What is it that makes adventuring in the worlds of massively multiplayer online role-playing games so appealing? Much of the allure comes from creating heroes and watching them get progressively more powerful as you do things like acquire hard-earned gear and improve the skills of your characters. But without heroic quests and exciting adventures for your characters to undertake, all of those weapons and skills seem pointless. This is the biggest problem with War of the Immortals, the latest in Perfect World's stable of free-to-play MMOGs--your characters can get all dressed up in spiffy and spectacular armor, but they have nowhere interesting to go.
It's not that the realm of Motenia, where War of the Immortals takes place, has no sense of imagination. If anything, it is a wild hodgepodge of elements that shows a lack of focus and restraint rather than a lack of creativity. It is a world endangered by the ages-old struggle between the gods Odin and Loki. And as you talk to non-player characters and read the automatically compiled chronicle of your adventures, it seems to take its lore seriously. But this reverent tone doesn't mesh with the game's ubiquitous sillier elements, like the international assortment of beautiful women in the central city of Atlantis, representing countries like Brazil, South Africa, and Sweden; the fact that you can buy bizarre outfits, such as British schoolboy or schoolgirl costumes for your characters; and the presence of some zany pets, such as kangaroos sporting sunglasses. The overall tone is whimsical but inconsistent; if you're looking for an online world you can believe in, look elsewhere.
Your adventures in Motenia begin with the creation of a character. You first choose from one of eight classes, and your choice is made more difficult by the fact that the character-creation screen provides no information on the skills, strengths, and weaknesses of those classes. You might be able to infer a little something from class names like magus, champion, and enchantress, but for detailed descriptions that clarify exactly how a duelist is different from a slayer, you need to refer to the game's website. Ultimately, your choice of class in War of the Immortals isn't nearly as impactful as in many other MMOGs. You gain a few new abilities from time to time as you level up, but there are no branching skill paths here or opportunities for the kinds of specialization you may have come to expect from games in the genre.
War of the Immortals also hamstrings your ability to improve your existing skills. To raise a skill to the next rank, skill trainers require payment in both experience points and in coins. The payment of experience points means it will take you that much longer to reach the next level; the payment in coins is likely to exhaust your supply long before you can improve all of the skills that are currently available. Of course, this problem is easily remedied with the purchase of certain items in the game's ZEN marketplace. ZEN is the currency you can acquire in the game in exchange for real money, with 1,000 ZEN running you $10. (If you spend more money, you can get bonus ZEN; at $50, you get 5,300 ZEN.) Strictly speaking, you don't need to purchase ZEN to climb the ranks in War of the Immortals, but it makes your growth much quicker and more pleasant.
You can purchase items that grant you huge quantities of coins, so you never need to worry about not being able to afford that skill training. You can also acquire health potions, which aren't sold for coins by any NPC; they can only be crafted by players who choose alchemy as their crafting skill or purchased from the ZEN marketplace. And should you die, a modest amount of ZEN lets you perform a "perfect revive," resurrecting you instantly in the spot where you fell with your health fully restored and able to carry on the fight. Without a perfect revive (or a nearby player who can resurrect you), you are transported to the graveyard, from which you must make your way back to where you were if you wish to resume your quest. How much or how little ZEN a player might spend can vary wildly. Packs of health potions might run you 400 or 500 ZEN. The best gems on the marketplace, which can be embedded into your equipment to significantly improve its power, often go for 1,250 ZEN a pop. And a specific mount is currently selling for a whopping 15,000 ZEN.
Alas, no matter how much you invest in increasing the skills and improving the equipment of your characters, your adventures in Motenia remain unfulfilling. There's little sense of danger or excitement as you explore the game's individual areas because the overwhelming majority of monsters and enemies don't attack you unless you attack them. Rather, they just mill around in groups, as docile as cattle, indifferent to you even as you slaughter their fellows. Initially, there's some satisfaction to be had in wiping out dozens of vampire bats, undead soldiers, ostriches or whatever other creatures you've been commanded to kill for whatever reason. But you're typically so overpowered against these monsters, and your combat abilities are so straightforward and require so little thought, that the process of killing quickly becomes empty and mechanical.
A combo indicator in the corner celebrates each subsequent kill as if you're demonstrating tremendous skill, but it's hollow praise. This is the MMOG equivalent of the mindless, unsatisfying combat of so many Dynasty Warriors games. You can use the in-game combat aid to direct your character to automatically attack enemies and use potions when health runs low, enabling you to go make a sandwich and spare yourself the tedium. But if a game is so dull that you'd rather it play itself, what's the point of playing it at all?
The tedium of your adventures is reinforced by a staggering dearth of content. The small, linear instances, which funnel you from chambers full of monsters to chambers with bosses and more chambers full of monsters, can be completed in a matter of minutes. These challenges are available at various difficulty levels--easy, normal, elite--but you're limited to tackling each difficulty level of any given instance once per day, so you can quickly exhaust these options. You can easily find yourself with little in the way of available quests, with the path to your character's next level being made up of logging in day after day and repeating the same content you'd done on the days before. There are other, more unconventional (but no less boring) daily activities you can engage in for experience, too, such as the tests available at the Magic Academy in Atlantis. Here, you complete a series of tedious tasks that include counting how many creatures of a certain color there are; attacking the creatures, which changes their colors until they are all the same color; and the like. As with everything about War of the Immortals, the rewards here aren't worth the effort.
You might hope to find some solace in competing against other players, but player-versus-player combat is a minor aspect of the game. Completely unavailable until you reach level 50 (which doesn't take nearly as long as you might think but still requires you to sink many hours into the game), PVP doesn't offer many eager opponents when you do reach that point. Whether or not you can engage in PVP depends on the zone you're in. In some areas, it's entirely forbidden. In others, you're free to engage in PVP, but attacking players who aren't flagged for PVP can incur a penalty. And in others, PVP is entirely fair game. Human opponents are certainly much tougher than most the game throws at you, but combat remains shallow, and effectively taking on players is more a matter of having the right gear for the job than playing skillfully.
The realm of Motenia initially appears visually captivating, if nothing else. In Atlantis, waterfalls cascade to the ocean's surface far below. The armor sported by heroes is elaborate and striking, and some bosses are massive and grotesque. But the visual charms are quickly undermined by their technical shortcomings. Groups of nearby players, monsters, vending stalls, or other features are often conspicuously popping into the environment, which makes it difficult to get drawn into the world the game is trying to create. This isn't just the fault of the visuals, though. It's a result of every aspect of the game failing to do its part. Character skill customization is thin; exploration is dull; content is in short supply, and what is there is isn't much good. With far richer online role-playing games, such as Age of Conan and The Lord of the Rings Online now free to play, there's little reason to sink any time into War of the Immortals.