Ask any of the Massively staff and they will gladly tell you that I have a borderline obsessive fascination with all things steampunk (HNNNNGH!), so I was rather pleased when I found out that the subject of my next first impressions column was ARGO Online, which bills itself as a steampunk fantasy MMORPG. But of course, whether I'm borderline obsessive or not, a steampunk setting does not necessarily make a good game.

ARGO is very much what most expect out of a westernized Korean free-to-play MMO; it's rife with translation issues, grindy quests, and inadequately explained systems. But despite all of that, there are a few interesting features to be found buried in the sand. What are these features? And moreover, do they make the game worth playing? Follow past the cut to find out.

Of course, the first thing presented to you in any MMO is character creation, so I imagine I'll start with that. ARGO Online offers a surprising degree of customization for your characters. Along with the typical face selection, eye color, hair color, and hair style, you can also further customize your character's look with a series of sliders that allow you to adjust the scale of the various parts of your avatar's body.

The game's players are split into two factions: the technologically advanced Noblian and the naturally inclined Floresslah. Each faction has eight classes available, with the Noblian possessing a more distinct steampunk flavor and the Floresslah sticking to more conventional fantasy archetypes. Naturally, I chose the Noblian faction and created a Scholar, who in true scholarly fashion totes around a pair of pistols and uses them to blast things to kingdom come.

The first thing I noticed as I began my adventures was the translation work. Now, it's not absolutely horrid, but you can definitely tell that the game was localized from another language, and the quest text can be a pain to read, with many lines of dialogue ending mid-word. That said, the dialogue is just very stiff rather than flat-out bad. Some turns of phrase are awkward, and it can be difficult to discern quest objectives at times. Even though the game marks your quest objective locations on your map (and in some cases even provides you with an arrow trail to follow), there were a few that I absolutely could not figure out for the life of me due to the instructions being so poorly worded.

Combat is speedy though genre-typical. Target enemy, press hotkey rotation, repeat. The animations are flashy (in typical Korean fashion) and quite well done. I really felt that my pistols packed a huge punch as I watched enemies fly back 10 feet upon death.

The quests themselves are typical: go here, gather this, kill X number of monster Z, etc. It starts out at an easy pace but quickly escalates to grindy as you're asked to kill upwards of 20 mobs per quest, which I personally think is overkill. The questing does flow well, however, taking you from point A to point B to point C and not usually requiring you to run all over creation to find your objectives. Some quests during the tutorial are fully voiced but rather poorly so. A few quests are bugged and not completable, giving the game a rather unpolished feel.

To round out the game's decidedly unpolished vibe, invisible walls seem to exist in places they should not; many times I found myself trying to jump a small fence only to be denied by an unseen barrier above said fence. Item tooltip translations can be mystifying at times, and quite a few of the game's systems (such as the Adventure Log, which I'll discuss a bit further on) are never explicitly detailed, leaving players in the dark unless they stumble across them by accident.

I've been complaining a lot up until this point, so let's get on with the bits I thought were interesting. First off, the game allows you to play it like a third-person shooter, using crosshairs to line up your shots rather than auto-targeting. However, there seems to be absolutely no difference in the underlying mechanics whether you play traditionally or in TPS mode, leaving me to wonder what exactly the point of it is.

Earlier I mentioned the game's Adventure Log, so here's what that's all about. It's essentially an in-game system that allows you to blog about your adventures in ARGO for other players to read and enjoy. It also gives you the ability to view information such as which titles you've acquired, see where you stand on certain quest- and story-completion landmarks, and so forth. It's a fairly interesting feature for something that is never mentioned in the game's tutorial, especially considering the titles that you can unlock grant stat boosts -- which is sort of an important thing for players to know, I think.

Then there's the game's backpack and core system. Throughout my journeys, I was given a variety of backpacks, which are items used to convert a resource known as Earthdium (found on the bodies of various creatures) into energy. This energy can be harnessed to provide offensive and defensive boosts as well as to provide the ability to run faster and double-jump. The Earthdium is also used to power the various mounts that are available to players.

That brings me to what I think is the game's neatest feature: mounted combat. Your first mount is a nifty steampunk hoverbike sort of thing, and I quickly discovered, much to my delight, that it's equipped with machine-guns! Your mount has its own health bar, and takes damage before you, providing you not only with a little extra firepower but with a bit of a shield as well. It's truly satisfying bombarding your enemies with machine-gun and cannon fire, and it also saves you a good deal of time since you don't have to remount after every fight. At higher levels, three- and 10-person mounts are also available to players. All players can attack from the three-person varieties, but the 10-person mounts are intended simply as personnel carriers.

The last thing I want to discuss is the cash shop. I think ARGO is an example of how cash shops can go wrong. Rather than selling exclusively cosmetic items or items that just provide a small bit of convenience, ARGO's cash shop sells straight-up stat improvements (albeit temporary ones) and experience boosts, which sets off warning sirens in my head. I'm not knowledgeable enough to say whether these boosts could potentially imbalance the game, but the fact remains that players who pay seem to have a distinct advantage over those who choose to keep their money to themselves.

So there you have it. If you're willing to wade through some bugs and lack-of-polish, there are a few gems to be found beneath ARGO Online's rough exterior. So let's summarize, shall we?

Pros:
  • Clean, flashy graphics
  • Core and Backpack system provides interesting twist to traditional gameplay
  • Mounted combat is awesome because big machine-guns are awesome
  • Ability to play as third-person shooter adds variety
Cons:
  • Invisible walls and lack of inventory auto-stacking lends unpolished feel
  • Quests can be very, very grindy
  • Cash shop items are potentially game-imbalancing
  • Not all game systems are adequately explained, leaving players in the dark

This article was originally published on Massively.
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