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I posted the following a couple of month ago:
I'm now in EE and I wanted to give it a more fair shake.
TLDR; PFO is the fantasy sandbox you may be looking for...if you like a completely player-driven economy and can ignore the rough edges. Feel free to contact me on the forums if you'd like to meet up in-game!
The concept of the game is still great: Fantasy sandbox. EvE-like skill progression.
CRAFTING: I'm currently in a very active guild that are starting to ramp up their +2 weapon, +2 robe production. This has required about 6 dedicated crafters/refiners that have trained almost EXCLUSIVELY their specific profession. In addition, the rest of our 15-odd members have trained up in one or more of the gathering skills to gain the materials for these. It's only a matter of time, though, when they too will have to start specializing in a specific gathering skills. Yes, it is almost impossible to play this game by yourself, unless you want to live in crappy monster dropped weapons and armor.
I also see this game become very spreadsheet oriented if you are a crafter and into that sort of thing.
GEAR PROGRESSION: So far, it seems pretty well implemented. The higher tier/bonused the item, the more time and material it takes to make. Items degrade on death (die 20 times and the item is gone) Again, we are only in the process of making Tier 1, +2 items and it has taken us quite a few days to do this for 5-10 people.
ECONOMY: Is still very young and currency is still kind of worthless. Our guild is pretty much working on communistic principles. What's great, though, is that "traders" from different parts of the world have already stopped by our city looking to trade their wears. We have copper in abundance but need weak adhesives and yew wood. Boom: Items exchanged hands and the trader continued on his way.
COMBAT: This part is probably the least polished part of the game. Once you get the hang of it, you'll do alright, but sometimes abilities will fire off even if the mob has just died. The ability queue is kind of permanent, so if you go out of range of a mob it will fire off again as soon as you are in range. (This is supposedly intended, but there is actually no way of canceling this yet, ha). Many of the debuffs in-game either don't effect players, don't effect monsters, or both. At some point, player-looting will be implemented but it isn't right now.
PvE: The majority of PvE is fairly straightforward. Button smash to kill groups of mobs. It's almost like another type of gathering. The challenge, however, is the escalations. We currently have a 50% strength one right next to our city and it is wreaking havoc to our area. Every day we need 5-10 players to go there for a few hours to cull down the strength just to keep it from overwhelming us. I really like how there is PvE with a purpose in our sandbox (and none of it is quest-driven).
PvP: Small-scale PvP exists to some degree. Sometimes you'll find someone in a Hex you are farming. If you don't want him there, you can kill them (for a rep hit). We do this especially in our areas that we control (ie hexes near our settlement).
POPULATION: Slowing starting to ramp up. On launch, you'd occasionally see a few people in town but then, in the wilderness, maybe 1-2 people a day. I now see lots more people in towns and quite a few Hexes are "contested" by people grinding for resources.
GRAPHICS: If you play PFO, you are playing for the sand, not the eye-candy. I'm sure things will get better, but as for right now the graphics are somewhat meh.
OTHER: I really like the communication between the players and the company, Goblinworks. The CEO is in the Help channel every day answering questions and helping people out. The company is supposedly taking very seriously player feedback w/r/t the direction of the game, but we have yet to have a patch post-EE so only time will tell.
CONCLUSION: If you are looking for a fantasy-based sandbox, you should definitely give this game a try. (FYI, If you join within the first month, you will automatically have your experience points back-dated to launch so now is as good a time as ever to check it out!