Updated on July 28th, 2016 by | 3 Replies

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.

Flying on a Pegasus during the tutorial for the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.

Combat in the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.

An assassin character in the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.

The woodland joey kangaroo mount in the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.

A story cutscene in the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.

An assassin character in the free to play MMORPG Riders of Icarus

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.


3 thoughts on “Riders of Icarus: When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

  1. Aywren

    You hit the nail on the head for this one. I also played Dragon’s Prophet during beta and release and stopped playing it because (as much as I love dragons and flying mounts) it was just too unpolished. For someone who cares about story, the translation was too awful for me to hang around.

    I tried RoI during beta and while, again, I love mounts, collecting and pets… it just didn’t have anything that pulled me in to stay. I agree that the translation is much better than Dragon’s Prophet and that it was trying to do neat things but… I don’t know. I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy it more. Maybe I’m just getting jaded. I still wish the game luck.

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  2. bhagpuss

    Very fair and accurate review, or at least it seems so based on the few hours I gave the game. About the only point at which I’d part company with your assessment is over whether good enough is good enough. I think it is but that’s a philosophical position.

    If Riders of Icarus was someone’s introduction to MMOs I think it would do a good job of whetting the appetite for the genre and I’m sure there will be people playing ROI who’ll come to look back on their time there with affection and nostalgia. In that sense it’s a perfectly serviceable MMO and I do think that is an acceptable mark for a company to aim at and hit. Whether it’s sufficient to make the game profitable or long-lasting is another question entirely.

    For anyone who is already familiar and experienced with MMOs, though, RoI doesn’t offer anything new or anything old done better. If you want a “catch em all” MMO I’d go for Dragomon Hunter over Riders of Icarus any day. It has more character, more heart, much better writing (although I agree RoI’s translations are solid), more unusual and amusing creatures to catch and considerably more engaging gameplay.

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  3. master1g

    I just capped max level after a week of playing and roughly 50+ hours in game time. I apparently chose one best class in the game so far, so it wasn’t too much of a challenge in the lower end parts of the game. This is exactly what you will find.

    Following the quest line is really the only thing you have to do to level. You shouldn’t have to grind too much if you run into a dead end around level 33-34 or so. The gear is almost pointless to continue to upgrade past +10 until you max out and find all of your legendaries. I for one don’t have a single legendary because that would require the dreaded fate of all mmorpg’s. Doing the same damn thing over and over and over. No thanks. There are currently 3 main areas. The first is Hakanas and has some of the best fps optimization out of any where in the game, and probably THE best. There are 3 main dungeons in this area. You are going to need a party for the third dungeon if you plan on running it efficiently at high heroic ranks.

    The next area is the Sea. You will make use of flying mounts here or even grab one while you’re in the area. This place really suffers hard fps drops in certain areas. I would literally be running/flying around with no problems and even go insanely high altitudes up and get butter smooth 120 fps rates. Then I go over to some random floating island and get drops down into the 40’s and maybe lower. This area has THE worst fps optimization IMO, but the good thing is you don’t spend hardly any time in the areas that are badly optimized. It’s just an annoyance really. This area holds the only raid dungeon in the game so far. I’ve not been able to take it on, but it apparently requires 10+ heavily geared people. Many have told me you won’t get through it without wiping, so that sounds really nice.

    The last main area you enter will be Parna frost land. This place is where the experience from quests gets amazing. Just follow the mundane quests around this area and you will go from level 25-35 fairly easy. This place holds 2 dungeons. Both are extremely difficult. I wouldn’t try either of them on elite without a party of 3 which contain a tank and priest. If you’re doing heroic, having 5 people ready. A standard party of priest/tank/mage/dps/dps is going to be your strong suit.

    Classes:

    Guardian – Easy skills, easy tank

    Priest – Needs a party and poor movement while using skills

    Wizard – Best damage, best skill movement, worst defense and it takes a very skilled user to use mana shield efficiently

    Berserker – Class is super slow, but I’ve heard they have very high damage potential and decent armor ratings

    Assassin – Huge crit damage if you are lucky enough to find the right gear, get in/get out type of dps

    This game is heavily dependent on party based play in difficult dungeons. You could in theory solo through the game and eventually buy all your gear off the Auction, but who knows how long that would take and it just wouldn’t be worth it.

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