Horizons is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game in which you create a character who may then explore a dangerous world, fight monsters to gain experience levels, craft useful items, and socialize with other players. Many other games exactly fit this profile, ranging from more recent games like Final Fantasy XI and Star Wars Galaxies to older ones like EverQuest and Asheron's Call. Unfortunately, Horizons offers little that hasn't already been done--and done better--by its many predecessors. The game simply fails to distinguish itself amidst an overabundance of highly similar, more well-established competing products, and it's only really suited for those already addicted to this genre of gaming and looking for a new place for their player guilds to set up shop.
In Horizons, you can play as a dragon...
Horizons does have a few distinguishing characteristics. You may play as a dragon or as one of eight other fantasy races. Your character may simultaneously belong to an adventuring profession (such as that of the warrior or cleric) and a crafting profession (such as that of the outfitter or blacksmith), and he or she gains experience separately for these professions. The crafting system is actually rather elaborate, and it's probably the single best aspect of Horizons' gameplay. Later in a character's life, he or she may also learn more esoteric professions, such as those of the monk and the elemental archer. Adventure experience primarily comes from killing monsters, while crafting experience comes from making items. So if you get bored with the adventuring, you can turn to the crafting for a while--and vice versa.
Or, if you get bored with either of your professions, you can readily switch to another, and you can switch as often as you'd like, as opposed to having to create a new character. Dragon characters are the exception, as they are restricted to a single, generic adventure school and a single, generic crafting school. There's little downtime between battles because characters can heal up quickly if they sit tight for a couple of minutes. Additionally, magic-using characters aren't limited by their energy reserves. Each spell has a re-cast time that must elapse before the spell can be used again, but Horizons' casters need not worry about running out of mana in the middle of a fight. Furthermore, characters always have the option to teleport back to their "bind" point (that is, whichever checkpoint they last designated). Since there will be cases in which you get killed by enemy creatures, get lost out in the wilderness, or even get stuck in the geometry of the game world, this is a useful option to have on hand. The game also sports a clean, attractive, fully customizable interface, including a number of handy provisions for player guilds, like the ability to create event calendars for everyone's reference.
The core elements of the game also work well. Crafting is more involved in Horizons than in most such games, though Star Wars Galaxies has already accomplished something similar. Basically, crafting items here involves gathering the raw resources required (often by finding them out in the wilderness), then converting these raw resources into useable materials, and finally crafting these materials into finished goods. Different types of products require different tools and different machinery, and while the process for crafting any type of item is basically the same as for any other type, it's nice that crafting in Horizons is so hands-on rather than overly abstract as it is in some other games. As you gain levels in crafting, you become more efficient at the processes, thus making it so that fewer numbers of goods are required for each step. Highly experienced crafters may also use special techniques to customize their work. Interestingly, there's even an optional gambling element involved in the crafting, in how you may attempt to use fewer resources for a job at the risk of having the job fail and subsequently losing all of your materials.
At any rate, crafting in Horizons is fairly interesting overall. It can even be exciting, such as when you find a deposit of rare minerals out in the wilderness. Of course, it can be difficult to find formulas for any truly useful items, and it can take many long hours to gain the proficiency needed to craft them. There is some incentive for dedicating the time and effort, though. The game's economy is entirely player-run; monsters don't drop much of anything valuable when killed; and nonplayer "consigner" characters sell player-made equipment. This means the best craftsmen can earn some decent profit while benefiting other players with their fine goods.
...which turns out to be less interesting than playing as one of the other, more typical races.
Meanwhile, initiating combat is as simple as clicking on an enemy and then toggling on attack mode. Your character will automatically close the distance before attacking his or her foe, or he or she will use ranged weapons if they're equipped. Like in other games of this type, as you gain levels in Horizons you'll gain access to various special abilities, which you can use during battle to further injure or weaken your opponent. Some of these special abilities can also be used to bolster your own powers. The game also incorporates a system of combat stances that seems really tacked-on. Three optional combat stances can be acquired, which are simply called "red," "blue," and "green" (and the default stance is "neutral). Rock-paper-scissors-style, each is stronger than one but weaker than another. So, for example, if your enemy's gone into green stance, then you should switch to red stance so that you'll do some extra damage. Assuming you have access to the stances, you can switch between them and use your other special abilities at will, but otherwise, combat is just a matter of waiting until either you or the enemy dies. The combat in the game does look pretty good (with the exception of some buggy animations that occasionally cause characters to clip through each other or jitter as though they're having seizures), and it's paced well. So, for what it's worth, the underlying process of gaining experience from defeating creatures is basically as addictive in Horizons as it is in any such game. The problem is, there's no obvious reward from doing so--besides more of the same.
Like in many other such games, you can acquire a plot of land and can build property on it in Horizons, and, to the game's credit, these features were actually implemented from the get-go. On the other hand, unlike in most other such games, Horizons has no player-versus-player component whatsoever. You can't even duel a friend just to see whose character is stronger. Other online RPGs, such as Dark Age of Camelot or Anarchy Online, which also expect you to invest dozens or even hundreds of hours into building up a respectably powerful character, have enticing player-versus-player elements where you can put that character to good use or you can at least put him or her to the test. But in Horizons, your reward for gaining an experience level tends to be maybe one new ability and some more health points so that you can then fight monsters of a slightly higher level--and then repeat. By the 10th experience level, this process will have already become highly repetitive. Beyond this point, it also becomes rather slow.
Combat in Horizons is as straightforward as ever, but the crafting system is relatively intricate.
As in other games, you may group with other players to take on greater challenges than you could alone. This allows you to fight more monsters in a faster manner than usual, and you can, of course, type chat messages to pass the time, too. Unfortunately, Horizons' monsters are the same sorts of mindless things that typify this genre, and the combat is straightforward, so there aren't really any tactical benefits to fighting in a group, apart from just having more bodies to deal and soak up damage. Worse yet, there's a seriously limited variety of creatures in the game. Despite the presence of numerous starting towns, you'll invariably end up fighting the same maggots, spiders, flame beetles, and zombies over and over again. You'll eventually graduate to bigger, tougher foes, but the lack of variety in Horizons makes the inherently repetitive nature of the gameplay all the more noticeable. Some nonplayer characters will send you off on quests or will task you with killing some number of some type of creature, and these diversions can help keep you slightly more motivated, if not just busy. However, there really doesn't feel like there's enough content in the game, overall, nor is much of any of it particularly compelling. Don't expect to journey with your allies into deep, dark dungeons or to lay siege to enemy encampments or any other such epic activities. The currency or any special perks you get for solving quests will be much more rewarding than whatever congratulatory text you see onscreen.
Death is inevitable in Horizons, as it is in any online RPG. Here, your ability to reincarnate as many times as needed is justified by your character's status as one of Istaria's "gifted." Anyway, the game's penalty for dying is pretty lenient. In fact, there's no penalty at all before you reach 10th level other than an unintended trip back to your bind point. Beyond that, dying means you earn yourself a "death point" as well as a temporary penalty to any experience points you earn. Death points can be accumulated, and increase the duration and impact of the experience penalty, but they vanish one at a time in eight-hour increments (whether you're playing or not). Basically, you need to die often to really feel the sting. If you're used to losing your hard-fought levels in EverQuest, the death penalty in Horizons won't seem nearly as bad.