By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Sphere III is a Russian MMO that recently left the Open Beta Phase and entered live play. It’s free to play and available on Steam. When I saw that it was no longer in beta I was curious, because on the main screen you have four races; two of them are not even selectable yet! I do not understand that. I figured, “maybe they would be in the shop”, so I went to the ingame shop after I created my character. Again I was thwarted! There was a 404 error; the window came up with a link to nowhere. I still have no answer to the character issue, but nonetheless, we have Sphere-III: Enchanted World, and it is live! It is an MMO focused primarily on touting a pure-pvp experience, but if that’s not your bag you can play on a PVE server instead. It still has PVP, but you cannot simply go around killing anyone anytime. That can only be done on neutral ground or perhaps in sieging castles.
I do not feel that this game should have left beta at all. There are still quite a few things that do not quite work. Good intentions definitely going bad is the name of the game here. The gameplay engine feels remarkably familiar, as if the Russian developers are using a Korean MMO and turning it into theirs. Everything from the movement to the “Login Rewards” at certain times (15 minutes, 30 minutes, hour, hour) to the daily login bonuses all seem recycled. I feel like someone perhaps took ASTA and remade it under a whole different banner which kind of bothers me on a fundamental level. The combat was mostly fun, but when all is said and done, Sphere-III is NOT ready to be played by a worldwide audience. Not yet. It feels like a copy of Tera, nay a cheap knock-off.
This is a Pure-PVP MMO, and it does have some very cool ideas, like castles. Castles belong to particular factions in the world, but can be overtaken by opposing factions. So demons could very well attack a human or dwarf (if they show up) settlement and siege it. The higher the level the more flags to take/harder it is to siege: starting at level 10 and culminating at level 40. High level castles are in Free-PVP areas; that means anything goes. You can kill anyone without suffering a penalty, but the lower level ones exist in neutral zones. There you can only kill people of your faction if they are flagged. If you kill a member of your faction in a neutral zone, you suffer a karma penalty, but in Free-PVP? Go wild!
I fear that when the content rush dies down, Sphere III will be like every other pure PVP game and suffer the wrath of intense griefing from bored max levelers. People of their own faction killing people of lower levels because they feel like it/are butthurt over something. You can switch from a PVP to PVE server whenever you want (at the log in button) but it will be a different character. I have not seen much in the way of PVP, but I know it exists. The more negative your karma is from killing your own faction, the worse penalties you suffer from eventually being brought down, such as a great loss of gold, and a high chance to lose items in your inventory. Also this is a Russian-made game. Russian titles are notorious for pay-to-win cash shops. As I said earlier, I couldn’t access it, so there’s no telling what’s in there. Speaking of death, according to the death screen, you can resurrect and lose exp. As to whether that will level you down or not, I cannot say; it wasn’t popular in FFXI, I doubt it’d be popular now.
There are PVE activities though to sate that curiosity. There are world bosses in each faction’s area at a few different levels, which grow in power. I did not see one spawn, but I know they exist and where they are located nonetheless. There are dungeons, and plenty of character classes to choose from but not their gender. Classes are gender-oriented. Human Females can be 6 of the 9 classes, whereas Demon Males can be 6 out of 9 classes. And yes, there is fanservice. The equipment for female characters is probably skimpier/more ludicrous than any game I’ve seen yet. The classes are pretty interesting, but I do feel that melee classes are at a distinct disadvantage. Monks for example wield glaives/spears, and the combat engine requires you to use a target reticle. It shows a different color for how likely you are to hit the target. If your enemy is incredibly short, you have to pan the camera down at them to hit them at all! It’s absolutely infuriating.
There’s also no tab-targeting. Once you’ve locked onto a target by using Left Mouse/Right Mouse, or one of your attacks, that’s it, unless you can turn and target something else. I had a very hard time fighting something when another mob would show up. I couldn’t simply tab target, or click on them. I’d have to murder what’s in front of me, or completely turn and hope my Left Attack would change targets. It’s a cool concept, but one that is very frustrating as a melee class. This “action system” or “targetless system” is more entertaining for PVP, but I don’t think it suits PVE at all, not with such a broken movement system.
