We live in a time where the amount of video games is growing faster than ever before, with the likes of Steam making indie games readily accessible, and that trend increasingly making its way to console. Overflowing game libraries may be desirable to gamers, but for developers it's becoming increasingly harder to really stand out. Where MMOs were once a rare concept, these days it's almost rare to find a game that doesn't have an online multiplayer option. Titles such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy have long reigned the fantasy MMORPG genre, but Riders of Icarus may give them a run for their money.
Play any MMORPG, and not having a mount is unthinkable. Admit it - your carefully kitted knight in shining armour needs a mount at least as shiny, and your geared harbinger of doom looks a lot less impressive without an imposing dragon. Where other games do offer rare mounts, often requiring certain effort to obtain, the focus has never been entirely on our greatly under-appreciated companions faithfully following us into even the most condemned scenarios. Enter Riders of Icarus: a free-to-play MMORPG with the spotlight on trusty steeds and impressive dragons. In this game, mounts aren't just a basic necessity for transport, or even a collectible - you will fully utilise them in terrestrial and aerial battle.
During an hour-long session, we got a glimpse at what Riders of Icarus has to offer. We started at the character screen, where we were spoiled for choice. After picking a gender we are given an exceptional number of customisation options ranging from body type to crazy hair colours, although this is to be expected with the current generation of graphics engines.
Currently, there are five classes to choose from: Berserker, Assassin, Guardian, Priest, and Wizard. Each come with a description of what sort of gameplay style to expect, as well as rated difficulty.
We were given two pre-made characters to play (level 20 and level 25, respectively) in order to fully optimise the time we had. As the first and foremost aspect of Riders of Icarus is taming and collecting mounts, we started with taming a mount of our own. Upon entering an aesthetically pleasing woodland environment, we encountered our first creature: a bear. Targeting a creature will tell the player whether or not it is tameable - if so, you can select the Taming option, making your character sneak up on the unaware target. Once close enough, you hit spacebar, which commands your character to jump on the target's back. Unsurprisingly, most creatures don't take well to being pounced on, and a fight between you and your desired mount ensues. As your character tries to sit tight and subdue the target, you will be given options to enhance your chances. You'll have to respond quickly, pressing either W, A, S ,or D when prompted, else your character gets thrown. You can monitor your progress with two bars appearing on your screen: filling the green bar will result in successfully taming a mount, whereas filling the red bar results in failure and your character being dislodged. Like the immensely popular monster collector Pokemon, it is possible to wear out your target before capturing it by fighting it first. Although like Pokemon, you must be careful not to kill your target in the process.
After acquiring our first mount, we were taken to the dwelling of a rare bear. Being rare, it takes some additional effort to tame this potential mount. In this case, it was required to jump on the bears' back from a ledge above rather than sneaking up. The success-bar was also slightly more difficult to fill up, increasing the challenge of adding the mount to our collection. After gracefully falling off the cliff a few times, we then successfully mounted our target and obtained our first rare mount. This accomplishment undeniably induces feelings of victory, paving the way for wanting to go explore and seek out more mounts.
Not only can you tame beasts as mounts. When acquired you can use a special item found in your inventory to transform a mount into a companion pet - a (presumably permanent) process that turns the target into a smaller, cuter version of itself. This of course means you cannot ride it any longer, but it is possible to command your pet. Some commands suggest you might be able to let your pet assist you in battle.
In Riders of Icarus, not only does your character level up - your mounts and pets will do, too. Even when just standing idle, your mount or pet will gain XP.
Another unique feature is the ability to 'seal' a mount or pet to create a one-time use armour enhancement. Sealing a mount or pet makes it appear in your inventory with visible stats as well as a selling price, suggesting you may be able to auction mounts and pets to other players. Although with the ability to boost your own stats, potentially critical in progressing, you may want to choose wisely before selling. When choosing to add the stats to your own armour, the sealed pet or mount irreversibly disappears from your collection.
During taming, it was revealed to us that other players could attack your target, thus killing it before you have a chance to snap it up. This might mean that not only are you on a wild rodeo ride - you may have to fend off other players during taming, too.
The amount of mounts and pets you can collect is limited to the slots you have available, with the amount hopefully scaling to level. There is however no limitation as to which kind of beasts you tame. Whether you choose to stock up on bears or only collect cat-like creatures to live out your crazy cat-lady tendencies, so be it - the choice is yours.
Since the game revolves around mounts and (mounted combat), it's to be expected that a lot of effort and work has gone in to creating creatures. Riders of Icarus lives up to these expectations: ranging from normal beasts such as bears, through to fantasy-rich flying dragons; both creativity and detail are of a high quality.
Pressing Y opens up a log that gives you an idea of which kinds of mounts you can collect (yes, we spotted a unicorn!). So far we've seen bears, a flaming winged horse, a seahorse-inspired flying dragon, a flying chubby chicken (yes, really - and it's as funny as you think it is), just to name a few. It was revealed to us that there will be a plethora of other mounts and pets available, ranging from felines to foxes, and even rideable rabbits.
As the title suggests, flying mounts are an integral facet in Riders of Icarus, and they're not just for soaring through the skies to take in the scenery, or for going from A to B. In this game, aerial combat plays a large role, from battling bosses to even taming new mounts in mid-air. During a battle in the sky, you are in no way obliged to let your dragon stay dormant - when in combat, you can circle your target and attack from all angles, something that will unquestionably provide many interesting PVP battles.
Steering your mount through the skies reveals some impressive scenery. However, if you don't want to take the scenic route, pressing spacebar twice causes your mount to glide, significantly increasing its speed - something that will come in handy in fast travel and battle alike. As you play through Riders of Icarus, you will likely encounter bigger, better, and faster dragons to tame.
Whilst taming and collecting mounts is definitely something you can sink many hours into, it isn't the only thing Riders of Icarus has to offer. We were led into a dungeon where we got to experience the combat system for the first time. As we were granted a pre-levelled character, we weren't slowly introduced to the combat mechanics, instead jumping into battle with various attacks readily available. Like most games, it takes trial and error to get familiar with the mechanics, however Riders of Icarus was not difficult to get in to. Despite the various attacks and frenetic combos available, we weren't dazzled with too many or confusing choices, instead picking up the mechanics fairly quickly, leading us to our first victory (admittedly helped by our healer). Riders of Icarus allows players to swiftly change between weapons during battle by simply pressing CTRL-Z, something that comes in handy especially in aerial combat where you'll be changing from ranged to melee a lot.
For the more experienced player, raids are available too. We tried our hand at a ten-man raid, but being inexperienced and only in a party of three, we bravely accepted our fate as we were defeated after a battle of epic proportions (we didn't get one-shotted or anything, honestly).
Running on the powerful CryEngine 3, it will come as no surprise that the graphics are impressive. Not only the previously mentioned mounts are of high quality - the world they inhabit and of course your character are superb too. The art-style itself befits the fantasy genre very well, making the simple act of riding (and, even more so, flying) your mount through the vast open world a pleasure. In contrary to some other games, riding from A to B shouldn't get boring!
Having only limited time with this early version, it was impossible to fully dabble in the storyline that Riders of Icarus will offer. However, after our first encounter with this game, our hopes are set high. We also expect the social side of this MMO, including establishing guilds, PVP battles, raids, and more, to further enhance gameplay.
Whilst we could have invested many more hours into catching mounts and pets, we are curious to see what Riders of Icarus has to offer beyond what we've seen, and we eagerly anticipate its release.
Riders of Icarus will launch for Founders' Pack owners on June 29, will the proper open beta launching on July 6. PvP will be implemented at the started of the open beta and will be fleshed out over the course of the year. New dungeons and zones are planned for July launch, new new mounts and a new class scheduled for release later in the year.