The first thing to impress me was the graphics. Even with only a 128mb video card and only 512mb of ram, the graphics were crisp and sharp. There's even bloom effects and dynamic lighting variables so lesser machines can still experience some of the awe inspiring visuals.
All of the environments are meticulous in their designs. Each area has its own distinct look; deserts are sandy and barren with the occasional skeleton and cactus, jungles are full of lush vegetation, and rolling plains are full of grass and hills as far as the eye can see. Even the starting cities have unique looks with the most impressive design going to the Cora with their spires and ramps covering the whole city.
Player characters have an impressive amount of detail as well. It is done in that very anime style though. Some will love this, some will hate it. As to be expected of any game today, changing equipment will change your appearance. In customization almost everything is changeable, though the options are a little limiting; several types of hair (or head in the case of Accretia), facial appearance (eye color for Accretia), and your starting clothes for each part of your body.
All of the music and sounds for RF Online was extremely well done. When the game is on its launcher screen, there's this gentle music playing with one of the best vocals I've ever heard in a game, be it an MMORPG or an offline single player console game. The music inside the game was also done with a high quality, and the sounds keep you focused on the world around you.
Every weapon has its own detailed sound as well. Each shot from a machine gun can be heard. Launchers make large explosions, with a unique sound, depending on the type of ammo they used. The most impressive though, are the MAUs, which are the "walking tanks" the Bellato use. They actually sound like the giant tanks, and shake the whole ground as you walk by them.
The community varies greatly on many factors; race, time of day, and area. After playing each race, the Cora by far had the best community, regardless of the time of day or area. In the early afternoon (Eastern Standard Time) so many kids were playing, running around and acting like the game was theirs, having no cares when they stole kills or took the global chat downhill. That was mostly with the other two races however.
Chip Wars, which are held every eight hours, bring the community back together, no matter who is playing. The leaders of each race typically call for those who are of a certain level range to come down and fight, or defend their race's chip. The point of the Chip Wars is to destroy the other two races' chips so that your race can have the protection of a strong NPC to guard an area of the mines called "the core" where you can make a LOT of currency or ores.
My biggest complaint about the community though, is the general lack of cooperation. In the game, there's something called "contribution points" which you earn from doing quests and killing other players. I'm not sure the exact amount, but the top X amount of people (I think it's around 5-10) get a command to send messages to EVERYONE on the same race on every map, so as to better organize everyone for battles. The problem is that not everyone, heck, not even half the people tend to listen to them. They just run along and fight on their own, getting steamrolled over, whereas with teamwork, they would have had a better chance.
Unfortunately, in general there's no role playing going on. It took quite a while before I found the guilds that role played, or at least support it. Once I did, those around me stayed in character, and did a rather good job. Other than a small group of people though, it was almost impossible to find people to get and stay in character with.
This is very unfortunate because the background for the game is ripe for storytelling. It's not often that you find a game that puts as much detail into each race's story. Perhaps this will change in the future once the community starts to shrink and lose the people who aren't dedicated to the game.
RF Online feels a lot like other Korean MMOs. I say this because each race has three unique maps, and two shared maps where PvP happens. The monsters around the outsides of each race's areas are exactly the same only the areas look different. Even the players themselves are almost exactly alike, by class, until level 30. That's the point when you choose your first specialization; then again at 40. Other than that, all of the skills each class gets are exactly the same.
The contribution points system I mentioned earlier is a nice addition to a heavy PvP oriented game. It gives players something to strive for, while pointing out who has the most success and knowledge for each race. The only issue with it is that the community still hasn't grasped this fact completely yet. Once the community as a whole gets on the same page and starts listening to the planned tactics of the leaders of that race, massive battles will add a huge fun factor to the game.
The PvP actually requires people to form strategies and tactics, rather than just zerg ahead. While numbers do help, it's not the main way to win. Nine times out of ten, one of the smaller numbered races will win the battle because their leaders took the time and drew up a battle plan, rather than the race who just tries to win by throwing bodies out.
I'm running an average computer right now; an Athlon XP 2000+, 512mb ram, 128mb video card with a cable modem. With this, I set the bloom effects to high, 1 dynamic light, and full sight distance with no problems. The only areas there were laggy were at each race's section of the mine. At any given time there's probably about 100 people idling there, afk mining. Even then I only dipped down to about 20fps, rather than my 35fps I had elsewhere.
With the recent addition of a new server, the burden has eased even more on all the servers, reducing the populations slightly (at least at the areas I visited). Not that I ever experienced lag before, but there's even less of a chance of it now.
In terms of value, there's not a whole lot RF Online brings to the table. The Chip Wars are interesting, but only happen 3 times a day. Each race feels alike, until you reach level 30, which takes a lot longer than you'd like it to. Even the crafting is generic; just choose a tool and click what you want to make and click produce.
I understand that the draw of the game is PvP, but there are few rewards for it. Contribution points are won and lost from killing or dying in PvP, as well as PvP points, which can be converted to gold, and then to your race's currency. This however, is it. The player that dies loses a small amount of CP, no currency, no items, nothing. Makes it feel like you didn't really accomplish anything.
The customer service wasn't too bad, but wasn't great either. The website has a decently sized FAQ guide which can be used to troubleshoot your problem. Their forums are also somewhat helpful. However for technical problems, if you aren't in the UK, it can take a while to get a response. This is because the technical department holds regular business hours; for the UK. I did however hear back in about 26 hours after I submitted my problem to them, but that was about 14 hours after someone from the company they hired to do their in game support walked me through it, as it was a common problem people were having.
There's quite a bit of promise in RF Online, but as with any new game that is hyped as much as it was, there are fundamental flaws that keep it from reaching everyone's expectations. The community in general is abysmal, it's very linear and repetitive, and generally speaking, it's not a lot of fun right now.
While RF Online looks great, the content just feels like it was phoned in. I can appreciate the fact that the game was designed for PvP, but there's no reason not to put interesting content to keep the player's attention till they reach such a point that it's all they are doing. It is refreshing that large scale battles actually benefit from using tactics though. At the end of the day though, unless all you want to do is fight other players, the game is for you. If you want varied areas with unique content and more to do than PvP, you may want to look elsewhere.