Since being released in late 2011, the one thing no one can accuse Luvinia Online of is having a dearth of content. Outspark have provided regular updates for the game from the get go, but has this translated into an enjoyable play experience? In an increasingly cluttered F2P marketplace, does Luvinia Online offer enough of a unique spin on the traditional Asian top-down MMO to merit your attention, or is its niche appeal simply not enough to encourage most people to get involved?
Aesthetics – 5.5
In terms of graphics, Luvinia Online is pleasant enough to look at. There aren’t any rough edges on models and the cartoonish characters are undeniably appealing. There’s also a degree of quirkiness in the customisation, with my rogue using a lollipop as a dagger for example, and the mounts look great and have smooth animations. Despite this however, it’s all been done before, and done better in almost any other Asian MMO I’ve played.
In fact, one of the biggest problems I found whilst playing the game was this unshakeable sense of déjà vu. Ten minutes into my adventure, I was face to face with a giant Ancient Tree of Wisdom that was pretty much a carbon copy of one of the Ancients found in World of Warcraft. As I kept playing, I encountered too many similarities like this to ignore. In particular, mounts very often seemed to be doppelgängers for ones I’d ridden in Warcraft. There’s plenty in the game that is original enough, but when the armour, the colour pallet, and the glowing eyes on several models are all the same as in another game, it gets a bit unsettling.
In isolation, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s indicative of the way I found the game to be constructed throughout; simply replicating what has been seen before. In another instance I was collecting an item and the accompanying sound effect seemed identical to crafting an item in Warcraft, right down to the metallic clink of it dropping into my inventory…
You can rotate the camera and zoom in and out, but the fact you can’t pitch it up and down really frustrated me. The game looks a lot better when zoomed in, but having the angle stuck so you’re looking at the floor doesn’t make for the most thrilling of experiences. When zoomed out, however, you have to deal with masses of text on screen, all of which was in a font I found pretty unappealing. As you can see from some of the screenshots, enemies are packed into environments and all have nameplates. The game screen just seemed very cluttered which really hindered my sense of immersion; it’s hard to get involved in a world if it’s obscured by text.
One of the biggest issues I had with the sound was consistency, specifically relating to conversations. NPCs either chat to you in the repugnant text or an animated version of them can pop up and jiggle about a bit whilst speaking. The first time this happened, it came with some really excellent voiceover work for the adjoining text, which got me pretty excited. But then the next time someone popped up, the text remained whilst the voiceover vanished. The next story NPC I encountered after this brought the voiceover back to me, only this time saying different words to what was in their speech box. This alternating experience continued for my entire Luvinia Online playtime. When done right, the voiceover was immaculate, but without any consistency it’s just a bit jarring.
The worst part of the design however has to be the ambient effects you experience whilst out in the world. The music is nice, but the animal cries…oh sweet lord, the animal cries. I fully support ambience in a game to help create a sense of the world, but when this extends to each type of creature having precisely one sound effect, which it spouts whenever you walk within 100 metres of it, things quickly get irritating. I’ve said maps can get crowded, so walking past twenty bastard cats mewling or bats fluttering at the same time in horrid, discordant glory is enough to make anyone want to never again encounter that aural misery. Sadly you will, every single time you leave town. It’s a shame because areas without enemies look really rather pleasant, but unless you’re willing to play on mute, and miss out on sporadic voiceovers, then much of your time adventuring is going to spoilt by frequently misjudged cacophonies.
Gameplay – 5
In terms of a gameplay model and objective, there’s nothing here that’ll be remotely unfamiliar to any MMO player. Three classes are available to choose from at the start, consisting of the standard trinity of the warrior, the rogue and the magician. As you level up, you get to specialise your class further at two branches, once at level 40 and again at 80, meaning there’s ultimately 22 classes available. It’s a welcome addition to the game, and really offers a surprising amount of control over your character. For example, if I want my magician to specialise as a healing priest I can do that, but I still retain access to all my damage dealing magician abilities. It’s pretty cool, and stops you from being locked into one of the standard tank/healer/DPS roles.
