There’s a particular nostalgia connected to 2D sprite isometric games that suits itself well to browser-based MMOs. We’ve certainly seen a lot that have been trying to innovate themselves into the unexplored beyond of 3D and lots of spectacular FX. Grand Epic Online (aka GEO), published by Run Up Information Technology Corp., seems to have gone the nostalgic route –while it’s a 2D isometric, many are referring to it as a 2.5D MMORPG. Under the veneer of sprites, a standard MMO interface with quests, equipment, talents, and pets there’s a lot of Chinese mythology and character building to dive through.
The first thing I noticed upon jumping into the game is just how many people were playing it. There are four different shards to choose from, one of which is at “Busy” already and the others seemed fairly full. As a beginning character, I couldn’t go anywhere in the game land without seeing quite a few other players and they are extremely talkative.
You won’t find much about this game that really makes it stand out or that special amid the other MMO offerings; but it also doesn’t have many crushing problems from the get-go either.
Graphics and sound: Take it or leave it, the game harkens back to game consoles like the SNES
The graphics aren’t that great when comparing it to the rest of the games in the same genre, but it’s not trying to be the biggest-and-prettiest at the prom here. It does a good job with what it has (and I run at a very high resolution) so it’s hard to fault it for not being the belle of the ball when it comes to its fashion decisions. There’s a fine amount of detail put into the environments and the NPCs. There’s certainly some love here and the player base knows it.
Fighting and spells all have a little bit of FX to go with them. The swinging and billowing are combined with a certain dance of numbers (both damage to you and the monster) that feels pretty satisfying; but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in spades.
There are a few sounds to be noted, enough to be sure that the game is running. It even has a pretty compelling background music score that sounds like a well-composed mandolin. However, it quickly becomes repetitive and I had to turn it off.
Gameplay: Beat up a bunny, beat up a monkey, beat up some bandits, and then buy me a sword
This MMO is lousy with quests (and that’s not in a bad way.)
They’re the single most engaging element of the game. You’ll be driven all across the landscape by numerous NPCs, all of whom have either lost something, want something, or just have a vendetta against something cute-and-fuzzy. In fact, I spent most of my life as a new character running fedex quests to merchants to purchase sundries for NPCs; then I graduated from that to killing vermin. Always having something to do in game certainly helped take the weight off, but it didn’t do much for the overall game either.
The first thing you’ll notice about questing is that everything seems to already be done for you. There’s no need to explore: everything is autopathing. In fact, this entire game almost feels like it could be done like a MUD where you click on names and your character runs there (across entire maps) to carry out the quest. You certainly can run around the game yourself and you don’t need to rely entirely on the autopathing (but why not?)
The result of this design decision makes it seem like the game can just run itself without you. I guess some people would just rather socialize while their character does all the work. In fact, in the game interface there’s options for setting up automatic actions (such as fighting, talent use, and item use.) A highly motivated player could literally set up this game to run by itself and level them while they chatted idly with other players or cooked themselves spaghetti on the stove.
Amid the fun stuff in the game: shapeshifting, mounts, and pets.
Upon reaching high enough levels, all characters appear to have access to a taming talent. This lets them pick up almost any animal in the game as a pet. Also, there are slots on the character command interface that are set aside specifically for pets so they’re going to be an important part of any players equipment.
Then there’s shapeshifting—and it’s exactly what it sounds like—characters eventually learn the ability to change themselves into virtually any animal in the entire game. Shifting gives the character access to particular attributes and bonuses fitting to the critter that they’ve mimicked. Some creatures are simply better at tackling certain challenges than others, so it behooves the player to understand what does what and take on that form to get the job done. (According to others, the shapeshifting ability also allows for a sort of camouflage in PvP.)
Down that road, there’s also mounts. Fitting to the name of the game they are epic mounts. I’ve seen people astride huge, shiny dragons galloping through the town on their way between quests. Talk about making me jealous—I have to walk everywhere and all I have are these crummy sandals.
Community: And a little bit of social networking
One thing that really caught my eye is the fact that Grand Epic Online reports upcoming in-game events on Twitter with a regularity. There’s also a great deal of integration with Facebook and Twitter for the game itself (buttons right on top) so there’s a lot of ways for players to call out to their friends in cyberspace and bring them on in.
That might go a long way to explaining why, for such a nostalgia-tech game, it’s built up such a solid player base atop what seems like a veneer only a few pixels deep.
With this sort of social networking and integration, GEO could make a real splash amid its players as it reaches outside of the MMO safe-zone and actually involves people across various media.
Conclusion: A bit of a mediocre 2D isometric game with a lot of players
As an MMO Grand Epic is a bit of a let down in that it’s pretty much like everything else; these qualities, however, simply evolve out of how casual it is. The game certainly isn’t built for hardcore players but the sheer popularity does make it a neat thing to do in order to waste time and get some chatting in with friends who’d like to smite a few demons.
There is a certain amount of charm to the game, there’s no doubt about that, but it has a lot of growth to make before it’ll really stand up to its big brothers and sisters in the browser-based MMO world.