Surprised by a free-to-play MMO

Ok, I haven’t completely fallen off the wagon and re-subscribed to an MMO, but I’ve been dabbling with A Perfect World for the past couple days after playing pretty much nothing but single player games for the past couple months.

My experiences with free-to-play MMO’s haven’t been too positive. I’ve tried Runescape, Maple Story, Atlantica Online, Mabinogi…maybe some others, but nothing that made an impression on me, or made me want to log back in after more than a night or two of playing.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by A Perfect World. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a long way from a Western triple-A title, but there’s enough in it to intrigue me a little longer than the previously mentioned titles.

Graphically, I think A Perfect World would fall somewhere in the Dark Age of Camelot/Lineage 2 era. Better than the orignial Everquest, not as good as Star Wars Galaxies or EQ2. It’s not stylized,  so comparing it to WoW is an apples to oranges mismatch.

I can’t remember now where I heard of  A Perfect World. It might have been one of your blogs, or it could have been John Davison from What They Play on the 1up ListenUp podcast last week. Actually, I think that was it. John had an interesting conversation (mostly with himself) about home the gaming market is expanding, and how there are more people interested in different types of gaming than the “hardcore” press acknowledges. I think A Perfect World was mentioned in there as an MMO that has 50 million players, and how Western triple-A titles are missing something in their approach. Link here to the podcast, if you want to check it out.

I’ve heard crazy player numbers for Runescape and Maple Story too, and I thought they were crap, but since I hadn’t heard of PW, I figured I’d give it a try. It was a 1.6 GB download, a pretty painless install, and I was up and running.

There’s plenty not to like about it if you’re only a fan of Western-style MMO’s. I won’t even try to convince you that you might be interested if you get annoyed by things like clicking where you want to walk, unrealistic jumping ability (including a TF2 Scout-style double-jump ability), and a lot of quests that require you kill X things, over and over.

If you can get past that, what I did like about PW was the sense of a big world, easy travel, plenty of gear upgrades and crafting opportunities. You can be a Human, an Elf, or an Untamed, which reminds me of Everquest’s Vah Shir, and you can choose to be a Tiger, Lion, Wolf, or Panda. The Panda looks like a big Panda wookie…I was hoping for something a little shorter and rounder.

As you level up, you gain Spirit points (in addition to your XP for leveling), which you can spend on a Diablo-style skill tree. You also get 5 points a level to assign to your attributes, so you can customize your build-out quite a bit.

I haven’t bothered reading forums or min-maxing, but I’m sure there are plenty of best-build ideas out there. I’m just having fun NOT paying attention to that stuff, and enjoying the feeling of running around in a new-to-me virtual world.

Finding how much I enjoy the spaciousness of PW reminds me what I didn’t like about WAR. I felt railroaded in WAR, I think. The zones felt constrained, like I knew where the edges were all the time, and there were only a couple ways out. I haven’t experienced any zoning in PW yet, and it feels like I can strike out in any direction from my starting city. I like that sense of freedom.

PW is an RMT game, although I don’t feel like I have to pay money to enjoy it. In addition to the usual cosmetic upgrades in the Item Mall, you can get additional mounts and items that allow you to level faster and gain Spirit faster. There are also healing potions for sale that will allow you to fight longer. When you get to half-health, the item will trigger and heal you back to full. I think it only has like a 10 second cool-down, so if you wanted to spend money on leveling safer and faster, you could. If you’re any kind of experienced MMO player, though, you really don’t have to spend anything to make money and level fairly easily.

If I do play for any length of time, the one place they’ll get money out of me is increasing your bag space and bank space. Your inventory is pretty limited, and it’s fiendishly smart to make that a paid upgrade. I could probably drop $20 on getting enough inventory space to avoid bag hassles.

If you’re curious what kind of things you can buy, the Item Mall on the PW website lists what’s available. 1 gold in PW equals 1 US dollar, so you can get a sense of what they think has value. If what I found on the PW forums is correct, I think some of the items from the mall can also be sold by players in-game, and the exchange rate is somewhere around 100k in-game coins for 1 gold. It’s a lot easier to spend dollars at low levels!

There’s PvP as well, in the form of Territorial Wars. I haven’t looked in to that much at all, as I’m not usually a PvP fan, but it does sound interesting, kind of a Lineage 2 style of guild-level PvP. If you want to take a peek, here’s the overview of Territory Wars from the PW website.

I don’t really expect to play long enough to get to the level of dungeon raiding or Territory Wars, since I’m still pretty burned out on being serious about MMO’s, but it’s nice to have a fairly decent new world to casually explore, especially since it’s not costing me a damn thing.

I also got into the Ether Saga closed beta. Ether Saga is also developed by the Perfect World team, and oh my god, it’s cuteness overload. It’s aimed at a much younger audience, and I’ll probably show it to my daughter and see if it’s appealing to a 9 year-old. It’s still pretty rough, lots of Chinese that hasn’t been translated to English yet, and some of the English translations are hilariously incorrect, but hey, I can’t speak a damn word of Chinese. I won’t bitch about bad translations :)

The one feature I really liked in Ether Saga, especially since it’s aimed at a younger audience, is an auto-pathing option. If you get lost while you’re doing a quest, you can open up your quest log and find the quest giver and the quest target as green links in the quest text. If you click either link, your character will enter auto-pathing mode and run themselves to the quest giver or quest destination. I found that it was handy to use auto-pathing even when I knew where I was going, so I could re-arrange my inventory, or distribute skill points, or read the Help files. Ether Saga works much the same as PW, just aimed at a younger audience.

If you’re dead bored with the MMO’s you’re playing, and you’re not too excited by any new Western MMO’s coming soon, PW might be worth a few nights of exploration. If you’re still happy playing Western MMO’s, this probably won’t give you much to get excited about. I’ll be curious to see how long my own interest lasts, for sure.

9 Responses

  1. Perfect World has WASD movement controls, by the way, not just point-and-click. :)

    • Hey Mallika! You’re right, they do, but I haven’t been able to find a way to re-map it, so I end up doing a lot of point-and-clicking :)

    • @Hudson Nope, it wasn’t that one, and I’m way behind on my RSS feeds, so I hadn’t gotten to that post of yours yet. I’m glad you pointed it out! I agree with a lot of what you posted, and I definitely agree that I’m not sure how long PW will hold my interest, but the game is a big step forward from the previous free to play MMO’s I’ve tried.

  2. OT I suppose but reading this post made me realize why I hesitate to resub WAR. Exactly what you said – the lack of anything that scratches the explored itch (66% of my gaming personality according to Bartle!). Think I’ll hold out for RoM but thanks for the writeup. Never heard of this game.

  3. @ Coppertopper – You know, I’m not sure that I realized it about WAR, the closed-in feeling, until I didn’t feel it in PW.

    Makes me wonder about trying Vanguard…I think I fall into the Bartle Explorer quite a bit, too.

  4. Atlantica also has the auto-move feature, which is a nice touch. If would feel like cheating in a game more about exploration and a world, but in AO the ‘world’ is just paths anyway, so it feels more natural.

  5. Try Runes of Magic online.

    Play style wise it is a clone of WoW.

    • I enjoyed Runes of Magic, but I was so burned out on WoW that RoM seemed too familiar. It’s a pretty good free-to-play, though, you’re right.

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