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Heroes of the Three Kingdoms - hands-on

When speaking with publisher Perfect World, one gets the impression the company is actually a bit bashful about using ancient Chinese history for the plot of its new MMO, Heroes of the Three Kingdoms. This subject is as common in the Chinese markets as World War II in the US, but here in the US, the only other titles based on Chinese history are the Dynasty Warriors games, and does anybody actually play those anymore?

It’s bad enough Heroes of the Three Kingdoms is trying to overcome the “Free To Play = Fugly, Tween-y & Primitive” stigma that most hardcore gamers carry. The last thing it needs is a worn-out setting. Luckily, though the inspiration for Heroes of the Three Kingdoms is centuries old, the gameplay itself blends a surprising number of unique and interesting elements into the traditional MMO gameplay.

The first new aspect of the game is that your level in the game is based on the Confucian test system (also called the Chinese Imperial Exam system). In ancient China these skill tests were used to determine the role you would play in the empire. Any person regardless of class could end up a high-ranking government official by doing very well on the test. In Heroes of the Three Kingdoms this system is supposed to rank players such that you could become anything from a relatively low-ranking scholar to the Emperor himself.

The class system is also refreshingly unique. Rather than picking one of a few different classes and being stuck with that for the next 300+ hours, HoTK has no predetermined classes. How you play is more determined by the assembly of buffs and weapons you use. Every player is capable of using every weapon, but you need to perfect usage with that weapon first, which will take time. Once you do, you'll be able to swap between one of a few different weapons during battle to change your strategy in real time.

The best part about the class system is that everything you do affects how your character turns out. Which title you use, which mount you've been riding, what gear you have, and what skills you've chosen all come together to make up your character. This should help alleviate a lot of the boring nature of modern MMOs. Because in most games, once you've seen one healing priest, you've seen them all.

Another interesting feature in Heroes of the Three Kingdoms is the interesting way in which instances (custom-generated battles, for MMO newbies) are handled. They aren't just a random group of NPCs that try to kill you before you get to fight a boss – collect loot, repeat. Instead HoTK's instances are historical recreations. Enter into an instance with friends and you could be fighting in one of the ancient battles that helped shape modern China during the Three Kingdoms era. That’s big. And it could be just the kind of unique quality that Heroes will need to carve out a user base of its own in the increasingly saturated FTP MMO market.

Jul 6, 2010