MapleStory is a free to play Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG for short) made by Nexon, the brains behind Counter Strike Online. They have just bought out their first expansion to the original game, entitled Knights of Cygnus. With an estimated 3.5 million subscribers from the US alone, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and if it would be good enough to drag me away from another MMORPG that I play.
For this review I was given the use of a pre-established character called tst21 - imaginative name, I know! He is level 50, with the job class Wind Breaker, but I will explain the job classes a bit later on. Because of this I missed the beginning of the game i.e. the story and don’t exactly know what this game is all about, so I will make no references to the story in this review. Maple Story is a huge game and to make this review easier to read, I have split it into sub sections.
The first thing I notice about the game is how pretty it all is, the developers have spared no detail in the gorgeous 2D vibrant world MapleStory is set in. Everything is well detailed, yet looks very simple, bright and shiny. The different areas of the world have a very authentic feel, for example the Japanese level feels authentic with beautiful cherry blossom trees and NPCs in well detailed Kimonos. This has obviously been a labour of love for the Dev team.
Character sprites are also nicely done with a kind of cutesy anime look to them. Big eyes and spiky hair are all here, and they all have nicely detailed facial expressions. In fact, the word cutesy could be used to describe the entire games image which is in no way a bad thing - but it probably won’t be every ones cup of tea. I personally like my games to look a little more realistic, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate how well this look has been done.
The game itself plays like a 2D side-scroller-come-platformer, you are only able to move your character backwards, forwards and jump up to the next level of the town/map you are on. Towns and other maps are all multi-levelled so it’s important to explore it all so you don’t miss anything important. It all feels very reminiscent of Mario type games.
Enemies are also portrayed in a similar way to Mario and other such games, there’s no random battles in Maple Story as you can see all of the enemies on the screen with you, you simply walk over to them, press Ctrl to attack and pick up any dropped goodies and money that come tumbling away from your defeated foe, which range from pointless goodies to stat boosting weapons and armour that you can’t buy in shops.
This makes battling incredibly easy, it can get trickier at times though when you have huge amounts of enemies on screen all vying for your blood. One downside to the battling is that the level of enemies isn’t too consistent when you move from area to area. One example of this is, I moved from one screen with level 8 enemies to the next screen with level 40 enemies which wiped me out in a shot.
Exploring the world is relatively easy, (besides the random enemy levels as mentioned above) you walk to the end of the screen you are in and there is a teleport type device which moves you to the next area. As long as you keep an eye on the map you should be able to get to wherever you want to go pretty trouble free. Your basic goal is to run around the towns and get quests from NPC’s dotted around the place, complete those quests and then talk to the end NPC to finish it. Most quests involve fetching items or delivering items for NPC’s to gain rewards. This is okay for a bit but it does get exceptionally tedious after a while and I unfortunately felt a little bored of running back and forth collecting items. There just wasn’t enough variety in quests that I had encountered so far.
Unlike a lot of MMORPG’s around, there is an immense amount of character customisation. With tonnes of items to boost your stats being available from aforementioned monster drops, NPC characters who sell things and shops. I found there to be a huge amount of items in the shop perfect for maximising stats of your choosing as well as there being items to create a more rounded character. I’m somebody who could spend hours picking equipment for my character so I found this a joy.
As well as the in game shops there is also a cash shop. This involves you purchasing in game cash with your own money and spending them on clothes and novelty items for your character.
This aspect of the shopping experience was something I wasn’t too impressed with. I don’t mind paying for things if you’re going to get some use out of them but most of the cash shop comprised of new outfits for your characters, these outfits offered nothing in terms of stat boosting they exist just to make your character look pretty which I suppose is ideal for the more superficial people out there but I fail to see why I should pay for a pretty tuxedo (for example) that does nothing and takes up equipment slots when I could be equipping a powerful suit of armour that does some of use that didn’t actually cost me anything.
