Booze is perfect.
Despite my propensity to gravitate towards RPGs, I have intentionally missed the World of Warcraft phenomenon, as well as Final Fantasy XI (if you can call it "Final Fantasy"). MMORPGs have eluded me mostly because I don't have a PC that can handle them, and because I realized that if I were to actually start one, I would probably get fired for missing work and annoying co-workers with WoWspeak. For me, one step into Azeroth is a slippery slope towards homelessness and buying a Toyota truck.
So paint me disinterested and unmotivated as I schlepped my way up the hills of San Francisco to see Perfect World International, my face already testing out the fake smile I would have to plaster on right after I entered the door. I expected to find some World of Warcraft clone with level-grinding, skill-tree-choosing, dungeon-crawling, potion-drinking, spell-casting, blahdy-blahdy *snooze* - and for the most part, Perfect World was exactly that... except I was awake and interested the whole time.
Perfect World isn't special because it's free-to-play - plenty of MMORPGs have already boasted, are boasting, or will be boasting that. It's both free-to-play and impressive. Already popular across the western pond, in China, Malaysia, and other PAL territories, Perfect World attempts to create that same appeal in a market where simply saying "free-to-play" causes most players to take a screwdriver and cram it in their ears. But even without a monthly fee, it comes surprisingly close to matching the functionality and addictive gameplay of a World of Warcraft.
Set in an Asian fantasia, a wondrous landscape created by the world's divine god Pan Gu and that stretches for miles and miles, Perfect World looks like what Jade Empire would be if it was an MMORPG. It combines western and eastern elements together to form a planet ripe for adventuring, full of spiritual beings, powerful entities, and all-life-destroying wraiths.
Sharing the world with humans, which serve as the general all-around race with simple but effective magic and blade techniques, are winged elves who specialize in archery and can fly the instant you create them at Level 1, and the physically strong untamed beasts who can transform between their humanoid and animal forms. There's something about a beast in white tiger form riding on a shining white eagle while saddling a human lady friend on its back that is pure awesome. Though there are only three races and six classes, ranging from the standard archer and blademaster (warrior) to the wizard and poison-concocting venomancer, an infinite number of characters models are possible.
Perfect World allows you to customize your character's face and body as well as your character's special overlay armor. And this isn't just your run-of-the-mill spit-out kind of customization. You can tweak everything from eyebrow slant to nose-bridge depth, using a creation tool that is as flexible and as in-depth as you want it to be. On top of that, the overlay armor allows you to completely override whatever armor your character is wearing to create a custom look. No more Level 100 warriors waltzing around, all wearing the best armor and looking like clones. This time, you can all gain the benefits of having the best armor but actually look like an individual. (So don't be fooled by that Asian girl in that pink sweetheart top and those penguin flip-flops. That would be
Chris Hudak a mistake.)
But perhaps the best feature - and Duke will agree - is the ability to create wine. From all the scrappage and monster entrails that you collect, you can mix and measure them into liquid concoctions that can make an old man happy. Scattered around the world are Raidens who all situate themselves near a dungeon, and who are all thristy for booze. Give the Raiden the booze he wants, and he will do a happy dance and destroy all the monsters in the nearby dungeon except for the boss - with all treasures and gold intact. So there you have it: Alcohol leads to paradise.
Perfect World International may look like a middle-of-the-road MMORPG, but it might be that one MMORPG that finally erases the "free-to-play" low-budget stigma. It may not be as refined as World of Warcraft in its quest-hunting, guild-joining, and overall polish, but it's simple, clean fun. Oh, and it's FREE TO PLAY. I mean, it's even got booze, and if that doesn't do it, what will? (Answer: More booze.)