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Michael Hampden Posted:
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Michael Hampden tells us about a console-style action MMORPG

On the final day of E3 we sat down with Kim Jang-Joong, CEO of Korean developer ESTsoft, to talk about their exciting new project: Cabal Online. ESTsoft isn’t your typical game developer. The company has been a successful business software developer in Korea since the early 90s, and Cabal Online is actually the first game ESTsoft has ever developed. Perhaps this is why Cabal Online differs from the majority of titles we see coming out of the Korean market. For those of you who might not be familiar, Korea has a reputation for developing many high-difficulty, grind-style MMOs. These games might be appealing to Korean gamers, but traditionally have not been as successful in gaining large fan-bases in North America. Perhaps ESTsoft had this problem in mind when developing their title.

So what makes this game different? Cabal Online actually features gameplay somewhat reticent of consol-style hack n’ slash games. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get a chance to play the game, but from the in-game footage I saw, Cabal Online looks like a very fast-paced game. We asked Kim Jang-Joong about the game’s performance in Korea, and through his interpreter, we understood that Korean gamers immediately took a shine to the game. After beginning open beta in late October of 2005, and launching the title in November, Cabal Online was #1 in Korea for the months of November and December. ESTsoft began charging a monthly subscription fee on December 18th, so perhaps this, coupled with the release of a number of other highly anticipated Korean titles contributed to lowered numbers in January. It is worth noting however, that according to ESTsoft Cabal Online was the only Korean MMORPG successfully commercialized on a monthly subscription basis in 2005. ESTsoft is hoping for similar success when they release the game in North America later this year. As of now, closed beta is slotted to begin in August, with details of how to participate still to be announced. More information about the beta will likely become available once ESTsoft finds a US publisher for the title.

The US market is a huge area of potential growth for MMOs. In Korea, a full 25% of the population plays some form of MMO, compared to fewer than 5% of the population in the US. Kim Jang-Joong explained that the focus of Cabal Online is to attempt to bring console action enthusiasts to the PC, and into MMORPGs. One game that has already achieved significant success in this regard is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Kim Jang-Joong claims Cabal Online is similar to WoW, but focuses more on action, and players will find leveling up less difficult. Speaking of levels, Cabal Online has a whooping 100 of them. ESTsoft says that powergamers will likely reach level 100 at around 200 hours of gameplay. Beginners (players who have never played an MMO) will still reach 100 at somewhere around 300 hours playtime.

After reaching 100, you’ll find an end game similar to many other fantasy-style MMOs. Once you reach level 95, you can pick a faction and engage in faction-based PvP. Points are awarded to you for defeating members of an enemy faction in PvP. The more points you have, the higher your rank. High ranking players will have access to special items in the game, so essentially this will be your reward for PvPing. Judging by gameplay movies alone, PvP looks like it could be a lot of fun in Cabal Online – which makes me wonder why players must wait a minimum of around 200 hours to engage in it?

Regardless, ESTsoft tells us that leveling in Cabal Online will not be the monotonous grind that it is in many MMOs. Besides Cabal Online’s action-packed combat system, the game will feature around 700 quests that players can take part in. We’ll have to wait and see how these quests function, and what (if any) impact they will have on the game’s storyline. Dungeons are also present in Cabal Online. These dungeons will be instanced and most will require 4 players to complete them. However, according to Kim Jang-Joong, all of them (in theory at least) could be completed solo. Types of dungeons include mazes, puzzle dungeons, and even console-style time-limit dungeons. Another element familiar to console gamers is the concept of dungeon “bosses”. Currently there are 3 “boss” dungeons in the game, but ESTsoft plans to have another 3 by the end of this year. This content will be strictly for 100 level players only, so it appears this is another end-game type activity for high-level players.

In essence, Cabal Online is mostly about combat, and the combat system is designed for fast, action-packed gaming. In the game-play videos I saw, characters were able to string together multiple-hit combo attacks. This combo system even allows switching between targets while chain-attacking, and also includes attacking of multiple targets at once. Special effects in combat are way over-the-top. So much so that it isn’t uncommon to see a character spin and twirl while attacking, often in mid-air. Martial arts movies like The Matrix appear to have been an influence in some of the special effects. My favorite instance featured a female character dual-wielding fantasy-style pistols. She stood stalk-still, arms out-stretched to each side of her body blasting away at enemies advancing from both sides at once. I’ve not seen that particular kind of action in too many MMOs before. This combat is where Cabal Online really appears to shine, and if it plays and fun as it looks, ESTsoft may be able to gain the North American appeal they are looking for.

One final note, you gamers out there with older PCs won’t be left out of the fun. ESTsoft claims Cabal Online will actually run on Pentium III 800MHz machines (a decent video card is required, of course). We saw a lot of poor quality Korean MMOs at E3, but Cabal Online just might have the goods. Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Interested in Cabal Online?

Check out gameplay video here

For more information, screens, and videos, check out Cabal Online’s English website here

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Michael Hampden