Uniting China for experience points.
Heroes of Three Kingdoms is not a difficult game to describe: It's Dynasty Warriors as a traditional MMORPG. But since this is a different genre (and a different company) altogether, the better comparison would be Perfect World Entertainment's eponymous flagship title Perfect World and its martial arts variant Jade Dynasty. And Heroes of Three Kingdoms is set to be just as successful.
[image1]As the title suggests, Heroes of Three Kingdoms forgoes the more general fantastical settings of its predecessors and embeds itself in the popular romanticization of the Three Kingdoms era of ancient China. So if you've ever wanted to fight alongside the likes of Liu Bei, Cao Cao, or Sun Quan in full battle armor and gallantly riding your steed across a Chinese version of Azeroth, then you've come to the right place. But it's not until your character gains enough reputation and experience that he or she will deserve the right to do so.
Of course, that means you have to create a character first, and from the options given in the closed beta, it's expectedly sparse. For now, heads, hair types, and body sizes are all chosen from a small preset number of selections. Thankfully, your character can acquire clothing pieces to create different costumes that you can switch between on the fly, all while having all your actual armor underneath (or "overneath", if you will) still count towards your defense and stat bonuses.
Along with selecting which city in China your hero hails from, you must choose a class based on a primary weapon. Any standard polearm - glaive, spear, halberd - has strong range, high offense, and overall stats, while AoE specialists will have their eyes set on the Staff and Ring Blade. With Charmer as the healer, Bow as the ranged attacker, and Gauntlets as the tank, all of the archetypal roles are covered.
Expectedly, Heroes of Three Kingdoms isn't far from the typical MMORPG. The opening level, filled with peach blossoms, sparkling waterbeds, and patches of tall grass, serves as a gentle tutorial area where you face off against rather harmless hounds, wasps, and monkeys. You'll pass by plenty of the other players, perhaps join a party or chat a bit, click your way through NPC dialogue trees for quests, and navigate through a cascade of menus while auto-running from location to location.
[image2]One point of difference is that experience is gained far more through quests than through mindless grinding. Most of them are "kill X amount of this enemy" missions - something that can be improved in the final version - so you will be pulling double duty anyway. This is made easier with the quest log, which allows you to click on an objective and then have your character automatically run to wherever you need to go.
In an thought-provoking twist, experience can be used to level up either your character or your weapons. Building the latter accrues specialization points that imbues your skills with special effects, like extra damage or a chance to stun. So how you distribute your experience matters, to the point that you can purchase an item that resets your character later in the game.
During combat, you have access to multiple skills for special attacks and boosts, all of which are animated with motion-captured precision. Some skills require Power which regenerates over time, or Chi which builds when you use certain skills, so chaining the right skills together makes battles much easier and more expedient. A few problems need to be addressed - turning your character to engage an enemy can be cumbersome and there is no option for an invert mouse scroll for zooming - but this can fixed by the open beta.
Where the game starts to separate itself from the pack is in just how much you can do. Some of it is locked by level: You can get into PvP battles at Level 16; train mounts and acquire saddles for customization at Level 20; and you choose a secondary weapon at Level 60, with some cooldown between switching weapons. But the vast majority of activities stem from items whether they're involved with gem activation, armories, smithies, food vendors, tailors, medicinal merchants, horse trainers, enchanters, wine dealers, and even wedding stores. Yeah, would you like a Hallmark card with that?
[image3]What's more, certain NPCs also offer quests of their own. To establish a better relationship between newbies and veterans, Fervor Quests pair characters from Level 8-24 with Level 40+ characters, who are rewarded with special currency to purchase unique items in the store. Likewise, more straightforward innkeeper quests reward you with its own special currency. And then there's tael and zen currencies that have their own marketplaces as well.
The closed beta, of course, demands some benefit of the doubt - the graphics look dated, the music is a jingly bore, and the potential size of the inventory can be overwhelming. But most of these gripes can be worked out by the time the open beta rolls around, and as it stands now, there's enough content to fill months of entertainment. Aim to unite all of China when Heroes of Three Kingdoms arrives later this year.