Some of you may recall my mini-review of Perfect World as part of my 2008 Retrospective post. In it, I commented on the violation of the natural order of things when various anthropomorphic animal creatures with varying degrees of furry fetishes act out their penultimate fantasies for the general public.
What I neglected to do in that little article was mention anything substantive about the game. So, now that I've managed to wade through the swarms of deviants, obtain level 40, and experience some of the content that Perfect World has to offer, I feel that I am now more qualified to touch on the subject.
Perfect World is a romp through an anime-inspired WoW-Clone, with brilliant character customization, well above-average graphics, and gameplay that varies widely between "tolerable" and "about as fun as watching paint dry on growing grass."
This game takes to heart the idea that immersion is about presentation and customization. From the get-go, character creation will make you realize that you will NEVER run into a clone of yourself in the world. There are dozens of sliders for changing every aspect of your character, from cheekbone depth, jawline curvature, nose size... the tilt of your eyes, the much maligned chest size slider, or as I call it, the tit control, character height, girth, skin color, eye color, you name it, you can change it.
Of particular note are the color palette customizatons, which, unlike most games, do not force you to choose between a pre-selected set of colors. You get an actual color palette with no limitations. Want a red-skinned, pink-haired fat girl with pitch black eyes? You can do that. And people do.
Unfortunately, after you've been ooooh'ed and ahhhh'ed by the character customization, and you're ready to be shocked and amazed by the quality of a free game, Perfect World yanks the carpet from underneath your feet, and your meticulously crafted avatar proceeds to fall right on his or her virtual ass.
The UI is a standard EQ/WoW/LotRO copycat, with the user friendliness scaled back to -53 (yes, I stole a joke from zero punctuation, Yahtzee is my fucking hero. Got a problem?). Movement is either WSAD or click-to-move, however, changing the camera angle is clunky and unresponsive and there is no convenient auto-run function, unless you want to open up your map and alt-click a spot on it, at which point you run in a straight line through every bloody mob within a ten mile radius, before colliding with a tree, a mountainside, a pair of copulating furries, or all of the above.
Graduating from movement to combat doesn't really improve things much. You have your standard array of MMOish abilities, auto attack, damaging skills, slowing skills, heals and buffs if you picked a wizard or cleric. There aren't really any surprises in the combat department. If you've played any western subscription MMO released in the past 10 years, you'll know what to expect.
Moving on to the advancement system. There is a handy feature called "Find Quest", which does exactly that. It gives you the coordinates and the name of the next guy who wants you to kill 30 or 40 nearby creatures. This is actually a useful feature, and, along with the quest arrows which will point you in the right direction, is one of the two ways you will navigate the game.
Yes, there is a minimap. The minimap is the size of a thimble, and trying to find something on it is like trying to distinguish a proton from a neutron using the naked eye. Even assuming you're just trying to use it to get a general sense of where you are, the thing is about as intuitive as a treasure map written in hieroglyphics by a 4-year old caveman, and marked upside down with 4 directions that all say north.
Questing is, in and of itself a problem as well. Generally, in other MMOs, if you want to do a quest, by god, you can do a quest. In Perfect World, there are many times when you actually RUN OUT of quests for your level. It's these particular times when the gameplay takes a nosedive toward watching paint dry, as you're faced with grinding more than a drunk sorority girl on a Saturday night. Coupled with the genre-standard, done-it-all-before combat, you may be forced to imbibe several energy drinks to stay awake while you level.
When you do eventually level, you're given five stat points to distribute between the four primary stats in the game, strength, dexterity, vitality and magic. Like Diablo, this was originally designed to give you an opportunity to customize your character further, however, UNlike Diablo, if you make even one mistake with your points, you are going to be as useful as an ice cube in Iceland, negating the entire point of having a customizable stat system.
Actually, no. I'm wrong about that, lets back up here a moment. The customizable stat system does have a point - to nerf newbies, and the 80% of the playerbase who doesn't read the forums into abject unviability, with only two methods of recourse: 1) Scream incessantly at everyone you run across to help you with every single quest, because you're an incompetent failure who neglected to utilize the ONLY viable build for your class; or 2) Use cash shop items to redistribute your points into the ONLY viable build for your class.
