The launch of a game can be a blurred affair. This is particularly true of direct download games, even more so if you've been involved in a beta. After closed betas, open betas, then a nominal "launch", then an ongoing series of patches, bug fixes, tweaks and adjustments, the finished product is a fluid thing. And often the finished product doesn't even feel finished. Such is the case with Warrior Epic, which ostensibly launched on 19th May after not one but two closed betas.
This launch proved something of a false start, however, as one really rather fundamental area of this free-to-play online RPG wasn't implemented: the item store. And there were still significant server issues. On 9th June, European publisher GOA announced, "the merchants of Providence have finally opened their stalls". By 11th June, GOA's partner on Warrior Epic, True Games Interactive, sent out an email announcing another official launch, accompanied by the news that server instability issues had been resolved. Huzzah! Except that, although you could visit the GOA site and buy gold - Warrior Epic's microtransaction currency - you still couldn't actually spend it in the item shop. In fact, come the end of the month, the item shop still isn't implemented.
Warrior Epic is a free-to-play action-RPG that Gage Galinger, founder of developer Possibility Space and a veteran of Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and StarCraft, has referred to as "Diablo meets the Sims". At a time when such games are increasingly trying to muscle in on the territory dominated by the MMORPG big boys, Warrior Epic is taking a slightly less steroidal approach. This is no fully-fledged MMO - in fact, you could arguably lop off that first "M". Although the servers have the potential to host thousands of players, the game itself is played more intimately with teams of one to five.
The whole affair has a markedly retro feel, notably recalling the hugely influential Diablo, but also other RPGs that came in its wake and arrived at the cusp of the broadband explosion, like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath. This may or may not appeal to you, depending on how much you need your RPG gaming to involved well-populated, finely-crafted open worlds. The experience here consists more of entering a lobby and then creating or joining a game, and going on short runs through randomised dungeons, which may take you around 20-45 minutes. It makes absolute sense for free-to-play gaming to go in this arguably less ambitious but more focused direction.
Your first adventure is a straightforward, single-player, story-based romp through some jungle. You start as a Pit Fighter, your basic Conan the Barbarian-type beefcake. All the six classes in the game have two sub-classes. In the case of Pit Fighters, there are Outcasts, who are tanks, and Berserkers, who are more about melee DPS. After hacking your way through that first jungle, smashing sundry antiquities (botanists and archaeologists - look away), your first Warrior arrives in the War Room of your Hall in Providence, and receives a face full of tutorials and instructions from the Hall Advisor. Your warrior's XP is tallied up, and so are Prestige Points - effectively experience for your Hall itself.
Interestingly, the "you" in this game isn't really your Warrior, it's this Hall. You have one Hall and as the game progresses, you can fill its barracks with a selection of Warriors. Each Warrior is effectively an alt, but, in another clever idea, they can also be used as enchantments on your weapons.
As you run one of the game's randomised dungeons, you have three lives. If you're stuck without life (which doesn't regenerate) and don't have a healing sub-class, you may well die under a scrimmage of mobs. The game, as it stands, can feel a bit harsh; die three times, and you lose all the XP you've accrued during that run. Health potions do not drop in the game, and can only be bought... through the item shop. Which hasn't yet been implemented. I suspect that the play mechanics will change subtly, but markedly, when that shop is finally implemented, as having a stash of healing pots will make that grim scenario where you lose all your XP less commonplace, and if you're soloing with a non-healer, you'll have a better chance of survival.
If you do die three times, your Warrior becomes a Spirit. Once spiritualised, that Spirit can either be revived from a Sanctuary in your Hall, or it can be bound to equipment as a permanent buff or enchant. The most fun, or at least most dramatic option, however, is to bring it along on a run and summon it at a key point in the carnage, when it bursts into being as a powerful attack. It's pretty nifty. Warriors can also find Monster Spirits on their adventures, which can be used in the same way - handy if you'd rather revive your Warriors.