Recently, we were given the opportunity to try Riders of Icarus, the new MMORPG emerging from Korea. After our first taste, we only wanted one thing: more. With the game officially entering into open beta on July 6, we finally had a chance to explore more of what the fantasy MMORPG has to offer.
After choosing one of five classes and customising your new alter ego completely to your liking, you jump straight into the action. A prison escape introduces you to 'The Crow', who will lead you to freedom whilst teaching you how to wield weapons and other basic gameplay tips. You also gradually learn more about the storyline: when escorting the princess of Hakanas, mounted riders attack you and the other guards. After an escape and your first boss battle, it's onwards with your mission to rescue the princess, and your adventure truly begins.
Questing is straightforward: completing quests grants your character XP, money and the occasional item, allowing your character to level up and improve stats along with upgrading your fashion sense. The main quest-line leads you through different areas exploring both the world and the story, whereas side-quests are not necessary for progression but are still a good way to earn XP and occasionally unlock minor boss fights.
Besides questing, you can also gather materials in order to craft items, earn achievements, trade or auction off unwanted items, and of course there is an in-game shop where you can spend your real-world money for fantasy-world items. Some things cost a lot in terms of in-game currency, which means there could well be a lot of grinding for some of the more desirable items for those not willing to pay. One thing we've got an eye on; characters seem to get boosted a lot via real-money purchases, and as such there's going to be accusations of this being pay-to-win (we'll have to see how these purchases affect PvP before drawing any conclusions). There's also no option to block players in chat (which means there's LOADS of buy-gold-here spam, so beware).
At first glance, the story of Riders of Icarus isn't new or refreshing; most of us have had our fair share of rescuing pretty princesses. Add a huge threat to the game-world that your character inhabits, in this case known as Salant, you have the basic ingredients for any standard MMO. However, a simple storyline isn't necessarily a bad thing - personally, we quite enjoyed the fact we could jump straight into the action without having to learn excessive lore beforehand and sit through endless cinematics. The simple narrative fits the fantasy setting, and Riders of Icarus proves that stories don't have to be overly complicated to be captivating. This isn't to say the the storyline won't expand more over time - the charm of MMORPG games is that there is always room for more content.
With standard MMORPG aspects such as questing, crafting, and world-threatening dangers, what makes Riders of Icarus stand out amongst its peers?
The first thing is the impressive open-world environment. It quickly becomes clear that the creators have utilised the CryEngine 3 to deliver impressive visuals. Befitting its genre, the beautiful fantasy-rich setting and its creatures doesn't fail to impress. Even if the story won't captivate everyone, the ravishing world this game provides is worth exploring. You can only pick one race to play (human), which seems almost a waste when looking at all the other imaginative beings Riders of Icarus has to offer.
The main aspect of Riders of Icarus, as covered in our first hands-on preview, is of course the taming of the various beasts that inhabit the aesthetically pleasing setting. Even more alluring than the setting, these creatures are the real stars of the game. Unless you purchased one of the Founder Packs granting you some otherwise unobtainable mounts from the start, the first mount you'll tame is a unicorn-esque creature, instantly setting the bar high for the far more interesting beasts to come.
All the beasts you tame, each one more peculiar and impressive than the last, can assist you in your adventures in three different ways. Firstly, there is of course the option to keep them as a mount. Secondly, you will also be granted an option to turn your mount into a companion pet, basically turning it into a miniature version of itself. It then not only follows your character around, but also assists you in battle. Lastly, you can also choose to seal a tamed beast to absorb its power, buffing weapons and armour. Be warned: just like in real life, turning beasts into wearable items also irreversibly kills them.
Beasts come in three different grades; hovering your mouse over a beast will tell you whether it's common (one star), elite (two stars), or even a rare heroic (3 stars). In your Bestiary, a log summoned by pressing Y, it will tell you additional information about them, as well as giving a preview of other tame-able creatures on offer.
Similar to your character, the beasts level up. For this to happen you must have one summoned, but after that it levels on its own - even just standing idle grants it XP. However, your mounts can't out-level your character, so leaving the game running overnight in hopes of having max level mounts the next day will be in vain.
