I decided to take a little tour of Zu Online by giving it a few hours of my time. What I found might surprise you.
In the beginning ...
After making an account at Zu Online's official site and downloading the 900+ mb installer, I was ready to get my Zu on. The intro movie covers the story behind Zu Online. To be honest, I have no idea what it was. It was the obligatory anime-inspired, convoluted tale of benevolent gods and malevolent demons all fighting for some ancient power and it just so happens that you, and a select few, have been chosen to participate in this epic conflict. Yeah. That about sums it up.
The first part of character creation asks that you pick a mascot. This is intriguing! I get a mascot? I picture a bevy of gorgeous beauties following me around with pom-poms cheering me on as I smite wicked and foul creatures. Alas, I get some strange flying worm thingy and I'm still not sure what he/she/it does. I can tell you want it doesn't do; cheer me on. Disappointing.
Next, we have to choose from the three factions of Zu Online: the Tai, Xun and Wu. Of course, when you pick one, the other two become your enemies or, as the website puts it, "the other two dimensions will become evil forces to disturb you from your inner training". That sounds pretty serious. I haven't even started and I have enemies trying to thwart my plans.
The intro area gives us the obligatory tutorial windows showing us the control scheme. Here is where I found one of Zu Online's flaws. The controls are the typical W-S-A-D controls found almost everywhere. However, the A and D keys, normally for camera rotation, don't rotate the camera. The camera is controlled by a right-click and hold. So, if you want to go left, you have to turn the camera, not the avatar. If you don't turn the camera, your avatar will run lengthwise across the screen. However, even turning the camera does not change your avatar's direction. You have to tap the A or D keys to align your movement to the camera. Horrible? No. Clunky? Absolutely. You can also move by left-clicking on where you'd like to go. I've played other games with this mechanic, namely ArchLord, and I'm not a big fan of this kind of move mechanic. When you're trying to click around in your inventory screens or if you are trying to pick up some loot, be careful. You could send your dude running for the hills with an errant click of the mouse. It is an annoying mechanic that I would like to see go away. Let's move on.
We are transported to a newbie area where quests abound. However, these quests are more an exercise in patience and self-control than they are in enjoying the game. Many of the quests I obtained were "Go here and kill 5 creatures. Then go talk to the next guy." OK. What's next? "Go here and kill 7 creatures. Then talk to the next guy." Rinse and repeat. This goes on for quite some time, each quest asking you to dispatch more baddies than before and therefore pushing you down the trail to the next NPC on the map. I understand that this is a "newbie" area and its purpose is to serve as a learning zone but come on! A little variety wouldn't kill you. I stopped playing at level 24 and I was still doing the kill-X-monsters quests. Do you smell something? Oh, yes. That's my arse on the grinder!
Watch me go!
As I said before, the movement mechanic in Zu Online is less than friendly. However, there are a few things that more than make up for the clunky interface. Zu Online uses a quick-travel system that is really handy. There are transportation NPC or "Riders". They can offer to either directly transport you to a larger city or, for a small fee, offer to fly you to another "Rider" somewhere on the map. The best part is that there are several of these "Riders" throughout one map making travel from one side, or one section, to another a breeze. And by breeze, I literally mean "breeze". See, at this point, for newbies, "ride" travel consists of flying across the map via a paper bird. This bird is either powered by my concentration or my tremendous flatulence. Flight by concentration: I tried that once. All I got was a broken arm and my father telling me not to jump off the roof again. It is far more rewarding in Zu Online. It makes rapid travel quick, easy, and cheap.
In the quest panel, certain names and place are underlined. Clicking on an underlined name sets that item, person, or place as your destination and once again sets you off on autopilot. This is great! When you have to track down some big, bad, boss in a large cavern, simply click on his name and run right to him. No pointless searching. No aimless wandering. Once you've dispatched the nasty boss, open the quest again and click on the NPC you have to talk to complete the quest and have the game run there for you! If you take away anything from Zu Online, it will be an appreciation of their quick travel methods.
One of the bigger points IGG would like to point out to you is Zu Online's art direction. I have to say that the initial impact of the graphical style isn't all that bad ... if you like cel-shading. I had wondered how a cel-shaded MMO would work but it seems to be rather decent. The textures may seem a little flat and sparse at times but when Zu Online wants to convey detail, it is done quite well. In the very first room, there is a large demon-guy-thing strapped to a giant rock ball hanging over some massive pit. Sucks to be him, sure, but he looks cool. The animations aren't the best but they have character. For instance, if I stand still for more than a few seconds, my Summoner feels compelled to float off the ground for a moment or two.
Spending about 4 to 5 hours did get me to level 24. That is one quick burn. I'm not sure how much more time I will commit to it, though. While it wasn't a bad experience, it really didn't grab hold of me. The quick leveling and not-busted gameplay do offer that rather rapid gratification but beyond getting your "ding"-fix, there is not much that really grabs a hold of you. Was it a bad experience? No. I can't say it was. Was it great? Can't say that either. The big question: Will I uninstall the game? At this point ... no. I'll probably find myself back in there hunting down another few levels from time to time and who, knows, maybe something will grow from it and eventually take hold. Until then, Zu Online will find itself with RF Online, ArchLord and Dungeon Runners as a free-to-play back-up MMO.
So, if you're looking for something to do, go get your kung-fu on!