MMObility: Avabel Online is almost everything I dislike about mobile MMOs

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MMObility: Avabel Online is almost everything I dislike about mobile MMOs
Avabel Online screenshot
The mobile MMO market is still so young and underdeveloped that it seems unfair to judge it too harshly. Calling it devoid of quality content is sort of like describing the dark days of early graphical MMOs, a time filled with games that were nothing but a grind wrapped in what we thought was a pretty package. In hindsight, those three-day waits and incredibly tedious levels were "fun" only when we consider that they were all we had to choose from.

The mobile market is about 80% crap as it is right now; this is true. I say that as someone who is a massive fan of the platform. For what it's worth, the rest of the standard MMO market is around 80% crap as well, but there are a lot more titles to choose from. Mobile has its star titles and wonderful developers, but when a game like Avabel Online pops up, I cringe at the possibility that an entire generation of gamers might grow up on such tedium.

Avabel Online screenshot
Having said that, I survived the bland old days and came out a happier MMO gamer, so I can see some 13-year-old shrugging off the boredom of games like Avabel and eventually discovering more advanced titles. When I mention the things I dislike, I'm talking about games that give the mobile MMO market the bad name it sometimes has. Every week I read comments or emails from players who think the market is cute at best, one that is filled with MMOs that aren't "real" games and are only for children. I always find that opinion strange; surely an older player who looks back on the primitive days of MMOdom can recognize the natural pace of technology and should be able to apply that same idea to the mobile market. In other words, yes, the mobile market is in a primitive state right now and offers only a handful of standout titles, but there is still plenty of time for it to mature.

"I rarely see mention of how incredibly grindy the game is or how it offers the same class-based, spiky-haired, auto-attack vomit that gave the free-to-play-import-haters so much ammo several years ago."

Avabel does not help my case, however, even though it looks fantastic. In fact, every comment I have seen about the game usually concentrates on how amazing it looks and how it finally shows how beautiful a mobile game can be, but there have been good-looking mobile MMOs out there for a while. I rarely see mention of how incredibly grindy the game is or how it offers the same class-based, spiky-haired, auto-attack vomit that gave the free-to-play-import-haters so much ammo several years ago.

Concentrating on the looks of the game as proof of quality is not native strictly to the mobile market. I've seen graphics entice players to play crappy games since I first started playing in '99, and I've watched those same graphics gloss over the fact that the game behind the pretty pixels was as fun as a gastroenterologist's waiting room. Avabel will pull in players who want to see how far they can push their mobile devices, and those same graphics will have many players defend the game simply because it looks so good.

I keep wondering if there is something I am missing when I play games like Avabel. I almost always end up Googling the game to see what other sites are saying, just in case there is a secret button in the roughly translated UI that opens up the game's true potential, but once again I find more discussion about the game's good looks and barely any mention of the game's stupid grind. Sure, each "level" has its own area to play in... woohoo? And yes, there is an "arena" that puts you in competition with other players to "see how quickly you can defeat savage." Savage what? (I'm not sure because I could not figure out how to advance the NPC dialogue box.) I can buy new armor, sell some of the random junk that I automatically pick up while killing dozens of monsters, learn a set of new skills and... sorry, what was I saying? I nodded off while writing that.

Avabel Online screenshot
There is also a major issue in the mobile market with control schemes. How do you make a game that is comfortable to play -- often on hand-sized devices -- for hours at a time? Some titles, like those from Spacetime Studios' Legends titles, are not only comfortable to play but available on several platforms. Avabel allows movement with a left-side joystick and camera movement is controlled with the right thumb, but it just doesn't work. The hotbars are so large and poorly configured that moving the camera is a nightmare. In comparison, check out the layout for Star Legends:

Star Legends screenshot
Or look at how Order and Chaos Online has solved the issue by putting the jump button in the corner and allowing the hotbar to be rotated to choose different skills. Avabel places a button on the screen to select different hotbars, only adding to the noise. Also notice Order and Chaos Online's neat autorun arrow that pops up when you need it:

Order and Chaos Online screenshot
Star Legends and a few others offer an actual "chase cam," an option that keeps the camera glued to back of your character's head. If you've played World of Warcraft and turned your character with an arrow key as the camera rotated with you, you know what I am talking about. For years I have been trying to wrap my head around why some developers insist on mapping keys so that when your character "turns" the camera does not... it stays glued in place, forcing players to hold down a mouse button to rotate the camera. I can deal with the non-rotation in some games as long as it is comfortable, but Avabel is in no way comfortable. The only reason I can think of that would justify the goofy control scheme is so players could zoom way out, turn the camera down, and auto-attack nearby monsters. That's right, I'm talking about a camera control scheme made for grinding. I need to go back and take away the word "promising" from my mention of Avabel last week. That was based on just a short time in the game.

The grind is ever-present in Avabel as well. To be fair, the grind is a force of nature that will not be going away any time soon. I can stand a grind occasionally, but only when the rest of the game is fun or charming. Avabel gave me no reason to grind other than to knock off a few lame achievements or to ding a new level. My head swims when I think of playing through a grind like this, and it makes me wonder how so many people do it and stay sane. Oh well, the world needs more worker bees; perhaps games like Avabel will serve as perfect training.

There's a lesson to be learned by playing Avabel, and that's to never trust a game just because of its graphics. Avabel looks great and does show just how graphics in mobile devices can truly match the middle-end of the PC. But that's no reason to do away with any sort of fun in the game, especially in a mobile MMO genre that does have at least a dozen really fun titles that offer different styles of play. The mobile market is so exciting because it is young and growing and primitive, but games like Avabel do nothing for it.

Don't let the title of this article fool you; I love much of the mobile market. But games like Avabel conveniently wrap everything I do not love into one easily avoidable package.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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