A beautiful setting alone might not be enough to lure players in, but the unique Pokémon-esque feature that has you capture creatures most certainly will. It's this innovative and fun aspect that adds an extra layer to the game, making Riders of Icarus stand out from the crowd, and they haven't been stingy with the amount of beasts they have to offer. Not only are the creatures both imaginative and of a high standard graphics-wise, they also each come with their own lore.
Like the Pokedex in the immensely popular pocket-monster collecting game, Guidebooks will give players information such as stats, background, and behaviour about the plethora of beasts in Riders of Icarus. Some creatures are inspired by animals from the real world (giant spiders and baby joeys may sound familiar to Australian players, for example), whereas others have been crafted with a bigger dose of imagination, such as the flying seahorse-like dragon. It doesn't just stop at the design; the creatures' behaviour and ecosystem is also well thought out. Whether you journey through desolate deserts or soar through open skies, you will find creatures befitting the habitat you're in. All in all, the variation of creatures in terms of species, colour and lore are an excellent aspect of Riders of Icarus, and we hope future expansions will add even more.
Whilst taking a break from questing is often not recommended in XP driven games, in Riders of Icarus it may even become preferable - we often found ourselves wandering around the vast open world, curious to see which creature we would encounter next. Whether you enjoy questing, collecting or exploring, Riders of Icarus has it all.
With mounts being the main feature in the game, it comes as no surprise that mounted combat is another important element. Riding around in an open world, being able to attack enemies whilst mounted, gave us the feeling of freedom Red Dead Redemption once provided - only with less outlaws/zombies. Besides land-based mounts, aerial combat will undoubtedly be the most alluring aspect to many players. The game literally brings battles to a new level, spanning from raids to even taming dragons in the sky.
Even though we could easily sink many hours solely in collecting new companions, there are of course lots of battles to fight. Like its competitors, Riders of Icarus offers players dungeons and raids to show off their skills. That is, if you become skilled; the battle mechanics may require some effort getting used to. With a mixture of point-and-click and non-targeting gameplay, fighting feels very different to the likes of World of Warcraft. After some practice (and often attacking the wrong target), we grew familiar with the system, but would like to see an option added to at least make our point of view turn when moving the mouse to give a better overview of the area and enemies.
Like the rest of the game, battles are visually pleasing, especially during aerial combat. If you play as a spell-caster your character can be heard chanting spells, and when playing with a melee class your character gracefully swings a sword to slice through flesh and bone. The movements of characters and creatures, as well as armour and weapons, are realistically represented, giving battles a more authentic feel. Rather than staying put, it's encouraged if not highly recommended to move around, especially during aerial battles.
When it comes to skills, you aren't flooded for choice. Instead of bombarding players with more abilities and skills to fit on the screen, you start with a few that level up with you. Of course, more attacks as well as weapon choices are provided as you level up, but you're never dazzled for choice, which keeps abilities easy to understand and fun (if you can actually target the right enemy, that is).
Being an MMO, the social side of the game is naturally of great importance. Besides the ability to form Guilds, battle in a Party and of course raid together, a PvP option is on the way. Besides one on one duelling, we'll eventually be able to enter battlegrounds and fight with and against teams. At the time of writing, we weren't able to try this out, but the developers have promised that a battlefield system is coming soon. Hopefully we'll be able to talk about this more once the game comes out of open beta. Another thing that will hopefully ease as the servers become more stable is the amount of disconnections we suffered. At first we thought the issue was at our end, but reading the chat it seems that we weren't alone in suffering from this issue.
Mixing together all the ingredients needed for a solid MMORPG with the added layer of capturing cute companions and impressive dragons, Riders of Icarus left us with the same feeling as before: we want more! The level-cap is currently set at 25, but Nexon and WeMade have already stated there is more material set to be released over time, with new areas to explore, each with new dungeons and ecosystems filled with more creatures to collect. Along with the upcoming PvP features and other content, we can't wait for the wild ride(s) Riders of Icarus has in store for us.