Publisher: Planetwide Games
Release Date: June 28, 2005
From their humble beginnings with UltimaOnline and Everquest, MMORPGs have done nothing but grow in popularity in the past few years. In fact, they've become so much a genre of themselves that even smaller independent or foreign game companies are vying to be the next big hit like Everquest or World of Warcraft, more recently. Risk Your Life: Rise of the Emperor, better known pretty much everywhere by the acronym RYL, is one of those attempts. Trying to lure players in with promises of a tournament bearing a million dollars in real life cash money and offers to play for free with the completion of surveys (the epitome of a new genre all its own, MMOTelemarketing), the game certainly has a good marketing plan. That doesn't mean that you should rush out and buy it this instant, however.
The back story, in its 10 pages of confusion, settles down to such: An emperor named Conlatin wanted more land, so he sent people to a brand new, shiny continent. However, in trying to claim it for his own, they got in a squabble with the Ak'Kan, some sort of mix of human and not-really-all-that-human, who had fled from their own homeland due to disaster. In order to stop the fighting, some people from each side banded together to make the God's Pirates, a neutral faction who makes its home on The Almighty Ground, a land of overwhelming power just begging to be tapped into.
You can choose to create either a Human or an Ak'Kan, though your first character locks in that decision - like World of Warcraft before it, you can't have characters of opposing races on the same server. You can also choose to become a God's Pirate, which is essentially the same as either of the other two races, but with a funny hat of vaguely different quests. Character creation is ludicrously simple - almost painfully so, after games like City of Heroes that are rich with customization options. You choose a gender (if you're human - Ak'Kan's gender is dictated solely by class), a class (Warrior, Rogue, Priest, and Mage for Humans; Combatant and Officiator for Ak'Kan), and a hairstyle. No size difference, no face changes. After that, you're dumped shamelessly in the middle of the Almighty Ground, right smack-dab in the God's Pirate base camp.
That's when things reach the "like it or hate it" level. You're prompted almost immediately with a quest teaching you the two methods of movement - mouse mode, which functions like Ragnarok Online or Diablo II, except infinitely less accurate, or keyboard mode, which runs more like a FPS than a RPG. There are absolutely no options to reconfigure or adjust those controls (at least, none that I could find), leaving you the option of the two lacking control schemes.
Yes, I did say that your first quest was one that taught you how to move. That brings me to my next point: lacking the varied goals of even games like City of Heroes or World of Warcraft, quests come down to the simple tasks of "talk to this person" or "kill this many of creature A." There is little variety in the quests, making even level grinding seem more exciting.
Not that level grinding is exciting, given the combat mechanic. Combat is dictated, once again, very similar to Diablo II; you attack as fast as your character can, for as long as you hold down the left mouse button. Skills, likewise, are used with a single key press, and then a tap of the right mouse button. Like Diablo II, there are no real "support" classes; every class is made for combat. Be it at range or up in the thick of things, every player is expected to hold down that same mouse button and whale away on enemies the same way. Healers, however, will also occasionally heal.
This might all be vaguely forgivable if the game had a compelling items and skill system like Diablo II, and there it only barely falls short. Unlike most games that have 8,000 different swords, or that have 50 different random enchantments to put on each item, RYL gives you a handful of weapons, each ranked by how good they are. A practice sword with a grade of F would be worse than one with a grade of C+, for example.
Skills are likewise maintained in a vaguely Diablo-esque fashion; for every level of experience and/or every 20 points in intelligence, you get an additional skill point to use. In order to use these skill points, you must read books, scrolls, and the like which increase your abilities. Skills range from attack powers to passive skills which increase your effectiveness at weapon use, evading, blocking incoming hits, and so forth. What makes RYL's particular take on the system innovative is that, instead of being set in stone (as in Diablo II), or only being able to be changed for exorbitant prices (as in City of Heroes, Ragnarok Online, et al), you can forget skills as you please, freeing up those points for other skills that you may wish to learn. The only cost, in that case, is the book that taught the forgotten skill, which is naturally consumed when a skill is learned.
So, we have a decent equipment system and a good skill system. Doesn't sound bad, does it? The problem is that we have yet to really glean what the game's truly lacking points are: the utterly generic, well, everything.
The screenshots tell a very true tale in that everything looks exactly like every other fantasy MMORPG out there ever. The game bears an especially keen likeness to the likes of Dark Age of Camelot and Asheron's Call, which looked like the covers of every generic fantasy novel on the market to begin with. There's a little flashy effect to every skill you use, but after the fifth use, it simply becomes "generic flash of light." As mentioned before, the characters - both player-made and NPC - look like cookie-cutter clones of one another. The sounds, likewise, are lackluster. The typical slashes, clangs, and thuds are all there, but ... not very much else. There's a little bit of high-energy adventuring music at the beginning of the game and at each new area, but hardly enough to hold attention.
In addition, the game seems to be rather oddly translated. In one of the quests, you are reminded that the space bar is indeed the longest key on the keyboard, for example. There are also a few glitches, like phrases being repeated (Third Eye is a skill "that requires no skill points that requires no skill points," [sic]) and the oddity in the last page of the instruction manual, which refuses to use the letter "u," instead replacing it with y. (I especially like that one of the hotkeys is a macro to zoom oyt the minimap. There are also chat macros for "Please yndo enchant," "Please yse detection," and "Ryn!")
Altogether, what we have is a lackluster MMO that only does average in most cases, and poorly in most others. If you're the type lured in by the promises of free MMO or a million dollars, I say go right ahead. Likewise, if you're an MMORPG lover who's min-maxed every game you've played to death and need another game to pound on until the next Everquest expansion, you should feel right at home with Rise of the Emperor. Everyone else should know that Risk Your Life is at best a copycat game, riding on the coattails of the many other, more polished, far more successful massively multiplayer games out there.
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