NWVault Review

Originally posted on NWVault.

Markshire :: Kingdom of Ice

Created by Markshire
Reviewed by Dormammu
Review Posted on 2007-09-27

 

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Quick Pros:

One of the best worlds from top to bottom. Wonderful people.

Quick Cons:

Will draw you in so much, you might lose your job.

 

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Summary – Statistics

Number of Areas: 400+
Web Resources: Markshire
Character: Dwarven fighter and smith
Levels allowed: Up to 25
Hak Size: 200MB +
Documentation: Extensive web resources
Death: Level adjusted XP penalty, bleeding
Resting: Restricted to once every 8 hours (24 minutes real time)
Restrictions:
Requires: SoU, HotU, CEP 1.52

Summary

Markshire:: Kingdom of Ice is a Dungeons and Dragons play gameworld in a Nordic themed setting. Gods such as Odin, Thor, and Loki are revered in the icy chills of Foothold and the surrounding areas. The villages of the Markshire are under constant threat of kobolds, orcs, ogres, and other fell beasts. Communities of miners, lumberjacks, smiths, and merchants fall victim to bandits. However, the men and women of the deep north are not easily overwhelmed and survive by toting the heavy load of hard work and perseverance.

When logged in to Markshire, in character roleplay is encouraged. The server is self-described as a “roleplay” server, meaning that the player characters are expected to act out according to race, class, and alignment. However, the rules are not so strict, nor the roleplay so methodically micromanaged that one cannot “tell” back and forth with their friends (or even the DMs), and neither is absolute strict adherence to dialogue rules ruthlessly enforced. Whereas there are plenty of guidelines to follow in case of doubt, the number one rule of Markshire truly is to have fun and to interact.

The community itself is made up an intelligent, responsible and mature core group of players, DMs, and developers. They have a great website to not only introduce you to Markshire the gameworld, but supplies Nordic lore, deities, and legends. The forum gets you started to play and introduces you to many of the regulars. The dialogue on the board stays busy without getting overwhelming. I found it was very easy to introduce myself and acclimate myself into the surroundings.

More than anything, everyone I met and interacted with, without exception, were extremely generous, courteous, polite, helpful, and genuinely interested in helping my character along in his infantile stages, and I was able to develop friendly in game relations ships with a couple of the players. In terms of courteous, helpful, and mature players Markshire sets a standard by which all gameworlds should strive for.

 

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Originality : 9.5

Markshire sets itself apart from other gameworlds due to several factors: setting, content adaptation, and community. The content and community will be discussed in detail later on, so I will touch on them only briefly here, but I will use this space to relate ideas about the setting in detail.

All players start (or should) in Foothold, a medium sized town that is the nexus of play in Markshire. Within Foothold a new player can find standard offerings such as inexpensive equipment and ‘fetch and carry’ missions (which are actually designed quite well to introduce the player to the setting and get them out and about to some of the major landmarks (Yar Village, Stonemark-The capital city). However, if doing the more routine missions for beginners in a gameworld doesn’t suit you, one may find other resources for keeping their character busy and gaining XP and assets along the way.

The Craftable Natural Resource system (CNR) is one of the keystones to gameplay in Markshire, and can be an excellent alternative for those players who don’t want to rush right out and power-level in the Orc Caves. In fact, I gained my first level (1000 XP) on mining, smelting ore, and crafting weapons and armor almost exclusively. As such, I was able to craft a good shield and set of full plate for my dwarven fighter before he found himself beset by kobolds in the untamed north. However, one must be very familiar with his or her surroundings to pinpoint all the locations for the garnering of materials for crafting. If you never leave Foothold, you will never be able to craft much better than a bronze dagger (not that they are not very useful!). It is that nuance that really personifies the keen ability of the creators and developers, that to succeed in Markshire you must interact with and explore it.

The Nordic/Norse theme, while heavily adhered to, leaves enough ‘open-endedness’ for players to carve their own niche even if they choose not to play a tall blonde-hair, blue-eyed strapping young lad. Nonetheless, you find yourself swept away by the majesty of some of the concepts of Norse folklore from the Valkyrie that greets you into the world, to screenshots of frost giants and ice dragons, and the numerous temples dedicated to Odin and Thor. When in the Markshire, you will not mistake it for any place else.

