Expertreviews.com's review of Clan Lord
The word addictive doesn't really do Clan Lord justice - not unless you add at least adjectives like horribly, scarily, productivity-haltingly.
At first sight you might wonder what all the fuss is about. There's a very simple 2D interface with cutesy 1980s-style colour icons you move around by clicking and dragging the mouse. There's a command-line interface for typing in arcane commands (well, actually, two-word phrases that are neither arcane nor difficult to learn) and to chat with other users (normal text appears in speech or thought bubbles above players' heads), and palettes for character and inventory lists. So far, so what?
The reasons it's so addictive are three-fold. First, if you've ever played, say, Rogue, Hack or MacMoria, you'll know that role-playing games of the hack-and-slash-the-horrible-monsters-in-a-dungeon kind can be quite addictive even with just ASCII graphics. There's more than a touch of MacMoria to Clan Lord, but to say it was just hack and slash would be unfair.
Second, it's online - that is, you interact with other human beings as well as the non-player characters (NPCs). In fact, you can only play it online - there's no standalone/single-player mode. This is the AOL factor that made Steve Case a rich man - the easiest way to give a computer game depth is to make the opponents human. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Clan Lord is persistent (see sidebar, left).
Having installed Clan Lord from your CD (or downloaded the 25Mb file), you need to open your Web browser and register. You can then fire up your copy of Clan Lord and create a character, which, unlike other RPG-type games, just means choose a name (hint: keep it short). You then connect to the Clan Lord server.
Your character starts in a series of rooms where you can choose your hair and skin colour and race. This is done using the standard Clan Lord trick of 'bumping' - walking up to another character, or in this case NPC, and bumping into them. Those that offer a service or choice will tell you what's on offer. If you don't walk away, then this is equivalent to selecting that choice, or accepting that service (for which money will be taken from your purse). Having selected your race (Human, Sylvan and so on) and colour you then step out into the village of Puddleby (which is on the Lok Groton island chain, where, so the plot goes, you've been exiled for your crimes), where you must survive with no money and just your trusty wooden club for protection.
To do this, you will, of course, need money, and the easiest way to do this is to kill some animals and sell their skins. But here even a few rats can do you in, so what you really need are some friends.
Interactivity is the key to surviving in Clan Lord. As a newbie, you stick out like a sore thumb in your plain, tan clothing. But here's the strange thing: people are falling over themselves to help. This is partly due to other players' inherent good nature, and partly to the co-operation model on which Clan Lord is built. For your character to grow in power (there are three types of character energy - health, spirit, and balance), you need to acquire experience points, which you get for killing monsters and so on. But on order to encourage people to work together, you can opt to 'share' with others. Suppose you're among a group of players who attack and kill a band of marauding lions. The experience points gained from killing those lions (not to mention the gold from selling their skins), is shared between the players in the party. This encourages co-operation and allows character classes such as the healer - which aren't really meant for combat, but are useful to have around - to gain experience points along with the rest of the team.
As well as your energy levels, your character also has karma points - plus and minus. You gain karma when someone 'thanks' you for something, and you lose karma when someone 'curses' you. In other words, steer clear of people with 'bad' (that is, negative) karma - they're trouble. You can lose karma in other ways. When your health hits zero, you don't die in Clan Lord - you're considered 'fallen'. You can hang around waiting for a healer to come along and take pity on you, or you can opt to 'depart' - leave your body and start over again, albeit with less powers.
Delta-Tao is onto a winner here. Instead of a one-off payment, Clan Lord is priced as a subscription service. This goes towards paying for the expansion of the world model and network services - the world is expanded every two weeks with places and functions, with an updater downloadable from the Web site. But compared with the cost of other games, and the ongoing development of the game - it's open-ended in the true sense of the word - this actually isn't bad. It's just great fun. I'd rather be playing it than writing about it.