Once upon a time, man and animals lived in harmony. Apart, yet bearing each other no enmity, until the day came when Highroller, banished from the Eastern Capital, gained the ability to speak with animals. He convinced them that humans were their enemies and instigated a war between them, driving them from their ancestral homes. But within this darkness, a ray of shining light prevailed and a squad of humans and animals banded together to battle Highroller and his cohorts, to bring back peace to the Hidden Lands. This is the story of Hero:108, based loosely on a collection of classical Chinese stories called The Water Margin, which is about the trials and tribulations of 108 outlaws of the Song dynasty.
Hero:108 is a cartoon on the Cartoon Network, an MMO set to launch this Summer and soon to also be a series of kids' toys. Currently in closed beta, it was shown at GDC and I had a chance for some hands-on action with a media preview. Targeted toward kids 13 to 16 as a first MMO after they begin to explore more than just Club Penguin and Webkinz, the game is free to play and monetized by the usual micro-transaction of convenience items such as town portal scrolls, potions and nifty costumes to wear - there's an equipment screen and a costume screen so players aren't sacrificing utility for looks - and the graphical style is just like the cartoon.
"There won't be any game unbalancing weapons or gear that you can buy with micro-transaction dollars," said Kevin Crawford, Product Director of Gamania which developed the Hero:108 franchise. "Uber equipment and weapons have to be earned. The entire game is free to play and you can't buy your way to success."
Playable characters are the eight members of the first and second squads of Hero:108 and although newbies may all look the same, you quickly differentiate your character with different equipment, both useful and cosmetic. As characters are set, each one is a different class with their own unique powers and elemental alignment. For example, Mystique Sonia is the only Mage in the game and she can make meat buns to feed friends. There are several tank types, including Mighty Ray who is a Warrior with the ability to shoot lightning from his eyes, Kowloon who is a Monk, Hurricane Lee, a really big guy who is a Guardian (read "meat shield"), and Latifah, a little girl casually smacking a baseball bat in her hand who is a Berserker. We also have a Ranger, a Hunter and a Healer. A full character sheet is available for each one when you create your character.
Each character has an elemental alignment, Air, Earth, Water or Fire, which in a Stone-Paper-Scissors like manner, has a damage advantage over the next element. i.e. Air beats Earth, Earth beats Water, Water beats Fire, Fire beats Air. You can't change your elemental alignment, but you are able to find and equip items that add to the various elemental damage.
Hero:108 Online is your typical MMO. You kill things, complete quests, enchant equipment, dress up your toon, yearn for mounts and pets, crawl dungeons and kill raid bosses with your friends. It's got group (called squads here) and guild management tools, friends list and game mail - all accessible through the UI. No running to town to find a mail box... send a new uber weapon you picked up to your buddy right from the field! It is also very, very kid friendly. The UI is simple and intuitive, the tutorials and help screens have great graphics to ease the way of a kid - graphical renditions of computer keys and keyboard to show which keys to depress and how to customize your controls, for example. The default key-maps are similar to other MMOs. WASD to move, I for inventory, Q for quests, left click to interact with NPCs, the space bar to jump, and the game can also be played with a game controller.
Mini-maps show where you, your friends, and monsters are. Quest directions are available every step of the way and can be turned on to show a flashing red arrow that leads you to the portal and then to the quest mob or NPC. There's also a Quest Path, a UI drop-down which shows you the quests available, your progress, and where you are on any path. The usual mob con scheme is used; mobs giving no experience are grey, then progress to green, blue, yellow and red - for danger. A reddish black skull hovers over portals to raid boss areas warning you that you require a group to play in the area if you don't want to be over whelmed.
Combat is a matter of facing the mobs and pressing the attack key. If you are close enough, you will hit it. There are also skills which can be activated, many which are AoE and hits all mobs around you, and PvP is also planned. There are also pets and mounts and enchanting - which is a way of improving your equipment stats by using enchantment scrolls, some can be bought, others are drops.
Registration is COPPA compliant and as this game is for 13+ kids, younger children will require the supervision of parents. A parent can register a main account and create several sub-accounts under it and each account can have three characters. The profanity filter is on by default and cannot be turned off, with naughty words replaced by underscores. Since it is rated 13+, milder words such as "crap" and "hell" do get a pass. Sub-accounts have their own passwords and even characters are password protected so siblings can't delete each other's characters accidentally or otherwise.
The reporting screen gives you a drop down for type of report and a further drop down with the names of all other players in the zone, and a further space for text, and there are the usual ignore functions and in-game ticketing system if you require other GM assistance.
What I Think
Hero:108 Online looks cool, is simple to learn and play, and will probably appeal to a younger demographic than the 13+ it is targeted towards. It is a nice addition to the growing stable of Kids MMOs available on the market, and Free to Play is hard to beat. There will 60 levels at launch, but it's not all fun and games as the leveling will start to slow after about level 20. The game has to make money to provide the service after all, and players might begin to purchase the convenience items at that time, that provide a faster leveling experience.