As I write this I’ve been playing Salem for roughly 8 weeks. I started early December 2012 and somehow got sucked in despite the fact that this is not a safe game – safe from a character point of view. You see, in Salem players can become criminals and even murderers with the right set of skills. They can raid and destroy the work of others for no other reason than “it’s fun”. This, of course, has made me permanently paranoid within the game and coming up with exit strategies should I need to escape. But a part of me enjoys the on-going task of “hiding in plain sight”. But I will confess – I would prefer safe servers to criminal acts.
Review of Salem (Beta, Dec 2012 – Jan 2013)
Ever wondered what it might’ve been like for the Pilgrims that set foot in the New World? Salem, the game, might shed some light on that.
What is Salem and will I like it?
Salem is a crafting based sandbox MMO RPG/RTS (massively multiplayer online role-playing game / real-time strategy) developed by Seatribe. What these fancy words mean is that it is a game where a player creates his or her character and explore the New World in their preferred way. There is no story to follow, no quests.
The focus in Salem is crafting, which is a collective term for building, farming, woodwork and hunting – to mention a few. This requires learning skills and improving proficiencies, as well as developing the character’s four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile).
Players can choose to become hermits by building a small (relatively speaking) property, or they can get together and build a village.
Salem is a slow-paced game that requires time and patience - lots of it. It is not a game for players in need of instant gratification or elaborate combat, with flashy pop-up hit-points. Hoarders in need to stockpile everything they come across need to rethink their strategy because there is currently no truly safe storage within the game. With the right set of skills and high humours it is possible to raid other people’s claimed land and leave it in ruins.
The graphics are cartoonish and very detailed. The character design is cool but ugly at the same time. But then again, pilgrims of the 17th century probably didn’t look too healthy.
The cute exterior of the game can be a bit misleading as the game is aimed more towards young adults and older, than children. There is currently no chat censor in game and no report option should someone be very offensive. The forum is also quite liberal compared to many other forums, though it suffers from double standards when it comes to applying and executing rules.
I would say a strong will to read the forum in search of How-To information, good planning skills and a “measure twice, cut once” mentality will go a long way in Salem.
A speedy introduction to Salem, by Eegorevids (old UI graphics)
Navigation requires a good sense of orientation
Moving is done by either using W, A, S, D or left clicking the mouse. Unlike other games Salem doesn’t have a built-in “walk-around-object” system. If something is in your path you have to manually move around it – even frogs and crickets!
The game controls are not always intuitive even though it mostly comes down to left and right clicking the mouse buttons. For instance, it is required to right-click an open fire before using the in-game cooking menus to cook food.
Scrolling or pressing the mouse wheel changes the camera angle.
There is no built in world map to consult and the mini-map is fixed, meaning up is always north, even if you change direction and have a camera option set to follow from behind. Even though this can be extremely frustrating in the beginning, it ties in well with the fact that we are all newcomers to the New World where no one, except real world Native Americans, have set foot before. But fear not. Many players have taken up the project of map making.
The dangers in Salem vs an army of me
The one thing that probably makes Salem unique is the Player-vs-Player (PvP) system. Learning the required skills allows a player to attack, and even murder other players. The victim will suffer Permadeath, which means that character is forever dead! The only place to be safe is within the city of the chosen server - Boston, Roanoke or Jamestown.
A player can also get knocked-out by animals or if the player has depleted one or more humours. The player will then re-spawn with an empty inventory (and backpack) either in the server city or on their claimed land.
Every Salem account allows for, what seems like, an indefinite amount of characters. Many players make use of this option to create “alts” – characters that remain in the safe vicinity of the server city and holds valuable items, or characters meant for specific tasks (thievery, raiding etc.). Many players also take advantage of the possibility of having more than one account and trading between these accounts – something that is considered rule breaking in other games. It is controversial but as long as Salem is in beta phase, many feel that it is okay to bend the rules. Everyone is a guinea pig and Salem is the laboratory – sort of.