Other than this though, the game pretty much consists of stepping on the gear treadmill, and that’s where the wheels start to fall off. The story is essentially non-existent, which means there’s nothing present here to engage you outside of the gameplay itself…and that’s problematic. Combat is banal and archaic, with skills as ever bound to the action bar. In my first 20 levels, I was given just three skills. They ranged in power, but as none of them dented my resources it meant I was left just watching cooldowns to know when to use what. There was no nuance, no procs, nothing to do but button mash. Even this was optional, as the auto-attack would take out most mobs in under five hits whilst foes’ attacks took off two HP, tops, from my pool of 500 points.
And sadly, combat is what you’ll be doing a lot of. There’s no quest variety whatsoever; you either kill X number of bland enemies or talk to a certain NPC to move things along. When you’re longing for an escort quest to break up the monotony, you know something has gone terribly wrong somewhere. I suppose a small plus is that there’s no RNG tied to quest items from enemies. If you need to collect bat wings, then killing a bat will automatically deposit some in your inventory. It would have been nice if this was explained at some point, however, as it would have saved me a chunk of time searching amid the on-screen clutter for drops that didn’t exist. Sure it pops up in small font, but noticing it amid all the other text flying about is like finding Waldo whilst wearing onion glasses.
Everything is made even more simplistic by the fact the game has an auto-run feature. In an incredibly misguided attempt to add convenience to the game, every quest has an underlined objective you can click on to have your avatar run straight to it. As so many quests involve nothing more than talking to NPCs, this meant I could auto-run from NPC to NPC and level up without engaging in the world at all. If there were enemies involved, then the auto-attack would swiftly take care of them. Whilst I found the gameplay to be really rather tedious and unoriginal, I would have preferred if something was done to try and improve it, rather than give me the option to bypass 90% of what goes on with this feature.
And it is things like that at the core of gameplay that ruin all the other nice touches that are present. It’s pretty standard fare for armour and weapons to have upgradeable slots on them, but in Luvinia Online these are filled by trading cards rather than the usual gems. They drop from mobs, with particularly strong mobs offering strength-boosting bonuses for example, and the flavour text that accompanies them is really engaging. But no matter how involved you get in the more entertaining elements of the game, due to limited quest scope at some stage you’re going to have to resort to the dull combat once more. It’s the weak link in the chain, and the one there’s no escaping from.
If I had to describe Luvinia Online to you in simple terms, it’d be that it’s gone for quantity over quality. There’s a huge number of zones and quests and a range of ways to enhance gear including crafting, enchanting and the trading cards, but I just can’t shake the feeling it doesn’t matter. These aspects get pushed aside by the gaping flaws at the core of the game, which is disappointing as there were brief moments of potential. Don’t get me wrong, ten years ago Luvinia Online would have been a welcome addition to the MMO stables. As of right now though, the combat at the core of the gameplay is so simple and tedious that I strongly believe even the most masochistic grind-fan would struggle to keep playing past the first 40 levels, never mind up to the new cap of 87.
Innovation – 3
Sadly, the game does nothing new. It repackages MMO tropes that would have seemed old if the game came out about five years ago. Character models borrow heavily from other MMOs, and combat is tedious to the extreme. Skills are essentially homogenised, and you get too few, too slowly to ever feel like there’s any tactical element to battles. This is all compounded by the fact that in the early game enemies would have to beat on your character uninterrupted for about ten minutes in order to get anywhere near killing you. Some people I spoke to have suggested that the game is a grind-fest, and pitched at players who enjoy that type of thing, but I’m afraid I couldn’t agree. To me it seemed nothing short of a regression for the genre, no matter which way it’s looked at.
Polish – 4.5
I encountered few technical issues at all with the game, and special kudos needs to go out to the implementation of the auto-run feature. Some of the environments are quite complex, yet I never experienced any pathing issues and always found myself ending up at my desired destination, rather than clipping into a cliff face. There were quite a few instances of lag however, and there was no warning I could find anywhere for when the servers would be going down. As a result, I was booted offline several times with no idea when I’d be able to play a game; an in-game alert would have been nice.
