Maestia is a free to play fantasy MMO set in the once magical world of Misilen. The Goddess protecting over the lands of Misilen, Ia, was sealed away and players must aid their faction in the search of the Maestones. Some fight to release the powers of the Maestones for all of the inhabitants, while others are fighting to restrict the Maestone usage only to those that have proven themselves honest and free of evil. We were lucky enough to be invited to a preview with the Maestia developers, giving us a quick peak at some of the games more defining features such as PvP, dungeons and the highly appealing mercenary system.
Although it's not something you experience right at the beginning of the game, the mercenary system is easily one of Maestia's best assets. Similar to other games with pets and companions, mercenaries are NPC characters that can aid you in a variety of ways. Some can be told to take damage, others can focus on causing your enemies harm, or you can just find the most attractive one to make your party look sexy. The mercenaries level alongside your character and towards higher levels, you can fill up an entire party of 6 with just your character and your NPC controlled mercenaries. However, Maestia takes this common system even further with the introduction of player mercenaries. Anytime you wish to log out, or just play on another character, you can release yourself as hired muscle to guild mates and friends, giving you the chance to help a friend while earning experience points for your own character, with 0 effort at all. Once a character has been hired as a mercenary, players are unable to play that character until the contract expires, but they do earn 20% of the normal experience points they'd earn performing the same tasks.
Another fresh aspect to the rather stale MMORPG genre is the introduction of the prayer system. Players can freely pray to the Goddess Ia to receive quests relating to the main story. This removes the typically mundane travel times between story quests and also totally eradicates the risk of missing a vital quest hidden away with an NPC in a certain town. There are still dozens and dozens of traditional side-quests scattered throughout the game, but those looking for an immersive story experience will love the removal of tedious travel times and hand-in's.
Quite easily the most exciting part of my Maestia Preview experience was the dungeon. Although we were seriously over-leveled and had tons of overpowered gear, it gave me a taste of what to expect. It felt very similar to the dungeon system in Lord of the Rings Online. A skilled group of players could enter each room and gather large groups of monsters, ensuring to crowd-control the more dangerous ones while attempting to AoE the rest, although not a rare system in today's top MMORPG games, it's a nice touch. Teams that feature less communication than a typical guild or clan will still have plenty of chance to complete the dungeon, but may have to do so a little slower by pulling smaller groups of monsters and working on the tougher one first. There's also the option of engaging Expert Mode, a more difficult version of the dungeon that adds higher quality loot and a special boss, a definite must for a group of egocentric guildies.
The only real negative aspects I experienced while playing were some of the combat effects and the material system. I was playing a Priest, fully decked out in epic gear and leveled abilities, but a constant problem was the display of some of the HoT (heal over time) skills and abilities. For example, if I used a skill called "Heal Companion (Level 1)" that healed an ally every 3 seconds for X amount of health, every 3 seconds a message would appear above that character "Heal Companion (Level 1) +30", which really retracts from the otherwise great combat animations. There is an option to turn these off but then the heals and buffs have next to no animations at all. I'd be much happier with a simple green glow every 3 seconds, or something similar. The other gripe I had during my Maestia Preview experience was the material system. Although it wasn't explained in great detail, players could harness spirits, by collecting materials gathered from Elle, small non-aggressive monsters within dungeons. During the dungeon crawl we did, I only noticed 3 of these little critters and as soon as I harvested one, it vanished, leading me to believe there would be a lot of competition for these items should they prove useful to multiple people in the same instance.
The Maestia open beta begins Thursday, 19th July. Although it does have a number of issues, for a game that has yet to receive large-scale open beta testing, there's very few bugs and the client is very stable. It's easily worth a shot if you're into the typical fantasy approach to the MMORPG world.