Following up to the cult classic Cabal, Cabal 2 is a new free to play MMORPG jumping into open beta on July 2nd. While I've never played the original, I was definitely excited to jump in and see what all the buzz was about. What I've seen in my first handful of hours, however, is nothing but a depressingly boring game without a shred of originality. In fact, Cabal 2 seems so willing to embrace the concepts trampled to death by other MMORPGs, that I felt like I was playing the Frankenstein of games, with visuals, mechanics, and inspirations borrowed from elsewhere—often with worse results.
Cabal 2's unwillingness to avoid any of the pitfalls that have plagued such games for a decade really speaks volumes to me about the vision the developer, ESTsoft, has. In everything I saw through my first dozen levels, very little of it instilled any sense of innovation or evolution to the genre in any meaningful way. Cabal 2 simply feels like an MMORPG jumping on a bandwagon buckling under the weight of "me too" games. But, after all, this is only a first impression, and a bad one can easily be salvaged just as quickly as a good one can be spoiled.
While it has all of the outward appearance of a typical combat system, Cabal 2 has an emphasis on stepping away from the more passive hotkey rotations in favor of a combo system that rewards timing. There is no auto attack, so each strike must come from a button press. But the system layers on a simple rhythm mechanic that allows you to follow up an initial blow with a better strike—provided you time it right. Several abilities cue this prompt, allowing you to build a combo multiplier that also increases the damage you deal. Classes in Cabal 2 each have their own flavor with a few, like the Force Archer, that deviate from the standard offering with their unique flavor. But don't expect anything to step too far from the trifecta of tank, DPS, and healer.
In the right hands, I can easily see Cabal 2's combat forming a solid foundation to build a game around. The only problem is everything I experienced betrayed a creeping feeling that ESTsoft has no inclination of putting such a robust system to good use—at least early on. By the time I reached level 12, I had already accrued over seven different abilities, including two passive buffs, that I could use to augment attacks. However, I never once felt an inclination to use any of these abilities whatsoever outside of the simple one button combo that easily finished off any foe.
At level nine I got my first taste of one of Cabal 2's dungeons, Frostrock Forest. It was the first time I partied up, using a system that worked efficiently to pair me with two other players. Stepping into the dungeon, I felt an anxiety of the unknown and the pressure to make sure I performed my best. But as the final boss fell in a disappointingly anticlimactic four seconds, I looked back on my first group session and was almost breathless at how underwhelming it was. There was nothing unique, no complicated enemies, just an endless string of monkeys to kill on our way to a larger monkey boss that died so quickly I was left wondering if we missed something. It didn't feel like a dungeon, even one in beta. It felt like a placeholder.
To say the opening moments of Cabal 2 were underwhelming is an understatement. The linear jog through a map that felt devoid of any inspiration or worldbuilding was deflating to any sense of immersion I might have felt. I laughed out loud when I realized I could click on some quests and my hero would automatically run to the location. It felt as if ESTsoft, understanding how boring their game was, wanted to give me a way to move through it without actually playing. When I stood with a group of dozens, waiting for a single monster to respawn so one of us could get a chance of killing it for an item we all needed for a quest, I went from bemused and disappointed to downright angry. A decade later and here we are, patiently waiting for our chance to kill a glorified turkey for a feather just to progress in a quest.
While there certainly has been some care paid to the story, it moved at such a lunging pace and was so mired in the familiar trappings that tried to justify how my journey to save an abducted girl would require a detour to kill five beetles, I couldn't honestly be bothered to pay attention. As a firm evangelist for the quality of writing that can be found in the text dialogues of games like Final Fantasy XIV, I wanted to enjoy the story. But I felt like Cabal 2 refused to meet me halfway by actually being engaging on any level. That said, there were some moments where I glimpsed a sparkle of potential.
A part of me wants to reign in some of my feelings on Cabal 2, if only because the game is in open beta. But, then again, open beta is typically the final step before a full release, and, while the host of bugs and poor performance will hopefully be fixed, there is a deeply troubling undercurrent pulsing through Cabal 2. When a game is free to play, handing out a judgement can be tough. But Cabal 2's depressingly trite introduction falls so flat that, at this point in my journey, I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone. And trust me, no one desperately wants that opinion to change more than me.