MMORPGs have always had a stigma about being the next best thing, and developers always want to promote their game as the one to top the current big name on the market. Echo of Soul is no different and has definitely had a fair share of hype surrounding it. For starters it was named the most anticipated MMO of 2015 by MMOSite. Secondly, Aeria Games has been promoting the hell out of this game through both advertising and by dropping timely press releases with sneak previews including PvE content, dungeons, classes and battlegrounds. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with Nvius CEO Alex Kim and Tom Nichols from Aeria Games to discuss Echo of Soul, but now I’ve finally had the chance to test things out for myself.
LOCKED CHARACTER CREATION
One of the more unfortunate design choices for Echo of Soul was to include gender-locked classes. While this information has been available for quite some time, I wasn’t aware of how substantial the locks were for each class. Not only is each class locked to a specific gender, but they’re also limited to a single body type. Furthermore, facial features and hair styles are limited to about a dozen options and only character height, head size and leg length can be tweaked. This leads to a world of doppelgangers and really limits the character variety found on each server. Every Warrior is going to look like a bodybuilder and all sorceresses will look like pre-teen girls; the relatively few appearance options means most characters are going to be nearly indistinguishable from one another.
The fact that this is a Korean MMORPG doesn’t necessarily account for the lack of character options either. Many Eastern MMOs have excellent character creation menus such as Tera and Aion, but the region has become rather notorious for releasing games that have taken the minimalist approach. Even the behemoth that is World of Warcraft doesn’t have excellent design options, but it’s generally forgiven due to its cartoonish nature and wide variety of race and class selections. The locks in Echo of Soul don’t even appear to serve any actual purpose as there was no back story to each class or why only men could be warriors and females had to be guardians.
FAST TRACKED QUESTING
While Echo of Soul prides itself on the number of quests and available dungeons, it also makes it a point to speed players along at a very quick pace. Instead of the typical kill 10 rats or gather 15 herbs, Echo of Soul only wants players to kill 4 wolves and gather 3 sacks of grain. This is something I find relieving because there’s nothing like dragging out an uninteresting storyline. Questing also seems prioritized over grinding, since it’s possible to clear a handful of quests in a matter of minutes and gain much more experience than simply killing mobs over and over. Moreover, quests are usually aligned in a convenient that doesn’t require players to return to the quest giver but instead hand in quests at the next area. They even went so far as to include a bit of Western culture into the quest names, such as “The Call of Duty” and “50 Shades of Goblins” for those who actually take the time to read quest descriptions.
Not only are quests themselves made easier, but most creatures in Echo of Soul are pretty effortless to kill. That is, however, only if sticking to the pre-determined quest chains. At level 10 most quest monsters die in 2-3 attacks, regardless of class, but players also have the option to enter the Hidden Cavern solo dungeon. The Hidden Cavern is recommended for players who are level 12, and if you think that two levels isn’t a huge different then you’d be mistaken. This particular instance was painfully difficult for my level 10 Archer and Guardian, but by level 12 this dungeon was a cake walk. It appears that certain level milestones for each class can have an unexpected impact on the power curve and grant a huge advantage in both PvE and PvP.
MUCH TO BE DESIRED
Despite the large amount of actual content available in Echo of Soul, there are a number of issues within the game that feel neglected. While the game does make use of the Unreal Engine 3, which we’ve seen can do some outstanding things, it’s rather visually unappealing. Graphically the game looks like it came out 10 years ago and is completely overshadowed by similar titles like Tera, which came out two years before Echo of Soul was even in beta testing. That’s not to say that some of the scenery isn’t pretty to look at from a distance, but even on the highest possible settings the texture quality is quite poor.
Not only is the graphical fidelity lacking, but the character armor and outfits are uninspired. With all classes being gender and body locked there should be ample opportunity to easily incorporate brilliant clothing designs, but so far every single piece of equipment has just been a recolored version of a previous item skin. Even the preview armors in character selection aren’t that unique. Every Archer outfit includes a skimpy top and a miniskirt, and all the Warrior armor looks like a standard Templar variation.
Looks aren’t everything, however, and an excellent combat system would overshadow any aesthetic qualms. Unfortunately, the combat system in Echo of Soul is also hit and miss. Combat is the standard tab-targeting lock on with varying resources and combination systems, but it doesn’t include a global cooldown feature. While this could make things interesting by rewarding quick usage of skills and counter attacks, the lack of a global cooldown in Echo of Soul is negated by obtrusive casting animations. Regardless of which class you’re playing, every attack has an animation that causes your character to stand still for the entire duration; any action that requires multiple attacks further increases this delay.
Additionally, the classes themselves don’t feel unique in the least bit. The starting skills for every class, before the path split at level 10, are almost all identical and include an auto attack, a resource builder, a resource spender, an escape, a defense debuff and an interrupt. Once the path system is initialized the classes become slightly differentiated, but most skill trees don’t include anything we haven’t seen before. Furthermore, the shallow pool of generic classes doesn’t help the cookie-cutter feeling that the current structure radiates. Although, providing a limited number of starting classes has worked in previous games, the branching paths need to feel completely independent from each other in order to succeed.
PLAYER VERSUS CAPTURE POINT
Currently, there are two battlefields available to players under level 60: Mettle’s Theater and Tribulation’s Vale. Even though the Western release of Echo of Soul is attempting to capture a large PvP audience, my experience with the first two battlegrounds hasn’t lived up to expectations. Generally capture points in battlegrounds are arranged in a way to encourage fights to happen. This is done through strategic point placement that allows team members to react based on the enemy’s movement. In Mettle’s Theater the points are placed around the edges in a circular formation similar to the Dominion map in League of Legends. Instead of promoting team fights, this has the opposite effect and most matches involves teams running away from each other and focusing on capturing points instead. The fights that do take place usually involve an unfortunate soul getting caught out and slaughtered 1 vs 10.
Tribulation’s Vale also suffers from the same conflict deterrent that Mettle’s Theater does. This map includes five parallel bridges where resources will periodically spawn in the center of each one. The issue is that the outer bridges are higher in elevation than the inner ones and the only way to move from one to the other is to walk around the entire map. This prevents any kind of team-based reaction and usually leads to a large number of players from each team sitting on specific bridges and avoiding conflict while they collect resources. When evenly matched fights do occur they can be pretty intense, but that’s rarely the case. Hopefully PvP will be better in the arenas, but those aren’t even available until level 60.
NOT QUITE THERE
Echo of Soul is desperately attempting to be everything to everyone and it just seems to miss the mark. It’s true that there is a lot of content, but it’s important to find a balance between quality and quantity and so far Echo of Soul doesn’t bring much to the table that hasn’t been done before. Moreover, the game truly lacks the polish that Western audiences are used to and expect in their games. If a game doesn’t look great, feel smooth, and include interesting content for a wide-variety of consumers then players will generally look elsewhere. Unfortunately, it feels like the limiting factors in Echo of Soul far outweigh the positive aspects at this point in time. Of course that won’t stop us from continuing to play throughout the beta.Related: Closed Beta, Echo of Soul, MMORPG, Preview