slightly wary after all, given that it’s, you know, Paradox.

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52 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Dimonte says:

    I played it a couple of months ago and I though it was a bit shit. Actually, a lot shit. It’s unbelievably slow and there’s almost nothing to do (at least for a first ten or so hours, couldn’t stand any more of it) apart from running around and gathering random bits of resources.

    Come to think of it, it’s like Don’t Starve, but completely not dangerous and quite boring. Oh, and the interface and the controls were a mess.

    • Gurrah says:

      I second that. I get what they were or rather still are trying to do but it felt more like a proof of concept than an actual game and I can’t get around the fact that it’s basically a Java-Aplet that streams the game in the background, sort of. Maybe that was a precaution for the alpha but I doubt it to be honest. Still, I can see people getting some joy out of it.

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      Vesuvius says:

      Same here, plus UGH microtransactions

    • Noburu says:

      Grindier than a Korean MMO.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Awful, awful game. And it looks horrendously bad too – such a shame compared to the cute, colourful concept art.

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      Thurgret says:

      Dimonte probably speaks the truth, sadly. Hideously dull game, though I did play sometime way back in April-ish (I think), so a lot could have changed. Doesn’t sound like it. Great concept, but the implementation leaves a great deal to be desired.

    • creakinator says:

      I played it for about 10 hours over 2-3 days and finally gave up. I wandered the wilderness looking for those stupid stones and trying to make campfires and trying to do more stuff. I watched a couple of videos to get me started but the lack of information at that time was horrendous and I was guessing on what I was supposed to be doing. Horrible, horrible game.

  2. Drake Sigar says:

    “And my innocence.”

    Haha, please don’t elaborate! I think someone was talking about this on the RPS Blood Bowl draw last night. Not usually one for MMOs, but I might have a crack at this one.

  3. derella says:

    I like the concept — building communities, a focus on crafting, player-driven-everything — but I can’t help but think it looks like shit, and the setting just makes me scratch my head and wonder why.

  4. Hahaha says:

    Pretty much haven and hearth, mainly meta game and slow, fun though.

    • frightlever says:

      H&H is fun or Salem is fun? Cos if you’re saying Salem is fun then it’s the first positive thing I’ve read about it lately.

      • Hahaha says:

        both, not played salem in awhile but I don’t see how they could of broken it to much since.

      • ch4os1337 says:

        Play it with a group of friends and work together, if you don’t have friends don’t bother.

  5. unangbangkay says:

    Vulture gizzard!

  6. mikmanner says:

    Quite odd but this functions in terms of movement, camera, graphics etc very much like Runescape with all the run energy etc, a completely open RS is potentially interesting but Salem feels quite dated already, not just because of the graphics. It’s a beta though so whatever.

  7. Lemming says:

    At what point do we go over the line of ‘art direction’ and into ‘those character models look ugly as fucking sin’? Seriously, they are like weird waxy baby bodies with a dodgy face texture slapped on it.

    • norfolk says:

      This.

      I’m all for lo-fi and unusual art direction, but it’s not an excuse for shit graphics. Quite the opposite, actually – if you’re going for a lo-fi look, attention to detail is everything. The whole “ironically unpleasant” look only goes so far.

    • derella says:

      Having low-tech graphics means you have to focus on art direction. You see this in the indie games scene all the time. These guys seemed to run in the opposite direction though… It’s ugly, and inconsistent among itself — you see these spindly, highly stylized animals running around… and squat, greyish-pink blobs for humans… all running around on 16 bit terrain. It’s just… bad.

  8. PostieDoc says:

    Negative comments so far, can anyone tell me if it is actually like early Ultima Online please?
    I loved that game and wished more MMOs followed its template rather than WoW.

    • Knufinke says:

      It’s nothing like Ultima Online. It tries to be a totaly new kind of mmo and falls flat on his ugly little ass. Played it for two hours and it was an incredibly dull experience. Couldn’t stand it for much longer.

      • ch4os1337 says:

        To be fair the game takes quite a long time for the fun to be apparent but it’s in there, find some friends and play it as a group.

        • Stromko says:

          To be fair, you could say the exact same thing for watching grass grow and paint dry. With friends, and dedication, literally anything can be fun.

