ChangYou's Zentia is -- you guessed it -- another free-to-play title coming from Asia. So what makes it stand out from the rest? We talked to the game's senior producer, Susan Revelt at E3 and she tells us it's the game's story that makes it shine. And we admit, Zentia does start with a rather unique premise: You enter the game as one of 22 (former) immortals who have been banished from the immortal realms and tasked with ridding the world of demons before they can return. It's ChangYou's take on telling a fairy tale... with a humorous twist. (Revelt tells us they're aiming for a Princess Bride or Labyrinth feel with the story and the humor.) Whether this has given them what they need to succeed in the crowded free to play market is still up in the air. Though we've seen footage of the game, we haven't had a chance to test drive it ourselves and the closed beta won't begin until early July, with a planned release towards the end of August.
Let's start by talking about the basics of the game...
Customizing your character
You play one of 22 pre-created heroes, without any options for customizing their appearance -- at least not at the beginning of the game. As you progress, you'll be able to collect gear that will help you stand out from the crowd. As far as gameplay goes, you can select from eight classes (all classes are open to all characters): Vajra Guardian, Raksha Warrior, Master Summoner, Blade Warden, Fire Mage, Stormlord, Divine Enchanter, and Dark Revenant. Each class also has a unique talisman, which is upgradable, but throughout the game you'll be able to recognize a class by its talisman. To get a better feel for what these classes are like (and get a look at their talismans), check out the gameplay trailer above.
You also have access to wide variety of crafting skills, of which you can train three. Crafting will offer you better gear than drops, but otherwise we're waiting for the beta to get a better feel for how it will work.
Pets also play a key role in the game. Half of the creatures you encounter in the game world will be tamable as mounts or pets, and each one has its own personality. As examples, there's a fox that breathes fire and a stubborn mule that you can only ride while seated backwards. Mounts can carry up to 10 players and the game does feature mounted combat.
As with most free-to-play games, there's a microtransaction model here. Microtransactions are optional -- you can play through the entire game for free. These items will either save you time (i.e. health, mana, or XP bonus potions) or be cosmetic (costumes, hair dyes, etc.).
Questing & random events
As you'd expect in an MMO these days, advancement can be done entirely (or almost entirely) through questing. The game features hundreds of quests in an expansive game world. (Again, the trailer above gives you a glimpse of the sort of scenery you can expect.) But beyond the standard quest grind, the game also features numerous random events. When you're out in the world, NPCs will occasionally appear to help -- or hinder you -- in your quest to rid the world of demons. They might help you in combat, they might send you on a quest, or they might throw you into an instance. (Idlers, beware! You might be tossed into such an instance without an option to say yes or no. Though don't worry; it sounds as though you're still safe idling in towns.) This certainly has the opportunity to shake things up from the same old MMO grind.
In your travels, expect anything: You're as likely to find yourself fighting crabs, shrimp, and enchanted monsters made of debris as you are to fight your typical MMO monster.
The Heavenly Test
Every 20 levels a server must go through a world event to unlock the next tier of content. There will be quests to complete, items to collect, and dungeons to run. When a group of heroes clears the final dungeon, new content will be unlocked for everyone to enjoy. This reminds us a bit of World of Warcraft's Ahn'Qiraj quest chain, which involved players in an epic world event to unlock a new dungeon. The idea of an entire server working together for a single epic event is an interesting one -- if implemented in a way that allows everyone to participate and have fun. Whether that's possible is another question entirely. Revelt doesn't expect the Heavenly Test to be unlocked during beta, so we'll have to wait for release to see how exactly this will work.
Want to play?
If you're interested in trying this one out for yourself, register on ChangYou's website. Closed beta begins on July 8th, open beta in August, and release at the end of August.