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Willow walked up to a group of elves, humans and draugrs standing around in what was probably the ‘town square’ of this place. For a game saying that it was the ‘next generation’ in VRMMORPG games, it had been a pretty strong disappointment for her so far. It looked a lot more like it was ‘two generations ago’ and never bothered to improve. Even Destruction of Elysium, which had been a really popular game even in its time before VR took off had moved on to a much more natural and dynamic way of presenting and grouping NPCs. This was… if it was trying to appear old school while also lauding itself as ‘next generation’, then it was failing spectacularly.

As she came near the group, the creature floated in front of her. “Before we can make sure that you’re strong enough to join our ranks at the front of the battle and fight off this invasion, the captains overseeing this encampment want to test your skills. Talk to each one of the captains and fulfil their trials to join our mission.” Then the creature moved to the side as a sort of glowing path appeared between her and the group of people.

Too linear, definitely too linear. As she tried to pull up the main menu to see how long she’d been in HF, nothing happened. No menu, not even an error message, just nothing. She was still locked in this story mode that didn’t let her do anything outside of the set steps. Fine.

She would go through the starter quests and if that didn’t open up anything else, she could use the potato to force herself out of here. This was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

Willow first walked up to the draugr, appreciating how it looked more gore-y than her character and it was quite a bit taller. Its dark skin was blackened from decay and its hair was missing pieces where the scalp was visible. But there wasn’t too much icky gore like rotting parts or maggots visible, so it wasn’t too bad. The draugr captain looked at her, but didn’t say anything.

“Talk to each of our captains and accept their trials.” The starter creature repeated again right next to her ear and it made her jump and swat at it, but her hand went right through the creature. Ugh.

Fine, so she had to actually speak to it, then.

“Hello.” Her voice felt weird, and sounded strange too with how raspy it was. But since she was undead, that probably influenced the voice in this game.

“Hello, stranger. What are you here for?” The draugr looked at her, but it didn’t seem very impressed.

“I would like for you to test me.” What else was she supposed to say?

“Ah! You’re a new hero. Welcome here. New heroes need to be able to find their way around this world. I want you to go to the training grounds and get a flask from the trainer there, then I need you to go to the apothecary and get a basket, and then to the butcher and get a parcel. After that, report to the guard at the gate and show your items to him.”

“I will.” And as she said the words, a notification pinged and a red glow in the lower corner of her view told her she had notifications. She focused on it and a screen popped up.

Quest Accepted: Find Your Way Around The World

Great, one down.

Then she looked at the human next to the draugr. “Hello, I’d like for you to give me a trial to complete.”

“Would you like any trial, or are you looking for something in particular?” Apparently, this game had at least considered people trying to be a smartass and trying to get through this exchange faster.

“I’m a new hero, I’d like to fulfil a trial to help fight off the invasion.” Trials… Tests... No. She never liked to be tested or complete stupid trials, but the game insisted on this language apparently. Tests usually meant more annoying things for her down the line, though in this case, it wasn’t like she had much choice.

“Ah! Welcome, new hero. There are wolves outside the gates, they’re from the other world and they’re a pest to our critters. I want you to help out and fight ten of them to make it easier for our own critters to survive and fight back.”

Simple enough. “I will.” And a new notification showed up.

She talked to the other captains, and got four more quests. They ranged from fighting even more creature to butcher them and collect their meat to gathering some herbs and berries and things like that. For now, this game was being very basic and standard.

Then the floaty creature showed up in front of her again. “Here our alliance ends. You’re on your way to become a fine hero and will find many people and creatures along the way to help you on your path to glory. I bid you farewell.” And with a pop, it disappeared. Just, into nothing.

What the…?

Okay. Usually games were a little more helpful at the start. But, whatever.

Only, as she looked around her view again, the buttons that had been uncooperative before were now active and it seemed that the game finally unlocked the rest of the user interface. Good. Finally.

She focused on the buttons under the map. The first one was labelled Menu, the second one Social, the third one Progress and the final one Character. She focused on the first button and the game menu popped up.

[Menu]

[Return to Game]

[Sensory Settings]

[Options]

[Leave Helheim Fallen]

[Play Time: 00:46]

Simple and short, but that didn’t matter much. Willow had been inside the game for almost an hour, that was a lot of time for how little she had accomplished.

She focused on the Sensory Settings and a new screen popped up. Here, she could finally change the in-game dialogue from ‘voice and audio’ to ‘text only’ and lower the sounds of the things going on around her, just as a precaution. Then she looked through the rest of the settings, but in the sensory menu there wasn’t much else. Most of it was just the same as always, and her special ‘autism’ settings were already put into this game. As was the reach of how much her life was influenced by that diagnosis... Great...

She left the menu and instead opened the character screen.

Name: Meadow

Race: Draugr

Class: Seidhr

Level: 1 [0 - 400 XP to next level]

Health: 50/50

Mana: 40/40

Armour: 2

Strength: 15

Dexterity: 6

Intelligence: 12

Wisdom: 10

Endurance: 12

So, maybe her choice of playing a seidhr wasn’t the best choice for the starter stats for this race, but then again... it had a strangely high amount of strength and intelligence. Okay, maybe she should look into what draugrs actually were when she got out of the game again. There had to be some explanation for those stats.

She closed the menus. Enough fooling around. She just had to try the game out to see what would happen next.

Willow looked around the encampment, trying to see if there was some way to figure out how her attacks and everything actually worked. Because, right now, she couldn’t find a way to actually kill all those wolves it wanted her to kill. Unless she had to go in with her bare hands and that didn’t really seem like the correct idea for a mage-like class.

