I mentioned last week that I still had two blogs that I wanted to write in the near future. Well...this was not one of them. However, something came up a few days ago that I felt warranted this topic being done a tad earlier than planned.
I think everyone about my age can relate: back when you were younger, say high school age, there were a couple of free online games you played which looking back were really pretty bad. Runescape seems to be a major offender for most people. You probably played it at some point, but you wouldn't be caught dead playing it now. Maple Story is another favorite, although I hear that one actually holds up pretty decently even now. I never played Runescape myself, but my friend got me into Maple Story a little bit. I didn't play it for very long, and my friend got way more into it than I ever did.
But there was another game my friend showed me back then. A game I wound up putting tons more hours in than he ever could have imagined when he showed it to me.
This was a little game called Rakion: Chaos Force.
If I have to sum up Rakion, it's basically a F2P class-based PvP melee MMO. Yeah, say that three times fast. But really, you should just think Team Fortress or Monday Night Combat, but replace all the guns with swords, and you'll be pretty close. That right there is more or less what Rakion was like, at least in theory, and I loved the crap out of it. In fact, the very reason I'm writing this blog is because I firmly believe that this concept still has promise.
The main game was more or less divided into three modes. You had your basic Free-for-all, which was pretty fun in and of itself but nothing special. There was Team Deathmatch, in which people were paired up in groups of six or so and scored points by killing the other team. Standard Deathmatch, no complaints; personally I found this mode to be a heck of a lot of fun. Finally, there was Golem Mode, and this worked much like Capture the Flag. Again people would be paired up into two teams, and each team had a large Golem creature in their base. The teams would then try to kill the other team's Golem in order to win the round. The trick is that you couldn't actually hurt the other team's Golem right away. Instead there was a large Golden Golem in the middle of the map. At the start of each match both teams would rush in towards the Golden Golem, which could be killed by regular attacks. The person who scored the final hit would gain a golden aura, and this meant that he or she was now able to damage the Golem at the opponent's base. Off course, this resulted in one team trying their hardest to protect their golden ally, and the other team trying even harder to kill him. This was a pretty neat mode, all in all. Either way, there could have been more variety in gameplay modes (there was a solo PvE-style mode, but fuck that noise), but overall it was fun enough for a free MMO.
Rakion featured five classes when I played it, and looking at the website now that hasn't changed yet. They are pictured below. From top to bottom, there's the Blacksmith, the Archer, the Warrior, the Ninja and the Mage.
Take a second to guess which one I picked. Go on, guess.
Each character had different strengths and weaknesses, as you would expect. There was a little combo system in place, but these combos were only a couple of hits tops. Besides that, each character had a ranged attack, with some being more reliant on it than others. The system was simple, but it worked and it felt right. There was one other special thing about all the characters, but I'll get to that later.
The Warrior was your standard all-round guy. He wielded a sword which actually had a pretty decent reach, but there's not much to say about him. His ranged attack was a knife throw. It was pretty difficult to aim, but you didn't really ever use it anyway. You had to take a second to equip your ranged weapon before you could use it with all the characters, and you had to equip your melee again afterwards, so for most characters ranged was neglected in favor of simply running up to your opponent and sticking a sword in their gut.
The Ninja was the fast one. She had two knives, ran fast and had quick combos but pretty low health. These were always a pain to fight. For ranged she had shurikens: these sucked in PvP but were insanely overpowered against Golems and other creatures. You never saw a match in Golem Mode without a Ninja or two.
The Blacksmith was the big dude. He was slow but could dish out tons of damages with that warhammer he wielded. He was pretty fun to play as, and his design was cool. For his ranged attack he had throwing axes. They did good damage, but much like the Warrior's ultimately weren't worth it. Free players could use three character slots, and a Blacksmith filled one of mine.
The Mage, whilst being so small, was another heavy hitter. His normal attacks had very short range, but he had a heavy attack in which he sent out a row of icicles in front of him. This was slow and left you open, but did huge damage and juggled anyone who got in the way. For ranged he shot homing fireballs, which was another slow but powerful attack. The Mage is another class I really liked the design on, and they were a lot of fun to use all things considered. This was the class I used as my secondary character, only surpassed by off course:
The Archer, my main (did you guess right?) was your go-to ranged gal. She had a short sword, but her combos and reach left much to be desired: slow, low damage, incredibly not worth it. Her ranged attack was obviously her bow, and this thing was her greatest strength. She was fast with this thing as well, and once you got the aiming down you were capable of wrecking people before they could even get close. The physics behind her arrows were very well done, and you really had to learn the aiming system in order for your shot to hit its mark. After a lot of training, you knew exactly how high you had to aim to hit that moving target at the other side of the map, but once you got good you could hit him every time. There was nothing more satisfying than taking your shot, waiting a second, and seeing that asshole Ninja in the distance flinch right before she got a hit off on your teammate.
