Shaiya is a game with huge potential. It has permadeath. It is free to play with a very unobtrusive item shop. You really don't need to buy anything since you may just get killed and lose it all. Of course for some people every little edge helps and getting an edge is worth the money.
There are 3 difficulty levels and only the top difficulty features permadeath. So it's really an option for those who want it but I think it's the most interesting feature of the game. If you just want to grind mobs and never die there are so many games that cater for you. I checked Wikipedia's entry on permadeath and Shaiya is currently the only graphical MMO with permadeath as a main feature.
If you do die you can be ressed or can self ress with an item shop ress stone. The ress stone is limited, it won't help if you are PKed and corpse camped unless you can ress up and turn the fight around.
It's basically a Diablo 2 clone. The look of the game is rather mixed for me. Some things are beautifuly rendered. The characters are drawn with great care and proficiency. But then they spoil it by using a crappy text for the name plates that looks like someone lettered it in MS Paint.
The buildings and mobs are very fine art but the landscape is sometimes simple blocks of terrain like a game from the 90s.
Of course no mention of the look of the game would be complete without discussion of the main visual theme of the game: scantily clad ladies.
Apparently many eons ago some scantily clad goddess split the pint of some other scantily clad goddess and they now wage perpetual war by recruiting vast swarms of scantily clad fighters mages priests and rogues to kill the bimbettes of the opposing side. It is technically possible to pick a male character but that imho shows a profound lack of understanding of the ethos of the game. It's about scantily clad young ladies, ok?
Quest text is horribly written. It was probably badly written in the original Oriental language and after a half-assed translation it's sometimes impossible to read what is going on. Fortunately all quests start with someone who is a blue dot on your minimap and go to someone who is a yellow dot on your minimap. Once you figure out where your quest tracker is then you're golden.
(Click the book icon on the menu at the bottom, click a quest to open that quest and its quest tracker, then close the quest menu leaving the quest tracker open to see how many Short Tail Black Puma you need to kill).
If you can understand the quest text it's usually horribly tacky. For instance:
"You have chosen an Assassin's path. You can really make a killing, so I'm told."
All quests so far are either kill things or talk to someone (usually to get a kill things quest). I suspect that probably stays like that all game.
Kill quests are quite specific. If someone wants you to kill Poisonous Web Spiders he won't be fobbed off with common or garden Small Jaw Dappled Spiders.
Attack is by double-clicking and while there are hotkeys there isn't a tab target function. There are chain combos for your attacks and special moves and jumps you can use in fights. Martial animations are really good. It's possibly a better game for people who like melee than for people who like casters because the melee is so well done while the casters are a bit generic.
Up to level 5 I noticed my Assassin kills faster than my Priest and doesn't have downtime. That's just the very early stages of course.
I'm told that rather than WoW-like permastealth high level Rogues get the ability to appear to be a member of the other faction. That's really pretty cool. All sorts of devious ideas occur such as pretending to be an elite pvp guild and recruiting people then taking them aside and murdering them.
I'm also told that levelling gets very slow on the harder modes. Not necessarily a bad thing in a permadeath game. Just be prepared for a lot of grinding if you get into this game enough to play it at the highest difficulty.
The interesting aspects of the game are the social dynamics that emerge from the extreme harshness of the mechanics and very original combat animations and spells. It's particularly interesting to have the tank healer dps trinity doing dungeons in a permadeath game. Bet the dungeon-delvers that survive are really great groups, no semi-afk slackers here.
The downsides are the very simple gameplay - it's just kill stuff, explore, kill more stuff, fight someone. It lacks the depth of most MMOs. I also discovered to my surprise that I'm a quest text snob. Before this game and RoM I didn't even think I read quest text. After trying two games with poor grammar, spelling and writing I find that it really matters to me and it's very offputting to me when done badly. That will probably wear off if I play the game more and don't need to explore.
If you like killing this is a really good F2P game. It wasn't quite the game for me at this time but I'm certainly not going to uninstall it any time soon. However I would say it's a game I'll play in small doses because of the annoying quest text and dumbed down kill boars quests. Like many MMOs though it will clearly become more interesting at end game when it changes from being generic fantasy grind to a nail-bitingly dangerous killer game.