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I haven't really seen a detailed review done on this game quite yet on MMORPG.com so I thought i'd share my experience thus far with Heroes Of Three Kingdoms (or HOTK for short.) HOTK is a free to play "historical" MMORPG published by Perfect World Entertainment based on the Romance Of The Three Kingdom era that is currently in "Open" Beta. The game hasn't been out here in the USA for very long so theres very little reviews or even info on it, so if you're interested just keep reading!
HOTK plays out pretty much like your usual WASD fantasy MMORPG and the UI is very simular to games like WoW. The game itself is based on the Romance of Three Kingdom era and takes you to many historical places in China at that time. The enviroments are very nice, the towns are chalked full of traders and NPCs to interact with.
The graphics look very good for a F2P MMORPG (skills specificaly) but are defiantly dated as this is a older game being re-released to the USA. With that said the game handles and performs better then any other MMORPG i've played; even during the huge 100 vrs 100 PvP battles i never seem to lag and i can count the number of times i've D/C'd on one hand. I'am very impressed with the gameplay and performance thus far.
Character Creation :
The download for HOTK took around 1 hour and was installed/updated without any problems. Once logging in you will be prompted to create a character and choose it's gender/class/birth place. The character creation is not bad; but not good either. Theres just not that many face/hair options avaliable and only 3 body sizes to choose from. With that said you should still be able to create a unique enough looking character to where you wont be running into a mirror image of you're self "too" much.
My suggestion when it comes to classes is that you do a little research first or play multiple classes until you're satisfied with what you've picked. There are 18 classes to chose from and they all play very differently! Most people will know that the talon is pretty much you're rogue class but not a lot of people would pin the mace as you're caster class or the warfan as a healer. So it's very important that you mess around with each class to discover what you like first; otherwise you might be stuck re-leveling another character or spending $10 to reset your class early on.
Levels 1-39 :
The early levels of HOTK will be spent questing and being introduced to the lore of the game. Beleive it or not there is a lot of history about the Romance of Three Kingdom era inside this MMORPG. Quests do a good job explaining about each faction of the game and recent events that are unfolding around you; that is when "engrish" isn't getting in the way of you're reading.
It would be a lie for me to say that this game dosn't involve grinding, but it defiantly does it different then most MMORPGs. You don't earn very much XP killing mobs so the bulk of your XP will be earned by getting quests from NPCs. Unfortunantley these quests almost always boil down to kill xx ammount of these critters and the usual MMO fodder. The good thing is that you are constantly being rewarded for doing quests with good XP, currency, gear, and titles. PWE in their recent patch have also included a handy tool in the UI that explains which quest lines you need to do to get the good gear and titles.
Titles are acheived thru different quest lines, earned through zone reputation, campaigns, inn quests, ect and they add some very good stat bonuses that stack to your character. So it pays off to do the quests because in the long run you will have way better stats by doing them then someone who just logs in each day and only does dailies.
My suggestion is that early on you find a legion to join that will help explain these things to you because this game has a somewhat steep learning curve and not everything is explained at first; but once you get the currencies and crafting figured out you should be ok. It is also a good idea to join a legion because you gain daily quests that give good XP and later on (level 40+) you will be picking one of the three factions in the game; which plays a HUGE roll in HOTK. Levels 1-39 defiantly give the player the idea that HOTK is a PvE only game but after 40 you are fair game to every other player and HOTK's brilliant PvP system reveals itself!
Level 40, 51, and 57 :
After level 40 each player is open game to the other when it comes to PvP. You will constantly have to have you're guard up and ready to defend/escape from other players while you're questing. Picking a faction and joining a legion will help you safe guard yourself from other players though. There are 15 different realms in HOTK and usually a faction/legion will carve out a realm for them selves so that they can quest in peace; but occasionaly a bored person from another faction will hop on these realms looking for pvp knowing that they are populated mostly by the other faction.
