Heroes of the Obelisk screenshot
Heroes of the Obelisk might look familiar, probably because its developers are the same folks who brought us Luna Online and Legend of Edda. I really enjoy its art style, one that puts us in control of Chibi-style, juvenile characters. The backgrounds are pretty, and there are some nice modern bells and whistles like distance blur and glow effects. As is normally the case with an Anime-based game that comes to us from the East, the game looks like a carbon copy of other titles, at least at first glance. The details make all of the difference, however, and there are a few things in this title that manage to just barely keep it out of "clone" territory.

I do take issue with the fact that the developers refer to it as a hack-and-slash title, though. Heroes of the Obelisk is not what you think of when you think of action combat. Games like Vindictus, Neverwinter, and Dungeons and Dragons Online are action-based gaming. Heroes of the Obelisk is standard, class-based, hotbar-mashing combat.

Heroes of the Obelisk screenshot
I run across a lot of titles that claim to be something they are not. Normally, it's a game that is by no means an "MMORPG," but there it is in the banner claiming otherwise. I can look past it, generally, but to call a game an action-based MMO is a relatively unforgivable crime when the person reading the words "action-based MMORPG" is a huge fan of action-based games.

But let's not get too hung up on a few poorly picked words. As an MMO, Heroes of the Obeslisk is standard enough to forgive. You have some pretty basic customization at first, and you can always purchase or earn more customization later on. That's fine with me. There are a few basic classes as well. There's an Adventurer, a ranged character who can specialize in a weapon type later on. Next there's a Swordsman, a melee tank. Then there's the Scholar, your typical magic dealer or healer.

I don'[t care much when a game repeats the same class or system designs that we have seen so many times before. To me, it's a similar process to creating a chess board out of nice wood and decorative stone. The game is the same while the presentation is unique. There are worse game design blunders than repeating a formula that has been shown to work to varying degrees over and over.

Heroes of the Obelisk screenshot
My main aggravation stems from the fact that games like Heroes of the Obelisk are so obviously designed to create a grind for players to work through. The in-game quests are basically all the same: talk to an NPC, go to a dungeon-access point, teleport to the dungeon, kill things until the quest's parameters are satisfied, then turn it in. You will likely be asked to do this so many times that you'll do what I did, which was to skip the pointless reading and just go to the waypoints. To me, creating a game with such little variety in gameplay is a mistake because it wastes the opportunity to release players into a living world. Even the cheapest or most poorly made MMOs can function as a living world simply because they are access points for real people to interact virtually, but forcing a grind takes away from that wonderful world.

The combat is really basic. Since it is not truly action-based, you'll load into a dungeon, tab-target the nearest monster, and AoE the crap out of him and his buddies by pressing a series of buttons. You'll move on to the next one and the next after that. It's simple stuff. There is some dodging going on, such as when a boss monster gives you a sign that it will be firing off a massive combo or attack, but it's mild stuff for the most part. Around level 10 you'll gain access to skill points for passive skills like attack, defense, and support, but there are no real changes going on until you get into more specific class roles later.

Inside dungeons, you can get overwhelmed relatively easy if you grab one too many mobs at once, but usually the pace is set to allow for a nice rest between fights. Although grouping is encouraged, I rarely got the chance. I asked a few players and explored the option to form a group as I went into dungeons, but I was joined by others only a few times. I got tired of waiting and would mostly solo everything. There are more open maps later on that support PvP and a different kind of adventuring, but it's all pretty basic.

Heroes of the Obelisk screenshot
At level 10, you can begin crafting. There are several basic skills, like blacksmithing, alchemy, gunsmithing, weaponsmithing, staffcarving, tailoring and jewelcrafting. You can find materials inside dungeons or by disassembling items. You'll have plenty of need for disassembling because your inventory fills up very, very fast. I found that I preferred just to sell everything and skip the crafting. Crafting like the kind you'll find in Heroes of the Obelisk is bland stuff.

The game has several nice features, like dance animations, automove to quest turn-ins while in town, a player matching system for dungeon grouping, a standard friends list, and an auction house to sell rare goods. Of course, the game has a lot of the standard flaws like gold spam that can be denied only by adding the spammer's name to a blacklist. It's easy enough to do, but once the game gets going and gold spam is more common than standard chat speech, it will be nearly impossible to keep up. I have no idea how a developer can publish a game that does not feature a simple right-click-block-and-report feature.

The game's controls are often infuriating. It features an A and D key that do not turn the character but that make the character run to the right or left instead, a camera that is controlled by a right click, and a cursor that does not stay put after right-clicking. I understand why some players prefer this set-up, but to me it makes no sense at all. I finally got comfortable with the UI when I remapped the turning keys so I could move forward with W. Even then, the character and camera would not move in sync unless I was moving forward. The lack of basic options for remapping the controls is mindboggling in this day and age.

Heroes of the Obelisk should be a lot of fun while in a group. If you get together with three or four other people, the light grind of each dungeon will probably be pretty enjoyable. But almost any MMO is more fun with a group because being with friends makes almost anything more fun. The problem is that newer MMOs like Heroes of the Obelisk seem so soloable that a group rarely comes into play.

You can sign up and try the game for free right now. It's supported by a harmless cash shop with costumes, potions, inventory expansions, and other staples.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.