By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
HeroWarz is the sleeper hit of summer 2016. And unfortunately summer 2016 is a summer of sleep, as fans of the MMORPG genre really haven’t had much in the way of new and exciting titles to even have them paying attention when HeroWarz landed. But this so shouldn’t be the case. HeroWarz is genius – game design made to be art while at the same time playing to the simple purpose of being visceral entertainment. The visuals aren’t anything that will catch your eye (well, in-game visuals at least as the game’s art is extraordinary!), the top-down dungeon running concept is nothing new, and all your friends are probably too busy bandwagoning on Overwatch or Pokemon Go to have noticed its existence. But what they are missing out on is the most outlandishly imaginative free to play title to hit in years, paired with the equivalent of a top-down take on TERA combat, with controls tighter than your knuckles in a McLaurin. Read on for my review on why HeroWarz is bar-none the must play free game of summer 2016!
Living it up as a “Player” – Gameplay Overview
The core concept has been covered well enough by us and countless other press sites so I’ll spare you the long rundown as, if you’re reading this and interested in being a late to the party player of the game, you already know the basics. HeroWarz is an isometric ARPG with a much heavier emphasis on reactive skills, movement skills, and skill shots than your typical old-school ARPG might be. You won’t be standing in one location for long spraying a beam of death on your hapless foes, and that’s not simply limited to the lack of knockback/stun on most ranged abilities.
See, the mechanic I feel most overlook in HeroWarz that makes it so exciting and unpredictable is the monster spawn system. Rather than showing you all the monsters ahead of time and letting you plan out your attack, HeroWarz thrusts you into one unpredictable scenario after another as a small group of easily dispatched baddies becomes the trigger to unleash even more baddies on you. Enemies will spawn all around you, including heroic enemies with special moves that will make you have to identify their type and react with your skills appropriately to avoid taking some serious damage. Your healing potion is unlimited but on a very long cooldown, so you can only play Rambo so long before your head hits the pavement.
Oh and just when you think you’ve got the strike patterns down and can hold your own, enter the amping difficulty of multiplayer. Every mob gains increased HP, maps gain bonus spawn counts, and the overall challenge gets downright intense. Especially if your ally isn’t holding their weight. But I love it anyway! HeroWarz isn’t face meltingly challenging all the time, but it is some of the time, and that’s just the right mix of action for me.
Counteracting this intense gameplay though is the extremely colorful cast of HeroWarz. While a quick glance at the Korean website tells you we only have the tip of the iceberg playable, even the limited roster of eighth “Players” available now runs the gambit. Whether your fantasy sees you as Rurouni Kenshin the lovably awkward samurai, a loli mermaid princess, Ichigo from Bleach, a shield wielding Spartan warrior, a softball girl straight out of the style of High School of the Dead, an elegant dominatrix, a cold mercenary sniper along the lines of Revy from Black Lagoon, or Ronda Rousey of MMA fame… HeroWarz has quite the vast and extremely unusual roster of potential characters waiting for you. If you’re scrolling through that list wondering where your dark elf assassin or bulky orc warrior is. Let me just say upfront, this game’s style is not going to be for you.
MMO Culture Shock Imminent – HeroWarz Style
While HeroWarz gameplay is unmistakably addicting, action packed, and each character controls like a dream, it’s the overall game’s theme and style that makes it an instant classic for me. Imagine Inception. Now The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Maya, the key character of the story, essentially unknowingly has the power of Haruhi, and was tricked by a friend in one of the world’s she has dreamed into existence, and is now trapped within her own dream. And like any teenage girl with rage issues, instead of calmly thinking things through, is going into a rage to bring untold calamities down upon our world, all the worlds she has dreamed of, and, if left unchecked, even the gods will feel her wrath!
Sound a bit ridiculous? Here’s where the fun comes in. This setting lets you merge literary genres in a way that would make The Pagemaster jealous! Noir, western fairy tales, steampunk android dystopian futures, and Egyptian cursed artifacts are just some of the settings that get twisted into new angles. This means you’re never lacking for new twisted creatures to fight, requiring new tactics to beat them rather than the tried and true MMORPG tropes of just recoloring the same baddies over and over again to present them again in new levels.
But overlaying these elements is some of the most awesome story telling you will come across in any free to play game. I know it’s rare for players to care about story anymore in the free to play genre. Every game claims they have the best and you’ve been burned enough times before to stop caring. But HeroWarz tale, painstakingly (or should I say painfully? I’m not sure which is more accurate) localized by the NA KOG office for our English enjoyment, throws some interdimensional Hunger Games shenanigans into the pot to watch the world burn.
The Progression – HeroWarz Doesn’t Grind Ya
One quick blurb about progression in HeroWarz. I never felt like I was playing the game to grind up levels or reach the next skill. I played the game to enjoy the game and story, and levels just fell in my lap constantly as a side reward. You don’t waste much time initially choosing between skills. Instead you get every skill at level 0 as a base to try out before you invest in them later.
