(Update: Berry Hearts broke through with another round of pictures covering what was missed the first time around! Find it after the ***!)
So, as some of you might know, Legends of Equestria is, as of this posting, having an open server weekend event. Having followed the game's progress ever since discovering it and being impressed by what I saw in the latest all-day livestream, I was understandably looking forward to this. Now, having finally managed to do some exploration, I've decided to do a sort of report for all those interested who might be unable to play for some reason or have missed it entirely (reading at a later date) and talk a little bit about how I found the game.
First off, I have to say that it's in general considerably improved as compared to previous open-server builds. However, it's still plagued by a massive problem that makes getting to play it very hard. The problem seems to reside somewhere in the area of clients and connecting to servers, because it is remarkably difficult to log in. The vast majority of my log-in attempts over the last few days (all but 3, in fact) have returned an "Error: couldn't log in", which is remarkably frustrating. However, if you do manage to get into the game, there seem to be virtually zero latency issues, as the only time I've experienced lag was when I got hit by one of the inevitable early-version bugs. This seems to suggest that their servers are coping with the player numbers, but whether they are doing it via cutting off log-in access (which, hopefully, would be a testing-only measure) or whether it's an unrelated log-in problem keeping player numbers low, or whether their servers are really up to snuff of this grade is still not clear. It is, however, notable that I was having the very same problem (being unable to log in most of the time) during the last open server event, but all events, from the earliest to this current one, were lag-free for me.
Now, on to the illustrated part! Essentially, my reason for going into it as it is now is to review what the team has accomplished in the time since the last event. The short version is: quite a lot. The long one is the one with pictures, since I decided to take screenshots and bring you all a visual picture of what the game looks like as of now.
(if you want to skip this part, go right on past the double paragraph break)
As it is normal for me by now, I've created a pegasus to explore the new and improved LoE with the advantages of flight, as it is almost overpowered in a world where moving around is currently the biggest pastime. Howver, before going there I've also tested it with a unicorn character in order to see what changes their magic system saw, discovering that 1) for now, they aren't spamming fireballs anymore, 2) their teleportation spell has been further refined, limited in range to a typical Twilight blink but has not become any less useful for it and 3) they've gained a healing spell, which I had no chance to test. I would explore the abilities of the Earth ponies as well if not for the LoE character login mechanism requiring you to log out completely in order to swap characters, thus falling victim to the "login stonewall" problem.
Now for the more interesting illustrated part (it has pictures, so it's more interesting, naturally). Newly created pegasi, including my plucky testing flightmare friend Berry Hearts, appear in the game's version of Cloudsdale, called Cloudopolis under its thoughtful no-trademarks-were-harmed renaming policy. And might I say, good fellows: the city is downright awesome. It features waterfalls, rainbow and normal alike, that look remarkably good (better than in other, huge-name MMOs I've played in the past, in fact) and have a cool fade-into-vapour effect as they go lower. It also features vast spaces accessible to all types of ponies, with the city itself being composed of wide winding ribbons of cloud housing streets; perhaps the most prominent solid one is a series of switchbacks going up a tall cloud, lined with houses of various sorts. Many buildings are open and airy, as befitting a sky city for flying ponies, and are quite beautiful aesthetically. It is complete with a colosseum, a Wonderbolt(esque) training base with a short cloud loop course and a landing strip, several ramps, a large walled complex in a somewhat East-Asian style and, of course, an airship pier. Sadly, the latter is the only part of it I managed to take a screenshot of this time around, with the other pictures sadly having been overwritten by accident, but it is even more magnificent than it can show. From there, looking at the rest of the city makes one think of a gigantic, flying, multi-leveled aircraft carrier.
Next up, I explored Canterlot, or rather "Cantermore". The city has been a constant indicator of the progress the development team is making, having been a world of white 3D models and placeholder map-like ground textures in the first testing event, a properly textured and fleshed-out city in its old borders in the second and, finally, a much grander-looking, expanded and improved version we can see now. All of the pictures I could take were in nighttime conditions, but I couldn't really wait for the day/night cycle to change when I took these. Here's a view from halfway to the outer gates, and one from the inner gates providing a better look at the palace, with the airship that takes ponies to Cloudopolis in the far distance. There's more of the city to see, particularly up close and far near the palace, but I wanted to reach more locations and so moved on to Ponyville... er, Ponydale.
