When Cabal 2 was first released in South Korea in 2012, it might have been something a little more original, and it certainly would have looked better to our eyes than it does now. But three years is a lifetime for a massively multiplayer role-playing game, and the time it’s taken to localize this game has not done it any favors.
If you follow the betas and launches of various MMORPGs coming out of South Korea in particular, there's a feeling here that you're probably very familiar with. You'll see bits and pieces of a game that looks more stunning than most MMORPGs you've seen, with the additional promise of a variety of intriguing mechanics. You may spend years pining after it, following every scrap of information you can as it slowly makes its way through the pipeline to the west. But by the time it's localized, whatever glimmer of charm it once held almost always fades with age. Cutting-edge graphics are now three-year-old graphics, and many of the fresh twists you were looking forward to have probably been disseminated among other games you've played in the interim.
Cabal 2 does a lot of little things that would have impressed me once. For example, the combo system is a clever way to add a more action-oriented element to otherwise-standard combat, while the astral weapons players get about mid-way through the game are undeniably cool looking and change up players’ routines. Finishing moves reward quick reflexes and give boss fights extra oomph, and character creation is robust, and loads of little usability features go a long way to make the game easy to play. Players who don't want to fuss with stats can have the game auto-distribute their points, for instance. Party-finding tools are easy to use, and corpses emit colored smoke corresponding to the value of the loot inside, which means players don't have to waste time and inventory space looting junk they don’t want. The game will also give a warning chime whenever a player or a party member aggros a nearby foe. These are all great features, but they're not unique to Cabal 2.
This lack of uniqueness is a recurring theme because at its heart, Cabal 2 looks, feels, and plays like an endless list of other games. All the little things it does differently simply get buried under the avalanche of everything else you know and expect, such as fetch quests and the need to endlessly grind. Playing this was one of the most boring things I've done in recent memory, to the point that I caught myself thinking wistfully about other MMOGs I'd dismissed as bland in the past. “Maybe I should give Scarlet Blade another chance,” I thought as I yet again made the run from “Area Full of Wolves” to “Area Full of People Asking Me One at a Time to Kill More Wolves.” When you spend an entire weekend jogging back and forth between the same three points on the map, it's easy to grow bored and tumble into a well of mental distractions.
Cabal 2 doesn't respect the player's time. You're sent back and forth, over and over, between the same areas and the same people killing the same targets for slightly different purposes. Sometimes those purposes are clear, and sometimes you’re killing animals for vengeance and picking herbs because you need them to time travel and look, do you want to level up or not? This is such a common trope, but many free MMOGs have been trying to move away from it for awhile. Cabal 2, on the other hand, leans into it and leans into it hard.
Progress grinds to a screeching halt after level 20, to the point that it takes days to attain a new level. A big part of the reason this is a problem is that Cabal 2 doesn’t provide an ample amount of story quests, so you’re left to make up the difference by taking on simple and uninteresting side quests. Even if you don't mind going through the same dungeons over and over again, you’re limited to a certain number of playthroughs of each side quest per day. Many quests are disabled once you reach a certain level, too, meaning that as time goes on, your options become even more limited. Reaching Cabal 2’s endgame requires an unreasonable amount of patience as its designed to extend your time with the game while offering almost nothing new in return.
While Cabal 2's localization is competent, it still veers toward the bizarre. It's a case study in the importance of editing, because while you can understand each individual word in a piece of quest dialogue, strung together, the end result often sounds broken and unnatural. It's just off enough that I found myself going over sections again to be sure I hadn't misread anything.
I can't say that I hated everything about Cabal 2. The way my wizard extended her hand back to form a spear of ice, then snapped it deftly forward as she prepared to throw it? Lovely. The way she flicks her sleeve back down once combat ends? Flawless. The cast of diverse NPCs scattered across the landscape? Honestly among the most interesting I've seen in any game. Is that enough? Absolutely not.
The thing is, I've played this game before, and if you're reading this review looking for the next free MMOG you can dip your toes into, chances are that you have too. We played Cabal 2 before we'd even heard of Cabal 2 because its is almost interchangeable with countless other free-to-play games we've had access to for years. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case three years ago, but it is today.