  9. mollemannen says:

    i played this game with two of my friends. one of them specialized in mining and melting, i went for farming and fence building and the third dude specialized in stealing and murder (splitting the types of items needed to skill). he literally stole every camp (not “from” every camp, the dude stole a house for gods sake) within 20 mile radius. however he was the only one having a good time in the game as farming up skills took way to long. after the 1000th time going on a scavenger hunt for crafting material i got really bored and stopped playing because i knew that all that farming could go to waste if any settlement he stole from decided to fight back and murder us. some people get a thrill out of that but i just saw it as a big waste of time. really funny though, feeling inferior to a rabbit.

    • nizzie says:

      Ugh, no thanks. I played a few months ago, and I don’t see the point of endless grind combined with the possibility of losing everything, if some Russian kids decide to gank me on sight. I don’t mind losing stuff, but losing all my skills and being completely defenseless?

  10. Sc0r says:

    Yeah Seatribe… its just 2 guys or so and from my experience, one of them has an idea and this one won’t be talked through or reconsidered, they just do it, even if it sucks.
    The result is a game with a lot of potential, but kind of destroyed with weird design decisions like:
    *mapgen is horrible, looks like a weird paint-job
    *first~10-15 hours are grind in form of walking in circles around your place looking for feathers&arrowheads
    *their “specializing is for insects” philosophy. Game ended up with people who excel at everything, there is no “let me join your village, I’ll be a good farmer/smith/woodworker/leatherworker/hunter”, because everybody can do that after a few days of excessive playing.
    *everything you build/produce can and most likely will be stolen/destroyed at some point. There is no need for setting up a siege like preparing a ram which needs about a day to work (like in haven&hearth), no, people running past your place while you are offline feeling like destroying your work of weeks/months can do so if they’ve got the skills. (it was like that at least the last time I played, been a while)
    *I found the ore gathering system not fun at all… and making people build an entrance to switch to your mine-level while you already have terraforming is kind of a shame.
    *not much interesting late-game content. You can grind stats with food and while I like the idea of leaving a free hand on that, allowing people to do what they want (like forming up in cities waging war etc), its still not enough to do end-game
    *you can’t just plant stuff into prepared ground, no, you need to construct weird farming-plot-squares, allowing no creativity with farming. Benefit is, quality(purity) values are easier to handle.
    On the other hand, its still beta and I played a very early beta, maybe some of these things have changed by now

    • nimzy says:

      The specialization thing is what really bothers me. You could specialize in Haven and Hearth, which led to tightly-knit communities where everyone had a purpose. But in Salem, it’s like Seatribe has never even heard of the concept of separation of labor. To top it off the PvP system basically ruins the game for anyone new to it, as people who have been playing longer than you have vastly better stats and skills, rendering them invulnerable. (Not to mention small animals can kill you quite easily. Oh look, a cricket! Looks harmless! Nope, they are unstoppable death machines to newbies.) Added to that is a skill and progression system that makes no sense and also involves enormous amounts of time wandering in the wilderness looking for the items you need (which each member of your group needs to advance), which makes it feel like they are actively telling you to play the game by yourself. Anyone who played Haven and Hearth could tell you is a quick way to burn yourself out on the game completely.

  11. King in Winter says:

    I don’t really need to comment on this any further than permadeath. If I play a game I like to have something to show for my time, and permadeath guarantees I will not. Which in turn guarantees the game won’t have any of my time (wouldn’t matter even if it was a F2P).

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      You don’t have to agree, of course, but I assert that permadeath is a perfectly fine mechanic.. in a game that you can finish in four hours.

      In a game you can finish in a couple of days it can be tense. In a game like Angband where it can take weeks, it is .. questionable.

      In a game where you’re supposed to grind for progress by design, I feel it is stupid.

    • JackShandy says:

      You don’t consider increased personal skill and knowledge something to show for your time? You need a digital gewgaw or a bigger number to feel like you’ve “Progressed”?

  12. Captain Joyless says:

    Despite Paradox’s “no more broken releases” claim, 90% of the stuff they publish is still garbage that, if you’re lucky, is patched into acceptability within 2 years.

    CK2 is slowly developing into something worth playing, but it’s really sad when every DLC is less interesting that the last, with basic mechanics being revamped months and months later.