Community : 9

As I said before, the people that play on Markshire are truly fine individuals, but as a group they make up the beating heart of the world. For example, I visited the boards a little bit before I logged in for the first time. I was actually having a little bit of trouble downloading one of the HAK files. From the word, ‘Go.’, people were greeting me and offering assistance on getting the file I needed so I could get on and play with them.

I wasn’t logged on for more than a couple of minutes for the first time and two people greeted me in ‘Tells’. Within an hour or so just about everyone that had been logged in at the time (about 7 or 8 people at that day and time) had greeted me. Many of them asked if I needed any help or if I had any questions. The people are equally as courteous in-character. I was able to walk up to anyone I saw and strike up dialogue. In fact, I was neck deep in a conversation within moments upon materializing in Foothold. If not for a technical glitch on my end at that time, I am sure I could have role-played my introduction to the land for an hour to a captive audience, for almost everyone there is eager to participate with one another.

I mentioned before about how mature and responsible I felt many of the players were. One night I stumbled in on a DM run event. I was barely level 3 at the time (by far the lowest of the group), but I faced no discrimination for being a newbie, and the group invited me right in (regardless of how in over my head I was for the mission to retrieve the arc from the ogre caves). I did my best to stay out of trouble, but invariably ended up dying a few times. Just like good troops, we stuck together and watched everyone’s back. They probably went through 10,000 gp of Raise Dead scrolls just to let me tag along, but coming out “ahead” in terms of gold and items really misses the point of play in the Markshire. It was all about us being a group and playing together. We fought together, laughed together, got lost in a twisty cave and backtracked together.

Out of the game, everyone is just as nice and close-knit. Again, though, I was able to insinuate myself and become friendly with a lot of the people. I had been there less than two weeks and they let me join their Fantasy Football League they were putting together. They act like real people (even ones that take kickers with their first picks…grrr….[inside joke]), and it is very refreshing.

The other VERY refreshing aspect is how laid back and open minded the DMs and players are. Up until this point, I had encountered, in one form or another, what I call “roleplay micromanagement” on just about every world I have ever visited. I use it as a very broad sweeping term, and it covers a lot of ground. Without fail, I have run into at least one DM, developer, or “senior player” that fell into this category which covers: rudeness to players (often due to a literal interpretation of a half-hearted rule, “OMFG, WTF R U DOING? PUT YOUR BLEEPING WEAPON AWAY IN TOWN, DUMBASS N00B!”), favoritism, nepotism, literal roleplay micromanagement by a DM (“I think your character should be doing this in this situation.”), the occasional PKer-for-no-good-reason, cliquish snobs, and quite frankly the list goes on and on, and I don’t want to drag this review down by pointing out the bad things other worlds do that this one does NOT. In short, the people of Markshire listen to each other and are supportive of each other’s ideas. They recognize and appreciate how individuals add ideas and depth to roleplay. They are to be highly commended for this.

Custom Content: 10

Whew! Where to start here? Markshire has an absolutely massive amount of what we at the Neverwinter review Guild call “custom content” from items, creatures, encounters, scripts and more (as indicated by the 200 + megabytes that is the required download for one to play, not even taking CEP 1.52 into account). It would be absolutely redundant and exhaustive to go through and list and explain everything that is available, but I will hit on a few things that new players are likely to notice in a short period of time.

The first is the area I am going to be most critical of and it regards the aforementioned CEP 1.52. Many of the character appearance features that CEP adds are effectively disabled/restricted, by design, in Markshire making a very noticeable lack in the ability to make one’s character seem more unique or visually interesting. It may be a nitpick on my part, but it did feel like a drawback to my gaming experience. A few times it felt kind of distracting for me to get a set of armor or a helmet that would otherwise would be good and helpful but for the fact that it looks drab or dopey. In other words, I wasn’t able to “pretty things up” quite the way I prefer.

