The sheer amount of free video games in the world nowadays amazes me. It seems like every time I turn around there’s another free-to-play game that I can derive a few hours of cheap entertainment from at the cost of a simple and quick download. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t really buy new videogames because I think to myself “why bother paying $60 for this game, when I can have almost as much fun playing this free game?” Games like League of Legends, Continent of the Ninth Seal (C9), and Warframe occupy a great deal of my time, and I don’t have to pay a dime. Of course, these Free-to-Play games aren’t always as polished or refined as other games, and not even the unbeatable price is enough incentive to invest too much time. Hero of the Obelisk is one such game. The game started off on the wrong foot, as far as I’m concerned, with its cheesy graphical style. As much as I hate to judge something based on its graphics, the whole “chibi” style has never really appealed to me. However, I recognize that some people really enjoy it, so I was determined not to let the appearance color my perception too much. Unfortunately, the game did itself no favors with its woefully limited character customization screen. Hero of the Obelisk offers three classes: Swordsman, Adventurer, and Scholar. These three choices fulfill the archetypal roles of warrior, rogue, and mage, and each of them can class change at level 10 into a more specialized role. The classes aren’t gender-locked, which is a good thing, except for the fact that the chibi characters are so androgynous that it really doesn’t make a difference; when I turned my character completely around, I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl anyway. There are a decent number of hairstyles, but there are very few normal hair colors. Keeping with the chibi, cartoony theme, the hair colors are wild and extravagant, ranging from blue to green to hot pink. I was looking for a simple, normal brown, and the closest I could find was a very dark red.
While I wasn’t particularly happy with the customization options, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the way my character looked regardless, so I simply loaded up the game and hoped to be blown away by remarkably fun gameplay. Unfortunately, I had to go through the tutorial first, which turned out to be a very poor mixture of gameplay and instruction. The game literally stopped me from playing while it showed me a video instructing me what I was supposed to do. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but this doesn’t seem to me like the way teaching should be done. When I first logged into World of Warcraft, I had a small window of text telling me to talk to the guy with the gold exclamation point above his head. I read the quest I was given and set out to kill some wolves. Sure, I had little windows the whole way explaining to me how I was supposed to play, but they weren’t intrusive, and I never once felt like I wasn’t in control of my character. In Hero of the Obelisk, I felt less like I was playing a tutorial, and more like I was watching one of those, like, promotional videos that shows one of the developers playing the game and explaining the mechanics as though they’re talking to a two year old. Of course, I could’ve just closed the videos, but I was afraid that I’d close the one video that actually showed me something I needed to know. To make matters worse, the game unnecessarily informs you any time another player receives a legendary piece of loot, and the text obscures the very instructions that the game is trying to teach you. Not only is it making me sit through these explanations, it’s making me work to read what it’s trying to tell me.
The purpose of the tutorial from a narrative standpoint is simple: your character wishes to become a Dungeon Hero, and the only way to see if you’re worthy is by passing these tests. Of course the fact that Szilar essentially has to teach you how to play should make it very clear that you are not Dungeon Hero material, but I digress. After encountering a foe whom you absolutely cannot defeat, you are sent to the nearest town to gain more experience and become stronger. It’s a pretty weak story, but a game like Hero of the Obelisk doesn’t really need a compelling story to sell itself, which is handy, because the various mistranslations would make it so difficult to understand what’s going on that the game would likely fall short even if it had the best story in the world. At one point, a quest giver said to me “Huge Boar King which never seen before have appeared. And creating chaos. I wonder what made this relatively tame creature into vicious untameable creature?” This is just one example. Hero of the Obelisk is plagued with awkward mistranslations, and the tutorial master even mispronounces his own name at the beginning. Also, a quest giver at one point literally told me to go to Mine Shaft when all of the quests were actually in Mine Reef. I ran the same zone twice for no reason before realizing something was wrong. It’s worth mentioning that the game is currently in closed beta, so these mistranslations may be fixed with the game’s official launch, but if not, player’s won’t miss much from skipping dialogue.