That being said though, if pleasing looking characters are your thing you will definitely find something you will like here. Good old Tst21 walked out of the store wearing a rather dapper tuxedo, a phantom of the opera style mask, and devil wings - which is a definite improvement of the standard choice of clothing i.e. blue boxer shorts and a white vest. Aesthetics seem to be very important with all demands catered for, during my time in MapleStory I found many Plastic surgeons (With scary names like intern shakeyhands) and hair dressers so you can truly customise what your character looks like.
There are the odd useful items in the cash shop though, such as a permit that allows you to set your own shop up and leave it in a town so you can sell stuff even when you’re not online. This is very useful, the MMORPG users among you may be familiar with the term “mule”, for those not, a mule is a second character you obtain, you send this second character all your spare items and you get them to sell them for you. It takes the strain off your inventory by ridding you of all the items you don’t want anymore whilst making money, but it can be a complete pain to do, which is why the shops are a great inclusion in MapleStory. I still can’t help but feel that the negative aspects of the cash shop outweigh the good though.
A MMORPG wouldn’t be right without a job class system. MapleStory does its job progression a little different. Upon some research (as I didn’t start from the beginning) I discovered that instead of the usual ‘pick a starter job, advance it and change at a certain level’ set up that most other games have, in MapleStory everybody begins as the same job ‘beginner’ and chooses a job class, if you so wish to, many people carry on as beginners, when they hit level 15, the new jobs to choose from are Warrior, Magician, Bowman, Pirate, or a Thief. Each have their own merits and pitfalls. It is then possible to change further on in the game to the strongest job types, these are Wind Breaker, Soul Master, Flame Wizard and Night Walker. These latest jobs are all available with the new Knights of Cygnus expansion pack.
Each job has its own unique sets of abilities, strengths and weaknesses which get stronger the more you level up. It is also possible to raise their strength by raising various stats in the game. This can be done primarily by equipping the necessary equipment. My job was Wind Breaker, which as the title suggests means that my skills were based around the wind element so hurricane attacks and bows and arrows were on the menu. This appeared to be a proficient job, with some good abilities and a decent amount of strength. I’m unsure as to weather you are able to change advanced job later or not.
This is the biggest aspect of an MMORPG in my eyes, it’s great to be able to do things on your own but in a game like this most of the enjoyment comes with making friends, joining a party and taking down an enemy/completing a quest.
It saddens me to say that I didn’t feel like I was playing a MMORPG though, I only occasionally saw a few people wandering around and they were by themselves also. I tried on a few different UK/US servers and got the same problem. They seemed to be a bit dead. Which isn’t necessarily the dev teams fault but where are the 3.5 million US players that I read about?
To be honest even if there were masses of people around, I found that I could complete most quests rather well by myself, excluding the need for other players.
This may be something that changes depending on time zones and such but on a UK server, that shouldn’t be an issue.
For those who do have lots of friends in game though there is the option to form guilds (at a cost - cash shop here we come), form party’s and play mini games with your friends. Mini games come at a price from the cash shop though.
I had to turn the speakers off after about 5 minutes. It’s basically the same annoying tune on loop. The music is very repetitive and it does get on your nerves quite quickly.
So where does the lack of multiplayer segments leave me in my overall opinion of the game? I think it’s a good game, but it would be a great game with more varied quests and missions to do. I got bored quite quickly of pacing around the world looking for items, mostly unsuccessfully, so I just gave up and decided to fight things instead. An experience that would have been a lot more fun were there more dependency on finding players to help you.
It all looks gorgeous and runs very smoothly, but the music for me stops me being immersed in the game too much.
The fact that it is different to most other games of the same genre is a bit of a double edged sword, it’s good that something new and different has come out and it has benefited from its play style in the fact that it will attract more casual gamers but its also a bad thing because of the way it plays like a platformer/side scroller. I found it difficult to get into it as it’s too familiar to games like Mario. The cutesiness of the game may put some players off also.
But for what it is, a free MMORPG it’s very good, especially if you have not played the more mainstream MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI (my current poison).
I definitely recommend that you try it if you like your 2D games and fancy something a bit deeper than the current side scrolling games out there.
MapleStory (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.