Argo Online recently entered the crowded field of Korean MMOGs adapted for Western markets. Burda, the publisher responsible for bringing the innovative 3rd-person MOBA-esque Loco Online to western markets, is hoping to stake their free-to-play, full-featured claim on Argo Online. Does Argo truly deliver something players can’t find elsewhere? Or, with an estimated 400 Asian MMOGs produced every six months, in a staggering number of elsewheres?
At first brush, no. A lot about Argo Online seems overly familiar. If you closed your eyes and pictured an user interface, then added some item store frills and sans-serif free-to-play font (do all Asian MMOG ports use the same typeset?), you’d picture the Argo Online UI perfectly. The graphics about as good as you’ll find in a purpose-built free-to-play where bandwidth is a serious consideration.
Argo’s official site is cookie-cutter F2P – with only a short overview of the game, some screens, four videos, and no visible means to interact with the community. The item store premise is solidly rooted in the 3 C’s – cosmetics, consumables, and convenience items (i.e. XP boosters). And Argo’s gameplay has the usual niggles – jarring FFXIV-esque transitions, forgettable dialogue, and one-dimensional combat encounters bereft of any need for strategy or thought.
Yet other things about the game aren’t quite as formulaic. The game is touted as post-apocalyptic, but the graphics are anything but steeped in rust and wasteland. Argo’s story is fairly offbeat, a fact hinted at by my character being a tech-based Paladin. Sometimes it felt as if common elements of sci-fi and fantasy were put in a blender with a smattering of World of Warcraft and Aion, and Argo Online came out. The world is pretty – floating crystals, lush greenery, chimney-shaped rocks overlooking deserts. Gameplay-wise, Argo features combat mounts with distinct weapons, as well as troop carriers that can haul up to 5 friends, which could really change the tide in an open world PvP fight.
I logged in with a Nobilian Paladin. Nobilians are the steampunkish, tech-driven side, while the Floressians are the Luddite nature lovers. The two sides fight for Earthdium, an element that is used for powering mounts, upgrading equipment, crafting, and “backpacks” – which grant over-the-top combat and movement actions, such as switching into attack mode (to increase damage) or dash mode (to perform acrobatic double jumps and Aion-style floating descents).
While we didn’t explore PvP in the demo, Argo Online’s Ryan Morgan noted that the game’s completely open PvP nature (with guards to protect the newbie isles) and large scale, 100 vs. 100 PvP battles are what make Argo really unique. These battles occur twice a day, and players must sign up for a slot in advance. Whichever side wins gets access to massive Earthdium mines. Given that Earthdium powers nearly everything in the game, the reward is potentially worth the effort. Ryan also mentioned that a novel RTS mode is also in the works, with 1v1, 3v3, and 5v5 battles set in a base-building format a la Starcraft.
Ryan and I zoned into Mortalis, the game’s first big PvP dungeon. A public quest greeted us on zone-in, which was a great way to inspire some instant teamwork. The zone was set up much like Aion’s Abyss, with the two factions starting at either end and enormous bloated fly bosses (and the real loot) at dead center. At level 50, these level 40-ish bosses weren’t much of a match for us, but Argo’s extensive animation work took center stage as the flies hovered, zoomed, bit, and stung.
For more of a challenge, Ryan took me into Shine Desert for a glimpse of the endgame. Shine Desert is where the most Nobilians and Floressians come to do battle. Even at our advanced level, we ducked into a corner as a Floressian on the hunt passed by. That brought back memories of any number of free-for-all PvP games, where enemies lurked on every trodden path. That isn’t necessarily my brand of gameplay anymore, but your mileage may vary.
If you haven’t yet been bitten by the free-to-play bug and are looking for an full-featured, accessible game with plenty of potential, you could do much worse than Argo Online. The promise of massive scale PvP with more than a hint of games like Runes of Magic (free-to-play implementation, not to mention a strong showing from the German speakers), Aion (“pretty” look and feel), Warhammer Online (public quests), and many more MMOGs, all contained within a very familiar UI, make Argo Online a contender in the astoundingly crowded traditional fantasy free-to-play MMOG market.