The Asian Gaming territories are home to many MMOs, but most never reach the West because the nature of the game is so tailored for a specific audience, they'd just never work outside of Korean gaming cafes.
Occasionally though, such as with RF Online, a game is deemed deep enough to head West. So it is then that Codemasters is set to bring the war-torn planet of Novus, complete with its three-way war, to these shores very soon. The premise is that three factions are fighting for control of a powerful mining centre, the occupier of which gets to carve the finest weapons and armour for use in its fight for survival. Probably the most balanced of the three races you can fight as, certainly in terms of ease of play, is the Cora Holy Alliance. Sexy elves mostly, with a casual attitude towards clothing and a penchant for waving glowing rods of magic about, they may not have much raw force on the battlefields, but give them a chance to power-up a spell and you're in for all manner of animated spiritual attacks.
The Accretians, meanwhile, have the upper hand in terms of ruthless weaponry. If you're the sort of gamer who likes to smash things good, this homicidal race of alien robots will be right up your street. Then there's the Bellato, who may look like midget traders that wouldn't say boo to a ghost, but once they reach level 30 they can strap themselves into all manner of customisable battle mechs.
That level 30 access point applies to all races. There's nothing in the way of classes for each race at first, but life begins at 30 in RF Online, as that's the point when the battlebots get their giant siege weapons, the dwarves get their mechs and the elfish nearly-nudes get to mess with summoning powerful pet creatures to aid them on the battlefield.
The demonstration we saw was packed with numbers, stat manipulation and windows, none of which was helped by still being in Korean (that, obviously, will change before launch). The impression is an MMO that takes the visual loveliness of most Asian-market RPGs, mixes it with PlanetSide-scale combat and then hardcores things to the max - which is no bad thing. Plus, we suspect that what looks complex from the outside is far less so once you get the hang of things.
Mostly, RF Online just looks like being a lot of manic fun. Sure, there's an Asian flavour, but Codemasters has been granted access to modify each European server to meet local gameplay needs. Will we Westerners take to it? Well, you can't go wrong with battle mechs. Or indeed, nearly naked magic elves.
The world of mmos is currently about as packed as one of Bob Marley's joints, so any new titles will have to bring something different to the table to be noticed. On paper, RF Online looks like just the candidate; a futuristic fantasy setting plays host to three competing races, thus providing scope for plenty of PvP action. There's also a pretty graphics engine with a heavy anime influence, a mass of well-animated enemies and an economy that's directly affected by the players.
The three races are a great mix: the cyborg Accretia look like they've been lifted straight from Japanese anime; the Bellato are an advanced but miniscule race with a penchant for technology (Phantasy Star Online anybody?); and the Cora, with their magic and summoning abilities, have more than a hint of Final Fantasy about them.
Grinding You Down
However, once you've hooked up that broadband, it quickly becomes apparent that things aren't quite so great in reality. The first thing you notice is that RF Online is an unashamed grind-fest. Not only do the quests consist almost solely of 'kill 20 of these', 'kill 20 of those', but there's virtually nothing else to do should you wish to take a breather. Apart from mining. So, nothing then.
There're also a range of other issues, such as a poor draw distance, a woefully inadequate chat window, lots of translation mistakes, quest buttons that don't work and a general inability to find any kind of useful information in-game, all of which means that the first 20 or so levels leave you feeling cold.
RF Online does pick up at a higher level, when you can start contributing to the chip wars (essentially a massive slice of FVP action where all three races battle for control of the mines) that occur every eight hours. These are far superior to any personal PvP battles, which more than often than not become a war, not of wits, but of who's stacked up the most health potions. Unfortunately, an hour's excitement out of eight is poor going, so RF Online is best played only if you enjoy continual grind with minimal reward. Most of us get enough of that at work.
Download RF Online
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode