Embrace the Grind?
OK, so there you are, roaming the isles at your local Best Buy or EB Games. In your sweating fist is clenched a small, green portrait of Ulysses S. Grant. The goal: buy a new game, a Massively Multiplayer Online title preferably, something with a fantasy twist. Since you?re really, you know, into Player vs. Player (PvP) combat, you want something with a robust community, a place where your skills (and kills) can be tracked and rewarded. And of course, it must look and play ?like buttah?- creamy smooth and rich and satisfying.
That?s when you see it: a standee, dominating the end of the row for a new MMO proclaiming that, if you compete online in their tournaments, you might just win One Million Dollars! The sample screenshots don?t look half bad, and the game promises not only intense PvP action but ?hundreds of quests? to boot! Eyes wide, hands trembling, you lift the box and carry it, tenderly, reverently, to the cash register. I mean, sure, the game?s gonna cost you $50, plus a monthly fee to keep playing, but a million bucks is on the line! Sounds like a dream scenario? Well, the million dollar prize does indeed seem real. The game? Risk Your Life, or Ryl: Path of the Emperor.
But wait, hold on. I have some bad news. You see, MyGamer has played Ryl, and we?ve brought back our impressions from this fantasy battlefield?s front, and the news, as they say, isn?t good. For you see, the truth about Ryl, beneath its marketing hype and seemingly slick promotional screenshots, is that it?s really only a second-rate pretender to the throne.
Let?s start with the basics. Ryl: Path of the Emperor is a MMO developed by Planetwide Games where hundreds if not thousands of people can simultaneously play, online, against other players (PvP) and against the game?s sprawling world (PvE). I could write a few paragraphs here about the game?s ?back story? (such as it is), but I?m not going to bother since there?s really not much opportunity to experience that history in-game. No, rather than distract players with trivialities like ?realism? and ?plot? and ?story?, Ryl aims to appeal to those players that care about one thing and one thing only: defeating other human opponents.
OK, so that?s not so bad, right? I mean, some players are just more competitive than others. Why not give them a place to rip each other to shreds and trash talk? At first blush, this seems like a noble goal- after all everyone plays games for different reasons, so why not cater a bit?
But here?s the problem: Ryl, unlike many of the current crop of MMOs (World of Warcraft, The Matrix Online, etc.) is all about leveling and fighting. Fighting and leveling. Grind those monsters, baby, because papa needs to get another 12 levels to use that spiffy B+++++++ armor set I?ve had my eye on. And that laser-like focus has lead Planetwide Games down a dangerous path, one where many of the conventions that modern game-players have come to take for granted are sadly lacking.
The leveling you?ll need to do so much of if you expect to be able to compete in the top tiers, for example, is largely gained through an incredible amount of ?grind? (MMO-speak for ?endlessly killing hordes of small creatures to gain a level?). Early in the game, for instance, you are given a few basic quests from the local NPCs, which serve as the game?s control tutorial, and then are told to ?come back at level 10?. That?s it. No story or quests, no flavor, beyond the few NPCs you meet in the starting town. Just an order to go and kill stuff.
Erm. OK. well, there?s a squirrel over there. It?s not very heroic, this killing of squirrels, but I am an 8-foot tall, rhino-skinned Ak?Kan Combatant with a mighty Iron Stick, right? I can take a squirrel! Let the leveling begin! Ten seconds later I?m dead- squirrel chutney. Why? I have no idea. It?s just a frickin? rat with a bushy tail for the gods? sake.
Resurrecting in town, I figure I?d better seek easier prey, and turn an eye towards those Ichman children I saw back on the beach outside of town- they looked harmless and totally ignored me when I walked past. Ah, better. The 2-foot fish/man kids don?t hit my towering behemoth of Ak?Kanian destruction nearly as hard as those %$#@! squirrels do. I proceed to beat up what feels like hundreds of Ichmen, working my way up from kids to villagers to fighters to elites, all of who completely ignore me until I attack them, all the while watching even more Ichman inexplicably pop back into existence as soon as I dispatch them with my Mighty Iron Stick. Eventually, my stick breaks and I have to get another one in town, a process that adds another ten minutes to what is becoming the first of many long grind sessions.
Ah, finally, level 10 and it only took about two and a half hours! Time well spent, I say! Scraping sand and Ichman guts off my shiny C++++++ armor, I go to talk to my quest contact? To get my level certification I must slay a Ichman King- now we?re talking baby! I remember seeing those guys when I was playing at Ichman genocide back on the beach. I find a King, scrape off his pitiful bodyguards and engage. Dead again. Hmmm? guess I need to get a few more levels before I can take on a Fish-Guy King. Back to the beach! More Ichman elites, and mages, and now even Grubs fall beneath the ?Snickety-snick? of my deadly Iron Stick! And all the while other players are running up to me and challenging me to duels, and re-challenging me when I decline and spamming the chat channel with desperate calls for ?Need pulling Tank lvl. 45+!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?.
If this sounds boring, repetitive and silly, well that?s only because it is. ?Quests? in Ryl are almost completely based around grinding away at some constantly-respawning enemy to gain levels, or occasionally delivering some item from point A to point B, but that?s about it. Item drops, like a disconcerting number of the game?s visual elements, are fugly, low-rez affairs that wouldn?t have looked out of place in some Sega Genesis RPG but which are almost a criminal offence in a modern game. Gold drops, for instance, are rendered as yellow circles against flat black polygons in what looks like 8-bit color, while armor drops look more like a stack of unwashed laundry than pieces of iron and steel. Color me unimpressed.
