RF Online - Retail First Impressions
We take an initial foray into Planet Novus with Codemasters' first MMO game.
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With the recent release of RF Online, we've had an opportunity to take a quick plunge into the new massively multiplayer online game from Codemasters. The game stands apart from most other MMO games with its sci-fi themes, and its Eastern origins are also quite obvious from the game's anime-inspired art design. You can choose from three different races, which vary in their philosophies on combat. The Accretians are militaristic, with advanced weapons; the Holy Alliance Cora offer a more traditional fantasy style, with magic abilities; and the Bellato Union is a band of tinkerers that can construct huge battle mechs.
The latter sounded pretty appealing, so we chose to join the Bellato as a ranger class, which excels at distance combat using bows or guns. In fact, the moment you join the game, you're given a choice of a bow or a handgun. It's not often that a massively multiplayer game lets you shoot mobs with a gun that resembles a Glock, so we chose that. Before long, we were outside the starting city, shooting up cute-looking rodentlike creatures called flem.
RF Online separates each race into its own continents. During each day a battle ensues on a central mine area, where the three races attempt to capture strategic points in order to control the mine. This mine is important because it houses some valuable raw materials for the specialist classes of each faction to use in constructing more-powerful weapons and equipment. The faction that can control the mine can dominate the harvest and use of these valuable materials, which will in turn help its war effort over the long run. However, it didn't seem that this player-versus-player content was readily available to new players, as most of the experienced players on the server were looking for level-25 players and above to join in the daily fights for the central mine. So for the time being, we were left to grinding on the various rodent- and buglike varmints outside the Bellato Union headquarters.
The game doesn't seem to offer much structure to its quests or in leading you to different places. Completing the first quest given to us was very easy, and it was nice to receive the rewards immediately by clicking on the quest log, without having to return to a specific non-player character quest giver. In fact, it seems that there are quite a number of quests listed right in your journal from the time you log in. There doesn't appear to be any need to visit specific NPCs to receive the quests. Unfortunately, these quests get unlocked only as you level, so at least at the outset of the game, there is quite a bit of mindless grind around the newbie areas to gain experience and unlock the next quest in the log.
One disappointing thing we noticed about the player-versus-environment portion of the game is that the monsters are not locked in to you once you hit, or "tap," them. You gain experience in RF Online simply by dealing damage to an enemy, so a lot of players "kill steal" the monsters that other players are already fighting. We didn't experience anyone doing something rude like that, but the chat channels in the low-level areas are full of these types of complaints. What's also interesting is that monsters will drop their loot right on the ground for anyone to see. While it's not possible to loot items from someone else's freshly killed mob, you'll often be able to run around areas and pick up stuff that people have simply left behind.
The combat in the game is pretty straightforward. It feels like Diablo in that you move around with the keyboard or by clicking the mouse. You then click on enemies to attack them. As you use certain types of weapons you gain skill points, and eventually you'll be able to unlock new skills. For the rangers, this means aimed shots or multishots from a gun or bow. You'll need to manage hit points, of course, as well as stamina points, which allow you to run--very important for rangers using the "kiting" method to kill monsters. Potions are available that restore your hit points and stamina points, and surprisingly, there are no cooldowns on these potions. You can gulp down seemingly as many as you wish, consecutively.
The inventory interface looks and feels pretty rough and unrefined compared to some other games in the genre. This issue, combined with the lack of structure in the early questing and grinding, may make the game somewhat daunting for people new to the genre. As an example, the second quest in our log instructed us to go kill 10 of a certain mob. While the in-game maps are detailed and no areas on the map are shown as unexplored, the quest narrative neglected to tell us where to go to find this particular monster, so we had to waste some time hoofing it to random places looking around for the targets. Missing details like this are what keep massively multiplayer games from being accessible to most players, and thus far, RF Online has done little to address that issue.
From what we can tell so far, RF Online might be appealing to those who are sick of the standard orcs, elves, and dragons that you find in most massively multiplayer games. Despite the lack of refinement in interface and game design, there's a unique charm in using shotguns and laser rifles to blast away at monsters in a game of this type. The promise of massive PVP combat later on in the game, using mechs or summoned demons, is also too appealing to ignore. The question, of course, is whether the daunting and thus far confusing journey to get to that point will be worth the trouble.
Stay tuned to GameSpot for a full review of RF Online later this month!