Within the first few minutes of playing Moonring, I am dead. I wish I could say my adventurer, the intrepid Eric, met with a glorious end, by the blade or in valiant sacrifice, but he did not. Little Eric died bumping into bugs in a cave in his hometown. And then he respawned and tried again.
These introductory steps in Moonring really set the tone, as much as a single screenshot could. Fable co-creator and long-time industry veteran Dene Carter released Moonring over the weekend, under the banner Fluttermind, for free on Steam.
In the store description, Carter identifies the clear inspiration of the classic Ultima series, full of tiles and turns. But Moonring has also been designed with some “modern” design sensibilities. Dungeons are reconfigured each time you leave, by choice or by death; but Moonring also drops an auto-save at the dungeon’s door, letting you simply hop back in rather than lose a character to perma-death.
Health is a precious resource, but you have a Poise meter that effectively adds a second, recovering “grey health” bar. Tooltips abound, and the notes section does a nice job of keeping track of the story. Heck, even when you talk to NPCs, Fluttermind provokes errant thoughts you haven’t pondered to flutter about your mind (ha) so you remember to ask them.
Moonring is a throwback in many ways, but it just as much looks to modern takes on the genre. It’s a fascinating adventure. And I really would like to be playing it still, right now.
A bygone era
Now, I know that simply seeing the images of Moonring will likely tell you whether or not you’re intrigued by Moonring. It is bright, simple in design but replete with information and numbers upon numbers, neatly organized into their respective corners and boxes. It’s an information system that seems designed to present all necessary knowledge, so that you can simply let your mind drift away into its own realm.
And the fantasy realm Moonring paints is one of the more intriguing parts, for me. After waking in my bed and arrow-key-bumping my way around the house, I talked with my farm-mate Cellera about the world around us. The world, plunged into darkness, was being held aloft by those who found faith in devotions they called Dreams.
But even among the Dreamers, there were some who remained Dreamless, with the Archon chief among them. And the Archon is looking for a successor. So, what do you want to do with that info?
I don’t have any personal, sentimental nostalgia for the Ultima series, which reached some of its highest highs when I could barely spell the word “Ultima.” But I still feel a warmth from Moonring when I play, the same I’ve felt when playing honed remasters or similarly well-crafted throwbacks.
Part of me sees this as the continuing re-examination that’s happening in the role-playing genre. CRPGs are huge thanks to recent landmark entries. Projects like Digital Eclipse’s work on Wizardry, or even non-RPG work like Karateka, seem keenly interested in both preserving and revisiting the past as the industry moves forward.
On top of that, Moonring just has a sense of its own devotion to the genre. It really does feel like a love letter that’s made to entice both longtime fans and newcomers. It has the right edges sanded down, yet still present. I died to that bug in that cave, learned, died again, then really learned and finally overcame the whole trial, acquiring a clue about my father in the process.
For all I could say about its story and world, its systems I’m still slowly unraveling, and the caliber of its writing, Moonring maybe speaks best for itself. It’s free, it’s on Steam. Really, why not give it a try? You might find this love letter as appealing as I did, even if you also don’t share the same nostalgia.