Horizons: Empire of Istaria is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by Artifact Entertainment and released in Europe on December 5, 2003 and in North America on December 9, 2003. Tulga Games, LLC acquired the game and all related assets on January 25, 2005 and sold them to EI Interactive July 2006. On July 18, 2007 the latest company to own Horizons, Virtrium LLC (Vi) acquired the rights to the game.
Set in a fairly traditional sword and sorcery world, the game allows players to be adventurers, crafters, or both, and features a struggle between the "living races" (including the players), and "the Withered Aegis", an army of the undead seeking to destroy all life.
Horizons uses the race/class/level paradigm common to many role-playing games; the game also has various mechanics that are similar enough to those of other massively multiplayer online games that they won't be mentioned here. Playable races include Dragons (the only persistent world to feature playable dragons) in addition to the more traditional biped races of Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, and Half-giant. Other races are less familiar, but typical of fantasy games: Dryads (a fairy), Satyrs (satyr, from Greek mythology), Fiends (humanoid with blue skin, horns and tail), Saris (a cat-like anthropomorphic humanoid), and Sslik (an asexual non-anthropomorphic reptilian humanoid).
Some of the core concepts behind Horizons just prior to the release of the game were to create a zoneless, co-operative, changing environment in which players would strive to hold back a seemingly unstoppable enemy: the Withered Aegis. This enemy would consist of a few individuals from the Living Races (races that the Players belong to) in an unholy alliance with groups of Devils and Demons from another existence called the Realm of Blight. The twisted Blighted magic would include necromancy, the ability to create zombies from corpses and even reanimate skeletal remains into fierce warriors. Due to the co-op nature of the game The Aegis would be entirely AI controlled. According to David Bowman in 2002, "Horizons will not ship with player versus player conflict. Rather Artifact has chosen to put its full attention to making the player versus environment gameplay the best it can be."
This enemy was originally supposed to be dynamic in nature, launching automatic attacks on player held positions and blighting (capturing) the ground with its evil magic. This proved to be difficult to implement properly in practice, and the battlefront was eventually scaled back into static regions of Player and Blight held areas. However, in the years after Horizons launched "World Events" would be held that would allow players to make a permanent mark on the Horizons world. While not as cost effective to maintain as an automated system, this allowed Artifact, Tulga, and Virtrium to keep their promise of a changing, interactive world.
Horizons has no player versus player combat (PvP) to speak of. There is a small arena on an otherwise abandoned island, but that was primarily added for balance testing purposes. Players are nonetheless permitted to partake of PvP in this area if they wish (for a fee of in-game coins), but there are absolutely no rewards, and standard death penalties will still apply.
On September 12th, 2007, Virtrium announced to continue the Military Appreciation program. All new and existing Horizons: Empire of Istaria accounts created using a valid .mil email address may request a time-code for expanded access. This allows you to play Horizons with another family member at the same time on one account. They hope that this will allow military families to play Horizons together, giving them a family-friendly environment where they can meet, talk and play together over the Internet.