The game interface is somehow both cramped and sprawling, with Vital pieces of character information spread out across multiple windows, all rendered in pixilated, small-font lettering guaranteed to give anyone playing for more than two hours a case of eye strain. Expect to forever be re-opening windows that closed all on their own when switching between the games ?keyboard? and ?mouse? modes, an interface choice that could have been useful had it not been so haphazardly implemented.
The game environments are competently realized, but use a bland medieval d?cor that many fantasy games seem to favor- there?s nothing unique that makes the world stand out from a host of others. If you?ve played other MMOs or fantasy RPGs with a rich visual palette like, say, Guild Wars, Morrowind or World of Warcraft then you will probably find yourself quite disappointed in Ryl?s homogenous, lackluster visuals. Physics are almost non-existent as well- my character, for instance, floated through the air like he weighed an ounce when leaping. Hurling myself off of a house located on top of a tall cliff resulted in no damage whatsoever, despite what looked like a leg-crushing fall. While running hither and yon, it was not at all uncommon to watch other players sink to the waist in hills, rocks and other environmental objects, and I could usually rotate my camera to see right through walls and floors- something that I find completely ruins whatever last shreds of suspension-of-disbelief I may have managed to keep going.
Character and monster animations, which one would expect to be the game?s strong suit given its combat-centric flavor, are clumsy and boring. Player attack and run animations look jerky and sparse, as if half of the needed animation frames were mysteriously cut. Monster attacks, at least until you get to the game?s higher-level content (assuming that you can stay interested for that long) generally consist of the creature shifting forward a bit or swinging a blocky weapon in your general direction. Given that you?ll be seeing these exact same animations roughly a zillion times as you grind away the hundred or so levels you?ll need to be really competitive, the games lack of variety can quickly go from mild annoyance to a cause for cursing and yelling.
I could go on and on, but really what it comes down to is that if you?re one of those players that really and truly gets maximum enjoyment from your games when you?re fighting against other human players and talking trash about it afterwards, and don?t really care about how the game looks or plays from a story perspective, then you might want to take a gamble and give Ryl: Path of the Emperor a try. Who knows? You may win a million bucks. If, however, you also want a game with engaging characters and story, lush visuals and lots of variety, I?d spend your hard-earned monthly-fee money elsewhere, as other MMOs will give you far greater return on your investment.
Game Play- 4 All Hail Grind! Ryl is all about the ?hunt-slay-rinse-repeat? model, above all other considerations such as plot or story. Quests are tissue-thin shrouds that attempt to add in a bit more depth, but everything seems to come down to ?find X number of these beasts and kill them? when all is said and done. Crafting is non-existant, although armor and weapon upgrades are possible through a socketing system remarkably reminiscent of (ripped off from?) the old Diablo II model of adding in gems to weapons to buff their effects. Players can create stores on the fly to sell goods, which is a nice touch I?ll grant. High-level items are pretty nice, as is the ability to build Guild Halls and the like, provided you can force yourself to endure the game?s disappointing lower- and mid-level content.
Graphics- 5 They get the job done, but without the occasional ?Gee, whiz!? moments that I?ve come to expect from modern fantasy games. Environments are flat and poorly lit and suffer from clipping issues that range form the mildly annoying (seeing through walls and floors when rotating the camera) to terrible (player models sinking through hills and buildings). Player and monster models alike are poorly animated. The game?s armor and weapon design, however, is different and visually interesting, particularly the Ak?Kan race?s gear- the variety of menacing armor types available to that race in particular was very compelling. Too bad these elements are awash in the mediocrity that makes up the rest of the game?s visuals.
Audio- 4 In-game music sounds hastily-built and amateurish and I actually found myself hunting for a way to turn it off entirely in the first 20 minutes. Combat sounds are few yet oft-repeated, which really grates on one?s ears when having to fight the same beast over and over and over. Underwhelming in almost every respect.
Value- 2 Would-be players of Ryl must keep in mind that you?re going to not only have to pay $50 to buy a copy of the game, but also that you are going to have to pay a monthly charge to keep playing (although why anyone would want to is a mystery). The hard truth is that there are lots of other games out there that use this same model which offer up loads more content. Guild Wars, for instance, offers up a robust PvP model, has Guild-vs-Guild combat, Guild Halls etc. as well as gorgeous visuals and a complex plot, and that title charges no monthly subscription fee to keep playing! Players looking for a good return on their gaming dollars are advised to look elsewhere, unless the thought of that million dollar prize is just too tempting?
Curve- 3 there?s nothing in Ryl that I?ve not seen done better in other titles. The ability to play as a non-human Ak?Kan is interesting, but other MMOs have already gone there, and those games don?t lock you into playing just that race for any other character that you make on that server- the developers really need to figure out a way to let me make different raced characters in my other character slots and not make it an all-or-nothing affair. As it is, having to use one server for my Ak?Kan characters and a totally different server to create my Human characters is frustrating. The title?s quests are nothing more than a smoke-screen to disguise the fact that you?ll spend the bulk of your time grinding away level after level against boring monsters.