How about ‘pay-to-win’ - is it possible?
Salem has an in-game shop where players can buy silver (currency), clothes packages and even character sex changes. Normally, I would oppose such a shop if it actually affected game-play. But since the game has Permadeath I can’t see why anyone would spend real money for vanity items, or even silver, to speed up their progress. It is very easy to run into the wrong person and lose it all.
Player getting killed for his Redcoat
Requirements and all that jazz
The only requirements up until 31st January 2013 were a Beta Key, a computer running Java 6 (Mac) or better (Windows/Linux) and a game client. There are a few different game clients and I cover two of them in this article.
On 31st January, Apple has, however, blocked Java 6 and above on all machines as an attempt to prevent security breeches.
An excerpt from The Register:
"Apple, along with browser manufacturers, started blocking Java when a major security hole was discovered in the code earlier in the month. Oracle downplayed its significance, but then was forced to admit that it had a problem and rushed out a code patch (with the obligatory offers to install crapware at the same time).
Now Apple has blocked it again, and other players are starting to make moves to get rid of Java as far as possible. On Tuesday, Mozilla announced it was ending the auto-loading of plug-ins for Firefox – while not actually mentioning Java by name – and Apple has already stopped bundling it with OS X by default." Read more.
There is, however, a work-around.
The game runs fairly well, with the occasional hiccup now and then. There are reports of Windows users with certain graphics card (Radeon Mobility) crashing when activating shadows. There is, as far as I know, no way to reset this setting on the default client. Those playing on Ender's client can change the setting in the configuration file - salem.cfg. It is located in the /user/Salem directory. Open it in a text editor and change "shadows=true" to false, save and restart the client.
The developers release update on average once a week. The updates range from adding new items to tweaking graphics and existing content. Many of the changes are based on player feedback, which I think is great. There is however room for improvement on this front. Recently, the performance of all kinds of walls was improved in an attempt to balance out attack versus defence when raiding claimed land. In a following update, the walls performance were reduced while two new types of objects, called Waste Claims, was introduced. In short, these objects would serve as a warning of an incoming attack and give the target time to prepare, either for fighting back or pack up their valuables and temporarily leave.
After only 2 days of feedback, the Waste Claim update was partially reverted and the walls once again regained their new strength. Even though many players seem to know what they are talking about, it would’ve been a good idea to let the new system be tested before being tweaked so quickly.
Bugs and issues
Why can't I craft items listed in my crafting menu?
Salem has some bugs and issues, which, in my opinion, is to be expected of any game in beta stage. For instance, when fighting animals (and possibly even other players) there’s sometimes a message popping up claiming that there’s not enough material to craft an item, or the ground is not flat enough, or any other obscure error that has nothing to do with fighting.
One of the more annoying bugs is one that occurs when shifting between characters. The crafting and overall skill menu (located in the bottom right corner of the screen) is not cleared of things not yet learned when shifting from a developed character to a less developed character, so clicking an icon does nothing – opposed to open the craft item window as it normally does. The only way to reset the menu is to log out from the game.
So what do I think?
I enjoy the crafting aspect of the game but have little to no interest in the criminal acts. For a game that is being labelled as a ‘crafting MMO with PvP' it sure seems a little odd that so much emphasis is put on the PvP aspect of the game. But this could just be the beginner in me.
Salem is refreshing. It made me realise how much handholding other games offer. This has had, and will continue to have, casualties in terms of players trying the game, running into an issue of minor proportion, and becoming frustrated to the point where they leave the game.
It is a niche game and will never acquire tens of thousands of players (it currently has less than 1000). If it did the fundamentals of the game would probably be lost. But if the game will be officially launched remains to be seen. The release date has been postpone a few times already. There are some faults, imbalances, bugs and bug abuse that need to be ironed out first. But then again, that’s what beta is for.