Last time I was here, I was led along on samples of some content for Riders of Icarus, the new MMO from WeMade and Nexon. This time around, I’ve been granted a little early beta preview at my own pace. What I’ve found is a by-the-numbers themepark MMO with several unique hooks that might manage to keep things interesting enough.
The View From Above
The game starts off with your character locked up in jail. Luckily for you, you’re saved by the goofily-dressed Crow, a mage of enough power to unlock your cell door. As expected, it’s the sort of tutorial stage that gets you acclimated to controls, combat and a couple of other mechanics. While the combat wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, the animations were excellently done, as my Guardian swung her sword and shield-bashed her foes with a suitable amount of gusto.
The graphics as well are quite lovely, though they did need some adjustment. Initially, the entire thing was coated in obscene amounts of lighting bloom and motion blur spread from nearly every rapid movement. It was like J.J. Abrams discovered HDR and pure cane sugar at the same time. Mercifully, these were able to be adjusted down to a level that was less insane, which made the game look quite a bit better and let me appreciate the animations that much more. Considering my middling machine was able to run the game smoothly, I can imagine much stronger PC’s will have no issue, making this game one of the prettier and more graphically accessible MMO’s out recently.
Hitching a Ride
If hyper-glow graphics and pretty animations were all that were unique about Riders of Icarus, I would have simply shrugged my shoulders. However, the big-ticket point of the game is the ability to tame creatures out in the field. I was a bit worried that the game would hold that card close to vest for too long, but by level five you’re given the Taming skill and sent out to hop on your very first critter.
Taming a creature is a matter of engaging the Taming skill, sneaking up behind a creature whose tooltip states they can be tamed, then hopping on their back to wrangle them in to submission. Above, a chosen direction key will light up randomly to improve your chance of success. After some bucking around, my pretty white unicorn was Tamed and able to be ridden and summoned at will.
Mounts earn experience and levels the longer they’re out and ridden, kind of like Pokémon but for fast travel mounts. Increased levels, of course, mean greater stats such as Stamina which allows them to run longer. It’s a simple enough system, but one that had me engaged, as I would look around at monsters in the open map to see if they were able to be transformed in to mounts. Finding a random kangaroo critter and transforming it in to a mount brought me a level of joy that I’m not sure I can adequately describe.
What’s more, you can change any Mount in to a Pet that can aid in combat. I had snagged an extra kangaroo and turned it in to a pet that adorably hopped along behind me. Pets can aid in combat or otherwise have special abilities that can be used while you’re out and about. My tiny joey, for example, had access to a speed buff that I could use at any time I felt. Riders of Icarus definitely tickled my collection nerve and the whole mechanic became a minigame for me. I’m not clear how Mount levels affect the late game, but riding to battle on kangaroo-back is something that is likely not going to be overtaken anytime soon.
The Rest of the Game
There are various other systems that I wasn’t able to dive too deeply in to, such as being able to improve items through the use of Tempering Stones, or the later ability to change Pets in to buffs that can improve either weapons or armor. The build I played also did not have a few components ready such as the cash shop, so I wasn’t able to dig in to that. I also hadn’t found any instances of mounted combat, though I know it’s something that most definitely is possible. There are still lots of little carrots to follow as the game moves on, but the getting there treads a very worn path.
The narrative, for example, didn’t exactly grip me even if the cutscenes were really well animated. It turns out your character was part of a security detail as a princess of indeterminate importance was bringing a relic of power somewhere. Naturally, relics of power are bad guy bait, and you and your comrades are taken out and the princess kidnapped. It’s all pretty basic stuff.
Which very succinctly describes the game’s combat. I was given the option to use either tab-target or mouselook aim controls. Since there were myriad hotbars available to me, I had a feeling tab-target would be the wiser choice. Since my Guardian closed range with any enemy I targeted with a skill automatically, I definitely made the right decision. The hotbar-smashing, linked skill combat model does not require a mouselook control scheme under any circumstance.
It all began to feel too safe. Too underwhelming. And then I hopped on the back of this giant bird and soared in to a main capital and I was enamored again.
Bring Me That Horizon
If the complaints I have sound nitpicky, it’s because an MMO that puts so much effort and time in to making mounts such an engaging experience should have also thought to really put the same level of inventiveness in the rest of the game. As it stands, Riders of Icarus is hedging its bets on a single gimmick. At the same time, it is one heck of a gimmick, with a variety of layers and a level of care that really got under my skin. Besides, I’ve loved other MMO’s for lesser gimmicks before.
Whether the ability to take the stated “ride of your life” is enough to make you play isn’t up for me to decide. Mercifully, Riders of Icarus will be entering an open beta on July 6th, so you’ll get to find out for yourself whether there’s enough reason to grab the reigns. At the very start, it’s a game that has some truly unique potential that could be overshadowed by some design decisions that feel too cookie cutter to overlook.Related: Beta, Closed Beta, Icarus Online, Preview, Riders of Icarus