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First of all I am going to be completely honest: the only reason I picked Istaria up again is because the motherboard on my gaming rig fried and left me unable to play MMOs with current generation graphics. I'm stuck on my cheapo laptop and therefore have to play old school, low graphic games until building a new rig.
That being said playing Horizons again has reminded me of many things that have been missing from more modern MMOs. I now love it enough to play it over WoW outside of raiding nights, at least until WoW's next expansion comes out.
First off, the pros and cons:
-low graphical requirements. A beater running XP or even the weakest laptop should be able to run it decently.
-incredible community; the nicest MMO crowd I've ever seen. Zero elitism, newbies are loved and everyone always wants to chat.
-old school MMO gameplay, but you can still solo 99% of the content comfortably.
-very customizable UI. I was confused at first by the layout but a few minutes of twiddling out everything in the same exact spot as modernized WoW like UIs.
-gorgeous music. One of the few games I never shut off sound for.
-the ability to multiclass if you roll a bipedal class. This even includes crafting.
-in-depth crafting system with player/lair housing.
-the coolest thing of all IMO - play as a dragon. And it's not just some reskinned race, it has a ton of dragon related lore and is both a unique race and class in itself.
-listing the graphics here too as it's a blessing and a curse. Although easy to run it's also primitive, and for most people the graphics may be too dated and ugly.
-slow, sluggish combat system. Also feels more EQ1 ish in the way of "click a few buttons, then auto attack for a while."
-can be a bit laggy in movement occasionally, though far better at it than other games like Vanguard.
-loading zones is slow. It used to be worse, though.
-TINY community. The people who are around are friendly and active, and there is a smallish economy, but this game shouldn't have the "massive" prefix in the word MMO.
-flight in dragons handles a bit annoying and you'll often clip a little into the ground when landing. This game is from 2003 so I am cutting it some slack for having probably the first mount style flight system, but it's still a real shock after coming from other games.
-Grindy. There is less variety in adventuring quests so eventually you will run out of regular ones and will have to grind "trophy quests", which are basically repeatable "bring me 10 bear butts" fetch quests.
-not much endgame, though Vitrium is actively working to fix this and just released new endgame content for dragons.
Can I recommend it as a main game? No. Can I as a "filler" game between your main one when your MMO of choice gets old? Absolutely.
This game will hold special appeal to:
-Oldschool MMO fans. If new games feel too theme - parky, you might like Istaria.
-Casuals. There's no rush, no giant raids, and little epeen besides being level capped and having a pet/finished house. This is a solid game for those not interested in the typical gear rat race.
-Roleplayers. The rp server is insanely active for its small size and there is rp everywhere. I found more of it in 1 day in horizons than in a month on WoW's Moon Guard.
-dragon fans. Between the models/animations, growth cycle tied to leveling, crafting system, hoard and insane amount of lore, this is still the best "virtual dragon simulator" to date. All the others that I'm aware of involve mostly rp and no actual gameplay.
I have played nearly every mmo released from 2001-2010 and Istaria is still the one smaller title that stood out the most to me. Give it a try if you're bored and like old fashioned MMO gameplay.