Unfortunately, this game is not looking like it's ready to compete in the crowded pay to play subscription MMO market place, which bodes poorly for the game's second lease on life.
|I named my Roman Dasypodidus. He is green. I blame Tipa.|
I was contacted by the game's marketing team, who offered me a beta invite. Pete at Dragonchasers was apparently also on the email list.
I decided to accept the beta invite, because I was vaguely a fan of ancient history back in middle school, and I was curious how the game turned out. I have put a bit more effort than usual into this post and I will leave it to the reader to decide whether that amounts to me being cautious not to be the blogger who gets blasted for criticizing a game they haven't played "enough", or whether I'm giving Heatwave special treatment for giving me a beta key. (I'm not too worried that anyone who reads the entire post is going to think the latter.)
Rolling as the Romans Do
(I don't know when exactly in beta this change was made, but it seems strange for the very first thing a new player sees when they sign into the game to be that a third of the classes didn't make it for release. Perhaps they're going to make a new character generation screen before launch that removes the unfinished classes, or perhaps they're just that honest.)
Beyond your gender (no playable non-humans here) and your class, you will be asked to choose a deity from the Roman Pantheon. Each class has two choices, but I was not able to tell whether the differences are primarily cosmetic. If this is an irreversible choice that affects gameplay, there's not nearly enough information to make it (nor, in fairness, is the character generator a good place to present that level of detail).
Other than that, you pick the colors of your outfit - which I presume are overlaid onto any gear you obtain, as well as your NPC minions' appearances - and customize your character's body and then you're ready to zone in.
Kill 10 Romans
Due to some display bug, equipping the belt I received as a reward from the first quest in the game caused my character's body to disappear, leaving only a floating sword, shield, and hairdo (but no face).
It was hard to tell how the game's combat is tuned, since the starter quests top out at level 3 and I reached level 6 with a minimum of unnecessary bloodshed. I was mostly spamming a single attack button for most of the levels, until finally obtaining a carbon copy of the World of Warcraft Paladin mechanics from 2004 - a judgement-like spell that removes my 30-second self damage buff to do additional damage. This is no longer the way WoW Paladins work for a reason, but I may have myself to blame for picking the tank ("soldier") class.
Roman Suicide Squad
|My Poke-Romans: Let me show you them. Also, don't click the red exclamation point on the right side of the soldier's box - it may show you their stats or it may crash the client.|
The two soldiers you get at low levels are a tank and a healer, but you are limited to only one minion out at a time until you reach some higher level. I'm not sure how many you can eventually use at once, whether these replace the need for partying with other players, whether each human player gets their full army of NPC's in groups, etc.
I will say that the pathfinding AI on NPC soldiers is less than ideal. If you jump off something, your dude will get stuck. If you run too close to a wall in an attempt to avoid fighting mobs, your dude may get stuck. They'll eventually teleport to you, and there are AI settings (with the caveat that the "aggressive" setting's tooltip says that it is not currently working), but I could see this being problematic if you're highly dependent on multiple minions and they all have pathing issues.
An Unfortunate End of the Line
Quest mobs are located in the non-instanced world, and take several minutes to respawn. When I saw another player running towards an area with a mob I needed, I invited them to a group in the hopes that we could share the kill credit. He accepted the invite, but apparently didn't need this quest (or declined to complete it), as he ran by the mob's corpse and took the boat on to his estate. I waited for the respawn, turned in the quest, and took the boat to my instanced estate.
Then I noticed that I was still in the group with the random guy, who was probably as puzzled as I was at how to leave. After digging around for a bit, I found the leave group button in the social panel and clicked it. I received a message saying that I would be removed from the instance in a minute if I did not rejoin. I did not think anything of this. 60 seconds later, I was ported out of my estate. Apparently it didn't know where else to send me, since I had yet to zone into the real world, so back to the newbie island I went.
The problem is that it does not appear to be possible to get back into the zone where the boat off the island was, because I had already completed that quest. A forum poster informs me that has been seen previously in beta, and it means that my character is trapped. Hopefully a GM or someone would be able to deal with this type of issue in a live paid service, but it's still pretty concerning that something this show-stopping has gotten this far into the beta, which ends on Tuesday.
Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware
I am not a journalist and this is neither a review nor a preview. I cannot claim to have scratched the surface of what the game may (or may not) have to offer, and it is certainly possible that the game will improve between now and its June 21st launch date. All I can report is one player's experiences during one set of play sessions.
Based on 2-3 hours, six levels, several bug reports, and an issue which left my character permanently stranded on the newbie island, I cannot recommend paying the $50 box fee on launch day. Given the state of the beta, the relatively low $10 monthly fee feels more like an admission that the game would not be competitive at a higher price than a genuine bargain. If there legitimately is a unique, interesting game lurking behind the rocky introduction (an area that's usually the most polished in a game as MMO's hope to pad their review scores), you will hear about it because people will be playing it. If not, those who pay up front will be out $50.
As the Romans say, caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.