Her bow was, paradoxically, even very good at close range. You could always tell the good Archers from the bad ones by looking at which of them switched to the sword when enemies came close. Rule #1 of the Rakion Archer: Never, EVER, take your sword out. Bow all day, every day. Even when enemies got right up in your face, your bow was your best friend. The thing is the Archer shot fast. Like, really fast. She could shoot so quickly that it was completely viable to lure your opponents into doing an attack, dodge and fire. Each hit stunned as well, so if you were lucky and quick, you could get off multiple hits at once. This was a fucking blast! There was also the element of learning to predict your opponent's moves which was another incredibly satisfying experience once you saw it pay off. Once you got good with her, the Archer was a beast both close range and long. And considering all the time I spent practicing, I think it's safe to say I got pretty good indeed.
One problem the Archer did have was that she sucked at Golem. Her arrows didn't do enough damage to creatures to be viable, so you were often reliant on the rest of your team. Except for that little fact that Golem Mode didn't have respawns. Once you were dead you stayed dead, and killing all your opponents was an alternate win condition. So while everyone else was hitting the Golden Golem I usually got myself a place with a nice view, so to speak, and kept picking off the enemies. This way they'd get stunned every few seconds so I bought my team time to kill the Golem for me, and on the off chance that an enemy managed to score the last hit he had already taken so much damage that killing him before he reached our base was no trouble at all. There's also that little fact that almost everyone who got the gold aura instinctively ran towards the other team's Golem in a straight line. A word of advice: do not run in straight lines when Archers are on the prowl.
Remember kids, you can't spell "funnel" without "fun"!
Eventually, some people would get so fed up with me picking away at them while they were concentrating on the Golem that they'd come after me instead. Now the Archer was a class that in my opinion was often grossly underestimated. So every once in a while an overconfident Blacksmith who got fed up with me came after me with the idea that he'd just kill me real quick and focus on the important stuff afterwards. Nine times out of ten, he left as a pincushion. That is, if he left at all. Back then, that was the best feeling in the world.
There was also this one time where I was the only one left of my team going up against three or four scattered opponents, and my own team kept urging me to switch to the sword. Because be serious, how is an Archer going to fight close range with just a bow? About ten minutes later, in what admittedly must have been my best Rakion match ever and perhaps my best multiplayer match ever period, they knew exactly how one fights close range with a bow. I won us the round that time, because each of the opponents figured they could easily take me one on one. Had they come together there would've been major problems, but none of them saw the need at that time. I don't think they ever made that mistake again. Perhaps I was wrong earlier. This was the best feeling in the world.
Anyways, the final general thing you need to know about Rakion is the Chaos system. After a certain amount of kills, and sometimes after a certain amount of deaths as a pity prize, your character could go into Chaos Mode. You became a lot bigger, were immune to damage and stun and did fucktons of damage. Basically, you were given the option to for a limited time FUCK.SHIT.UP. See each character's Chaos form below. The Mage's Chaos Form in particular was very cool, but the Ninja became even more of a bitch than she already was anyway. All in all this was a decent system, but it didn't add a whole lot. The game could've done without.
From left to right: Blacksmith, Ninja, Mage, Archer and Warrior.
This was more or less the full game, and I loved it. There were a lot of things that made this game work, but most of all it was being able to play a class-based game like this at melee range with swords and magic. Hopefully you too are able to see what made Rakion this unique little snowflake. Never before or since have I seen a game quite like this, and that's a massive shame. Because unfortunately, there's a reason I refer to Rakion as "crappy" in my title. This game had a slew of problems. While I didn't see those at the time, looking back on it now they really do break the game. I haven't gotten it to run on my Windows 7, but I doubt things have improved much since then.
Firstly, this was one of the first games I ever played where "F2P" reared its ugly head. You could get to level 20 for free, but after that your character stopped getting skill points upon level up unless you paid. Even back then I refused to pay for shit like this, so I was perpetually stuck at level 20. This was more of a skillbased game anyway, so it didn't matter much, but it was still annoying.
Secondly, Golem Mode gave huge XP gains compared to the other modes, so ultimately that was what almost 90% of the people played. Whereas Golem Mode was pretty fun as I discussed before, every once in a while you want something different. I myself loved Team Deathmatch since the Archer was pretty unsuited for Golem matches from the get-go, but those games were rare and yielded only a fraction of the XP and gold.
Thirdly, the balance in this game was whack. I have never seen such strange balancing in a class-based game. If I have to summarize it: every character was overpowered. In groups, that is. Rakion had this very strange thing in that every class was utterly broken if you had an entire team of them. Five Warriors were completely devastating, as were five Mages, as were five Ninjas, et cetera. In other games you want to make sure you have a variety of classes in your team for maximum effectiveness. In Rakion, whenever you saw a team all with the same class, you knew you were screwed, and it didn't even matter which particular class it was. To this day I have no clue how this could've happened, but that's what it was like.
Finally and by far the most painful, the netcode was complete shit. It was very rare to find a game where none of the players had huge ping, and disconnects were frequent. Lag was the rule rather than the exception, and if you could go two matches without the game crashing you were in luck.
Long story short: when this is your game's tagline, you know what time it is.
So all in all, Rakion: Chaos Force was pretty much riddled with problems. But riddle me this: what games are there that did anything like what Rakion tried to achieve? Anything at all?
Rakion had such an amazingly fun concept. You take a class-based MMO and replace the Snipers with Archers, the Heavies with Blacksmiths and the Scouts with Ninja's. You make the players get up close and personal and have them play all sorts of fun modes. They really don't have to be anything special. A simple game of Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag changes dramatically once you take guns out of the equation. All of a sudden you need to buy your golden teammate some time, because he still has to kill the enemy's Golem and that's going to take a while. All of a sudden you have to wall off your base with Warriors and Blacksmiths, while your Archers and Mages fire away at the gold enemy before he can reach your base. All of a sudden you don't have to worry about getting close to the heavy hitter before he shreds you to bits (with a minigun, say) because he too can only do damage up close. There's all these little things that happen when you make a class-based MMO melee, but the only game I've ever seen do it was Rakion.
Where are my class-based melee MMOs, game industry? No seriously, where are they?
I have heard it said that the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic multiplayer is somewhat similar to this. Unfortunately however, I only managed to play that game relatively recently, and the multiplayer is long dead. Other than that, I'm coming up empty. Some MOBAs seem to go Rakion's direction somewhat, but more often than not MOBAs devolve into "hit the special attack button and hope it dies" whereas Rakion was much more about using your standard combos at the right time and dodging when needed. Still nothing like I was searching for.
But then something happened.
A couple of days ago, an Early Access game went up on Steam called ArcheBlade. I'm pretty sure nobody had ever heard of it. This was its trailer:
I want it said that "Dick the Megaton" is the best character name ever.
It looked...great! I was ecstatic! It has a class system, a focus on melee, simple combos with some special moves, cool characters, Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch. Could this be the game I was waiting for? Could this be Rakion, except not shitty?
Well, kind of.
This game definitely has the right idea, and it reminds me of Rakion in the best possible way. The trailer shows its potential and it definitely looks the closest to Rakion I've ever seen something come. In fact, someone on the Steam forums has already compared the two games as well.
Unfortunately, this seems like another game which doesn't bring out the full potential of the concept. I played it for a while yesterday and was left disappointed. From what I've seen your characters always attack in the direction the camera is facing rather than where the character itself is facing. This isn't much of a problem, except that it takes even the most minute angles into account. You'll be attacking an enemy, but when you turn the camera a little bit to look at who might be approaching, your next attack is going to miss simply because you turned the camera ever so slightly. More than anything this ensures that you'll never stand any chance fighting more than one opponent at a time. Either you can't focus, or you can't see. Moreover, in all the matches I played yesterday, not once did I manage to fight someone one on one. This game has a huge tendency to bundle up all the players in a small area, ultimately ensuring that fights become too chaotic for the system to really show its stuff.
Once again F2P rears its ugly head, even more horribly than Rakion's ever did. ArcheBlade, you see, makes you buy every single character. Yeah. Free to play my ass. You want to try your hand at a defensive class? Pay up. How about ranged? Pay up again. Your quick hitter sucks? Well too bad then, you already paid for it. You can pay about 20 bucks for the starter pack, but all evidence points to this game being one of those F2P titles. You know the ones. Finally, in the games of ArcheBlade I played there was also a good amount of lag present, pointing to another instance of bad netcode. And since ArcheBlade is a bit faster paced than Rakion was it becomes all the more annoying.
You like these characters? That will be 3 bucks each kthxbye.
When I think about it that way and I read the above paragraphs, I could actually see ArcheBlade becoming someone else's Rakion. I imagine right now there's a kid just like me back in high school who is loving the shit out of ArcheBlade, wondering why there are no other major games like this.
...but it looks like we'll have to keep on searching for that one game that will get it right.
So come on, gaming industry: make me that class-based melee game. Make me a Capture the Flag with swords and bows. Make me a 4v4 Deathmatch with ninjas and magic. ArcheBlade is already a step in the right direction. Keep going, keep going.
Make me Rakion again.
....but please...make it good this time.