Two features that are not entirely unique to HeroWarz, but that you don’t see too often in MMORPGs are the assistant spirit feature and the skill modifications in equipment. Depending on how RNGesus smiles on you, your gear may contain powerful modifications to change your skills. No not in boring bonus damage ways… usually. Often you get all new animations, new effects, new status buffs and so on that can entirely change the tactics of how you play! This combines with the spirits that act as summonable pets with various abilities! Well they’re too basic to be pets, but they do offer some amazingly clutch abilities that will separate the good players from the great if mastered.
Though unlocking most of these spirits is no walk in the park. Rather its some of the toughest gameplay you’ll experience when leveling up towards end-game. You have to solo these Mirror Worlds on a tight time limit, in tight corridors, featuring hexagons that will slowly all light on fire as time passes. There’s no healing in the Mirror Worlds, and the bosses feature some sick coordination and synergestic skills! You will have to practice up to survive and continue taking down these Mirror Worlds, making earning the spirit followers feel all the more rewarding!
Are We… The Good Guys? – HeroWarz Story Telling
HeroWarz offers a huge helping of dialogue. Sure you can skip it, but you’re a terrible person if you do. I know you need every second of bonus dps to beat me in the round recap damage score, but you should take a chill pill and recognize that I’m going to win out over you either way.
HeroWarz answers the issue of having such a massive and always building roster of characters in a roundabout means. Basically the story goes on without you. It’s actually rather rare to see your individual character popping up in dialogue, though certain secret narratives are unlockable for beating set missions as set characters. I’ll get into that later.
At its core, HeroWarz follows the three factions established after Maya’s ancestor nearly destroyed all existence. You have your fashionable goddess Venus siding with economics, structure, and maximizing corporate control of the world through the chaos. You have the strict law and order focused faction that most of the player controlled “Players” are sided with initially. These “Full-Timers” are led by Cruz, a no nonsense detective that will have you seriously questioning the morality of the Historical society as he operates a slash and burn campaign against anyone that even slows down his progression to find Maya. Finally there is the religious faction led by Hector and seconded by Koscheck that offers a less rigorous option for Players to become “Part-Timers.”
This at first is striking and unusual for an MMORPG. Moral ambiguity just doesn’t fit into the typical MMO mold. Yet as you carry on through the story you have to consider that delay could literally mean the end of reality for everyone. Given the stakes is Cruz truly a bad guy? Does he intend to find Maya to rescue her, or has the plan since the beginning always been to use the Players to murder her? Who are the “Hunters” eliminating the original 200 Players like lambs to the slaughter? And last of all, going back to the reference to Inception, what is real? Is the entire world of HeroWarz perhaps simply a limbo state between death and the afterlife? Try playing through the slugger Jerry’s backstory for some seriously confusing hints of the truth!
Batter Up – The Summary
HeroWarz offers a near complete package. Controls are rock solid. Characters are unique. The story, if you have the patience and mind to grasp the reality of it, is downright deep and easily able to make you care about the characters involved. It honestly feels like a suspense thriller that will have you wondering which character will be checked off the hit list next. Playing with friends is a ton of fun, and all the RPG elements of upgrading are simplistic and streamlined enough to never distract you for long from the core elements of the game that make it fun.
My only concern for HeroWarz at the moment is it feels great in a buy to play concept, but lacks that consistent end-game to keep you wanting more once you’ve gotten through it. Sure the hardcore that love both the gameplay and the storyline might play through the full game on a few alts to get a better understanding of the tale through the secret unlockable stories. With a few competitive friends, you can test out a variety of team compositions with the characters and have great fun for some serious hours of gaming. But, then that’s really it… for now.
The secret weapon of HeroWarz that will make or break its longevity is still in the oven baking. I’m talking about the teased concept of PvP. A MOBA-inspired mode with characters entirely separated from their PvP counterparts so that overpowered items found there won’t break the equal footing of PvPers. Playing the story will unlock more characters in PvP, and PvP will unleash a roster of characters far beyond what we’re expecting to see in the PvE mode. I can hope that we might even get some bonus story out of PvPing… but that’s just me dreaming.
HeroWarz is a few cogs shy of a masterful Grandfather Clock. Everything it does, it does well. But it doesn’t do everything for everyone. Its whimsical yet dark nature is sure to be hit or miss with its audience, though it’s a much appreciated turn of affairs from KOGs other title, Elsword. If you don’t give a damn about story-telling, you’re robbing yourself of a huge chunk of the enjoyment HeroWarz has to offer. If goofy emotes and socializing aren’t for you, you’ll miss out on another chunk of the fun as character interactions and ridiculous mounts are a huge part of the fun.
But one thing I can say HeroWarz does quite well is monetization. With PvE promised to be separate from PvP, and tons of events and opportunities to obtain cash shop related items through just regular play, I can’t imagine ever feeling like a second class citizen just because I haven’t dropped cash. The characters not reflecting the change of basic gear can get boring after a while without the cash, but this game was seriously made for having alts, so when you get bored at looking at one girl’s butt, just flip over to another and let the good times roll.
HeroWarz is grand now but has serious potential given a year plus more time to develop and test itself. If you’re a casual gamer though, what is there is enough to keep you entertained for a couple months at least. The current launch events going on are quite generous and items offered seem permanent so give it a shot if it sounds like your style of game. The experience within is truly the strangest free MMO you are likely to encounter for some time, and that’s coming from someone that’s been reviewing games for six years and have played them going on two decades.