Perfect World... Now where have I heard that name before?
There's a simple answer to that; an answer that doesn't involve questioning your sanity or using advanced psychotherapy to recover memories best left forgotten. Originally launching in China three years ago, Perfect World transitioned from a subscription based platform to free play, garnering enough interest to warrant a United States launch as Perfect World International. Servers for this new offering went live in closed beta August 19th, and we here at MMORPG.com couldn't help but to wonder what changes had been made for the international release.
As it turns out, not that many.
Like its Chinese and Malaysian cousin, Perfect World: International appears to be a game of give and take, excelling in some areas while falling critically short in others. While such oversights would be clearly unacceptable under a subscription based model, free to play changes everything.
Set in a mythical Chinese fantasy theme, Perfect World introduces players to three races, each with two classes to play. Humans, The Untamed and Winged Elves will vie for your attention, but choose wisely as you may find yourself in the unenviable position of having to decide between the race you like and the job you want. That said, character creation is surprisingly deep for a free to play title; more than likely owing said fact to its subscription based roots. Hair, facial features and body attributes can all be altered significantly, while the aforementioned racial models span everything from bat girls to metro sexual teenage guys common to Asian gaming. For this test run, I had to decide between rolling up a Cleric class or... a foxy Kitsune girl.
Tough call, that one.
Fortunately for me, Clerics are an elf job, and a hot elfette sufficed for our experiment. Be forewarned when rolling your character however, as there is a seven day hold on any characters you choose to delete, including the name you used. While I usually find such extreme idiot proofing highly annoying, Perfect World allows you several free toons, marginally alleviating the headache this discovery will inevitably create. Additionally, you are permitted to change that character's appearance at will for up to two days, something I find more than fair after some of the more inane measures other F2P titles employ.
Jumping into Perfect World for the first time, players are greeted by bloom... Lots and lots of bloom. Actually, they're greeted by a convenient pop-up tutorial that attempts to guide new players through their first steps, but the bloom is there... waiting. Even though the graphics engine isn't exactly cutting edge and abuses bloom effects to cover the fact, character models are still pleasing to the eye considering the minimum hardware requirements. As for the tutorial, the Perfect World International development team has seen fit to aggressively rework the game's text versus that of its Malaysian counterpart. At least now you can follow along without your eyeballs bleeding out of their sockets, even if the NPC dialogue still isn't terribly immersive. And Halleluiah! They've even discovered word wrap.
Game play, on the other hand, remains thus far untouched. Perfect World veterans from the other clients will have absolutely no trouble jumping into this new International version, and even newcomers will have little trouble adapting to the learning curve. Patience is required, however. To quote Socrates, every rose has its thorn.
Among these thorns are vague and uninspired quests, though this is somewhat alleviated by a comprehensive quest tracking system that's almost a tad too helpful for its own good. Combat likewise fails to be immersive, consisting of simply parking next to the nearest enemy and opening up on them with what sounds like a Styrofoam bat. One need merely watch and push buttons while HP ticks down. Even though this describes most MMOs on average, combat in Perfect World is an especially bland affair once you look beneath the fancy graphical affects. Characters hardly twitch when slashed with a sword as tall as they are and sound effects fall well below average; so much so that only the above average soundtrack saves the audio at all. Parts in parcel with the overly helpful quest tracker are the icons and arrows that tend to clutter your view with the best of intentions. Try as they might to assist you in your endeavors, they give the UI the appearance of a high tech HUD, ultimately detracting from the immersive value of what is supposed to be a fantasy adventure.
Then there's the moon-like gravity system.
No, you heard me right. Apparently Perfect World has 1/3rd the gravity of Earth, allowing your toon to float through the air with the greatest of ease. While I normally wouldn't be opposed to jump per se, all animation ceases upon liftoff, making the event seem unnatural and artificial looking; Great for 8-bit Mario, lousy for an MMO expecting you to shell out a monthly fee. Fortunately, Perfect World: International doesn't't.
It's definitely not all bad. Perfect World International carries over its simplified AD&D style stat system, allowing for further customization beyond mere appearance. For instance, that elfette I mentioned earlier can quest as a pure magic user or- with the right allocation of strength, stamina, agility and magic -become something closer to a paladin capable of wielding heavier swords and armor. Players can also explore the standard array of secondary gathering and production skills to produce a number of imminently usable items. Even the merely serviceable environment has its "oooh-ahhh" moments, normally within the initial racial cities and major population centers. Attacks are likewise flashy and easy on the eyes, reminiscent of any Final Fantasy game you've ever played.
After sampling a bevy of other free to play MMOs, Perfect world- even with its issues -is better than half the field out there. It definitely is not for everyone with its mixture of rough design and subtle refinement, but it has one major advantage: It's free to play. Likewise, it should also be considered a work in progress given its beta status. Things may change and Perfect World: International may yet see growth beyond its Chinese roots, but it does leave us with one very important question...
...Is 'elfette' even a word?