Anyway, one of the quests she got talked about a training ground or something like that. She could probably go and see what would happen there.

Training grounds, where were they? She checked her map, but nothing showed up, the only visible are was what she’d actually seen in the game itself, nothing out of that reach. Okay, so that meant that she had to explore this encampment to figure out where everything was.

Some games…

***

Trainer: Attack the training dummy three times. Show me your strength and I’ll give you the item the captain wants.

Okay, three attacks, Willow could do that, if she knew how to.

Trainer: The first attack is a special draugr attack. Collect your fury and grow to double your size, then attack the dummy.

Wait, what? How did she do that? How the?

She took a couple of steps back, it felt weird to have to experience the attack like that. But the game was designed like this, so it should work, right?

Willow looked at her bony hands, tensing them, they creaked as she put pressure on them. Then she took a couple of deep breaths and let out a yell. Her body changed for a moment, she felt the shifting of the body mass and she lashed out to the dummy. But as she hit it, she’d already returned to her normal form. Okay, almost. But the idea was right.

What could she do? How would this work? She moved her body, jumping up and down a couple of times, then she felt it inside, the way the muscles of the creature were wound tight. She mentally reached for the ball of tension, grabbing hold. It felt strong, powerful.

As she mentally kept hold of the source of power inside the draugr, she stepped back again, reaching one arm behind her and she growled, at the same time she activated the source of energy and the world changed. Suddenly it was in grey tones, like night in the day, like undead. When her hand hit the dummy again, it had transformed into a claw.

[You hit the Training Dummy for 40 damage]

She let go again and stepped back.

Wow, that was strange. Was that some other form of the draugr? Like a shape shifting thing?

Trainer: Great job! That is your racial attack. It can really come in handy when you’re in a tight spot. Not only does it do damage, it also has a chance to fear the target.

Oh, that was definitely a cool ability then.

Trainer: The second attack I want you to do is an elemental attack. You have two choices for this, you can use a fire-based attack or an ice-based attack.

Wait, there was a difference? She could actually choose?

Meadow: How do I choose?

Trainer: Focus on the energy in your hand, either fire or ice. But remember, this choice will influence the attacks you will receive for the next twenty levels, at which point you can learn to specialise in the other element too.

Okay. This was really all-involved kind of gaming. It was interesting, but she didn’t know if she’d enjoy playing it for long stretches of time if it was all going to be this much energy.

She held out her hand, like most mages in other games did, turning at the wrist and facing her palm up. A basic attack was usually just a bolt of some sort. Focused energy in the palm of her hand, but she had to choose between ice and fire here instead of it being pre-decided. She just had to see what came naturally.

Willow focused on her hand, mentally creating a ball of energy, letting the element come on its own, not influencing it. The palm of her hand started to glow, feeling hot and then cold and then hot again, cycling between the two.

Hmm.

Then it became stronger and suddenly she was holding a ball of energy that was both red and light blue, the two elements rolling over each other, coming together, forcing against each other, but never mixing.

Ehhh... She was pretty sure that this wasn’t what she was supposed to do. Was this even possible in the game? It was happening, that was obvious, but she wasn’t sure this was a bug or intended use.

Okay. She took a breath, keeping the energy in the palm of her hand and then threw it at the training dummy.

The first attack missed. Hmm. This game apparently didn’t auto-target. The other attack had been easy enough to hit what with the range being limited but the reach of it pretty broad, but she had to really focus this one.

Right. Again.

She turned her arm again, her palm up, and like she did in Destruction of Elysium, where she had a small flick of her wrist to create the tiny fire bolt, the movement easily let her pull on the magic attack in this game. The fire-ice bolt appeared in her hand, and this time she focused as she threw the bolt, trying to get it as close to the dummy as possible.

This time, it hit. Blue and red flames spew away from the training dummy.

Wow.

[You hit the Training Dummy for 20 damage]

Just 20 damage? The other attack had been much stronger.

Trainer: Great! That was an amazing %element bolt.

Ehh…

She was pretty sure that it had to actually name the element she used. If she could do this combined bolt within the constraints of the game, it should have an official element name, right?

Trainer: Are you good with having %element as your first element to master?

Even if it was a little off, would it be bad to use it? It felt right to her.

Meadow: Sure.

Because she wasn’t sure she wanted to really try to focus on just one of the two elements. Choosing one would probably be a better idea, but this looked too cool and it did show her a little of the coding behind the game, constantly reminding her about why she was here.

Trainer: Your third attack is not really yours. I have a special present for you. As a seidhr, you are able to summon your own fylgja. This creature will also fight for you.

Meadow: Fylgja?

A pet? Maybe?

Trainer: A fylgja is a creature of fate and destiny and it will accompany you on your journey ahead. The fylgja will present as a creature that is most closely connected to your personality. Try calling it and it will appear.

Try calling it? What now?

Meadow: How do I call it?

Trainer: To call your fylgja, you reach into your innermost feelings and it will come to you.

No help there then. She flicked her wrist again, pulling up her magic ball attack, looking at it as she thought about how to solve this riddle.

How was she going to call her own fylgja, when she had no idea how to summon anything from nothing, especially not a creature which was supposed to help her?

The other two attacks seemed obvious enough after a moment, but this one was a little more confusing.

Well, that was a strange hurdle for the game to throw her... Summon her companion when there were no real clues on how to do that.

What kind of test was this?

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A note from EEngberts

You can now pre-order BASE Status: Online in ebook (print coming too)!

Release date: 31st of Oct!

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HGCTSFR/

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