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Legends of Aria, the MMO formerly known as Shards Online, hits Early Access in August

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We said in early 2017 that the Ultima Online-inspired fantasy MMO Legends of Aria "has great potential but needs just a few more months in development" before it was really ready to shine. 31 months later, it's going live on Steam Early Access.

Obviously much has changed since we last looked at it, including (as you've probably noticed) the name, which was swapped in 2017 to reflect a shift in the game's underlying design. It was originally intended to be a series of small worlds called "shards," linked together by portals, but developer Citadel Studios decided that the shards felt too small and so opted for a larger, single game world instead, "with more of a focus on uniting players in a shared experience."

The Early Access version of Legends of Aria will feature a new Bard skill line, a "guided" Profession system, and a new system for enchanting weapons and armor that enables a greater number of high-end items. New rules will provide "a more consensual PvP experience" for people who want to play without fear of getting ganked, and a Fresh Start server will also be available that will start everyone off on equal footing.

"Not only have we added a new playable skillset in the Bard and a whole new armor and weapon enchanting system to make the crafters in our community even more important, but we’re making the world of Aria a much friendlier place to live," Citadel CEO Derek Brinkmann said. "We’re ecstatic to finally be launching Legends of Aria on Steam after so much hard work and love were poured into the game. We cannot wait for MMO players of all sorts to join us on our journey."

Somewhat unusually these days, Legends of Aria also supports player-run servers and modding: The game's website states that "Legends of Aria is designed to be modded from top to bottom including custom gameplay rules, custom content, and even entirely custom created worlds."

Legends of Aria is set to launch on Steam Early Access on August 6 and is expected to stay there for 6-12 months, although Citadel says that it'll stay there "until we feel the game is relatively bug free and all of our features are 100 percent complete." It's available for wishlisting, and you can find out more (and pre-purchase directly from the developers, if you're suitably impressed) at legendsofaria.com.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.