The main problem is that the game feels rushed. I mentioned earlier the sporadic voice acting, and this also extends to quest text. A sizeable chunk of the text makes perfect sense and reads well, but there’s also a significant portion that just hasn’t been properly translated. This ranges in seriousness from using the wrong tense, to sentence syntax, right up to nonsensical babble. In the worst instances, it seems like someone just shoved the original text into Google Translate and used whatever it spat out. Sure, I know localisation is another cost to add on to game development but it’s a must if you’re hoping for any sort of mainstream success. When more than half of your quests ask players to sift through NPC dialogue, failing to make it readable is a bit of an oversight.
Longevity – 5
This is really down to the individual. As I say, if you like what’s on offer then there are masses here for you to play with. The amount of content is staggering, as is the number of zones. The trouble is, will you make it past the stilted opening of the game with just a few repetitive skills? With all the various class specialisations, it’s plausible that you may want to start an alt in the pursuit of a varied gameplay experience. For me though, combat didn’t feel different enough and just starting to go through the same zones that I endured rather than enjoyed was enough to put the kibosh on my Luvinia Online experience for good.
Social – 6.5
Upon getting into the game for the first time, the number of chat channels alone should offer a hint at the range of groups you can join. When you create a character, you must choose which of the six nations you belong to. In turn, each nation belongs to an alliance, either the Empire or the Federation. The nation you choose acts as your home for your first 40 levels of your journey, after which you can explore and visit other nations. This can be a bit of a pain if you want to level with a friend in a different nation, but this is easily overcome by simply starting characters in the same nation, as it doesn’t really have a significant impact on anything.
The guild system is well implemented. Referred to as families, you can join one or create your own if you’d prefer. Doing so allows you to participate in guild PvP or do some of the daily quests that only individuals in guilds can access. There’s also the chance to advance your guild to increase the number of members you can have and unlock upgrades. If you want to apply to join one of the major families, there’s sometimes a bit of a wait before they get back to you, but it’s well worth trying. Certainly on my European server there didn’t seem to be many people playing, so starting a family from scratch and trying to build it up would have been a thankless task.
Value – 4
Whilst prices are actually really quite reasonable by the standards of most cash shops, there are two problems that really cause issues for Luvinia Online. The first is the inclusion of items that skirt perilously close to being game-breaking. Enhancing Gems can increase the attack or defense attributes of an item by 10% which is a pretty noticeable margin. Combined with the strength of some of the potions on offer, someone who has spent money in the cash shop is most certainly going to have the upper hand in most in-game scenarios.
However, the spectre of pay-to-win gameplay isn’t my real problem here. It’s the fact that the stuff you buy may end up being worthless. In terms of the Enhancing Gems, they only have a 60% chance of actually enhancing the item you use them on. You can increase this chance, but that requires the purchase of some Blessed Luminous Stones, which is another cost. Whether or not you think pay-to-win is okay, I reckon we all agree that paying for something which then fails to work is pretty obscene.
This pay model is also present away from the cash shop, with many of the items obtained in-game being temporary. Some of the items found in-game as well as some of the mounts bought from the shop come with time limits attached. They can only be used for three days, a week, or 30 days at the most before they vanish. To be kept permanently, they must be synthesised using purchased Planar Essences from the cash shop. It’s this that gives me major qualms. If I’ve earned something with my playtime, or even worse bought it with real world money, then it should be mine for as long as the servers are running. Forcing me to pay to keep it, sometimes twice, and pressuring me with a short time limit in which to make up my mind is at best heavy-handed and, at worst, deeply reprehensible.
If you’ve read this far, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I won’t be playing Luvinia Online again anytime soon. But let me absolutely stress this to you; if Luvinia Online works for you, there’s masses you can do. Whilst I found the mini-games and dailies to feel like a chore, the amount of content on offer is gargantuan. Reaching this, however, requires you to slog through a mass of tedious early levels. The few flashes of brilliance on offer are replicated in other F2P MMOs that have better infrastructure supporting them. Even the moments when the setting appeared wondrous were ruined by cluttered screens and irritating sound effects.
It takes a truly awful game for me to tell you not to try it out, so I’m not going to say that here. In fact my parting advice to you is that you do try it, even if it’s just briefly, to understand where I’m coming from; the simple and tedious gameplay experienced within the first five minutes doesn’t get any more exciting over the next 30 hours. It’s an MMO bogged down by unimaginative gameplay thanks to banal combat and bland repetitive quests, and it’s safe to say that there’s no “Luv” lost here.