Monday, October 09, 2006

RF Online: Brief Review

Not many people have heard of this game, and fewer still have actually played it. I had a brief (free) stint in in, and I'm going to shed a little light on the subject here.

The net is saturated by MMOs to the point that we're even starting to talk about what "niches" are already full. The fantasy MMO market is obviously flooded to the point of overflowing, atop which floats World of Warcraft. The Superhero niche is occupied only by City of Heroes/Villains, though its own company is at this moment planning its obsolescence in the form of a NEW superhero MMO being made in conjuction with Marvel Comics. The quasi-futuristic and truly-futuristic genres kind of overlap into each other, where gamers have choices between games like FFXI, Anarchy Online, EVE Online, and so on. It is this last category that is still breathlessly anticipating its true scion, the one MMO to rule them all.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is that game. Oh, there's nothing particularly wrong with RF Online, but there's not all that much it has going for it to set it above, or really even apart from, the other MMOs in the futuristic niche.

Like FFXI, it tries to bridge the gap between techno-futuristic and sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In fact, the character design also is extremely reminiscent of somewhere between FFXI and Lineage. The look and feel is distinctly east asian in origin. Though, in my opinion, if FFXI had incorporated a few of the ideas in RF Online, I might have actually bought it.


Did you ever wish Diablo 2 was massively multiplayer? Or wish FFXI required more clicking and potion quaffing? If you said yes to either, RF-O is your game. The dynamic is one familiar to all MMO players (Kill stuff and do quests to gain exp and gear to go up levels so you can do harder quests and enemies to gain more exp and better gear to go up levels so you can...). It's how all these games work. The things that stand out about this particular one, however, is the Diablo-esque potion chomping and the elimination of a lot of the tedious need to run around to do things that some of us might consider immersive. Each faction has the same four basic player "jobs" as classes (Melee tank, ranged damager, support class and pet class), so balance is more or less maintained.

Potion Gulping: When you fight, you take damage. You use up magic power, or stamina, or whatever. But there are cheap potions you can buy from a variety of vendors to refill these bars, and they stack literally by the hundreds. Even going one further, the game lets you set sliders which can govern when your character will take the initiative and use one of these potions without any input from you. That's right, you can buy 1000 health potions, set your character to drink one every time he/she gets below 40% health, and never bother to think about healing again... until you run out of potions. Same goes for the energy by which you sprint around, swing your sword, fire your gun, or cast your magic spells... potions for every occasion and need, in denominations suitable for any level. So if you are like me, and often find yourself ironically shunning the vast majority of your fellow players in an MMO because the lion's share of them tend to lack the mental capacity to avoid shooting themselves in the genitalia, you need not worry about the difficulty of soloing. However, this also means that when it comes to PVP (see below), it takes a titanic, monumental, herculean effort of Zergish proportions to actually kill a player who has potions.

Travel Time? We don't need no Steenking Travel Time: Many of you (aside from those familiar with the mission system in City of Heroes) are under the impression that to get a quest, you have to go see a certain person, go do the quest, and then go BACK to the quest-giver to get your reward and possibly another quest. Well, forget that. This here is the quasi-future! We have cell-phone-doomaflotchies with picture and whatnot. You don't even have to know who to call. When somebody has a quest for you, they'll call you on the phone. When you have satisfied the requirements to complete that quest, they call you up again, and seemingly teleport whatever necessary turn-in items the quest may have required directly out of your inventory. Can't have any pesky distractions getting you away from the grind, now, can we? You don't even have to go find a trainer when you raise your level... you just pick your new abilities and keep on slaughterin'. Though, when your bags do fill up, you will need to chuck things out or go find the appropriate merchant to sell off your swag.


The controls are close to standard, yet not quite, swapping the F-keys and the numeric keys uses from what most of us consider to be the intuitive default. That takes some getting used to. Other than that, you can play this game in first person, third person (chase camera) and there's even an option to temporarily give yourself a giant, static "bird's eye view" of the general area in which you find yourself, all the better for executing tactics in either complicated encounters or in PvP. After a little configuring, you can either use normal FPS movement with WASD or Arrow Keys, or you can use click-to-move if that suits your fancy.


The graphics are impressive. They've done a good job here. The three factions from which you can choose are pretty stereotypical east-asian fantasy-future archetypes: Steampunk-looking robot guys; Beautiful, skinny, pointy-eared (and large-breasted) elf types with swords and magic; and finally an over-cute midget munchkin race of techno-magic tinkerers who, when needing to fight the other two factions, can climb into big mecha-like battlesuits to fight on even terms with them. Generally, the graphics and effects are as good as anything else on the market, though from time to time I did get a BSOD playing this game.


The sound lives up to expectations, though it doesn't precipitate any weak knees or teary eyes like some other games have managed with their soundtracks or immersive environmental effects. They get the job done.


Unlike so many of the others in the MMO genre, RF Online actually has a pretty novel idea for PvP, making it an integral part of the crafting economy. See, the world on which this game takes place is a resource world, and down deep by the core is where the best resources are. But there's a guardian down there, and he doesn't let just anybody go down to get the sweet mining spots... only whichever faction has won the latest Chipwar.

The "Chipwar" is an event that happens every 8 hours on the dot. Each faction has a base in the chipwar area, and basically the idea is to beat down the bases of the other two factions while protecting your own. Whichever faction destroys one of the other factions' bases first is the winner of the chip war, and they get unrestricted access to the bonanza of the core until the next chip war. It's an interesting concept, and I wish I got to look into it more... but... well, let's have a look at the summary.

In Summary

RF Online is not a bad game, but unfortunately it was not a good enough game to keep me once my free trial wore out. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to look even deeper into this game, particularly the PvP and crafting aspects. But, unfortunately, I have other games to play that I'm not ready to give up yet, at least not for RF Online, and I can't justify ponying up yet another fifteen bucks a month for a game I'll rarely have time to play due to my current rotation of games.

But, if you're looking for a Final-Fantasy looking east-asian flavored Diablo potionfest MMO with a City of Heroes type quest system, Warcraft's early-game inventory-management-as-character-progression, a small and personable population and a PvP system reminiscent of DAOC's RvR, this may be what you're after. Rating: C

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