Ponydale is largely similar to the way it was before, although it hasn't been left unimproved. There might've been changes within the main town proper and some alterations in Sweet Apple Acr... er, Orchard. However, seeing as the town was fairly well-designed as it was already, that is not a bad thing. Improvements will certainly come again and in greater numbers and depth, but it'll happen at the same time others receive theirs, and it was the first location made for the game (I think). I couldn't resist taking a shot of the game's moon, which is notably different from show-Equestria and instead far more similar to human Earth's. The town itself can be seen here, with Berry hanging roughly over the trainstation to Canter..more; the Ponyville Schoolhouse is further to the right, sadly, it didn't fit in the field of view.
In addition to the Cloudopolis shots, the shots of Sweet Apple Orchard seem to have been overwritten too, sorry. However, the only true changes there were the addition of more NPCs and extra effects to the pond, as well as the CMC Clubhouse getting moved closer to the entrance.
However, what I really aimed to explore the most was the Everfree Forest, or, er, Evershade Forest, as this is where the other big part of the changes was: timberwolves and other monsters. I wanted to see how the combat system looked. However, I still did as full an exploration tour of the Everfree as I could manage with the disabled navigation (a permanent feature of the Everfree, which actually makes it possible to lose one's way back for a minute or two). The Evershade landscape further helps that by being foggy and craggy and with varied trees. Here are three examples of what it looks like, weird worm-like protrusions and tall undergrowth galore.
There's also a separately instanced zone in the Forest, namely Zecora's hut. Thankfully, the looks of buildings are fair game as inspiration, so the area around it isn't extremely different from what one'd expect. Nearby is a patch of poison joke with a massive highlight over it, which I sadly didn't land into.
And of course, the creatures. Here are the "dryads", the deerlike plantlike creatures found in the forest, who I found to be beautifully and gracefully animated and beautifully modeled and textured; they were present before as well, but not in the numbers they are now and, as the last time I saw them was way back, I hadn't seen their animation before this event.
Here is an example of what the timberwolves look like in the game now. I'd say the team has managed to do them justice. They also managed to make them properly dangerous, as I found out moments later. Here you can see the results, along with a different creature, a sort of weird flying leafed crystal lantern things that are very fast and hit rather hard.
Death in LoE isn't really death, as you can see. It says "fainted", a-la Pokemon, and you respawn back at the location entrance or a hospital. Simple enough, and it is in perfect accordance with the plans the LoE team mentioned on panels and in livestreams. However, the combat system is, as of yet, not the way they wanted it to be, so expect it to change in the future. Still, I wanted to test its current shape out better, and so landed near another monster. Well... you can guess how that went. Bonus points for a great dramatic pose; poor lovely Berry looks like she has just been mortally wounded.
Finally, here's the last monster I managed to catch sight of and fight as of now: the diamond dogs. I was in luck and caught a whole group of them in different animation stages and angles. I watched this particular variety of diamond dogs (there are supposed to be more in the future, I believe) get made during a livestream event, so it was fun to see the result of that work out in the field and actually fight it.
However, that mostly concludes the illustrated section, as Berry was tired after all this and the new pony episode was about to start, so let us see off our brave explorer for the night. Have a good night, Berry Hearts!
Update: Berry is back for another day's adventures and slices of her life!
Today her journey began in Cantermore, where it was absolutely necessary to take a picture of what its streets look like up close. Once again I must say that the LoE dev team managed to translate the show style into 3D very well.
Here is Berry Hearts herself, smiling cheerfully at all you viewers while standing on a big fountain in the central part of the city. Behind her is the same street as seen above. On the right is the palace and some other important buildings. (You can also tell that some buildings were made with the experience of making previous ones, making the newer ones look better.)
Here is the School for Gifted Unicorns. I daresay they've also managed a fairly nice translation into the 3D medium here, as well as original designing skills (seeing as we haven't seen the School itself in the show).
