Risk Your Lunch.
In an arena as competitive as the MMORPG genre, a new entry needs a sharp hook with which to snag a hefty group of gamers with good credit. Some titles chum for the vicious predator types with promises of open player-versus-player combat, ala Lineage II, while others use flashy graphics and the promise of fuzzy, non-threatening content to attract carebears, as was the case in Everquest II.
And with new MMOs arriving just about every month, hooks are becoming more sophisticated all the time. Except in the case of RYL: Path of the Emperor, an MMORPG with a hook so old and obvious, it's more likely to scare gamers away than attract them. In RYL (Risk Your Life, by the way), killing enough monsters gains you a level. Wow? More like ow.
We kid, but the amount of strict level grinding required before you experience any sort of payoff is outrageous, and the level grinding in RYL is horrendously tedious for the simple reason that it's your only option for the first dozen hours of gameplay. You go out, click on monsters for a couple hours, run to town, sell stuff, and repeat. There is nothing else to do. The quest content is practically non-existent, there are no trade skills, and you can't battle other players until level thirty. But if you have any sense of taste or self-worth, you will never get there, because a game should be interesting out of the box, not fifteen hours after you start playing.
At least there's a plot. In some nameless fantasy world, a faction splits off from an evil human empire and runs into a race known as the Ak'kan, who, after magically destroying their race's birthplace, are also looking for a new place to call home. The small human faction joins a rebellious faction of Ak'kan and together they comprise the oddly-named nation of God's Pirates. Then everybody goes to war.
Hmmm. Maybe there isn't a plot.
Anyway, you choose a nation, race, face and hair color. The race you choose determines which classes will be available, while the nation affects who you will be able to group with. The classes themselves are pretty standard. Each race has fighters, tanks, ranged-attackers, nukers, healers, and buffers. The Ak'kan are typically harder hitters, while Humans have better defenses and a couple more choices when it comes to support classes. The Humans get eight classes while the Ak'kan get six. God's Pirates, on the other hand, can have groups and war parties with all fourteen classes, giving that nation a huge advantage over the others.
So naturally, most players on a given server join God's Pirates, giving that faction all the players. However, this insane imbalance doesn't usually rear its head since opposing factions can't attack each other without asking permission. Frankly, we don't understand why the designers included factions at all.
Nor do we understand why RYL proclaims itself "A True PVP MMORPG' when you can't freely battle other players until you're in a guild...which, again, you can't join a until you reach level thirty. If countless hours of solid level grinding is the cost of 'True PvP,' we'll stick with the fake stuff.
But in case you were wondering what 'True PvP' entails, it means anytime you kill a member of a rival guild or nation, you get fame points and medal points. Fame points affect your standing on a server-wide leader board, while medal points act as currency useful in buying items from a special vendor. Too bad the items are just generic gems that can be used to upgrade awesome pieces of equipment, as opposed to the pieces of equipment themselves.
When it comes down to actually fighting and moving around, RYL presents two control options - Mouse mode and Keyboard mode. Everything you need to do in the game can be done awkwardly in either mode, although each actually requires you to use both the mouse and keyboard. This is retarded, but in a game like RYL, it kind of makes sense.
As does the absence of absurdly missing essentials like trade skills, an auction house and a CON system. If you've never heard of this last one, it's the system by which player and non-player characters are given a color indicative of how difficult they would be to defeat. It's a basic, wonderful system that is sorely missed. RYL claims to have player-made stores, but in reality the 'stores' are just trade windows.
Instead of including features we all know and love, RYL borrows a couple interesting ideas from Shadowbane (aka. the other worst MMORPG ever), like guild real estate. But where Shadowbane allowed players to plan and build entire cities which could then be breached and burned by rival guilds with siege weaponry, RYL players get simple towers that act as little more than glorified spawn points and can be destroyed by conventional methods.
Still, guild-owned real estate has always been a good idea because it gives players points to conquer and defend, sort of like a Battlefield Conquest map. We just wish such a good idea could find itself in a good game.
Or at least a good-looking one, because RYL looks awful. The player character design was clearly borrowed from Final Fantasy XI's anime aesthetic, minus texture or detail. My Ak'kan shadow officiator's legs barely bend when she runs, at least a dozen frames are skipped every time she jumps, and the enemies are routinely nothing more than polygonal purple boxes.
The graphical woes don't stop there, though. Every time you access the character select screen, the background shows up as ugly white polygons before textures pop in one by one over the course of about 10 seconds. Then when you enter the world, your character starts off about six feet in the air before dropping to earth. The sky, meanwhile, is a blocky .gif image. Blech.
The game sounds as dismal as it looks, with a crappy midi score and no sound effects aside from the 'Whack, whack, whack' of each successive attack. From a presentation standpoint, I'm almost surprised RYL doesn't come wrapped in newspaper.
Instead, it comes in a box with a huge advertisement on the cover announcing a million-dollar tournament open to all RYL players in the U.S. and Canada. According to the RYL website, the sixty U.S. and Canadian players who earn the most fame points between now and April 2006 will be placed in a special tournament, and the winner will get a million bucks. The other fifty-nine are expected to commit mass suicide.
And I can't blame them - just playing RYL for a week made me want to die. If the game had emotes, my character would have been weeping constantly. Then again, if you can slog your way through the first thirty levels, things get a little better. But paying fifty dollars - plus twelve a month - for such an experience is out of the question when you can play World of Warcraft for the same price or Guild Wars for no monthly fee. Placed among that company, choosing RYL won't risk your life. It will just waste your money.