Twilight jokes aside, vampire MMOs are among us. Free-to-play Dark Eden and Reign of Blood are already out. IGG's Moonlight Online is due later this year and Spacetime Studios, developer of 3D action MMORPG iPhone app Pocket Legends, has Empire of Night in the works. And earlier this year, ohai Studios debuted their free-to-play vampire MMO, City of Eternals, both on their own site and on Facebook.
City of Eternals is the only MMORPG on Facebook that is really like an MMORPG. Quests, factions, crafting, equipment that needs regular upgrading and other recognizable features are there. But more than that is the fact that the game places you in the same virtual space with other players. This isn't a trading card game with a chat interface or a single player RPG that allows you to use your Facebook friends to accomplish tasks in-game whether or not they are online. In CoE you actually run past other players. For that, the game gets points. Unfortunately, many of the game systems are confusing and the quest flow is a mess. Read on for more first impressions!
When the game starts, you are jumped in an alleyway by impossibly fast assailants and life as you know it is over. You wake up in a graveyard as one of the pale, but fashionably-conscious undead. Your first mission introduces you to combat, which can be initiated by clicking on one of the local zombies who fold before you can find your skill bar. You are then sent to your personal house where you can pick a new outfit and sent out on your first quest in New Valencia.
The house and clothing part is introduced very early in the game because CoE, like other free-to-play titles, makes its money on microtransactions. And, let's face it, no one plays a vampire MMO to look dirty and live in a dank crypt. ohai Studios wants you to buy hip furniture for your swanky pad, flashy clothes for your avatar and more. You can get by without these things as they are mostly cosmetic, but if you want to progress faster in the game you can do so by laying down some real world coin. There is in-game currency as well that will get you the basics, but it's like a vampire surviving on synthetic blood: adequate, but not fulfilling.
The strong points of the game are many. A friendly bat companion helps you through the game with helpful advice and updates. The quest givers and merchants are clearly marked with symbols above their heads. And the 3D world is very immersive, especially for a Flash game. Players with any previous MMORPG experience will pick up on the systems in the game quite quickly.
Skill customization as you level will allow you to specialize in the standard group roles (tank, dps, healing, etc.) and equipment upgrades will help with the fights. Combat itself is basic autoattack plus hotkeyed attacks that build up blood energy to be used to fuel more powerful skills. As with any 3D combat game, you must be careful to position yourself to avoid adds.
This wouldn't be a Facebook game without being able to use your friends list to help. You can pull in your Facebook friends as Minions, promote them to special positions and send them on missions. These missions take place on a timer in the background and when finished, yield rewards you can collect. The more friends you have as minions, the better the mission selection and rewards. Fortunately, you can actually group with your Facebook friends in the game and not just use them as mindless slave labor.
I know this game is technically in beta, but the developers are still taking your money through the cash shop so I feel justified in pointing out some glaring flaws in its current incarnation.
The quest progression is horrendous. One of the first combat quests you receive sends your level 7 vamp into a back alley filled with level 12 gargoyles. Other quests send you into private instances where the level of the mob is scaled to your level, but it scales high. If more than one attacks you, you're dead. Even with one-on-one combat, you're often forced to quaff a health potion mid-fight to survive. Other quests send you into the far reaches of the city which, once again, puts you in harm's way of mobs far more powerful than you to get to the quest mob which, surprise, is far more powerful than you.
The crafting system is a bit of a mystery. You can only choose one harvest skill upfront and one production crafting skill. But the beginning crafts require too many random ingredients that you have no idea how to find. And the crafting components you do get in-game have no description letting you know what recipes they can be used for.
Though the game is the best example of a traditional MMORPG currently on Facebook, it needs a great deal of polish and balancing before players should consider spending money in it. There are plenty of free-to-play games out there these days to engage and entertain you. In a way, it's admirable that the developers put intricate systems into the game to give it depth and complexity, but they need to find a smoother way to introduce the player base to those systems. Or else the kinds of impressions players will share with their Facebook friends about City of Eternals will not be the ones ohai is looking for.
Dan O'Halloran covers the emerging fields of mobile and Facebook MMOs for Massively. For suggestions or tips, send an email to dano at massively dot com.