Once I finally got to the gameplay, I was pleased by how responsive the attacks were. The effects were just flashy enough to be interesting, but not so flashy that they’re likely to give someone a seizure. Combat is simple hack n’ slash, where left-clicking causes your character to attack, and you can hotkey your various abilities to deal some extra damage or gain a bit of utility. It’s all very standard MMO gameplay, and that’s not a bad thing. MMO RPGs have been around for a while, and there’s not much left to improve upon in the formula. I’d much rather see a game that sticks to what works than a game that tries to reinvent the wheel and ends up providing a lackluster gameplay experience. This is where the game’s visual style was actually very helpful. The large numbers and simple graphics mixed very well to make combat simple and enjoyable. Grouping up large numbers of enemies and slamming them all with an earthquake was a delightful experience. Quests are given from a large town where players can interact with one another, but upon leaving the town, players enter their own instanced zone where they can complete their quests by themselves or with any other players that they choose to party with. Each zone is self-contained and has a very definitive ending, so that the game plays out like an old arcade game mixed with MMO elements. If you’ve ever played C9, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Looting is a simple matter of pressing a button and your character picking up the nearest object, which is extremely efficient and helps keep the player immersed in the action, rather than blandly running around right-clicking corpses. When I entered my first dungeon, I had a great time mindlessly destroying all of the enemies and jumping around (seriously, when you jump, you do like ten flips. It’s awesome) as I completed my quests, but the unfortunate thing about mindless combat is that, well, it doesn’t keep your mind engaged for very long. After only a few short dungeons, I quickly grew tired of constantly left-clicking and listening to my character shout the same three soundbites over and over. I stopped playing Diablo 3 for similar reasons. The bosses have some skill based moves that can be dodged with quick timing, but the attacks are so weak that most can simply be face-tanked with relative ease. Despite these shortcomings, the gameplay is fun if you don’t get bored of the same thing easily, and the simple visual style is great for fighting.
Level 10 is when the game starts to get a bit more interesting. There’s a difficulty spike in the dungeons, where the number of enemies just about doubles, and they deal significantly more damage. This doesn’t necessarily make the game any more challenging or engaging though. In fact, it just means that you can’t group pull an entire room and blow all the mobs up with area of effect spells, so the dungeons just take even longer and the combat gets even more repetitive. The game also features a talent tree at level ten, much like World of Warcraft, though less in-depth. In fact, the talent trees look more like the mastery pages from League of Legends. Each level grants the player one point to spend in the Offense, Defense, or Utility tree, and the various talents give small bonuses to the player, such as bonus damage with staffs. Level 10 also gives players access to a new job, a more specialized version of their class. Scholars can become Clerics or Sorcerers, Swordsmen can become Fighters or Champions, and Adventurers can become Hunters or Engineers. Unfortunately, you’ll have to check the official website for a description of what each class does, because the in-game description, if you can call it that, is very vague about what each specialization means. Perhaps the largest problem with the progression of character comes in the form of the end of dungeon loot bonuses and the enhancement stones. Much like C9, players get to choose a random chest of loot for completing a dungeon. Loot options range from simple boots to legendary robes. At first I was overjoyed to get a legendary staff at level four, but then I realized that this kind of devalued the concept of “legendary.” Is it really a legendary staff if anyone can get it at such a low level? And I didn’t even really have to do anything to get it; I simply got lucky. Moreover, each piece of gear can be enhanced with a weapon or armor stone. Each time a piece of equipment is enhanced, its success rate goes down, and its chance to break goes up. So if you’re lucky enough to get a legendary staff and lucky enough to reach, say, +30 with it, your gear will be phenomenal. But for someone else who has done everything you have, they may just be unlucky and never get a legendary item, and their shoddy average gear may keep breaking at the +10 mark. Perhaps I’m weird, but I’m just not a fan of such random, luck-based progression. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of chibi characters dancing in panda costumes, so maybe this game just isn’t for me.
At the end of the day, Hero of the Obelisk was pretty much exactly as I expected it to be. I don’t really mean that in a bad way: the fact that I was able to predict that there would be talents and a class change at level 10, for example, is a good thing in a way; it means that Hero of the Obelisk has learned from the games that have come before it and seeks to stick with what works. The problem is that there aren’t many innovative gameplay concepts that make Hero of the Obelisk stand out. After playing the game for over ten hours, I just felt that there was nothing it had to offer that Continent of the Ninth Seal simply didn’t do better. The thing that most separates Hero of the Obelisk from its peers is its style. The childish visuals and the diminutive characters appeal to some people, and if you’re into that sort of thing, then by all means, download Hero of the Obelisk when it officially launches and have the time of your life. For players that can do without huge, colorful eyes and oddly proportioned heads, you won’t find anything in Hero of the Obelisk that you can’t find in Continent of the Ninth Seal.