To start with, let me say a few things. I've been around a while. I've played dozens (literally) of F2P's and enjoyed them. And I'm not adverse to paying in a F2P if the game is worth. I've probably dumped hundreds in the F2P titles I really enjoyed during the last year. I've probably also been subbed to over two dozen different Western sub-based games over the years as well. Of my favorite two MMO's right now, one is Planetside 2, and the other is a high-profile Eastern game scheduled for launch this year (closed beta).
So I'm not biased for or against either Eastern or Western titles, and I don't mind F2P or cash shops at all. That said, let me tell you about RO2. I'll try to touch a little on everything.
Music: I won't go into detail, but I'd say I'm a mild audiophile, so I tend to pay close attention to this stuff. The OST of this game is very nice. The score is very diverse, some of the tracks are very high quality, and the rest are pleasant enough to the ear. In fact, some of the main songs were composed by well-known artists like Yoko Kanno (anime-lovers might recognize her, she had done a lot of score work for very popular titles). In this respect, this game stands apart from the average imported F2P Western players are used to.
Sound Effects: I found that the game's sound effects eventually got on my nerves, mostly because of extreme repetition. To give one example, in most Western games, you will hear different hit sounds based on the damage you're taking. That's fine, as they're wise enough to play them only periodically. In this game, however, any hard-hitting monster will trigger your heavy hit sound on almost every strike. You can see how that can get annoying. But this isn't a major black mark against the game, as you can simply turn sound effects off entirely if you have an issue.
Graphics: The art quality is pretty good, but don't expect technically-amazing visuals. In addition, some features are half-baked. They use an extremely poorly-optimized ambient occlusion effect which severely degrades performance. However, those reading this review are likely fans of anime-styled MMO's, and I think those of you who fit that bill will be satisfied. If you have a genuine interest in RO2, I don't think you'll have a problem here.
World Design: Once you get a few hours into the game, I think you'll notice that, compared to RO1, zones in this game feel cramped, and world design feels far more linear. You go into a zone, do the quests there, and walk through the door to the next zone to repeat the process. That's what you'll be doing for most of the game.
Character Customization: You pick one of four classes to begin with, and each of these branches into two different specializations (both of which have very different roles). For example, acolytes can become either Priests (a healer/support class with a touch of spell DPS) or a Monk (a tanky melee character). You also pick one of four professions at chargen, which is locked to you from there. These professions produce gear that is useful (though never best-in-slot, as that's reserved for high-end raid gear) even at endgame. You also allocate "stat points" as you level up. If you want an acolyte who deals slightly more damage, int. Or if you want to crit more, agi. It does offer a little more customization, but if you break your character, though, reset items are fairly expensive.
Experience Gain: A very typical quest grind. Think along the lines of WoW at launch, with a whole lot of Kill X and Deliver Y with very little in the way of flavor quests to break up the monotony. The lack of the latter makes this game feel a little bit dated and perhaps too bland for some. However, to those seeking escape from the monster-killing grind of RO1, you have it here. You also have the usual repeatable/daily quests used to pad F2P quest grinds. One interesting addition is something called the Khara. It's a "grid" of side objectives, with more of them opening up as you level. These range from crafting-based goals to killing special monsters to acquiring specific items. When you complete a line in the grid, you get special rewards. If you plan on seriously playing this game, you will probably be supplementing your quest XP with some work on this thing.
Outside of dungeons, this is a typical quest grind, as I mentioned, though you have some diversions in the form of crafting or chasing down Khara objectives.
Inside dungeons, this is very much a holy-trinity-based game, for better or worse. You have healers. You have tanks. People need to be specialized into these roles and actively doing these jobs, or things will go wrong very fast. Like most such games, you can play fast and loose a little bit during the early levels, but you really need to have properly-optimized characters for endgame. In fact, this game leans a little bit too far in this direction. I'll get to that in the next section.
F2P/Cash Shop features (READ THIS IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE):
And here's my warning.
Until now, I've described a decent, serviceable F2P game, and I think RO2 is. In fact, if this were the real RO2, I'd give it a thumbs up and tell you RO1 fans to go have fun in the game. However, you need to realize something. This isn't simply the English language-version of kRO2 (the original Korean version made by Gravity). No, based on everything we've seen so far, iRO2 (the NA/EU version you'd get to play) game is mostly the same as seaRO2, with slightly better localization (less Engrish) but the same set of custom changes. And seaRO2 isn't necessarily a game you want to play.
For the sake of fairness, I want to emphasize that this is an early open beta. We don't know if it will stay this way. They may change their minds. But what we're seeing in the game at present indicates that this is the direction they're taking, at least for now.
Let me explain what they did in seaRO2. To start with, they increased the cooldown on the priest res skills. By increase, I mean they upped it, literally, by a factor of 10. It used to be 5/4/3 minutes based on how many points you put into it. Now it's 50/40/30 minutes. They also arbitrarily buffed dungeon monsters. By buffed, I mean they increased the HP of these monsters by a factor of 5-10x. Also, many of the harder bosses will throw out random one-shots during dungeons. In some cases, this can be avoided by stacking a sufficient amount of HP or playing smart, which is fine. In other cases, it cannot be effectively avoided, and deaths must simply be planned for during the fight. On top of this, they lowered quality of life by removing certain items. As an example, in seaRO2, you can't get 16 slot bags from random drops, only 12 slots.
Those of you who have played a lot of F2P titles understand why changes like this are made. This is done by publishers who aren't satisfied with cash shop items being for convenience and cosmetics. They want players to be forced to buy them. Remember how I mentioned the res changes, and the changes to dungeon difficulty? Yeah. They happened to sell res items in the cash shop. Remember how I mentioned them taking away the 16 slot bags from drops? Yeah, the 20 slots are a cash shop item.
And make no mistake. P2W really was the case at the upper echelons of play in seaRO2. In seaRO2, many groups doing the hardest raids simply would not take you if you didn't have certain cash shop items with you.