At level 51 if you have chosen a faction you will be able to participate in State Wars; personally my favorite thing about HOTK. In State Wars you will be placed on a massive battle field with 100 players from an opposeing faction. You're objective is to go around the battle field killing the opposeing faction while captureing flags and holding land. Each faction gains points by killing a player from the opposeing faction, elimateing one of their NPC generals, or gaining a certain ammount of points per second when holding a flag, and the first faction that hits 100k points or the one with the most points after 2 hours wins.
During State Wars you will be able to construct cannonpults, arrow towers, and gates to defend you're flags. The ammount of stuff that goes on and the massive ammount of people make each State War a joy. You will also be earning Kingdom Medals for each kill that can be spent on very good gear/mounts. When a legion succesfully wins a State War they rewarded with a base that they can further construct with farms, towers, ect and also earn taxes off them so each State War has a lot running on it. Unfortunantley these wars are only held once a week 5pm PST on saturdays.
Once you hit level 57 you can par take in Tomb Wars which is another world pvp event that can sometimes involve as many players as State Wars and is held once every 4 hours. Each faction will meet on Realm 2 at a certain location and fight against oneother on a pretty big non-instanced battlefield. Unlike State Wars tho there is only one way to win a Tomb War and that is by takeing the defending factions towers out in the middle and capping the main flag.
Now this may sound easy but remember you will be PvPing against TWO opposeing factions. Not only that the map for the Tomb Wars has several choke points that turn deadly quick and the middle is overlooked by two cliffs that players use to bombard other factions. The winning faction is rewarded with a token that can be used to purchase good gear and also essential crafting parts.
You will be introduced to HOTK's crafting system rather early in the game and it pays off to use it as frequently as you can. The system itself is pretty straight forward, you harvest nodes spread across the map and make things rangeing from gear, potions, hots, weapons, ect.. The basic things like potions, HoTs, and starting gear can be made no problem with out ever useing the cash shop but later on if you plan on crafting you're end-game gear you will need some items that are only avaliable through the cash shop.
There are 8 different forms of crafting and all are very useful. Food and healing makes items that heal over time, Alchemy makes instant heals, Taming makes mounts and upgrades for them, Enchanting makes enchantments (stat boosters) that can be socketed into gear, Artificer makes relics that give good stat bonuses and later on set bonuses, and weapon/smithing makes weapons/armors ofcourse. The easiest way to sum up HOTK crafting is that it is straight forward and not really nescary at first but defiantly is needed later and the mats get WAY more harder to get for end game gear.
Instances / Campaigns :
For the most part HOTK is played out in zones and seemingly "one" world, but it does also offer instances if thats your thing. Instances are refered to as campaigns in HOTK and almost all of them take place in some historical event of the Romance Three Kingdom era. You earn a lot of good gear by farming these instances but it is not really nescary to do so until later on when you need to run them for crafting mats.
I found the most of the PvE instances in HOTK were extremley boring and repetitive. Luckily there are quests that give you lots of XP and special tites to be earned by endureing thru them. They can also be a little bit more fun when you have a friend to run them with and towards the end some of the campaigns will offer up a challangeing boss.
On the other hand the PvP instances in HOTK are almost always avaliable to be participated in. They seem to be well put together and allow you to sometimes mingle with other players from different factions by having them put on you're side. Some also offer pretty big 60+ person PvP battles that give good rewards and XP.
More Info On Classes & PvP :
If you couldn't tell already HOTK is a very PvP orrientated game! Luckily PvP for the most part is very balanced and can be avoided entirley if you're smart about it. PvP plays out like most MMORPGs through faceing a players direction and queing up skills on you're skill bar. At level 70+ you can also do mounted combat which plays different for each class.
Speaking of classes I thought i'd give a little bit more info on how they work out. Not only can you use XP to level up you're main characters level you can use it to upgrade you're class level. Each level gives you a point to spend into a specialty skill thats specific to that class (sort of like WoW's skill tree.) Once you hit level 60+ in your class you will be able to chose another class from the 18 that are avaliable. Want to be a Talon [Rogue] / Mace [Caster]? Well then knock your self out and do it!
