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The Chinese MMO invasion begins

In China, online gaming is serious business. Sometimesdeadly seriousbusiness. With the easterm MMO market such a thriving and eclectic beast of a thing, it seems odd that here in the west we still have such single-game domination in the shape of WoW. And given that Europe is the biggest MMO market in the world, it seems odder still.

Chinese online game giant Chang You obviously thinks so. It runs some of the country’s biggest games (and with a country as big as China we’re talking some seriously big games), and very soon its new European office is set to invade our continent with its biggest hitters.

First up is TLLB, which in China could not be a bigger deal simply due to the basic boundaries of physics. We’re talking a 50 million-strong player-base here. It’s big, it’s deep, it’s already out in the US as Dragon Oath, and best of all it’s free.

Inspired by the literary works of legendary Chinese author Jin Yong (TLLB stands for Tian Long Ba Bu, and is the title of a classicWuxianovel that’s been adapted into virtually every medium on the planet by now), the game is a martial arts-based MMO taking in nine different classes based on different combat disciplines. Despite its free nature, what we’ve seen so far appears to be a fully featured MMORPG with a metric shedload going on within its world.

All the usual tropes you’d expect are present and correct. Instances, guilds, raids and mounts are here in force, and the battle mechnics should be instantly familiar to WoW veterans. The major battle differences between TLBB and that other MMO though, is that instances scale to your party’s ability, placing very few limits on exploration and taking the emphasis away from grinding.

It’s a game with a fun and quirky personality. A perfect example of this is in the game’s fully-trainable pets. You’ll get basic ones by default, but a huge variety of much more interesting ones must be captured on the very Pokemon-sounding Pet Island. Their skills and abilities can tweaked and customised to compliment those of your main character, and there’s everything from gorillas to pandas to dinosaurs on offer, so for all of its historical origin, TLLB looks to be far from a dry game. Rumours of a Giant Enemy Pet Crab are currently unconfirmed.

There’s also a big emphasis on timed special events occuring around the game world, with nine regularly-appearing set-piece types making up the current roster. Covering the likes of city sieges, combat tournaments and even quizzes, there are also unique conceptual events such as Chess Challenge, which sees your team battle across a giant chess board, wiping out each sentient game piece in turn over a time limit.

What we’ve seen so far looks to be a friendly, upbeat and vibrant MMO experience, brimful of features and ideas, so we reckon it’s going to be one worth keeping an eye on. There’s a closed beta on the go at the min (which you can try to register for at thegame’s site), with an open one coming up next month

And then there’s also Blade Wars, which is coming over in June. While we’ve seen less of it, but this Diablo-style isometric MMO also has a fair bit of potential. Set in a world in which rival human, god and demon races vie for control, it promises 99 different combat styles, realistic martial arts, and a deep combat system that requires strong tactical thinking as well as a powerful grasp of creative comboing to get the best from. And again, it won’t cost you a penny.

More on this one as we get it, naturally, but between these two up-and-comers it looks like Chang You could be making a pretty big splash in European waters later this year.

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.