I know that there's a certain level of hesitation from a lot of long-time MMO gamers when it comes to free-to-play titles. The common belief is that while the quality of the imported titles may be climbing, the amount of money needed to spend on each game to actually play it fully is not something many are willing to spend. Perfect World Entertainment's newest title Battle of the Immortals, at least in its early hours of play doesn't seem to share quite such a fate. Without delving too much into the value and necessity of its cash-shop items, I can attest that after a few hours of play BOI seems every bit as engaging as many of the industry's recently released F2P games. Similar in style to single-player offerings like Sacred in terms of gameplay, with a rich back story and dozens of unique and promising features present, Battle of the Immortals may be another in a growing list of F2P games in my regular rotation.
Utilizing an isometric view with 3D graphics, Battle of the Immortals plays very much like many action-RPGs. There are hordes of enemies and solo play in the game world is very possible, even when wading into a large group of mobs. Potions for both mana and health are integral in keeping you fighting and alive. This doesn't mean the game is without a reason to team up. After the first twenty levels or so, which actually only takes about three hours of play, players will be introduced to the first available instanced dungeon designed for groups to venture into. BOI is definitely a more briskly paced game than traditional MMOs, playing like a hybrid between classic Rogue-likes and more traditional DIKU MMORPGs. It's a mix that works well for the title, and fans of either genre will likely find something to enjoy.
One of the first things players will notice, and it may put some off from the start, is a distinct lack of customization at character creation. In line with Action-RPGs such as Diablo or the aforementioned Sacred, players will select one of several MMO-staple classes with unique names (the Slayer is high on melee DPS but low on survivability... a rogue more or less) pick a face and a hairstyle and then enter the game. While at the start it may not seem you have much choice in how your character looks, this changes as you delve deeper into the game and discover the Fashion aspect of your character's looks. Items that are independent of your character's actual gear but alter your looks can be earned through playing the game, via the cash shop, or the salary system (a way of rewarding players for the length of time they play the game).
In addition to the cosmetic customization, players are also given the ability to customize their characters skills and stats. The first 20 levels or so are mostly a straightforward exploration of the game's combat and quest mechanics, but from there on players will be assigned stat points to spend at their will each level. And while the skills that your class is given are metered out every so often via leveling, it's up to each player how he or she customizes said skills. There is an NPC in the central city of Atlantis that will allow players to upgrade each skill for the cost of in-game currency and experience. The question then becomes, "Do I upgrade this early skill to make leveling easier or do I save up and wait until later to upgrade something in X number of levels?"
There are several pretty novel features in Battle of the Immortals that bear mentioning in this early preview. For instance most any of the game's monsters can be captured and used as combat pets. Whether a certain monster can be captured is denoted by a little icon next to their health display when highlighted and said monsters have a chance of "dropping" as a pet upon defeat. Early on players can stable up to three unique pets, and each one has different specialties and skills to aid the player with. Currently my Slayer is using The Immortal Koala that is given out as a quest item, mainly because I love that he's a giant Koala with saw he uses as a weapon. There are also pets which are unique to each symbol in the zodiac and can only be obtained during that specific sign's astrological period. On top of all this the pets come in rather handy while out adventuring solo and in need of some extra DPS.
Did I mention that the game has a quirky sense of humor to it? Mounts are available to speed up world travel, and they can be everything from your basic horses to massive engine-mounted wheels that look like something out of a Jules Verne novel as opposed to an Asian-themed MMO. On several occasions I saw players roaming the world wielding dual crab claws as weapons. And one early quest has you tasked with defeating what certainly looks like Nazi soldiers in the middle of a field, and then the next has you beating down terracotta warriors. You certainly won't be bored by the monsters the game throws at you.
Another one of the game's nifty touches is the ability to "go-to" a quest objective by clicking the underlined portion of the quest text. Need to find an NPC to advance the quest? Click the quest-text and watch your character auto-run there. Sure it's cheap. Sure it cuts out the exploration aspect. But really this game is about killing tons of enemies, leveling up, and getting loot. It's an Action-RPG at heart and Perfect World Entertainment seems intent on making sure you focus on those three aspects. Additionally BOI is a very easy game to level in, and the developers foster this sense of brisk pacing by giving every player 300 minutes a week of Double XP to activate and deactivate at well with the press of a button. The game has an active ladder system similar to that of Diablo 2 which tracks power and level across the server to rank each player accordingly. Leveling may not be a chore, but it is a competition.
I've only spent about three and a half hours so far exploring the game and all of its many little curiosities. But what I have seen so far makes me think that Battle of the Immortals is a perfectly playable and addictive Action-MMO with a whole lot of "stuff" to do. While the main game is about combat and building your character's power, there is a whole slew of additional content in the form of collecting, PvP, in-game events, and plenty of achievements to work towards via the game's quest system. As with all F2P games, the cash shop and how it is used will make or break the game, but so far the closed beta has served as a great way to get me interested in the quirky and hectic world of Battle of the Immortals. It may not be for everyone, but for fans of Action-RPGs, this is a F2P title to watch.