Most people who aren't anti-social psychopaths are going to quit the game. But those who don't, are going to choose option 2, and that's where we come to the cash shop.
If there were ever a free game in love with it's cash shop, Perfect World is it. This game is rife with money grabs, and to be honest I'm not really surprised, considering the original game was made in China, home of the gold farming ni hao. There is such a variety of I-Win buttons in the cash shop, that even those players who WANT to use it are going to be overwhelmed.
Highlights include charms which automatically replenish your HP to full every time you drop below 50%, making you nigh invulnerable against anything that can't one-shot you, charms which replenish your MP to full every time you drop below 50%, making it so you never need to rest or meditate, Scrolls which give you 50% additional XP bonus for an hour, which is essentially a free ticket to leveling 50% faster than anyone else, the aforementioned stat reset items, teleport stones which allow you to travel to any city you've previously visited, stones which allow you to add additional sockets to equipment, which can then be filled with gems to make your gear substantially stronger, stones which give you a 100% chance to refine your item successfully (I'll cover refining later). Mounts which travel WAYYYY fast. Two pets for Venomancers (the equivalent of a WoW hunter) which cost upwards of $100 and make them essentially demigods. The list goes on.
But that's just for males.
Perfect World takes it one step further by including what has been dubbed "fashion" in the cash shop, to draw money from female gamers as well. Players can purchase a variety of skimpy or interesting outfits from the cash shop, which can be worn as an alternative to your generic looking armor. What this means is, you can wear, for example, a bikini swimsuit, yet still retain all your stats as if you were dressed in full battle regalia.
It doesn't stop there.
When you buy your fashion from the cash shop, it comes in a random color. Naturally, females (and some males) have a desire to make their clothes match. Buying a dress which ends up being orange, and then getting shoes which end up being puke green naturally result in the need to make them both into something a bit more pleasing to the eye. Enter dye jobs. Each piece of fashion can be dyed by using a specific number of pigments which can be bought, again, from the cash shop. If you think that sounds a bit too easy, well... you were right. Perfect World makes cash grabs out of their cash grabs by only selling random pigments. Often times, this can result in players purchasing $15-20 worth of pigments simply to get their bloody dress the right color.
It doesn't stop there.
Most games have a general chat, or a trade channel, or a place where you can get ahold of multiple players for whatever purpose, be it selling your wares, asking a question, advertising your guild, or what have you. In Perfect World, this is called World Chat, and if you want to use it, you had better be prepared to make a trip... you guessed it... to the cash shop.
Speaking on world chat requires a consumable item called a teleacoustic. Each and every time you type something in world chat, whether it be an ad for your guild, or something as benign as a "Hello everyone", you consume one of these items. The going rate? 10¢ each. 10 cents to ask for help with a quest, 10 cents to advertise your guild. 10 cents to sell an item. It may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly.
Other cash shop items include inventory and bank space upgrades, crafting materials, fireworks, flying mounts, and various pieces of fluff.
Oh wait, it doesn't stop there.
Perfect World includes a built-in goldselling system, whereby in-game coins can be exchanged for gold, and vice-versa by any willing players, using an Ebay-esque interface. Say Player1 wants to buy 10 gold, and he's willing to pay 100k coins per gold. He simply makes a trip over to the auctioneer, and puts up a request to buy 10 gold at 100k per gold. A few minutes later, Player2 realizes he's bought too much gold, and would rather just trade the rest for coins. He goes to the auctioneer and puts up a gold auction. He's willing to sell 10 gold at 100k per gold. Voila, the transaction is automatically made, and both players can then head to the closest auctioneer to withdraw their respective currencies.
Having said that, you would think that the abiltiy to purchase cash shop currency with in-game coins would be a blessing, right? Not exactly. Making money, along with many other aspects of Perfect World, is HARD, time consuming, and often times relies on exorbitant amounts of luck.
