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Yeah, call me a loser for playing this game for 1.5 years, more off than on though. Since I'm a student, I'm not a hardcore player. I've never tried any of the pay to play games, but based off other F2P games, Shaiya is one of the best F2P MMOs. That being said, it sadly does not make up for other flaws, of why I eventually quit.
Shaiya is the most STRUCTURED F2P game. It's hard to explain; there are a certain number of monsters especially suited for the needs of the targeted players, the maps are very organized, the spawn times are calculated, etc. It's rather hard to explain, but there's a sense of professional organization and thought involved in its creation.
You can choose to play Union of Fury or Alliance of Light. They have completely different maps, different races (but not classes), gear, etc. I personally prefer the lightie maps but fury dungeons. They are always at war with each other in the battlegrounds, and by winning altars you win bless for your entire side. There is no coherent storyline, no ultimate goal, but neither is it confusing nor tremendously addictive.
The trademark of Shaiya are its four levels: easy, normal, hard, and ultimate. Easy is to figure out what class you want to play, capped at 30. Hard is unlocked when you hit level 40 on normal (previously 50) and ultimate level 40 hard. In hard and ultimate mode, you get a boost of skill and stat points. However, they take 3-6x longer to level. And, in ultimate mode, if you die, you lose your character forever. This requires you to use resurrection runes, which are extremely costly. (Recently they have a rez item in the item mall, but it costs about $75).
Shaiya graphics are ah-some. You won't be able to find any graphics better for a F2P game. My high-level Oracle shoes looked like goth Barbie three-inch heels. The landscape is varied, your character looks great, and for guys who play female chars they get a panty peek every time you jump. My only complaint is that they didn't make use of the time cycle. Shaiya does have day and night, although you can't tell much of a difference, random blizzards and rainstorms, but that isn't involved in the gameplay at all, which is a disappointment. The snow is only there to look pretty, sometimes blinding.
Levels 1-20 are a blast. You only have to grind for quests, you get to explore the landscape, and you get to experience the partying option, which, in my opinion, is the best part of the game. My only complaint is that for the quests, it is sometimes ridiculously hard to find the monsters you are trying to kill. They might tell you "right outside of town," but if you're on the wrong side it can be extremely frustrating.
Levels 40-60 are a pain in the ass to level. Soloing is now impossible; parties gain exp 5x faster. Classes become more specialized. It gets down to repetitive grinding, and it's often very frustrating because it takes so long that a crucial member of the party often has to go (priests and mages are easy to replace, but guardians not so). In Episode 4, they've changed the leveling curve so it takes less long, which is a good thing. It's not so bad in normal mode, but it takes hard and ultimate mode 6x more exp needed to level. By this time, exp stones and charms are a must, and they're usually not cheap either.
PvP is generally pretty enjoyable, but there's just one flaw: you can't PvP in normal mode, forget about easy mode, so it means you have to wait until you unlock hard mode before you can enjoy PvP. Episode 4 has made "party sieging" possible of members of up to 30 (previously 7). However, PvP can become very empty in 20-30 and 40-60 during certain hours of the day, which makes it extremely dull.
Events/ Item Mall 4/10
Shaiya events make me want to doze. They're really very disappointing that few people care about. In Episode 4, some of this has changed, since events are now linked between servers, but there's hardly anything creative other than running to all the altars and killing GMs.
Like all F2P games, Shaiya entices you to rob you of your money. I know people who spend $120 a month on the game. I know someone else who spent $800 to get one item and kept failing: linked sonic boots. Sonics are lapis, with an OP Hammer, that has a 20% chance of linking. If you fail, you lose the boots as well. They're a necessity for any serious PvPer. The item mall is not optional, it's necessary. Otherwise, you're going to have to gold/lapis farm on a high level toon (55+) for some pretty long hours.
Shaiya is not a bad game. It's essentially fun, nothing ground-breaking, but there's a generally supportive community. The creators did a decent job. It's Aeria Games that messed it up.