Sometimes, the planets align just right. When I was invited in for this MapleStory 2 Closed Beta preview, I was kind of side-eyeing the game with a level of amused interest already but wasn't ultimately sure whether it would fall into line with other Korean MMOs I've played; games that were interesting enough but otherwise didn't hook me.
Maybe, then, the time was right for this meeting between myself and MapleStory 2 because this game just hits a number of awesome buttons for me and I'm not sure why. Nor do I care to ask why.
This is my first ever entry into the Maple World and I'm glad that I waited on this game, honestly. Not to be unfair to its 2D side-scrolling progenitor, but the isometric 3D layout and the adorable character designs realized into full 3D models really draw me into the game overall and immerse me just that bit more.
Admittedly, that immersion isn't terribly deep. The overall story arc of the game does seem to have some sort of connection to past events and some forces of chaos that are trying to make things all sorts of messed up, but the window dressing and tonal nature of MapleStory 2 pretty much made me forget about it. Normally that'd be a black mark, but everything else about MapleStory 2 that I've played is just so vibrant that I'm more willing to ignore a lackluster narrative.
Basically, this is like entering a world from the Kirby series in MMORPG form. Sure, there are enemies to fight, dungeons to traverse and threats to encounter, but they're all just so freaking adorable that it ends up being a whimsical romp. Even if I am mowing down enemies with a chaingun.
If one looks at the adorable verneer of the game, you could easily be forgiven for thinking the game is hilariously easy. While I'm not going to claim this is anything like a white-knuckle challenge, I will say that combat is just as active and engaging as any ARPG I've ever played, requiring careful consideration of my character's placement and solid use of the abilities I had open to me.
At least, this was my experience as a Heavy Gunner, anyway. I will admit that I've seen Berserkers simply use a spin-to-win Whirlwind attack and just cleave through everything, so your mileage may vary depending on the class you choose.
Where the Heavy Gunner and MapleStory 2 excels overall is in its group content. There are dungeons interspersed with your leveling progression and they're all fun, quick-hitting and enjoyable romps with interesting enough mechanics or objectives that still maintain an overall lighthearted tone. As a Heavy Gunner, I felt like a pretty powerful glass cannon solo, but in a group I was able to stay at distance, laying consistent, steady damage down while others I played with handled things. It felt really good.
The whimsy doesn't just stop at the enemies or the color palette, either. There were parts of my quest line that were honestly funny, such as one of the opening quest objectives that tasked me with making up excuses to the Mayor after a lab explosion wrecked part of the town.
There's also a number of side activities that keep on piling on the charm like the relaxed fishing profession, or harvesting, or even the robust music system that lets you play various instruments - a system that is already growing exponentially thanks to downloadable tools that let people convert MIDI files into playable pieces in-game.
And then, of course, there are all the cute things one can collect, be they cosmetics or mounts. All of these things combine to add color to an already very colorful game world, providing an inviting patchwork of things to do and dig into that ended up being pretty involved.
Granted, I don't think I've dug into every little thing that MapleStory 2 has to offer and there are a couple of sticking points. I actively avoided Mushking Royale, the game's battle royale mode, simply because I'm not a fan of the game type. Also, if I'm to believe some of the custom-made billboards and other things people have created in the game, PvP is an absolute mess. To those points, I'd advise anyone reading this to dig deeper into those aspects of the game.
There is also the potential brick wall of the game's chibi art style, which can admittedly be a bit unnerving for a few of the character designs. Honestly, that's a visual thing that nothing I write here will change hearts and minds about.
That all said, there is so much more I want to explore. I really want to dig into the end game. I want to see what sort of progression or grind waits at the top. I want to really dig into the crafting systems a bit more. I want to see what new skills and abilities I unlock. Basically, I want to visit this world again and again.
Like I said before, perhaps the timing was the thing that is making MapleStory 2 sink its hooks in. I'm surrounded by games where there's another factional war or last-person-standing battleground or some other setting that takes itself just a bit too dreadfully seriously. The swaths of adorable design and happy colors of MapleStory 2, by comparison, are a gust of oxygen to me.
MapleStory 2 has fast become a favorite pastime, even if it's not a remarkable world. It's a warm cup of tea after having to drink soda forever. It's charming, it's colorful, and it just wants you to have fun in its technicolor world. I can't begin to tell you how much that aligns with my interests.