Now that the ugliness of harsh criticism is out of the way, let us talk about the fun and unique content that really adds dimension and fun to Markshire! I have three items I wish to cover in this space:

-The Quill of PC Recording: By it’s own description it is a simple system, but I found myself growing very fond of it over time. What it is in-game is a small useable device you can use whenever you want to save your character to their vault. Maybe not a big deal, but I felt it gave me a great deal of assurance and quality that I could keep my progress saved in the face of a crash or something. Nothing can be more annoying than to mine ore or dig clay for hours only to have all of it zapped by misfortune. With the Quill, the player is empowered to insure their progress.

-The Markshire Experience and Teamwork System: What a great concept! Even if you said nothing else about this system, you can state that it rewards people that adventure together by increasing their experience gain per kill. However, what it really does is further the concept of encouraging people to interact with each other on the server, and otherwise just get together and play. Also within this system, one is guaranteed at least 1 xp, even for the mightiest of warriors vanquishing the lowliest of enemies. That can make it feel good that at least you aren’t coming away ‘empty-handed’.

-Persistent Chests: I think their interpretation of persistent chest is ingeniously clever. As you play in Markshire, you will invariably start amassing items in your inventory at a greater rate at which you can carry/sell/process/otherwise them. Inventory space becomes hotter realty than oceanfront property in Arizona (God I hope someone gets that joke!). Enter the Persistent Chest! (Well, after you have saved up the 50 large for it.) For all intents and purposes, it is a landlocked henchman that can be summoned (only in temples, inns, a very few select other areas) to load down with all of your stuff. Your chest’s inventory is completely interactive as a henchman’s, it can even hold bags full of coal, or wear rings if you have so many that it fills its over 1000 slots of inventory.

One of the really cool things (and maybe a slight drawback if you play on a lot of different computers for some reason) is that each chest is unique to the character, player, and CD key. This makes your chest completely your own, and no one else can open it. Spiffy!

In closing, please keep in mind this is only scratching the surface of all that Markshire has to offer. If I wrote about all the custom content in Markshire, two things would happen: I would turn a billion years old before I finished writing it all, and I would crash the Vault with the sheer magnitude of uploading my review.

DMs : 8.5

Staying consistent with the theme of the review, the DMs are not only equally as nice as the rest of the community, but they have a very firm grasp on the role of a DM. By that, I mean that the DMs I interacted with had a solid foundation in “accommodating the player”. The DMs don’t waste time playing schoolyard monitor to make sure the children are behaving, they dig in and contribute to the gameplay, and they work their rears off. In fact, they are non-pervasive to the point of exemplar.

One criticism that I can draw about the DMs may be the apparent inconsistency with which they can be logged in/available. I realize that it isn’t fair to expect 24/7 DM service on a server regardless of it’s staff or the size of it’s community, but I did have times where I might have been the only one logged in, or logged on with one other player, for maybe 2-3 hours with no one else coming on at all. Granted, this dilemma is partially representative of the fact that there is only a small core of the players that are on a LOT. I suppose what I am arriving at here is that the number of players logged in at any given time can be erratic, and the DM availability pantomimes that aspect of the server.

Another great aspect of the Markshire DMs is how interactive and communicative they are away from the server as well. They are very active and approachable on the message boards, where they are “just one of the guys”, meaning they don’t act exclusive or untouchable like some DMs can act. In fact, they are great about setting up DM events on the board and communicating with everyone about the playing.

Roleplaying/Game Balance : 8

Markshire offers many platforms for a diversified selection of role-playing opportunities. For the sake of summarization, I am going to lump these into two categories and talk a little bit about both.

“Adventure/Classic Role-play”-This category could be considered the broadest and most ambiguous of the three. When I say, “Adventure/Classic Role-play” I mean authentic Dungeons and Dragons play with a group of people and a DM going on a mission. I was fortunate enough to be able to partake in two “DM events” with a group of players in the short time I was there. In both instances everyone in the group was able to participate and add something to the substance of the unfolding events. Players came up with unique ideas for problem resolution and DMs adapted quickly to facilitate those ideas. For example, one of the events I was in consisted of myself and two other players with Dwarven PCs. None of us were equipped to deal with the traps we found in a cave, so we responded by using “role-play” solutions (knocking down an ice-shelf to bury a trap). We would pull out our pickaxes, physically act out our ideas, and the DMs had us use our “PC Dicebag”-all straight out D&D 101. No one had to log out and roll a rogue so we could get by the traps, we worked up a good old fashioned workaround by using our noggins!

