Cartoon-fantasy RPGs and dungeoneering collide in the upcoming title Hero of the Obelisk published by GBE Games–it’s an extremely cute, dungeon-instanced, MMORPG with elements borrowed from the hack-and-slash gaming genre. Add in a free-moving camera, an action bar, and a lot of adorable enemies, and you’ve got this particular MMO in the making.

Players are given a choice between three different classes–sword-toting Warrior, gunslinging Adventurer, and magic-wielding Scholar–all of which provide a fairly nice paced variety of gameplay. With different styles of approach alting in the beta felt really fun.

HotO just came out of closed-beta and now it’s a wait for the open beta to begin. So, reading this review you’ll know what to expect from the game once its out on the open market.

Graphics and Sound: Chibi, chibi everywhere; we’ve seen this a little bit before

Anyone like me is probably getting sick of chibi anime-esque games that play on cartoony looks to make their free-to-play bones and Hero of the Obelisk falls into that role a little too closely. However, at the same time it has a semi-mature feel of a game that’s trying to fill the bigger boots of the modern MMORPG. This motif is exemplared through the entire game.

First, the characters have small-ish bodies and huge heads with big eyes–the colors are sharply defined and vivid. Nothing in this game can be mistaken for anything else, armors, weapons, attack powers, etc. all have some sort of cartoony effect to go along with them.

The central instance town is very nice to look at. The grounds are filled with grass and cobblestones, buildings that look to be made of cartoony wood-and-stone. Not to mention tiny burbling streams, and swaying sakura trees (replete with falling cherry blossoms.) All that said, the game can be rather picturesque.

The enemies also fit the cute-and-chibi effect in that most of them are well-rounded, vividly colored, and often bulbous. There are adorable bat creatures in the game that look like balloons with wings–and then you beat the everloving crap out of their cute faces for fun and profit.

When it comes to sound the music of this game is okay. It’s nothing memorable and I didn’t find the need to turn it down, but it was repetitive enough that I did start to notice. I’d say that if anything HotO did a good job of getting the properly cute-fantasy-MMORPG music down.

Movement, jumping, attacks, etc. all come with a multitude of different sounds that kept me in the game and obvious to what was going on. Although giant-group fights had a tendency to be something of a cacophony of noises (mostly enemy death-sounds.)

As a package, the sounds and graphics work together to provide a powerful cartoon atmosphere.

Gameplay: Character guidance feels like a weird MMORPG-dungeon-hack mix

At first glance Hero of the Obelisk is sort of mixture between MMORPG and dungeon-crawler hack-and-slash–but it’s a little bit light on the hack, and heavy on the slash. The controls (as described below) function with a dungeon-crawl action bar and telegraphed attacks; movement is controlled via the mouse (click-to-move) and WASD with the mouse on camera control. The mouse is also used to specify targets or TAB can be used as well.

The attacks work in fashions that I’ve gotten used to playing numerous MMORPGs and they’re fitted nicely into the action-bars. Most of the attacks are the standard of melee, ranged, etc. with bullets or blades involved; but then there’s a set that have an active AoE display on the ground either in a cone or a bubble. One good example is the Adventurer’s bombs that need targeting and a cone-attack with gunfire.

While most of the fighting feels a little bit tab-targeted, but when triggering AoE attacks (especially cones) the mouse is needed to fix the targeted range for triggering the attack.

In dungeons, the game feels a lot like an MMORPG with Gauntlet-esque fights where there’s dozens of enemies stomping down that need to be whittled down by mowing through them with attacks and AoE strikes. The telegraphs from the AoE vs. the standard melee/ranged attacks makes the targeting system feel a little odd.

The different character classes fit nicely into the holy trinity roles, but also does a great job of allowing players to branch out. There’s the Warrior–a melee fighter or tanky type–the Adventurer–a highly versatile gunslinger who can go support or DPS easily–and finally the Scholar–the standard mage who can do well in support or even DPS. Each of these classes will branch out into their own paragon paths as levels increase enabling a focus on one particular aspect of a class–amid them the Adventurer seems to have the most versatility in that there’s a support class, a heavy guns class, and even an engineer-like class with turrets.

The game is instanced-dungeon based (although there are open zones they’re more or less instances with a lot of monsters.) Most of the beginning game is played by getting quests to enter dungeon instances, kill a bunch of a monster type, collect something, or take down a boss. Each of the dungeons has a short 1-2 level range, consists of a main dungeon filled with trash mobs, and a final room with a big-bad. Most of the big bads are giant versions of adorable smaller chibi monsters, for example a Huge Bat is one of them and it’s cartoony and cute (and you kill it dead.)

There is a fatigue system in play that forces players to play hardcore-casual–i.e. it’s basically a mechanism that eventually locks out dungeon access after so many dungeons are entered or a particular amount of time. This acts as a session limiter forcing players to leave the game for a day to come back to play more; it also works to slow down progression and force players to not rush from level 1 to endgame in one fell swoop.

Inventory space is bloody small and as a result there’s a lot of need to keep selling and a lot of the dungeons are filled with loot pinatas. As a result, it’s a lot like a Diablo-esque as I found myself selling or storing items after almost every dungeon run.

Freemium: Just out of closed-beta, we can only guess what the F2P store will be like

Hero of the Obelisk is currently just out of closed beta and it did not have a market or virtual item store to be seen nor are there any microtransactions or freemium currency. However, expecting that HotO will be a free-to-play game I think we can speculate a little about what to expect.

First, is the obvious: HotO has a particular love for costumes! As a result, it’s more than likely there’ll be a lot of costumes and other aesthetic items being sold in the shop for the freemium currency. We can also probably expect potions, enhancements that increase XP, or small boosts that every game has.

Also, noting the fatigue system chances are that will be sold for freemium as well. For anyone frustrated by having their wings clipped by playing too many dungeons in a day might find respite by spending freemium currency to get their fatigue reset or lowered.

We won’t know the full width and breadth of the market for HotO until it launches, but it’s a good bet the above will be true. (Assuming the fatigue meter makes it past beta.)

Conclusion: MMORPG or dungeoneering hack-and-slash GBE Games has a pretty solid game

Chibi-cartoon atmosphere aside, Hero of the Obelisk is a fairly straightforward MMO that gained a great deal of popularity during the beta. While it’s command-set feels somewhat odd–by mixing mouse-guided AoE combat with TAB targeting–it’s still a functional game with enemies to smash and a fairly shallow learning curve to put them to use.

The community that formed seemed pretty lively and happy with the game and I managed to speak with quite a few of them. The prospect of a beta really brings out a lot of gamers to check a thing out. Even in the short time the CBT ran, it garnered enough people to form little guilds and go on many dungeoneering parties. The game also includes an odd match-making system that adds boons to people who had the same icons hovering over their heads.

The biggest problem I had with this game is the fatigue-system that limits gameplay to a certain duration. It felt a little bit frustrating, having the carpet pulled out from under you–perhaps the fatigue system is a holdover from its port from Korea and it might get ditched after the CBT (I hope) however, if not, expect that it’ll run the cash shop–and potentially the community.