Nexon’s Riders of Icarus is the latest free to play Korean MMORPG to make it to Western shores, having launched into open beta (see: soft launch) this month. Similar to the older Dragon’s Prophet, Riders of Icarus allows players to tame many monsters from the game world to serve as pets or mounts.
Dragon’s Prophet was a game with a lot of cool ideas that fell apart due to a severe lack of polish and quality control. My hope was that RoI might provide the strengths of Dragon’s Prophet without its stumbles.
It did turn out to be more polished, but I’m not sure that’s enough.
The (very basic) basics:
I wouldn’t say Riders of Icarus is a bad game. It’s just not a memorable one, and in this day and age, that can be a fatal flaw.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s cover the basics.
Riders of Icarus begins with a story-driven tutorial sequence that seems to be trying to hit every possible RPG cliche in as short a time as possible. While it borders on self-parody at times, I’ll at least give the developers credit for trying to make the tutorial something more memorable than the usual kill ten rats quests.
Of course, this is somewhat undermined by the fact that you’re returned to the stock standard grind of killing boars and picking flowers the moment you enter the greater game world.
The combat in RoI is a little strange, a sort of unhappy medium between action combat and traditional tab target play. In fact, you game gives you a choice of action or traditional control schemes, though I quickly learned that the standard mode is the superior choice. Simply enabling mouse look does not action combat make.
There’s a simple combo system, but don’t expect the combo-heavy play of games like Blade and Soul.
On the whole, RoI’s combat is not unpleasant, but it’s also nothing special. This is a difference from Dragon’s Prophet, which had excellent combo-heavy action combat.
Similarly, Dragon’s Prophet had an interesting (if too limited) selection of classes, with some fresh takes on old archetypes, but RoI’s classes are both few in number and incredibly generic in design.
The graphics are decent, but nothing special. The character models have a nice look and are a bit more realistic (or less unrealistic anyway) than I’m used to, though of course the female armor is anything but. The soundtrack… exists. The voice acting is corny, but I’ve heard worse.
I got the impression there was actually some fairly deep lore behind the game, but nothing is really explained, so I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Maybe things become clearer later in the game.
One thing I will say in RoI’s favor — and one way in which it thoroughly outclasses Dragon’s Prophet — is that the translations are far better than in most other import games I’ve played. I’ve noticed no major grammatical errors, and all the text and spoken dialogue sounds fairly natural.
It’s a bit sad that this qualifies as exceptional, but here we are.
Also, considering Nexon’s reputation as a company that does its level best to bleed players dry, I was impressed by how tame the cash shop seemed to be. Maybe things get worse later, but at least early on, the monetization of RoI doesn’t seem too bad at all.
On the whole, RoI is quite polished. I did not encounter any major bugs or other beta hiccups.
However, it’s also quite stock standard, and really the only thing that sets it apart is its taming system.
Gotta tame ’em all:
Fairly early in the game, you will gain the ability to tame various critters from around the game world. The taming mini-game is very basic and seems to be based more on luck than on the player’s input, but you tend to succeed most of the time regardless.
Most of what you can tame is fairly standard fantasy creatures — wolves, boars, unicorns, and so forth — but you do get a few more exotic choices. I quite enjoyed the woodland joey, because nothing says heroism like riding into battle atop a sparkly kangaroo.
Each creature has its own unique stats and abilities, and you can also find rarer monsters that are more powerful. To start the differences between each creature are pretty subtle, but I got the impression their strengths and weaknesses become more pronounced as they level up.
It’s not clear to me how mounts and pets level — sometimes they’d ding just as I was sitting in town reading a quest — but they level quite quickly, at least to start, so it shouldn’t be too hard to keep your stable on-level with you, even if you’re collecting a lot.
Most of the mounts I tamed actually didn’t seem to increase my movement speed all that much, which is a bit disappointing. Presumably higher quality or higher level mounts would be faster.
Mounted combat is supposed to be a big selling feature of Riders of Icarus, but in the time I played, I was not able to do any fighting from kangaroo-back.
RoI’s pet system has some annoyances that Dragon’s Prophet lacked. Whereas each tamed dragon in the latter game served as both mount and pet, RoI’s mounts must be converted to combat pets, and the change is permanent.
RoI’s pets and mounts also have limited stamina pools that are depleted by doing basically anything. When the stamina is exhausted, the pet or mount automatically despawns. I believe the intention of this system was to encourage players to level a variety of minions, but it still seems an unnecessary annoyance. If I want to spend all my time riding Sir Mittens the Sparkle Kangaroo, why shouldn’t I be able to?
Also, while Dragon’s Prophet allowed you to acquire a flying mount almost immediately after character creation, RoI makes you wait much longer — incredibly brief and on-rails previews don’t count in my books. I can’t say when you first take to the sky exactly because I lost interest before reaching that point, and Google is at best unclear on the matter.
And this is where I start to get ranty.
When good enough isn’t good enough:
The MMORPG field is at this point fairly saturated. If you want to succeed, you need to do something to stand out.
Not all games need to be some blockbuster juggernaut. You don’t need to be all things to all people. It’s okay to be a one trick pony with only one unique feature.
But if you’re going to do that, you’d better make your one unique feature front and center and all times. You better do it better than anyone else.
And that is why Riders of Icarus leaves me cold. There’s entirely too much waiting and too many limitations on the taming system. It feels like something that was awkwardly tacked on to a very standard quest grinder, rather than the focus of the game.
Maybe things get better later on. Maybe if I’d toughed it out a bit longer I would have started taming dragons and soaring through the sky and having the epic aerial duels I envisioned when I first heard about the game.
But life is too short and there are too many games out there for me to waste my time wading through hours of generic play to get to the good stuff. I’m not going to take it on faith that the game gets good eventually.
If your game offers something unique, something special, you can’t hide it. You need to make it the focus of the game from the start. Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t make you spend a few hours leveling before you get to the class stories. The Secret World allows you to access its investigation missions and ability wheel right out of the gate. World of Warcraft… well, WoW makes you wait for most of the good stuff, but WoW can get away with murder.
Dragon’s Prophet at least felt like a game that was genuinely trying to be different. It failed miserably, but the aim seems to have been there. RoI aims for (and reaches) the minimum bar of playability, but stops there.
Again, it’s not a bad game. I’ve certainly played worse. Ten years ago, Riders of Icarus would have been a game worth your time. In a world with relatively few MMORPGs, RoI’s polish and generally decent gameplay would have made it worth playing for at least a little while.
But these days it’s just one of a sea of barely distinguishable titles, and it’s hard to find a reason to play it over any of the many other options. It has only one unique feature, and that feature is too small a part of the game and too bogged down by quality of life issues and other hiccups.
Riders of Icarus is an okay game. It’s probably good enough. But these days, good enough just isn’t good enough.