A tour of Cantermore wouldn't be complete without a view of its front gates. Seeing as neither Canterlot nor Cantermore seem to suffer many sieges that actual gates would be able to keep out, there's a path to the side of the drawbridge, avoiding going through the gate fortress itself.
Here's a view of the city from the completely opposite direction. Closest to Berry are the Cloudopolis airship, the port authority building and the local Wonderbolt(ish) HQ looking like an awesome ship on the left. On the right is, obviously, the Palace and a few palace-grounds facilities such as the training ring and a decidedly cool settled outcropping.
Since the tour yesterday didn't really do it justice, there is also a picture of the mountainside under which Cantermore is located, with the city's train station being the nearest building to it.
Next, Berry flew to Cloudopolis, and just like I said, the place looks absolutely glorious in daylight. I believe more words are not really necessary here.
Here is the beautiful winding street up the city's main cloud area. Notice the pony at the base of the stairs in the bottom row: that's an NPC. He also provides a nice scale reference to the entire thing.
And here is the view from the opposite direction, with the somewhat Asian-style complex at the very top of that gradually rising cloud. The Colosseum is on the right, which is where we're headed next.
Berry decided to show us the sportspony spirit of the pegasi and make her way there at top speed. Good going, lass!
Then she gives us a view of the Colosseum from the lower cloud balcony row. It's nice to see how each of them is differently shaped. And yes, the middle of the Colosseum is just a massive hole with no floor, which we can't see at this angle.
Here's a view of the city from a lower angle, near a set of ramps for what seems to be taking off at a run. To the right is the Wonderbolt(ish) base, which is where Berry wanted to head next.
And with good reason! Look at her go! She should try applying for the Academy at last. Her rapid ascent skills are no less impressive. After coming back down, she had a great view of the base itself up close.
After all this, Berry headed off to the less vertigo-inducing Ponydale, with a parting shot to Cloudopolis of her on the airship commuting to and from it.
Seeing as yesterday's tour did not include the schoolhouse, this time Berry took a picture directly in front of it, with a nice side view of Ponydale and its hospital (on the right).
Next up was the Sweet Apple Orchard and the adjacent carrot farm! The actual accessible zone is limited by the fence and a few invisible zones, making this the smallest outdoor zone accessible thus far, but it is nevertheless very cozy. Here's a view from the other side, showcasing the CMC Clubhouse and more apple trees as well as the local pond.
Berry was feeling particularly adventurous today, perhaps inspired by yesterday's repeated fainting, and went on to the mines to try and best one of the Diamond Dogs sometimes found there. That she did, although admittedly, the other pony seen in the shot took care of much of the fight before she could even get there. You can also see one of those very strange "winged lantern" creatures in front of said pony here; that creature had to be promptly defeated as well, because it turned out to be hostile.
After this, Berry decided to take a break and play a little game, which is strangely accessible by approaching the Ponyville well. It's rather entertaining.
Of course, Berry also went on to explore the more famous buildings in the city. Sugarcane Corner proved a bit too noisy at this time of day, but she did manage to visit the town library, the living quarters of which looked strangely crowded but nevertheless beautiful with all the sunlight and blue skies outside. She also paid a visit to the local designer's shop.
Whoa, Berry, stunt-flying using the town as your obstacle course? You daredevil filly you. Although I admit that I enjoy seeing this. It must take quite some skill to fly upside down.
One of the things the town can rightfully boast of is a great view of the Cantermore royal palace it has thanks to its location. It almost looks different from the actual Cantermore-side view at this distance.
After all this flying, Berry was rather tired and felt like she needed a bath. She also found nothing better than splashing down in the closest public fountain in order to do so. Berry, your tact and manners... You only get off free because of that charming smile and how beautiful your mane looks when wet.
There were a few interesting ponies Berry met along the way, two of them in Cantermore and one in Ponydale. There were others, of course, but those are the only ones she has pictures of.
It also helps showcase the difference between show-style vector portraits and game-world 3D models in conversation mode. Here, I think the vector portraits win quite easily.
