Rise and Shiny: Herokon Online

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Rise and Shiny: Herokon Online
Herokon Online screenshot
I knew I would likely enjoy my time in Herokon Online, but not because I enjoy every game I come across. The truth has always been that I will gladly complain, tear up, and criticize any game that deserves it. No, I knew I would like Herokon Online for established reasons.

First, I covered the game in its initial stages at GDC Online in 2012. I loved the fact that it runs in a browser (the "mobile app" that came before mobile apps) and that it came from the same incredible IP that Drakensang Online and its standalone cousins boast. The Dark Eye is one of those IPs that I have always wished I could dig into more deeply. It's been going strong for a long time, and I know that there must be layers and layers in its lore that I can hopefully dive into one day soon.

So Herokon Online had a grip on me before I began to play it. It's by no means perfect, but I'll explain that.

Herokon Online screenshot
If you like old school RPGs, games that allow you to put points into different aspects of your character's traits and abilities or games that welcome players who are comfortable exploring and roleplaying, then you will likely enjoy Herokon Online. Even if the game remains in its beta state (and by beta I mean, you know, beta -- no soft launch here!), it will still be welcoming if only for the lovely hand "painted" artwork, glowing fires, and lovely, lovely sound. Not all MMOs need to be action-based hard-hitters that automatically sweep you into a deep space rescue or massive firefight. Herokon Online comes from that school of thought that says, "Want to make a character in a virtual world? Go ahead."

As you can tell, I'm smitten by some of the simplest things.

Having said that, I admit the game has quite a few flaws. First, the combat is very sluggish and can become repetitive. I rolled a Dwarf Bounty Hunter, a ranged character who shot bolts at monsters very slowly, but who, according to a glance at his ability and trait sheet, could eventually learn other skills outside his expertise. I was able to switch between my crossbow and a club, but I stayed with my native instrument. So while combat with my Dwarf sometimes felt like trudging through mud in shoes that were larger than I normally wear, there was hope at the end of the story. The ability point cost for unlocking some of the other abilities seemed ungodly and made me think I would never reach into the other branches of my character's skillsets, but I knew that along the way I would still get to see some great stuff.

While there is a lot of variety in the quests that I came across, there wasn't really enough variety. Again, though, I read up on some of the quest types that I might come across later, and it appears as though there is much more variety in store for high-level characters. Don't get me wrong; many of the quests I did were unique and engaging, but I could see the patterns early on and knew that the game was indeed in beta.

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Also, you cannot yet group with other players in this version of the game. I've played a handful of other betas -- the ill-fated Nadirim, for example -- that left out group combat at the beginning of testing, and it does hurt to see other players running around me and not being able to hang out with them during combat. Worse for me, there weren't that many players in this English version, anyway, and it seemed like all of the fun was going down on other languages' servers. One player told me that the non-English-speaking users took group screenshots and hosted roleplay gatherings frequently! I would have loved to see that -- Herokon Online is made for roleplay.

There's also the hairy subject of opening a cash shop during a beta. To be fair, this is an "open" beta, but I still don't understand why the developers decide to call it anything but a launch with more features coming "soon." Well, OK, I understand that they need a cash flow immediately, but you get my point. The stuff that is sold inside the shop is mostly harmless. Shockingly, mounts are not mountable in the game. The horse models are gorgeous and beg to be taken care of, but a "mount" in Herokon Online is only a buff that speeds you up while you run around the world.

Herokon Online screenshot
The good news is that all of my issues with the game can be easily solved over time, and I have faith that they will. The Dark Eye IP is long established and has a dedicated fanbase, but the developers do have to be careful. Making an MMO that plays like a single-player RPG can be a dangerous activity. Many times developers craft a game that doesn't play like an awesome single-player game or a killer massively multiplayer, and instead they come out with a game that does neither well. The best-looking and most immersive game in the world still has to be aware of pacing.

I enjoyed my time in Herokon Online but mostly because of its atmosphere and lore. The gameplay and questing was neat and sometimes dynamic, but I need to see more action and multiplayer options to give a complete thumbs up. Don't let this discourage you; try the game. Just be aware that it does need some more time in the oven before it's a fully formed adventure.

Next week I will be looking at UFO Online, finally. I'm glad to see it finally pushing to release and beyond. Come watch me destroy aliens on Monday, the 26th of August, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!
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