    • Bostec says:

      Some truth in that. I booted CK2 up last week and I went about doing the tutorial to get a basic idea of the layout before i headed off to Youtube and it broke, you couldn’t go pass a certain point. Something to do with the new introduction of the map filters. Always a good start, breaking the tutorial.

    • wodin says:

      CK2 was superb on release and superb now.

    • iridescence says:

      How is Salem broken? From the couple of hours I played it seemed to work as intended.

      As to whether it’s actually fun? Well, I like the concept and think it may get fun if I was willing to put a lot of effort into it. Unfortunately the beginning of the game is mind-numbingly boring and grindy and I’m not sure I have the patience to give it much more of a chance than I already have.

  13. Dizzard says:

    I’m not sure about this……it just seems far too much trouble than it’s worth constantly being worried if somebody tore your house down during the day while you were away.

    It also seems like a game that would bring the worst out in people.

  14. ghosttie says:

    I’m not going to install Java with all it’s security problems just to play this

  15. Tukuturi says:

    The game was pretty terrible when I tried it. Also, where are all the Indians? You know, those people who were already living in eastern North America when it was invaded by Europeans. I remember some bits about Indian magic and other highly offensive noble savage imagery in the fluff early on, but otherwise the game seemed to want to convey that North America was just free land when Europeans got here. It all seemed a little “vanished race of the moundbuilders” to me. I thought we got past that mentality a century ago.

    • Tukuturi says:

      As this is a post on a European site about a European game, I realize some of you may not be intimately familiar with American history or with contemporary issues in Native America. The best way I know to explain the offense is that depicting 17th century New England without any Indians is a bit like claiming the holocaust never happened. I realize this is fiction, but damn, show some cultural sensitivity.

      • Premium User Badge

        jrodman says:

        I’m not sure it’s exactly like the holocaust, especially in the context of the 1600s where the relationship with natives was generally one of uneven exploitation mixed with periodic cooperation, and rocky relations, rather than mass extermination. Over the long haul of history though it certain bears some comparison. The level and character of consistent deliberate choices over hundreds of years is truly astounding.

        In the modern American consciousness though, I would say that this is quite dissimilar from the holocaust. The holocaust is generally recognized as a terrible thing that should never be repeated. The steady displacement and destruction of Native American societies is nearly entirely forgotten, somewhat like (to a lesser extent) the history of slavery here.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      To be fair, there definitely IS some element of “vanished race” that happened.

      By the time significant european expansion got to, say, the Missippi Valley where the most significant, organized US-located cultures had been, they had already collapsed due to the spread (both accidental and intentional) of european diseases. We never really even met those cultures. I don’t think we even know their names.

      • Stromko says:

        I’ve heard something like 98% of the native American population was wiped out by time the pilgrims arrived. At some point prior, the population in the Americas was actually larger than that of Europe, but what the settlers found was a post-apocalyptic mostly-tamed paradise that they naively attributed to God’s favor.

        • Tukuturi says:

          Stromko, I don’t know where you might have heard something like that, but it is very very wrong. See the Haudenosaunee, Leni Lenape, tons of other northeastern Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples who were inhabiting the area of New England at the time of settlement. See Hernando De Soto and the swathe of destruction he carved across the Southeast in the 16th century. See the fur trade. See the French and Indian war. See the Iroquois fighting, some for the colonies and some for England, in the American Revolutionary war. See the founding fathers whose political philosophy in drafting the constitution was likely as influenced by the political structure of the Iroquois Confederacy as by the writings of John Locke.

          Jrodman, you’re probably thinking of Mississippian culture, which had no so much collapsed as dispersed before the sixteenth century. That didn’t have anything to do with Europeans. The Natchez were an apparent remaining element of that cultural complex that were encountered by the Spanish and French. Their society was largely dispersed by ongoing war with the French in the 18th century. The ceremonial complex that is associated with the Mississippian period is alive and well today, particularly among the southeastern tribes and in some pan-tribal religious practice.

          If you want information on groups that were living in the Mississippi river valley in the 17th century, check out the writings that came out of the expeditions of Robert de La Salle, Father Jaques Marquette and Louis Jolliet at that time.

