I don’t play a lot of massively multiplayer on-line role-playing games (MMORPGs). I get too involved, and I develop this “oh, yeah?” mentality that sees me spending every available moment on-line to make my character as powerful as possible. I played a lot of MUDs when I was younger, which just about derailed my college career, but since then I’ve mostly managed to avoid on-line games. However, recently a MMORPG named RYL: Path of the Emperor landed on my desk, and I agreed to take a look. “RYL” stands for “Risk Your Life,” but there isn’t much risk of anything -- except that you might fall asleep while playing the game and hit your head on your keyboard -- and I got so bored with the game that I stopped playing it after a few days.
RYL takes place on an island called Caernarvon. The island is something less than tranquil, as humans and a race of beings called the Ak’kans have been pushed into a position where they have to fight each other on it. When you create a character for the game, you have to pick which side you want to play for. Humans get typical classes like rogue, fighter, acolyte, and mage, while Ak’kans (which for some reason reminded me of Starcraft’s Protoss race) are split into two classes, combatants for males and officiators for females. If you play long enough to get your character to level l0, then you can specialize your class. Generally, this means that you can make your class more offensively or defensively minded. For example, the human fighter can become a dual-wielding warrior or a sword-and-shield defender.
Gameplay in RYL mostly involves combat, and the game includes two ways for you to control your character. In keyboard mode, you use the WASD keys to drive your character and the mouse to steer, and clicking the left mouse button causes you to swing your weapon. You’re also allowed to jump and dodge in this mode, so it’s the best option to use in combat (especially player vs. player combat), but in order to interact with NPCs, you have to press the tab key to make the cursor show up, which is awkward, and so it’s not the best mode when you’re in town. Meanwhile, in mouse mode, you click where you want your character to go, and clicking on an enemy will cause you to attack it until it is dead. You can’t jump or dodge in this mode (why not?), and the pathfinding is horrendous, but it requires far fewer clicks when fighting, and so it can save your mouse hand some wear and tear.
Having two control modes sounds good, but in RYL both modes have problems, and it’s awkward to switch between them because the camera for some reason changes position when you do. The game is playable using both modes, but the modes are just one example of many of how the game isn’t exactly polished or well made.
Here’s another example. There’s a mini-map that is fixed in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, but it’s so small (and not resizable) that it doesn’t show you a whole lot. There’s also an overhead map that you can bring up, but the overhead map shows the complete region of the world that you’re in, and so it shows too much. What would be nice is some sort of middle ground between the two, but it doesn’t exist. And so just like the control modes, the game gives you two options, but neither one does quite what you’d like it to do.
Or how about these fun quirks? The game charges you gold for doing certain things, but it rarely tells you how much it’s charging or asks if you’d really like to proceed. The game doesn’t tell you the level of enemies or other players, and so it’s difficult to tell if you should be able to kill them (the first creature I attacked in the game was a squirrel, and it killed me in about three hits). The game allows you to set up a store to sell objects to other players, but all that does is cause lots of extra people to hang around in towns, adding lag, and since there isn’t any way to search these stores other than visiting each and every one, the system is far inferior to having some sort of auction house.
In other words, the interface, the programming, and most of the decisions made by the developers leave a lot to be desired. But you know what? Those sorts of things don’t really matter. What matters for an action role-playing game (MMORPG or not) is whether combat is any fun, and if the game gives you enough things to do. Amazingly, the developers of RYL messed up those areas the most of all.
A couple weeks ago, I got on Dungeon Siege II’s case about having some boring grind-it-out sequences. However, compared to RYL, Dungeon Siege II is the golden pinnacle of gameplay design. The world in RYL is small, you have to kill the same things over and over and over again, and there are barely any quests to mix things up or give you a sense of purpose. The only reason that I lasted as long as I did in the game (which wasn’t all that long) was because I discovered that RYL is the perfect game to play while you’re also half-watching something on TV. Thanks to the NFL, I was able to play RYL for several hours on Sunday and Monday, but once Tuesday rolled around, I was lost. I just could not make myself log onto the game again and kill 500 more fungus thingies to gain another level.
So, overall, I didn’t like RYL a whole lot. There is very little to do in the game, and it’s the sort of game where I wonder what the developers were thinking when they made it. I mean, why bother making a game that has so little going for it? Even the $1 million tournament that is so prominently advertised on the game’s box got suspended because, apparently, too many people were cheating. The only good thing about RYL is that you can essentially play for free (you just have to take part in surveys from time to time), but I got two free months when I installed the game, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to play longer than that.