At least the classes all function quite differently. The Monk uses Vindication as a source of energy, sort of like rage on a Barbarian. Though it doesn’t wear off over time which is fantastic. It’s an action-oriented combat engine, and I do like the idea of the reticle, but being unable to click/tab to targets is vexing, and couple this with the absolutely insane respawn of enemies can make life very miserable. By the time I’m done killing a quest/boss monster in the world, it usually has respawned, forcing me to fight it again, because I’ve already used an ability, or it is simply aggressive. I had one powerful quest monster die, respawn, and chase me down a hill. I was at least half health and did not feel like dying. However it is sort of interesting to learn the ranges to calculate damage and figure out what range/angle is best for your character type.
Speaking of inclines! The controls don’t seem to work all the time. There are hills, regular hills, such as the one shown here, that you actively cannot walk up. You have to jump. Not only that, but you probably have to hit jump, THEN the direction you want to go. If you jump at an area you can’t normally walk up, you might get hurled backwards, sometimes to your death. It bothers me that the game simply does not work the way it ought to. There is a quest that causes most players I have spoken to grief, early in the Human story. You climb a beanstalk, much like “Jack and the Beanstalk,” to get a magic bean. Yes. And it’s humongous, winding, and climbs for absolutely forever. If you misstep you will fall to your doom. If you jump wrong, you will fall as well. The bean sits on a small leaf on a strand of vine. If you do not take each step gently at the end. . . well, you know how it goes. It should also be noted that jumping stops the autorun. Why? Why does jumping stop autorun?
The Wheel of MMOs Turns
If this were in beta, I probably would go easier on it. But there are so many things that were overlooked! The translation intensely bothers me. . .One of the Monk tooltips reads, “Monk concentrates on his nest attack. . .” and while that might be a silly thing to nag about, it shows me that they were not paying a lot of attention. I was unable to equip pieces of armor that were in my range; instead it would ask me if I wanted to bind it to me, and when I clicked yes, nothing happened. Weapons were fine though. Attacking anything lower than your line of sight absolutely frustrates me. The animations feel very slow, even with 60 FPS. The early quest mounts you receive have a timer on them; that’s a tease at best. Necromancer’s summoned pets, while awesome, do not appear to have a UI addition to let you know they’re still there. They could despawn behind you and you’d never know. I wish this were still in beta so they could take a good, hard look at it. Their Steam file says “We know about every problem and we are going to fix them as soon as possible.” Why would you do this? Why would you release a game obviously not ready? It would be better to have a game that actually works well enough to keep a playerbase.
+ The targetless system is definitely new and interesting. It will be fun for PVP.
– Controls practically do not work for anything else. Being thrown to my death for jumping up to a hilltop or simply a slight incline is baffling. And God help you if it’s smaller than you and you have to LMB to hit it.
+ The races look very cool and the starting areas are quite different. That’s nice at least.
– Gender-oriented classes are kind of ridiculous. Two of the four damn races aren’t even in yet! Why advertise them if they aren’t there at all?
Prep Time/Game Stuff:
+ Sieging? Way Fucking Cool. This is an idea that reminds me of the Warhammer MMO. Sieging/Castle Sieging is an amazing idea, and open-world pvp including your own faction is pretty intense.
– Griefing will be far too easy. For people that don’t care about gold/items, they can do virtually anything. Not enough time was put into the beta for this game at all.
+ Cutscene images are absolutely beautiful. Character design is pretty snazzy too. A bit too fanservy, ridiculous tiny outfits for female characters. The world is pretty beautiful for what it is.
– Poorly optimized game engine. Textures are awful in some places. Guild Wars style cut scenes with NPCs popping up for quests are ridiculous looking. Not being able to adjust the chat box hurts my feelings. Kind of pretty, but it doesn’t really stand out in a positive way.