          It’s sad to think that you’re probably right about the average American’s ignorance of our history. I am an archaeology student, specifically focused in the paleoethnobotany of eastern North America, so this is something I realize I deal with a little more closely on a day to day basis than the average person. Still, I would expect a little more awareness. I mean these people are still around. Lots of them. Many of them are people I consider friends. It makes me positively livid to see stuff like this.

  16. WCG says:

    “…and never trusting anyone ever.” And yet, this is supposed to be about “community,” “colonizing,” “settlements”?

    For a social animal like us human beings, who evolved as members of a group, who thrived, or not, as a group, not as isolated individuals, games designed like this are so ridiculously implausible that I just can’t suspend my disbelief.

    Of course, all MMOs are that way, to a large extent, because game-players behave like game-players, not like real people. Ironically, NPCs in a single-player game tend to be far more realistic ‘people’ than gamers in an MMO.

    And it IS a game. Primarily, we want it to be fun, not realistic. I understand that. But I have to shake my head in disbelief when I see phrases like that in these kinds of games. It’s just so stupid. By and large, human beings DO trust other people – and we have very sensitive, if not always reliable, ways to determine who we should trust – because we’re social animals.

    And that’s never more the case than in colonization scenarios, or in other situations of potential danger. Well, that’s why I prefer single-player games, where intelligent developers can – or should be able to – model that.

    • iridescence says:

      I think you’re overly optimistic about human nature. The way people behave in PVP MMOs is exactly the way many people would behave without laws and governments to hold them accountable for their actions. It has happened many times before in places where society breaks down, The strong band together to prey on the weak.

      I don’t particularly like games that simulate this part of human nature without any limits put on it but if anything they are far more realistic than games that make everyone co-operate and be nice to each other.

      • AngoraFish says:

        I don’t think your characterization of human nature is historically accurate. Certainly people were total arseholes to strangers in many cases, although many had long and productive trading relationships and complex cultural exchange, without universal laws or central governments.

        Regardless, most people would have had very little exposure to strangers outside of their own region, and it would have been exceedingly difficult to take advantage of others in your neighborhood as you would most likely have to spend the rest of your life with these people – you couldn’t just disconnect from the internet.

        High-profile examples of barbarity, such as the inquisition, barbarian invasions, and slash and burn invasions were very much the exception, not the rule. Mostly people just got on with their lives politely and with minimal conflict, and a fair amount of cooperation, unless other pressures were bought to bare, such as food shortages.

        • iridescence says:

          Yes, but even primitive societies have laws and customs and some way of punishing people who act in a completely anti-social manner. If you take all that away and just tell people “You can do whatever you want as long as you are strong enough to get away with it” things get ugly really fast.

          It has basically happened in certain failed states in certain failed states in Africa and elsewhere. Where one social order collapses with nothing to replace it.

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            jrodman says:

            But all the evidence says that tribes of around the size of 100 had no formal form of organization at all, and yet did not degenerate in the way you suggest.

            They certainly must have had some “rules” in terms of what the tribe felt was OK and what they felt was not as a group, but a surprisingly large amount of this stuff is pretty obvious to everyone.

            When you get a bit larger, much over 100, tribes tend to form a level of “law” that is embodied as a single person. However they mostly just act as “disagreement resolver” or “dispute handler”. They typically help the other people come to a decision.

            It’s only when societies get larger still, into the many hundreds or early thousands that these social network rulse seem to be insufficient on their own, and governments start arising. Below this size, there is not even a framework that could support the idea of ‘laws’, but yet anarchy do not reign.

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            Ah but you haven’t scaled down small enough, jrodman! Anarchy does reign a society of one

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            jrodman says:

            I suppose I did choose my words rather poorly there.

          • AngoraFish says:

            I am not sure even failed states like Somalia can genuinely be characterized as dog-eat-dog anarchies. In these societies markets, trading, cohabitation, weddings, etc. remain commonplace, even as warlords do on occasion take what they want when they want it.

            In real life, the possibility of death is a significant disincentive to being an arsehole.

            Regardless, to return to online gaming, you are correct to the extent that in online games you can be a dick with few consequences, and so people will be dicks. Worst case, you stop playing and hang out with your friends IRL.

            If games were the real world, griefers would be shunned and die friendless, they wouldn’t be able to find anyone to trade with or shelter them and they’d starve or freeze, or a posse of pissed off community members track them down for a lynching (which they wouldn’t be able to hide from by simply logging off).