Not withstanding the lousy interface, shortly after you begin the game, the difficulty curve moves from humorously, stupidly easy to "bend over and grab your ankles" hard, and stays there for the foreseeable future. The penalty for death is an experience loss, ranging from 2-5% of your level if you get raised, to 10+% for returning to town. This may not seem like much, but coupled with the difficulty of leveling, if you aren't skilled, or you haven't bought the I-Win charm from the cash shop, you may find yourself going backwards in XP instead of forward, your patience slowly evaporating into a florid desire to end all life.
Money is difficult to come by, and money sinks are plentiful and unrelenting. Repairs are significantly more expensive than in most games, skills cost exorbitant amounts of money, equipment that isn't a complete joke REALLY costs a lot of money, and in many cases, mob drops sell for a piddling sum.
Crafting is profitable in that you can farm your own materials and make your own equipment, which will help to defer the hit to your wallet somewhat, however, if you're looking to actually make coin off of it, you need to be lucky enough to craft 3 star (the best possible of a particular item) gear with good stats, and then peddle it to the cash shop junkies.
I guess since I mentioned 3 star gear, I should talk about the equipment system. For a game that trumpets customization as its main draw, there is sadly a rather glaring lack of variety in the equipment types, unless, of course, you monger the cash shop. There is one main set of crafted/dropped gear for each level range and each class. Wizards and Clerics use arcane sets (generally), Archers and Venomancers use light armor, while Barbarians and Blademasters use heavy armor. Each piece of gear can have a randomly generated rating from 1-3 stars with higher stars having higher base stats, along with a set of randomly generated stat bonuses a-la Diablo. Armor and weapons can also come with additional sockets for enhancing the item with gems, up to 4 for armor, and 2 for weapons.
Thus, the best craftable items are 3 star items with 4 desirable stat bonuses and 2/4 sockets. However, the odds of getting a 3 star are something like 1-3%, so don't expect it to happen very often.
Additional gear can also be obtained as quest rewards, from amassing a certain level of reputation (which you get from completing quests, killing certain mobs, and accomplishing certain things in game), or from dungeons.
The best gear comes from molds, which drop off of dungeon bosses and allow you to craft, for an obscene amount of materials and money, legendary gear that is substantially better than gear of the same level.
Dungeons in Perfect World are called FBs. I don't know what FB means, but I've been informed that it's chinese for something or other. I choose to believe that it means FUBAR, because, unless you have high level help, that's exactly what you're going to be when you come up against the dungeon boss. Assuming that you have a full group of level appropriate players, all of them need to be extremely well geared and extremely skilled, and make absolutely no mistakes whatsoever in order to defeat the bosses, which have an obscene amount of HP, and can frequently 2-3 shot tanks. The first of these dungeons takes place at level 19.
Now that may sound like a complaint, but it actually isn't. In my last article, I lamented the fact that there was no beginning-middle game in games released these days. Perfect World gets extra points for including difficult dungeons early on, to acclimate players to the advanced nuances of their class. It isn't Perfect World's fault that players simply bypass the challenge of these dungeons by recruiting the highest levels they can find to plow through the content for them.
Oh wait... wait, yes it is.
Perfect World obviates their good design decision by including another, poor decision to counteract it. For each FB (dungeon) there is a quest tab that can be acquired one time per character, called a "Call to Duty". Using this tab near the boss of the dungeon will give every member of the user's party a quest which, when completed (by killing the boss) awards experience points. Now, remember how I said earlier that, at times, you run out of quests and have to spend time grinding? Consider that, and then consider that the higher level you are, the more often that's the case. Now give every single character a key to free experience points for people of any level, every 10 levels.
What do you get?
A cavalcade of high level dungeon whores, pimping themselves and their guilds out to every level 19, 29, 39, etc... with a sense of entitlement and a Call to Duty tab. Ultimately, these lower levels don't ever learn how to play the game, since the difficult content is mercenaried off to the highest bidder. So, here we can see that PvE fails to deliver a challenge or a sense of accomplishment, leaving it's distant but ever-present cousin, PvP to try and pick up the slack.