Not only do you gain the skills/specialty skills that are only avaliable to that class you also gain their passive skills and weapon of choice to use in combat. This makes for a lot of customization and SOOO many class combinations to chose from! Once you hit level 70 in each weapon class you will earn a free Weapon Tomb (used to reset you're class) and also gain a specific passive bonus that carries over from each class. So it pays off to hit level 70 in each class because you will have some awsome passive bonuses at the end! With all these builds and combinations it seems for the most part that everything is balanced; with the exception of hookswords having the upper hand against most classes during the earlier levels.
Dailies actually play a big role in HOTK and can bank you a lot of XP early on in the game. My favorite dailie is fishing, which pretty much involves getting bait and a fishingpole and sitting AFK in a lake for 10mins while you're charactert pulls up fish that can give things rangeing from a small - huge ammount of XP or points used later on to purchase end game gear/titles. There is also a escort quest where you and a group of players escort a NPC through open pvp landscape for a huge ammount of XP. The other dailie that most people enjoy is the treasure hunt which gives you cords to follow and find a treasure at that gives you very good rewards and sometimes even items that are found on the cash shop.
Cash $hop :
I can praise this game over and over but i know what i say here will determine weather a lot of you will give this game a shot or not. I'am glad to say that HOTK does Cash Shop better then any other F2P MMO i've played thats out there. For the most part the cash shop contains fashion, mounts, crafting mats, weapon tomes (switch class), faction tomes (switching factions), and double xp items. Most of the items are resonabley priced some are even discounted when purchaseing 10 or more; the only thing i'd say is overpriced would be the mounts that are $20 (didn't stop me from forking over $30 for the special limited time dragon mount though.)
Usually when people hear fashion in Cash Shops they don't really think nothing of it, but the fashion can actually be enlayed with Jades (jewel like items that give stat bonuses) so the fashion actually can give you stat bonuses and the upper hand. There is also something called "Gems" that can be found in the cash shop (and in game also) that can be upgraded and laid into gear giving AWSOME bonuses that can defiantly give other players the upper hand. Luckily these gems can also be obtained in game (just A LOT slower) and if someone was really looking to get the best of the best gems thru the cash shop they'd have to spend a arm and a leg to do so; it'd be more worth it to farm it you're self in game IMO.
But the best thing about HOTK's cash shop is the fact that everything bought there can be traded into the player market. You'd never have to spend a dime in the cash shop to get the special mount if you found another player willing to buy it for you for some in game currency. Right now $1 cash shop can be sold to other players at around 12-14 gold peices; and you can earn around 1-4 gold peices each quest. It'd be very easy to rack up $10 worth of cash shop currency jusy by running some quests during the day and saleing the gold you earn when returning them in. The cash shop is completley optional (and i see more people that dont use it then do) even during end game, i myself have spent $60 and i never even really needed to.
Final Verdict :
This is a all around solid MMORPG that tends to offer even more to players that are interested in the time peroid its based on. Fighting for REAL factions of ancient china in REAL battles that took place during the time is reason enough for some people to give it a shot. Sometimes HOTK can't decide weather it wants to cater to its PvP players or its PvE players but eventually you can find a middle ground and find that it does both very well.
I think the deep end-game crafting system will keep most PvE players occupied while the State War/Tomb War/and PvP campaigns will keep any PvP player entertained at all times. If, like me, you enjoy both PvE and PvP you will find your self reaping in the benefits by par takeing in both.
Last but not lease if you're really looking for a FREE to play MMORPG then there shouldnt be another choice for you! This is one of the only F2P MMO's that can be enjoyed fully without spending a dime.
**its getting late so right now i'am not gonna spell check this review at the moment but i will do so tommarow.. Sorry about any errors!
Rift + Starcraft II + Gears Of War 3 Beta