After all these travels, Berry got quite tired once again and settled down for a nice lunch at the Ponydale cafe. Let's thank our charming young guide and wish her a good rest to hopefully meet her again in the future!
Now comes the part with my overall thoughts and impressions on the game.
Overall, it's really come a long way since those first days. The development team has managed a nice middle ground between meticulously recreating every detail as seen in a particular show screenshot/episode and putting their own spin on things a little bit (e.g. town/city layout). I was particularly impressed by the variety of building designs, since every single one is a textured 3D model, and many of them have interiors that can be walked into and are decorated and furnished. This level of detail and attention is great.
Evidently, most of the effort since the last open event has gone into building up the playable world like this, and it sure shows. Canter-city's redesign and Cloudopolis being built from scratch and into a fully functional city of its own, as well as the introduction of mobile opponent creatures and a greater Ever-forest are evidence of that. However, the UI got some love too: things such as the journal, the chat, the ability bar, the inventory, the announcement system and other UI elements got nicely revamped, and only the minimap still looks like it did before (which, as screenshots can show, is awesome, so it doesn't really matter). However, the drawback of this is that the interface and menu elements are generally operating on a "skeleton crew" bare-necessities principle. It is my belief that the interface, the menus and the controls are what will need more polishing and working-out next. Notably, there is no lag whatsoever. The problems I faced mainly stemmed from interface and, in general, non-gameplay things such as the "login wall". For instance, the "controls" section of the settings did nothing for me and I was forced to do everything with the mouse, without hotkeys; the only exceptions to that were movement keys, including sideways rolls for pegasi, and the number keys for the abilities. Likewise, the main menu is quite unresponsive; the settings bar doesn't even open there, for example. Furthermore, the area of the cursor interaction on the feather-shaped cursor needs to be defined better, as trying to navigate the admittedly beautifully designed menus with it proved difficult when I needed to hold down scrollable thingies.
There is also the issue of fluidity of things when it comes to combat. The big issue for me was the targetable pegasus ability, which, while effective, proved hard to adjust the targeting of mid-fight on moving enemies, as it's hard to find the right place to click on in time with the cursor as it is now. While it's playable and can be lived with, it's still a bit clunky. The difficulties with low optimization, such as hotkey trouble and me somehow being unable to get them to work even through reassigning them, proved more annoying than this. There also exist a few bugs in there, such as the chat always scrolling up after a while and outright bugging me out of the game after I adjusted it, as well as the UI icons on the right clipping under the screen edge (as you can see in the screenshots) and the journal opening every time you press the spacebar after you open it once, forcing you to click on another menu that doesn't do that to get it to stop.
Quests have also made an appearance, as have more NPCs. However, the journal, ostensibly made to track this kind of thing, did not (it seems to be the least developed menu as of now), and this presented some difficulty to me after taking a break midway through a quest and forgetting the name of the last NPC I was to find. Still, the quests that do exist now fit the theme of the game and work towards its atmosphere a bit, as well as showing a good foundation to build on in the future. The NPCs themselves are definitely done quite well, although there're still some with game-world 3D models as portraits during conversationand some with drawn vectors (I think I like the latter kind more).
Another important element they simply must work on is optimizing whatever it is that is making the "login stonewall" problem happen. Redesigning the client, optimizing the servers, cleaning up code or doing something else entirely which I'm not aware of, anything that is possible as long as it can do away with 99/100 attempts at logging in failing immediately. This would lower the frustration at the long, long time one needs to get in by orders of magnitude.
In short, it's as it is only can be expected to be, with plenty of alpha-bugs but still playable. What it needs right now is tuning and lots of polishing and optimization, particularly in the UI and related gameplay elements such as combat. Once it gains smoothness, its strong sides such as the animation and the movement engine will shine even brighter. Seriously, with the pegasi the game almost feels like a pony flight simulator in disguise, as using the vast cities as obstacle courses for high-speed flying is very fun and satisfying when you pull it off.
Here's wishing for the best possible luck and progress to the development team! You're doing very, very well, and I hope this will continue to be that way.