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What If? - A Salem Preview

What If? - A Salem Preview

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform: PC exclusive
Release Date: Summer 2012

Salem is, by its very nature, almost impossible to preview in any meaningful sense. A free-to-play MMO featuring a hardcore combination of both permanent death and a persistent, malleable world, Salem is in constant flux even before it's finished. Everything in the world is open to change.

Everything. See the trees in these screenshots? If someone cuts them down then they are gone and the only way to get more wood is to either steal it or grow some more. Utter deforestation is a very real possibility, as is natural rampancy if someone chooses to plant trees everywhere rather than cutting them down. And that's just the trees.

The result is an entirely mutable world. Terrain deformation, limited resources and a mortal population render Salem utterly unapproachable from anything but a speculative standpoint. The only descriptions anyone can offer being completely hypothetical, dependant on who takes to the game and how seriously they'll approach it. But here they are anyway.

What If? - A Salem Preview What If? - A Salem Preview
What if Salem became a digital nudist colony?

What if Salem was filled with Samurai?
Salem may base itself around the idea of colonising the New World, with everyone starting in the safe haven of Boston before setting out to claim their land, but combat is integrated in such a way that Feudal Japan may be a more relevant touchstone. Unlike in other MMOs where you can flail at enemies whatever your level (however futilely), combat in Salem is a high-level skill which requires significant grind to unlock.

Warriors may therefore become an incredibly rare commodity in Salem, with the pacifist majority busy focusing on other skills such as Arts & Crafts or Hammer & Nail. Threats will inevitably rise up - there's always someone who has to spoil the fun for everyone - but what if most of the warriors were decent people? What if they formalised a new Bushido, protecting communities from bandit gangs while refusing to become a purely mercenary force? Under whose orders would they wage war, if war was required?

What if Salem was a Communist state?
Salem's developers, two-man team Seatribe, are understandably hazy on how Salem might evolve over time, but one thing they are utterly clear on is the hands-off approach they want to take post-release. Their only in-game presence will be in the form of the Hudson Bay Trading Company; a merchant based in the opening city of Boston, selling convenience and customisation for both real and in-game currency.

But what if the community collectively rejected such a capitalist basis for the game and worked en masse to create a fair distribution of wealth. Utilitarianism would become the by-word of the day, with state-owned farms popping up across the landscape and workers sharing resources equally. There's no need for anyone to buy new hats or skill boosts if everyone is on the same team - default clothes would shift to become a badge of honour to be worn by all members of Salem's People's State.

What If? - A Salem Preview What If? - A Salem Preview
What if you paved Salem's entire world?

What if Salem was invaded?
You know what the internet is like; people never stay in one place for long and there's a constant ebb of migration as people drift into new games, new forums. It's only a matter of time before the wrong person says something stupid to someone important and angry. Suddenly a flame war breaks out and, because this is the internet, it escalates. Fast.

It doesn't matter who said what to who; it could be a new player boasting to the head of an EVE: Online corp, or a bet set between Seatribe and Wargaming.net that World of Tanks players couldn't take over Sale. What matters is that forces are mobilised. The fanbase of another game, whether genuinely incensed or just amused by the idea of an aggressive flash mob, descend silently on Salem and focus solely on getting their battle skills up to scratch.

Death is permanent in Salem (though you can inherit land claimed by your forebears), so the threat is very real and the limited size of the world means there's nowhere to hide. The only hope lies in falling back to regroup before pushing forward - but what if you were given the chance to switch sides?