In Perfect World, PvP is an acronym for Purse vs Purse. As in, the one with the biggest wins. Being competitive in PvP requires a substantial investment in the cash shop, a clone build, a giant ego, and enough teleacoustics to inform the entire server every time you've killed somebody.
Your options for pvp are open PK, which, on a PvE server, is available only to people above level 30 who are flagged for PvP and outside of designated safe zones; duels, which act like duels in every single other MMO ever released, and have absolutely no purpose other than comparing e-peen, and territory wars (abbreviated TW), which is a giant battle between guilds over a particular territory, where the winner is the one whose members have spent the most in the cash shop.
In open PK, once you flag your character, your name turns white and you're flagged for ten hours. Yes, ten hours. At this point you have a small chance to drop some gear if you're killed. For every character you kill, that chance goes up, and the color of your name turns progressively redder, until your avatar's name is a nice blood color. At this point, if you are killed by another player, you drop your loot, your life savings, your bank, your alts, your account information, your credit card and social security numbers, and your girlfriend's pants. The concept of penalizing a player for succeeding in PvP is completely alien to me. A skilled player who kills multiple others, and manages to get themselves into the red, can be jumped by 3-4 players who just turned white nearby, killed before he can blink, and stripped of everything that makes him who he is, making open pvp a spectacular risk, with minimal rewards.
Having not participated in TW, due to the fact that I'm not made of wallets and gold bullion, I can't comment on the specifics, but it's my understanding that it functions similar to keep sieging in contemporary MMOs, with objectives that need to be captured and defended.
All in all, unless you're prepared to shell out some or all of your hard-earned cash, PvP is an afterthought in this game, and hardly worth the splatter of your blood on the world geometry.
Based on the tone of this review so far, I know what you're probably thinking.
"Jesus christ, Strayfe... if the game sucks that bad, how did you stomach 40 levels?"
The answer is a simple one, but it's one that will most likely elude a majority of players. The community.
If you can get past (or don't mind) the initial shock of witnessing scantily clad women engaged in relations with their animal-headed counterparts, what you have is a community that is above-average as far as maturity goes. The 10¢ per world chat has the beneficial side-effect of limiting spam. What's more, gold farmers and gold selling are COMPLETELY non-existant, as in... I haven't even seen a peep anywhere from anyone about RMT. Other MMOs should write to Perfect World and request permission to use whatever system they have in place to obstruct the farmers.
Players are friendly and helpful and many of the baddest apples are maligned and blacklisted. For those who pay attention to such things, the ratio of male/female gamers is as close to dead even as any MMO I've played, most likely due to the combination of character customization and cash shop fashion. Guilds seem to laugh and joke with each other, congratulate each other on victories in TW and accomplishments, wish each other well, and hold events and such.
GM events are plentiful and vary widely. Thus far I've participated in several mob invasions, a game of simon says, and something called Avatar Mix-N-Match, which required interested people to form groups with specific requirements and locate a GM using hints provided. For example, the GM might ask for a group of 4, with 4 different classes, two females and two males, and at least one person below level 10.
Beyond that, I'm fortunate enough to have found a guild I mesh well with. Having a group of people to laugh and joke with while you pound out those levels makes it far more bearable than stewing in your own bile, as you search for Blacksmith Wang (yes this is a real NPC).
All in all the game is not terrible. If you have some spare money and don't mind participating in the cash shop a bit, you could probably find a really enjoyable experience in Perfect World. Or, conversely, if you have no desire to be competitive, enjoy character customization and are in no hurry to level, you might also enjoy this game, as the visuals and immersion are well above-average for a free-to-play.
For my purposes, the game ranks a 6/10. You can bump that up to an 8/10 if you don't mind using the cash shop. Perfect World is a game that falls to the side of one extreme or another. Play an hour a day if you're super-casual, or blow hundreds of dollars and grind it like your life depended on it. In both cases, there is something here for you. If you fall somewhere in the middle, however, unless the prospect of a decent community is enough to hold your interest, or you aren't yet sick of MMO-standard combat and questing, you might be better off to look elsewhere.