ECOL Tactics is, as one might suspect, a tactical RPG. It’s browser-based, no downloads necessary, and free-to-play. It’s got a lot to offer players, but I’m not entirely comfortable calling it a full-on MMORPG. That said, it’s still a great little in-between kind of game, with tons of potential.
The artwork and graphics are adorable in that JRPG/anime way. The look harkens back to some of the Japanese import platform games I had from back in the day; no camera control, always the same ¾ view from above, but it does the job. The attack animations are pretty good considering the limited nature of the 2-D rendering, and the music is bubbly and pleasant.
Overall, the whole aesthetic is quite charming.
Questing in ECOL Tactics is pretty bog-standard; go here, kill things, get reward. The battle structure is both battle-map and turn based. Battle strategists will be able to use their skills to some extent, as tactics matter when setting up battle formation for attacks, combos, etc. It’s no Mensa test by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a snoozer either. (Unless, of course, you decide to use the autoplay feature during battle, by why would you?)
But in case you’re worried it’s too far removed from MMOs to be worth your time, there are plenty of hard-core MMO tropes to satisfy even the most jaded gamer. For example, escort missions are just as frustrating in ECOL as they are in any other MMO, and the corresponding NPCs are just as stupidly suicidal. Enjoy!
There is a large random element to loot drops, including a roulette wheel after every successful battle, just to add another layer of reward. Thanks to that feature alone I have not once needed to buy any healing potions.
I wouldn’t say this game is super innovative, but it does combine some of the better aspects of other games in a pleasing way. The big thing I noticed, however, was the freedom it gives players with regard to character development. You don’t specifically choose a character class, and weapon skills are determined by skill stones, not points spent. With this system, you’re never locked into a single character class. So long as you have the appropriate equipment and skill stones to equip, you can change character class at will.
Similarly, character appearance isn’t restricted by character class. If you want to be an archer dressed as a cleric, you can.
I also enjoyed the battle option that allows characters to move each turn, either before or after attacking. Though again, I was less impressed with the autoplay feature for battle. Auto-play: for when you just can’t be bothered to click buttons for yourself.
This is where the game really shines. The localization is quite excellent. The storyline is what carries you along and keeps you going during some of the identically tedious quests of sameness. The dialogue is snappy and the NPCs are unique and quirky. I actually laughed out loud at the line, “Luke doesn’t do math! Luke does PAIN!”
The whole in-game experience not only feels very tidy and self-contained, but appealing to the senses, like a browser-based bento box.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the game’s website. Large sections of it are still empty of content, requiring players to go elsewhere for game hints and tips. At the time of this review, a long-finished contest is still being hyped across the main page, lending an air of sloppy site management to an otherwise organized package.
While I don’t see this as being most MMO players’ go-to game of choice, I do think it can stand the test of time by being a pleasant alternative, a lightweight palate cleanser between more serious and time-consuming RPGs. In fact, I think that might be this game’s greatest strength; it isn’t demanding, but it has a lot to discover and is certainly entertaining in a way that will keep players regularly coming back.
ECOL Tactics is a persistent world, and it does allow for contact and conversation between players. There are the usual chat, guild and friends-list features, but I cannot honestly call this game an MMO. The ability to team up with others is limited and comes later in the game. Players spend far more of their time with hired mercenaries than in groups with players.
PVP (the Coliseum) doesn’t become available until level 12, and is structured pretty much the same as any other battle, just against another player.
ECOL is free to play, and you can have a pretty good time without paying a cent. Gold accumulates easily enough through questing, and while special equipment can be had through the cash shop, it’s not necessary for the enjoyment of the game. Though, if you want to drop some cash to trick your characters out in fancy cosmetic items, you certainly can.
In the wide world of MMOs, ECOL Tactics is fluff. Sugar-coated, adorably entertaining fluff that I believe many gamers (and even non-gamers) will enjoy. It aspires to be neither high art nor gritty pseudo-realism, and that’s just fine. It doesn’t need to be those things. It’s one of those games that works well as an introduction to online gaming; not difficult or daunting, but not so simple as to be boring or unchallenging. It’s just fun.