Chronicles of Elyria: Finally Defining The 'True' Sandbox MMO Experience
Chronicles of Elyria (CoE) is a new highly social dynamic sandbox fantasy MMO in the early development stages by new game company Soulbound Studios. Based on the information currently available, it is the only MMO now in development where the entire social (including familial AND commercial), character development, legal, economic and political systems can be fully controlled by the players. All this is simultaneously backed up by a robust server side AI called the 'Soulborne Engine' to deal with the consequences of actions and the subsequent reactions to those events. Want to understand how Chronicles of Elyria works? Imagine every MMO you have ever played and how their in-game rules and engines work. Got it? Ok, now throw most of that out the window and you have Chronicles of Elyria.
Almost everything about the game is a new innovation or improved take on how to deal with the way people are immersed in an MMO world. There is Permadeath - but only of your physical body and not nearly so punishing. There is full loot, free-for-all PvP - but designed so that even the most hardcore PvE player will not likely be bothered by it and may even be able to to take advantage of those who partake in it. There are no 'quests' - but NPCs act like player characters and create contracts based on their actual needs. There are no subscriptions - just 'sparks of life' which players purchase to provide them with bodies to inhabit with their souls for usually about 10 to 14 months real time... with some twists. You don't even have to ever pick up a weapon or fight a battle if you don't want to. The game is designed so that any aspect of daily life can be player controlled. Don't have time to play 16 hours per day because you have a job, family or responsibilities? No problem, the game has systems in place to keep you moderately up to speed. To really understand what kind of game Chronicles of Elyria is, you will have to either play it (not an option at the moment) or continue reading on as I try to explain some of the currently known game mechanics, social structures, consequences, laws, and monitization systems found in CoE.
Before you continue, a few words of caution regarding the examples given in this article. All examples use the currently available information as a basis and may not accurately depict the final game as CoE has not been released in any form to the public yet. For example, while we do know that there will be crafting, players controlling tradesman, and titles for nobility and famous story characters, there will be no formally named professions in CoE. This is because 'professions' are simply collections of skills used to perform a specific goal such as 'making a chair'. Specific names of skills and titles in particular have not yet been announced so all instances of such are just placeholders used to better illustrate the systems being discussed. Also, while the examples use current information, they do not take into account the added levels of complexity from systems that have yet to be revealed to the public including but not exclusively; the combat, magic, kingdom building and crafting systems.
The world of Elyria is populated by bodies which typically are born, have children, grow old, and die of old age (permanent death) at a rate of one season per real world day (or one year per four real world days). Each of those bodies are inhabited by one of two types of souls, player character souls or non-player character souls (computer controlled). While bodies get injured, sick, or potentially even become permanently killed, souls are eternal and undying. The body handles personal wealth and possessions, stats (like strength, reason and persuasion), family ties, identity, and skill ranks. When the body dies permanently, most of those things are lost but possessions can usually be passed on to the player's specified heir or beneficiary provided that the character has something to pass on.
Losing a fight in combat or injury does not usually mean permanent death. Most of the time, it will only result in the character being knocked out for a short time, but they can then be coup-de-graced while knocked out which causes temporary death. There are strong deterrents in place to discourage a coup-de-grace without a really good reason which I will touch on later, but even a coup-de-grace is not necessarily a permanent death. When a character is coup-de-graced, their soul gets forcefully detached from their body and thrown into a hazy ethereal realm. While in this realm, the player has a finite amount of time to find their way back to their body. While finding one's body without aid is nearly impossible, characters fortunately have a thin silver line that attaches their soul to their body which can be followed. The amount of time they have to return to their body and how easy the silver line is to follow is effected by a number of factors such as character age, stats, number of previous coup-de-graces, the presence of family members by their body and, most notably, fame, a very critical factor that will be detailed later. Should a soul fail to reach its body before the timer runs out, the body permanently dies and the soul returns to its home in the Akashic Records, ready to be put into a new body of the player's choice.
Permanent death in CoE is not the ultimate end. While you do lose everything you had in the corporeal word including your family, identity, and possessions, your soul keeps some aspects of your being. First of all, you do not get to keep your skills when you die but your soul does remembers that you for example already lived four lives as an accomplished master blacksmith. Should you chose to start a new life as a blacksmith, your skills will all reset (as they are tied mostly to body); however, your new character will find that they mysteriously have a natural affinity towards being a blacksmith which provides them with a much greater skill acquisition speed and maximum potential for all smith related skills you knew. This is referred to as 'skill ramp-up'.
The soul also keeps tracks of any achievements from previous lives and also of a very special trait called 'talents'. Talents are rare and special abilities that can even break some of the normal rules of the game. A talent MAY be granted randomly to a soul when it is first created, but is hidden, even to the player. It does not show up unless certain conditions are met and sometimes even requires multiples lives to fully manifest. An example of a talent given by the development team is the unusual ability for a player to enter the ethereal realm when near the body of a player who has been coup-de-graced in order to aid (or more deviously, hinder) them in their journey back to their body.
Finally, a soul has the ability to enter the body of almost any character not already possessed by a player soul in the physical world. While the more traditional way to enter the world is as either a twelve year old ward of the state or fifteen year old child of a family (both of which eventually brings you to the the character creation and customization screen traditionally found in most other MMOs), you also have the option to enter into the body of almost any non player-occupied NPC in the world of Elyria. That's right if, for example, the captain of the guard of a powerful king for some reason has no player character in it, you can posses that body and take on its name, role, skills, possessions, identity, everything. Not only that, but there is no way for players to know you are in that body other than if you make obviously non-AI typical actions. No one can track the previous names, bodies, lives or handles of human controlled characters in Elyria through any in-game means (they may be able to guess who you were though, especially based on achievements if they are viewable).
Social Complexity: A World of Our Own
The social systems in CoE are just as complex as in the real world and are far more deep than the typical 'guild' found in most other MMOs. Your closest social group in CoE is typically your family. A group of four friends could, for example, potentially take control of an existing NPC baker and wife couple in their mid 20s along with 2 of their 3 children. One player could be the husband, the other the wife. They would take on every aspect of those NPC's lives including their names (which can be changed after with gold), skills, possessions and looks (which are only superficially changeable). The other two players could then customize their characters since they are starting as the family's 15 year old children, but customization would not be completely without limit as they must stay within the bounds of their parents' genetics (no blond haired blue eyed black children of the black haired brown eyed white parents). The third child could then be a non-player character which is AI controlled but could be later possessed by a complete stranger if not locked off from the public (which is a possible option for any player's own kids). The married couple would be forced to share all resources, including access to money and inventory, so if you don't want to share, don't get married. An in-game family provides many of the same benefits (and frustrations) as a real family including shared accommodations, taxes, responsibilities, enhanced in-game communication option, and even the supernatural ability to help make a loved one's soul return to their body easier in the case of temporary death.
At the larger community level you have towns and kingdoms. A large group of players could potentially create an entire town populated by their members. Everything from the mayor and his staff, to the farmer and his children could all be one out of game community playing their desired roles in-game. Since CoE has almost no fast travel, being near people you can trust and work well with is an essential ingredient to the potential success of both a town and its people. But be careful when encroaching on a neighboring town's resources as war is just as much a part of CoE as peace is. Very little information is currently known about guilds and schools, but they have been described by the developers as acting more like a social tie to help those with similar skills and interests work towards a common goal (such as in the case of a fishing guild or school of ancient lore).