“Character/Story Role-play”-I really feel bad that I missed out, just by bad luck/poor timing, on a couple of really great opportunities (a birthday party and a story-telling session) that would have given me ample chance to be able to speak more in-depth and intelligently about this category. However, as a whole dialogue is highly encouraged and appreciated, and “in-character” role-play is one of the ingredients on which this terrific world is built upon. One must realize that Markshire has over 20 years of legend and lore, and each player brings their own unique story with them as well. There is enough documentation and history with Markshire that it could be it’s own campaign setting in D&D, much like Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, or Ravenloft. You will not mistake Markshire for any other campaign setting, nor is there any ambiguity in the setting to lend to that confusion.

Being that I strayed from my original point slightly to follow up on a good point, I will reconcile the “Story-telling/Character” aspect of this category by telling of my character and his story. I was a recently liberated slave who found the city of Foothold by chance. He was a good, honest, hard-working dwarf, but had not known freedom, or trust, in a very long time. Upon arriving in Foothold, he encountered people that were sympathetic to his plight…people that listened and cared. He was able to take up a job mining and making trinkets to earn a living. Once he was able to arm himself, he took up steel with others loyal to Foothold to hold off the threats of nearby orcs and ogres. Meanwhile, he was able to forge friendships with not only other dwarves, but was able to learn to trust humans and elves as well. In fact, there was even an Elven lass that caught his attention a little bit and was able to make him blush. He eventually took up with a trading syndicate where his mining and smithing abilities were able to lend themselves to achievement, and bought him a ticket to deep mines filled with rare and precious ores. During all of this time, he was able to solidify his reputation as a good-natured, loyal, and trustworthy sort. That is a lot to say about one Dwarven PC that only played on a gameworld for a few weeks.

Hack n’ Slash/Action Style : 8.5

The action available to those that seek it is furious and bloody at times. There is a wonderful blend of random spawns and static encounters to help make your fighting life interesting and challenging. It is really nice that, once you have a good three or four levels under your belt, you can strike out alone and solo some action, or you can get a group of rowdy companions together and go hit a big orc cave.

Being that hardcore rules regarding combat are in place, you are never really safe, even in easier areas, being that you are only a critical hit or two away from finding yourself in big trouble. Also, given the sadistic nature of random spawns, even if you are able to hack your way through a tough fight and go back by the trail you have traversed safely a hundred times before, don’t be surprised to find a nefarious group of highway bandits to finish off what the Hill Giants started….namely, you.

Speaking plainly, the bad guys grow back faster than anyone will ever be able to destroy them. The lands are filled with bizarre and evil creatures, and there is always a need to stem the tide of orcs that threaten Foothold. One must even be careful of a dark and twisted temple far below the mines that sees skeletons creep out and murder miners in the dark. Can you ever be truly safe in Markshire?

Quality : 9.5

When people discuss Markshire, words like “benchmark” and “standard” are used as casually as words like “best”, “professional”, “solid”, “innovative”, and “perfection”. As a reviewer I realize that these are high and lofty accolades to hand out, and my professionalism and ability to remain unbiased could come into question. I have been at this a long time, and I have played on and/or reviewed the elite of gameworlds available to the NWN community. I am absolutely and resolutely sure of my viewpoint that not only is Markshire “upper-shelf” in terms of gameworld quality, and I am quite frankly at a loss to explain how any other world could beat out Markshire in terms of it’s ingenious design. The examples would have to be ridiculous, a 1 to 1 player/DM ratio, crash or lag free, real life monetary incentives to play…the absurd.

So, what are some examples of the high standard of quality for Markshire? Many of the examples can be traced back to the customization of the world by the developers and builders. You see, they don’t let “good enough” be good enough for their world. Map by map, inch by inch is meticulously thought out and deliberately built.

