Order & Chaos, initial impressions
April 29, 2011
As a former World of Warcraft (WoW) gamer, we found ourselves intrigued when Order & Chaos (O&C) was announced for iOS. Gameloft titles are known for cloning gameplay, art, and themes from blockbuster titles, and O&C is no different. The title offers to do one thing that no one else hasn’t, however, and that’s delivering a solid MMO experience to mobile devices1. And in this respect, Gameloft delivered.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Order & Chaos isn’t going to replace WoW. At least not for most people. That’s because WoW has a rich, established setting that’s interesting the moment you enter the game. O&C may share an aesthetic style, but it’s WoW watered down. The quests are just as simple as vanilla WoW, and while the world appears to have a decent scope to it, the atmosphere isn’t reflective of racial or cultural differences. New characters are basically dropped right into the game, and while WoW eases new players into game mechanics in way that’s mind-numbingly slow your second or third time around, O&C throws you into the mix a bit quicker, expecting you to get the hang of things before you’ve even explored the full interface. So maybe the tutorial could use some buffing up for people new to the genre, but maybe Gameloft expects most people downloading O&C to already be MMO veterans.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about character creation. The game limits players to four races (two per “side"), and players can choose either male or female gender. Model customization is limited to skin and hair color, hairstyle, and face style. There are about four options in each category here, so the customization isn’t horribly robust, but it’s plenty for a first attempt. What surprised us is that there are no racial bonuses, so other than appearance, there’s no benefit to which race you decide to go with.
There are also four classes to choose from, each being available to every race: Warrior, Mage, Monk, and Ranger. We’ve only played around with the Monk thus far, which looks like it can be specced to do extra healing, or be combat-proficient. It’s unclear to us as yet whether O&C is a true Diku-style MMO, but at first glance we didn’t see any threat-reducing spells available at our class trainer. By level nine, we had a one go-to healing spell, and we grouped up twice to take on some named monsters, where we were more useful healing than fighting.
There’s a talent tree for specializing, and it looks pretty deep, so the customization here may be interesting. There are some talent dependencies, and other talents that require a certain amount of pre-spent points in a given tree in order to buy them. Unlike WoW there are two trees per class, with the Monk being the sole healing class. The Ranger looks to be a cross between a WoW Hunter and Rogue, while the Warrior and Mage are more obvious. Again, without any indication of a threat meter, we don’t know whether the Warrior has a taunt-like effect, but we imagine this must exist, if only because his armour is clearly more robust.
Like WoW, each class has a trainer, but unlike WoW, you buy books that contain skills. So rather than buying the skill, you buy the book and then use the book to learn the skill, which is really just a pain in the ass considering the extra step. There are a lot of extra steps like this littered throughout the game, like when you click an item in your inventory, and you have to click another little icon in order to bring up a smaller window comparing it to the item already occupying the respective item slot. These things just go to show how polished WoW was when it came out in 2004, and how even after all this time, a clone isn’t getting everything right.
O&C includes crafting, which seems limited to tailoring, leather-working, and smithing. There’s a quest you can complete which lets you choose one of those three, and we don’t know why you wouldn’t choose the one that lets you craft your own gear. The only gathered we’ve yet seen is mining, and it doesn’t require special gear - you just click on a resource node on the map, and your character pulls a pick-axe out of her ass and starts hammering away.
Yet, decent gameplay.
It’s pretty remarkable that Gameloft got O&C to run well, particularly given the low resolution. The game does feel a tad cramped compared to playing WoW on your big-screen monitor, and we can’t help but think that reducing text sizes and some icons wouldn’t alleviate our virtual claustrophobia a bit. But the gameplay is pretty smooth, with a virtual control-stick appearing on the left side of the screen, wherever you decide to drop your thumb. This only gets in the way when you want to loot a mob whose corpse is on that side of the screen, but it’s not too annoying to move the camera to the left so you can loot easily. Yes, your right thumb controls camera movement, as well as jumping and using your hotkeys on the bottom-right of the screen. There are three hotspots near the jump button where you can place spells and items, but if you need more (and you will), you can place less-used abilities on a shelf that you can pull up or hide on the right side of the screen. This is where we stashed our potions and food, and definitely beats bringing up the player inventory just to use a potion mid-combat.
The lack of addons is actually nice. We don’t know how many hours we spent working on an ideal addon configuration, and compiling it for others to use. Needless to say, it’s somewhat refreshing knowing that every player is on equal footing, and that when you want to play, you don’t have to first update all your addons or mess with your screen layout. Since there’s no O&C version of wowhead, you have help with quests thanks to a blue arrow that points in the direction of a selected quest objective. Presumably, this won’t be as helpful when you have to travel half-way across the world, so paying attention to quest descriptions will be necessary, but in the initial levels of the game, it’s a foolproof guide.
WoW-like “groups” are called “teams” in O&C, and they work decent enough. The chat system includes a global channel, which, as in every game, can be a royal annoyance. This is perhaps even more true in O&C, if only because players come from various countries, using various languages. There are regional servers, but this hasn’t stopped Korean players from creating characters on the American servers, complete with names that we don’t have the proper keyboard set up for, even if we did want to type them.
About the only major gripe we have with the game is the business model. The game costs $7 to download, and after a free, three-month subscription, costs $1/month. That’s not bad, but there’s also a “freemium” model here, where players can buy gold and other items for real money. How this will affect balance is still up-in-the-air, but it seems as though many of the for-pay items are temporary buffs and aesthetic enhancements (like pets)2.
O&C is certainly deep, in the sense that player progression isn’t super-quick. It doesn’t seem to be super-slow, either, but we’ll have to play more to see what kind of curve the game offers. Right now, the game feels like more complex Gauntlet. That is to say, it’s a hack’n slash emporium with various MMO elements, but not offering enough to foster a complex community3. That’s not to say that Gameloft couldn’t expand on O&C as time goes on, offering new abilities, races, classes, emotes, customization, et al. If anything, O&C blows games like Dungeon Hunter out of the water, because of the MMO complexity.
What we hope to see in the next 10 levels or so is more Diku styling, with areas that require grouping and the holy triad of classes (tank, healer, DPS)4. We also hope to see varied class builds, and a world with considerable atmospheric changes. The background “lore” has been weak thus far, and we hope this will change; right now, we don’t see a reason to separate races into Order and Chaos factions, because both races are seen pretty close to the get-go near starter areas. With no clear faction contest, Order and Chaos offer even less context than Alliance and Horde in WoW does.
O&C is an awesome next step in the future of mobile MMOs. While the inability to play over 3G is a hit against the game, the fact that you can take an MMO along on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, is still remarkable. Even better is the proof-of-concept that Gameloft managed here, showing developers that an MMO on these devices is not only possible, but that the control scheme can be good, and needn’t be hampered by the lack of a physical keyboard. So even if O&C fails to deliver an experience even marginally as robust as beta WoW, it’s already challenged other MMO developers to create something better. For that alone, O&C should win a prize.
There have been other attempts at bringing MMOs to iOS, but they’re either very unrefined, else don’t attempt to create a “serious” enough atmosphere. ↩
We didn’t see an auction house in the game, but if there is one, or one is created later, paying for gold could be considered problematic. ↩
We only saw one emote, and can’t see O&C lending itself to the roleplaying crowd. ↩
As most readers here should know, we’re not major proponents of Diku-style MMOs, but for a game like O&C, we would happily accept it. ↩