Rise and Shiny recap: Perfect World

Perfect World International, brought to us by Perfect World Entertainment, is a beautiful game -- I'll give it that. I am not sure whether the newbie area I was playing through (which consisted of a race of mermaid- and mermen-type creatures) is newly made or recently redone, but the scenery, special effects, and characters are downright gorgeous. While near-realism (with a huge touch of pointy fantasy) is definitely not my favorite art style, I can see how much hard work went into the game. Props to everyone on the team!

Still, a beautiful game does not guarantee a fun game. PWI is obviously very successful and boasts a massive population, but does that translate to a friendly community? I wonder, also, what the average age of players is. I would put hard-earned money (playing video games, so it's fitting) on the table and say that the numbers would surprise us. In fact, that could sum up a lot of how I felt about PWI while I played it: surprised -- a lot of the time.

Click past the cut and I'll tell you more.

To start, character creation is amazing. I remember when PWI first started to invite players in and how impressed I was when I made my first character. You could tweak everything, and if I remember correctly, you could even import a real-life photo into the character creator so you could attach it to your avatar's face. It was, sometimes, a little creepy. It looks like the character creator is still very robust and the source of a lot of belly laughs as players hit random over and over, making some of the ugliest creations in all of gaming. It does feel a little strange, though, to be able to make a character that seems to stick out from its race so badly. Still, it's great to see a free-to-play game with such options.

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Clothing is pretty standard, and weapons are pre-picked for you. Within a few missions, most new players will pretty much resemble everyone else. Thanks to later cash-shop purchases and loot, players can really start to look unique. I believe there is even an appearance slot for players to build their characters' looks to fit whatever odd fantasies they have in their heads.

Combat is basically the same as -- well, you've seen it before. You target a mob, start auto-attacking, and use a few abilities. Perhaps it is my exposure to so many different combat systems that has lowered my tolerance for such dry combat, but I was not really impressed with PWI's. As is typical in a lot of PWE's games, you will continually grow more powerful, and your spells and abilities will continue to become more and more elaborate, but you will sludge your way through a lot of mobs, killed in the same fashion each time. Quite literally, I could attack a monster, minimize the game to check email or Twitter, and come back to loot. I was hardly in danger and felt sort of like a chump for doing it over and over again.

So I didn't. I stopped leveling through questing and took a vacation from the grind. I went exploring. I listened in on player conversations. I attempted to chat with people. I poked around different towns and looked through the various in-game menus. So many of them didn't make much sense, but that can be a good thing. Those confusing menus promised new systems later in the game and promoted a sense of mystery. In fact, the only thing that was completely non-mysterious and bland was the combat. Granted, I hadn't yet tried my hands at crafting or harvesting items from the environment, but every time I was asked to kill 15 of this or 10 more of that, I simply balked. I didn't want to. I wasn't in the mood.

This is a problem in a game that asks players to pound their way through level after level into the 100s. While I can enjoy myself in a "soft grind," I cannot tolerate such pressing boredom in a grind like PWI's. I know the culture, too, so I know that for some players, this grind is a source of pride. I've literally heard players talk about their "hard work" and "dedication" to grinding, as though they had put 45 years in a saw-mill and were giving a speech to their grandkids. I'm actually sort of amazed when I meet anyone who lived to see level 200 in almost any game. I knew I would have to get some heavy grinding done in order to see the "better" parts of the game. Screw that, I told myself. I simply will not do it.

Was I able to have fun in the game then? Was I able to find things to do? Well, sort of. Instead of putting on some trance music (that word makes me giggle) and pulling off a 12-hour marathon session to hit level 50, I went with the "variety is the spice of life" method. I would do a mission, then go exploring. Do a mission, then go exploring. It was actually a lot of fun this way. Like I said, the graphics and environments are amazing sometimes, so I felt fulfilled in a lot of ways. The great thing about PWI is that it is free -- truly free. You can take your time and level up at your pace. Some players don't seem to buy into that at all, instead pursuing max-level like some kind of sugar-pumped macaque -- but I will not be one of them. I cannot be one of them.

So in a lot of ways, PWI is great for almost any type of player. Explorers, roleplayers, annoying kids who talk about farting in the chat all night -- everyone should find something to do. I would encourage everyone to try to take his time when he plays PWI, but I know it will not happen. Still, it's worth it, and it might be the only source of sanity for players like yours truly. Yes, the lore is there, but it is delivered in sparse spurts during questing. And yes, there are some complex game systems to discover, but they generally hinge on the idea that you must grind your butt off, so just make up your own rules. Try to notice the details in the world, and try to venture, quite literally, off of the beaten path once in a while.

If you don't, you will find just another free-to-play mega-grinder that only pays back those who "work" for it.

Next week I will be revisiting Free Realms! I have been involved with this game for quite a long time but have hardly touched it for a long, long time. I want to take a new look at this cute "kids game" to see what might have changed and improved. My in-game name is Beau Hindman -- so see you there! Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!

This article was originally published on Massively.