One of the examples is the stunning visuals you can come across in Markshire. I am sure my screenshots do not do the areas justice, but there are absolutely mind-blowing areas that captivate your senses and overwhelm you with atmosphere. There is one area where they implemented a sort of static Horrid Wilting effect to make the bog look bubbling and repulsive (for those who have seen the movie “Labyrinth”, you will be reminded immediately of “The Bog of Eternal Stench”). Another visual behemoth is “The” Temple, accessible by only higher level players, but upon arrival the players are treated to a great panoramic of a gargantuan structure, and within holds a dizzying array of lightning effects that, when coupled with the unique custom creatures, can make for a terrifying and epileptic experience.

The sounds on this world are used as well as many of the good worlds, so what makes the sound “great” on this world? Well, I will use this opportunity to plug another example of the unique and innovative ideas that this world fabulously shows off. In the start area (when you first log in, or when you log in after a reset) there are a few small areas within a large area, one of them being a small dance floor with an Iron Golem as a DJ? To some, this may sound a little corny, but this start area serves as a good “out of character’ reminder that we are all just people and we are coming to Markshire to have fun. Now, if you download some optional sound files, the DJ will have a decent selection of music to play. My personal favorite song selection for the DJ is Motorhead’s, “Time to Play the Game”, not only because I am a rabid wrestling fan, but I can’t help but be amused by the succinct irony of having a song called “Time to Play the Game” in the start area to a persistent world.

The closest thing I have run into personally that I would consider a “bug” would be that occasionally there are NPCs (specifically in the Foothold area) that may not spawn correctly. It is easy enough to work around, but it can be a little aggravating. Other than that, the game is clean, clean, CLEAN. There is a thread in their forums for reporting bugs, and their response to any and all reports is lightning fast.

This would also be a good place to mention their merchant/inventory system they have in place. Whereas the merchants in the Foothold Bazaar are static and their inventory varying little, there are other places, like in Stonemark, that you will encounter different merchants with varying merchandise on different days. In fact, the retail system as a whole is very complex. Every merchant is specialized and one must shop around extensively to be properly outfitted, making for a much more realistic shopping experience.

Reliability : 9

During my time on Markshire, I only encountered one crash. That is really good considering the concentrated amount of playing I was doing over a short time. There can be issues of slight lag, but it is rare and very inconsistent. One of the neat features of their website is that they have a link where you can check the status of the server before you even log on. It is a neat idea, but since it is up and running fine virtually 100% of the time, there is little need to check.

Quests/Rewards and Equipment : 8.5

“Task/Quest Role-play”-After the last topic, getting behind this idea will be simple. To facilitate new players, or to give regular players the ability to keep their PC busy, there are a lot of built-in sidequests and tasks that can be performed. I was immediately gripped by the mining and smithing profession available to me when I first logged on. The fun thing about how they implement the Craftable Natural Resources is how you are able to track your growing proficiency with a task (smelting ore, refining metals, crafting metals, working wood, making weapons, etc.) with the use of a logbook that details your characters abilities in each field. It is almost like a “game within the game” to raise levels in these professions. You are rewarded not only with experience, but lots of really cool (and often times valuable) items that you make with your own initiative and hard work.

Likewise, there are “fetch and carry” and “bounty” missions in place so that if you are a new player you have an excuse to travel around some of the major landmarks and otherwise generally familiarize yourself with the land and maps. A keen twist to these missions is how they evolve as you raise levels. A job to deliver dye to nearby Yar Village for a first level player will not be available to a seventh level player. They would rather you take on a tribe of kobolds instead!

Fun Factor: 9

I must summarize and reiterate two very important points here, the server and the people.

While I was logged on and playing on the server, I experienced what I felt to be the most authentic and true Dungeons and Dragons play that I have ever experienced on any video game ever. The players, DMs, and builders all have a solid fundamental grasp on Pencil and Paper with Dice play that translates into a very genuine gaming experience. Though Markshire isn’t plugged directly into Forgotten Realms, it would fit seamlessly as it’s own unique campaign setting in the D&D universe.

Finally, there is not enough good things that can be said about the Markshire community. From my experience, they are the best group of people I have ever seen in a gameworld community. Aside from that, they are generally just nice and fun people that I am proud to have interacted (and continue interacting) with. They have the beautiful and wonderful coupling of being adult and mature, but being young at heart. My hat goes off to Markshire.
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