It’s fair to say that MapleStory always did appeal to an audience that was into a very specific look and feel. If chibi anime designs, frantic big-number combat, and goofy storylines were your thing, then you have more than your fill here. Now that MapleStory 2 is taking the franchise to 3-D when it officially launches on October 10th, the MMO-starved west seems to be taking a surprisingly serious look at Nexon’s latest offering.[AL:MS2]I’ll admit that I was curious as well. The cheerful design, enthusiastic community, and constant communication from the dev team that I saw over the past few months gradually warmed me up to the idea of trying MapleStory 2. So when I was offered a chance to take part in the head start, I gladly engaged to satisfy my curiosity.
So what is MapleStory 2 like? Is it too childish for grown-up gamers, too simplistic for elitist number crunchers, and too unorthodox to be real competition for the fantasy MMO market out there? Yes, yes, yes… but that doesn’t matter in this case.
From the get-go, I was actually pretty impressed with MapleStory’s array of options at character creation. It’s no City of Heroes, mind you, but there are far more possibilities than I would have suspected.
After selecting one of eight combat classes — I went with the Heavy Gunner because how could you not? — I found the character creation screen allows for a good deal of time to build your adorable little anime figure any way you like. I thought it was a bonus to be able to select and equip a cosmetic outfit right from the start.
As with many action MMOs from the east, MapleStory 2 clings to a keyboard-only control scheme (there is a mouse-and-keyboard option, but it’s more click-to-move). I suppose it’s something one can get used to, but using my right hand for movement on the directional keys and my left hand for skills only messed up my finger memory something fierce. I didn’t like this control scheme in Closers, and I sure as heck don’t like it here.
The problem is compounded by the fact that MapleStory 2 is laid out on an isometric grid, which means that quite often, I’m having to jam on two direction arrows to move. Again, this isn’t something that can’t be learned or overcome, but to me it was awkward and cumbersome during my entire play experience.
On the bright side, navigating the maps was made somewhat easier by the fact that you can jump, climb, and grab on to obstacles to move up and down levels. I was very rarely left in a position where I had difficulty progressing toward an objective.
Plus the blatant yellow arrows holding my hands kept me from straying too far.
So let’s talk graphics. In the jump to 3-D, MapleStory 2 decided to go with a style that is what I call “LEGO meets Fisher-Price.” It’s really small and cute, and it has the effect of making me feel as if I’m playing a game that was intended for a person a few decades years younger than I am. The colors are bold and very attractive, lending the game a bright and cheery atmosphere that’s even peppy when you’re in the middle of a poisonous sewer.
Perhaps the strangest aspect to this MMO’s look is the layout of each zone and instance. Each area takes place on a slanted grid that can’t be rotated and lacks a skybox and often walls or firm boundaries. They’re like these floating islands in the sky — and yes, you can fall off of them, but you’ll land right back where you left. It’s the kind of look you only see these days in turn-based strategy games and the like, and it does take some getting used to here. I suppose one upside is that these graphics are not going to tax anyone’s hardware in the least.
A bulk of my time playing during the head start week was progressing through what turned out to be a fairly linear story. The tone of this tale is fairly goofy and whimsical, with masked figures pretending to be janitors to fool hapless guards, bears piloting mechs, and assistants gladly blowing up labs at the drop of a hat. Again, I’m probably not the ideal demographic for this game, and I can imagine that younger audiences would find this over-the-top tomfoolery and simplistic storytelling easy to follow and giggle-inducing.
Did I mention that there’s an ability to skip any of the bazillion cutscenes that MapleStory 2 triggers? That’s important, right there.
While it was certainly hard to gauge popularity and activity, what I saw during the head start week showed a lot of folks running around and having a pretty good time. It was easy to engage in world bosses with any random passers-by, and I looked on with envy at the few who had somehow managed to earn or buy a poster that showed their likeness to the world.
As an alternative to following the storyline, MapleStory 2 does offer zone exploration deeds. These show up under your quest log in each area and contain a list of various feats and objectives as an optional challenge. With no firm direction as to how to accomplish any of these, I spent some time jumping around the smallish areas looking for mobs, peering through binoculars, fishing up octopirates, and the like. These lists seemed perfect for those who enjoy poking around places and getting rewarded for it.
Combat in MapleStory 2 did the job without blowing me away. With my minigun, I’d roughly point myself in the direction of the enemy group and then let loose with a satisfying spray of adorable bullets that proceeded to plow into adorable critters who then sent up a spray of adorable numbers. I didn’t feel threatened by any of these mobs as they look exactly like stuffed animals my daughter sleeps with every night, but if they must die, then they must die.
With some degree of auto-aiming, the combat here is pretty brainless and devolves into a “whittle the red bar down” game. While you do get a skill point to invest every level into either empowering a current skill or unlocking a new one, by the end of my time in the game, I still was only using one combat ability and one movement ability without a need for anything else.
One fun note: You can indeed blow up the (adorable) scenery all around you, although the game does phase it back in after a few seconds. That was a nice touch.
MapleStory 2’s strength probably lies in directions other than its combat and story. Fortunately, the game has a lot of other activities, including life skills (crafting), fishing, minigames, playing music (solo or with a band), engaging in its battle royale mode, and creating the perfect house.
You get a house pretty early on, although where it will be in the world is up to you and your pocketbook. I encountered tracts of lands in the zones that were priced for staggering amounts of currency, so until I was able to discover an affordable plot, I’d have to content myself with a house that existed in limbo.
The housing system itself is fairly intuitive and flexible, if again kind of simplistic. The grid system keeps everything very orderly and regimented, coming off like a basic edition of The Sims or perhaps Animal Crossing. I applauded Nexon for including at least some interactive elements, so that players could return to their homes to do a little gardening and throw a party or two.
Overall, MapleStory 2 is a solid MMO that performs well, has a nice feature set, and just isn’t for me. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this might become the MMO sleeper hit of 2018, so perhaps you should take a look when it launches as a free-to-play title on the 10th.
Want to see it in action before committing yourself? Check out MJ’s journey through the first day of head start: