Most North American players of massively multiplayer online games see an Asian-developed free-to-play MMO and automatically assume it's just another pretty grind-fest. Perfect World Entertainment's director of marketing Jon Belliss says those assumptions are mostly correct.
"90 per cent of the time they are absolutely right," says Belliss, speaking to me along with Perfect World's director of production Andrew Brown about their upcoming title Forsaken World. "There are so many Asian games out there that are complete grind-fests."
Perfect World Entertainment, the North American subsidiary of Chinese online gaming company Perfect World Co Ltd is no stranger to releasing free-to-play Asian online games in the states. The company has released five titles in North America since 2008: Perfect World International, Ether Saga Online, Jade Dynasty and Battle of the Immortals. Many consider these titles to be examples of the typical Asian MMO.
But the company's next release, Forsaken World, will be different.
"We've been evolving over the years," says Belliss. " We've learned a lot about what players want, and what speed of progression is acceptable."
Forsaken World is the dark counterpart to Perfect World's flagship game, Perfect World International. It's a bleaker setting, where Elves, Humans, Dwarves, the massive Stonemen, and the vampiric Kindred battle to save the world of Eyrda from invasion by the forces of evil.
The game features some interesting new ideas.
For instance, each class features unique elements that make them stand apart for the rest. Take the Bard. An elegant and complicated class exclusive to the Elven race, Bards are magic-users with a unique twist called the Measure. As the Bard cast spells, the Measure fills with musical notes. As it fills, special buffs are cast on the player and their party. Which buffs are cast is dependent on the order of notes, so a Bard needs to be aware of what they are casting and when they cast it in order to produce the desired effect.
The mechanic reminds me somewhat of the old Bard class from EverQuest, arguably one of the most satisfying classes to play correctly.
The game features eight different classes and five different races, though unlike many games, each race and class combination is different. An Elf warrior will have access to different talents than a Human warrior. Races are more than a cosmetic difference.
And then there's the ability for players to become gods.
As Belliss and Brown explain it, the game world will have ten different gods at any given time. Players reach godhood depending on their actions. The player who travels the farthest in any given week might become the god of transportation, gaining special teleportation powers. The most talkative player might become the god of communication, able to talk to anyone in the game no matter where or what they are. The system is still being honed, but it's likely gods will cycle on a week-by-week basis.
There's more. Crafting professions that include a Socialite profession. Guild housing that can be upgraded, giving players access to unique items and new content; instanced "worlds" that a guild can create, and another guild can destroy.
All of this, plus a promise that players will not have to grind.
"You can quest from level one to max level," Brown tells me. There are 20-30 daily events players can participate in, perfect for casual players who just want to get in and get out again.
Forsaken World is the first game developed by Perfect World with an international scope in mind. The company has been gathering feedback from players of its other titles, trying to figure out a way to satisfy both China and North America at once.
And they do mean at once. Many Asian MMO titles brought to North America suffer from translation lag. The latest build in China is generally months ahead of what North America is playing. "We've learned the ropes and streamlined the process," Belliss explains. "We're at a point where we'll be releasing games at the same time."
This doesn't mean the company is rushing the game out. Where most Asian imports use beta testing as a brief period meant to make sure the localisation is solid, Perfect World plans on using the upcoming closed beta to actively tailor the game to its players.
"This will be the longest closed beta in Perfect World history," says Belliss. The closed beta kicks off on October 27, and not everyone that applies will get in. Participants will be funnelled in slowly, with active forum participants taking priority. "The game is going to change between now and the open beta date."
With plans to enter open beta and launch the full game sometime in the first quarter of 2011, Perfect World has plenty of time to get Forsaken World Perfect.
Visit the game's official website for more information on Forsaken World.