At a recent Atari press event, we had the opportunity to take an updated look at Horizons: Empires of Istaria. The game seems to be coming along well and is currently in its third phase of beta testing. The developer is currently stress-testing its servers with about 4,000 beta testers and may consider an open beta phase afterward, if necessary. Artifact Entertainment plans to continue with its load-balance testing in the near future and will then begin to roll out content updates for its testers to test--the first should include about 500MB of new content. Artifact currently has four servers running the game, one of which is the beta test server, though the developer plans to add more by the time the game launches and also plans to keep the beta server open after launch as a QA server, similar to EverQuest's test server, on which players can play and test out new content before it goes live.
We watched a mature dragon character in action as it explored a blight maelstrom--a huge structure surrounded by withered trees and a murky green tempest in the sky. Blight maelstroms will act as rapid spawn points for undead creatures that will quickly pour out powerful undead monsters to invade the surrounding territory. As Artifact president David Bowman explained, blight maelstroms are one of many features that the world-building staff will be able to quickly and easily drag and drop into the world if it appears that players in a certain area are getting restless and looking for a new challenge.
Bowman then went on to demonstrate some of the game's new magic spells, which can be cast by players who have decided to join a guild of magicians and study a specific school of magic. Your character's proficiency in a specific school of magic, such as fire or ice, will depend on how much time your character spends using it. Bowman explained that using magic in Horizons, at least as far as combat is concerned, will require tactical planning and will work best with a coordinated group. This is because in Horizons, spellcasters go through three phases when casting a spell: precasting, casting, and postcasting. During the precasting and casting phases, a magic user is defenseless, and during the postcasting phase, the magic user recovers but can't cast that same spell for some time. The lower-level spells will all have extremely brief postcast times so that you can fire them off in rapid succession, but as Bowman explained, players will encounter tough fights that will require magic users to unleash more-powerful spells, but they'll have to coordinate their attacks in succession for the best results. Bowman suggested that if a particularly tough monster was really tearing into a melee fighter, a magic user might use a more-powerful spell to draw attention, then have teammates follow up with their own powerful spells to make sure the magic user doesn't draw too much fire.
We watched some of the game's spells in action, such as the fire bomb and ice bomb spells, which rain explosive elemental damage on their targets, and the banshee spell, which summons a huge ghostly apparition to attack enemies.
Horizons is currently scheduled for release later this year.