OK, I'll be honest, my preview of RF Online wasn't exactly full of praise, it may be worth reading it here before checking out this review.
Since I previewed the game there has been a significant amount of polishing taking place. A lot of the text errors have been resolved and the game does feel complete. It really is amazing how much difference the final polish can make. The game has a significantly more coherent feel.
Upon loading the client you are given an absolute audio treat. The games intro music is at least on par with any Anime movie release, if not better. You then choose a server, a race a class and then you customize your characters appearance. The game does very little to branch out from the standard MMORPG start-up experience, but to be honest that's quite typical of the game. The game takes very few risks, and ands nothing new to the MMORPG experience.
The games graphics are a mixture of well detailed stylish character models and often bland and sparse backgrounds. The anime style that the game has could have been executed a little better. Whilst the character models have a very distinct style, the backgrounds deliver very little in fact they seem completely without any kind of style and feel empty and dated.
Weaponry and armour are restricted based on level and skills. At the beginning of the game you can choose to use either close range or ranged weapons. Every time you use a weapon your skill increases slightly and you will eventually 'level up' in that skill. More powerful weapons will have both a skill requirement and a level requirement. For example if you have used a gun for the first few levels of play and you pick up a powerful sword it might have the requisite CloseRangedSkill 3 whereas the character will have a Ranged skill due to using a gun. This system means that you must decide very early on in the game which path to follow. This system also prevents power levelling. Power levelling is generally where a high level character will join up with a low level character and enter in to combat as a team. The high level character will do the majority of the work but the low level character will get a cut of the experience points. If this is done with RFOnline the characters levels will go up much faster than their skill levels and they will be unable to use weapons or armour suited to their level.
Grinding does seem a little more fun that I may have lead readers to believe in the preview. The great failing of the game is that grind is necessary to reach the part of the game where you can enjoy yourself. This is in stark comparison to other games on the market. For example, in Guild Wars there is an engrossing storyline throughout with PvP (Player Versus Player) opportunities from early on. World of Warcraft offers PvP from Level 10 (which is fairly early in the game) plus multiple races each offering a distinct storyline and the option to carry out quests for other races. RF Online offers very little until you hit level 30, all classes are pretty much the same and there is very little difference between the races.
The quests system simply does not work, and would have felt dated ten years ago. Being given a quest each time you level makes the game feel very linear, there is no incentive to discover new areas or go and adventure away from the crowds. In fact discovering new areas is difficult as you are very restricted how far you can move away from quest areas due to higher enemy levels.
The game requires a subscription fee. Subscription fees will always be a topic of significant debate. Guild Wars has shown that a game can provide a top class experience without a fee, though content is slow to appear, Anarchy Online uses in game advertising and free access to those not using the games expansion packs. World of Warcraft (many argue this is the best on the market) charges a monthly fee. The fee starts at £8.99 per month but there is a discount for longer subscriptions. From my experience gamers demand a lot more from the game where a fee is required and this game simply misses the mark.
Like the Lineage series this game is probably more at home in Korea. I think this game shows that different markets expect different gaming experiences. The amount of work required to make this game suitable for a western audience would be massive and would have to turn the game in to something else entirely. The theory behind making a good successful game is quite straightforward. You either have to do the same as everyone else and do it better, or do something completely new that works. This game does nothing new and not much of what it does is done particularly well.
In summary the game feels like a bit of a waste, there is a lot of potential in the game which is let down by glaring omissions. Players expect low level content, when I play a game I don't expect all of the character classes to feel identical. Even playing different races does little to vary the experience. Even though the difference in races is so fundamental it feels so superficial and really reduces any replay value. In fact it often feels like going to work rather than playing a game.