Sho Online journeys west

Korean MMO developer Lizard Interactive has announced that Sho Online, a fantasy MMO loosely based on historical events in ancient China, will begin open beta testing on April 30th.

The open beta will kick off with three events -- 'Quest for the Mysterious Talisman', 'Who's the best?' and 'The King of the Forum' -- which will allow testers to win unique in-game items, available only through these events.

Sho Online is actively played in South Korea and Japan, following its initial release in 2006. The 7-day closed beta testing of the English client last month introduced 1000 players to siege warfare between factions of the Yin and Zhou Dynasties, as well as Sho Online's rank promotion and item enhancement systems.

Byung-Wook Kim, Project Manager for Sho Online, recently spoke with IGN about what makes the game distinctive from other fantasy titles on the market.

Kim shared that Sho Online is based on one of the stories of the Bong-shin-yeon-ui, the Korean name for a collection of 4 epic fantasy tales from ancient China. He stated, "The story was created based on real historical events. It merges the conflict between the Yin and Zhou kingdoms to the imaginary world of Taoism." The storyline blends with gameplay insofar as hostility is concerned; players can choose to conquer the opposing nation and establish their faction in this territory, or choose to rebuild their own nation in the aftermath of battle. The territories themselves span over 80 different regions.

The players of these nations, who are either Yin or Zhou, are imbued with various powers and wield 'bopae' -- unique weapons and items. Their faction choices and collective action determine which nation rules. This balance of power is established and maintained through questing or 'facing challenges' as well as sieging. Kim said that combat makes up roughly 70 percent of the game. The remaining 30 percent is comprised of raising pets, upgrading items, and completing quests. An interesting touch to the quest system is that some of them are actually delivered to the player by messenger pigeons.

As territorial struggle is a key feature of Sho Online, leveling up and achieving doesn't only benefit the individual player, but also their faction. As more territory is claimed by a nation, the world accessible to them grows. Likewise, the weaker nation's world shrinks as they become unable to enter these captured areas without attacks from hostile NPC's. The controlling dynasty is also notified of an opposing player's incursion into their territory, adding to the danger of straying beyond your nation's borders.

Sho Online has 3 player classes to choose from: Assassin, Warrior, and Soolsa. Profession choices open up to a player at level 10 and allow for specialization in melee or ranged attacks, as well as non-combat professions. The open beta will have a level cap of 80, although Kim said, "at level 65, players are given the option for the ultimate skill they can learn."

Predictably, PvP is integral to Sho Online. Players are by no means forced to engage in PvP to advance in the game. In light of this, Kim emphasized, "it would take longer since, in order to avoid PvP, you will have [to] play in the safe zones, which offer fewer experience points than neutral one[s] that members of both dynasties can enter. The higher the risk you take, the more experience you get..."

Crafting and customization are important to most players of MMOs, and Kim addressed Sho Online's system of item upgrades. Each bopae can be enhanced up to 15 grades and some items can be crafted. A more comprehensive crafting and market system is still in the works, but at present a player's gear is tied-in with the rate at which they can accrue experience points. Optimal experience point gain comes through fast leveling, enhanced items and -- surprisingly enough -- costume personalization. For players who are willing or able, a cash shop is built into Sho Online to enable faster acquisition of these types of items.

The IGN interview also touched on some technical details of Sho Online. It has an AI system which Kim likened to World of Warcraft's, where attacking a boss monster will aggro other monsters in its vicinity who will come to aid it, thus forcing players to think carefully about how to take down bosses. The servers run on Linux; each server can handle 4000 concurrent users, with up to 1000 players on a single map at one time. Lizard Interactive built their own engine for the game, with the intent to make Sho Online accessible to players who don't have the latest and greatest gaming rigs.

If this game's caught your interest, why not give it a shot? It's free-to-play and you can still grab the client here in time for the open beta.

[Via IGN]

This article was originally published on Massively.