I came out of the portal and rounded the corner. Surrounded by hills, a green valley stretched out in front of me, occasional trees scattered along the descent. A glint of light in the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned around. In front of me were maybe twenty robots, stood still, holding something like a pneumatic drill. Everything was stationary, the drill unmoving, the mechs near identical. Turning a bit more, I gasped out loud, my heart and stomach sank. On the hillside stood hundreds, hundreds, of Accretian robots, all facing the same way, all holding frozen machinery. So I gave a speech.
Korean MMOs are famous for their grind, and entirely unapologetic. Their reason for being is to allow a player to plough through levels, existing to fight and fighting to exist. Kill twenty of these, then twenty of those, then twenty of the one over there. Levels tick by, abilities slightly alter, drops are picked up, used or sold, skills are tweaked, and the world sits still around you. RF Online, at least in this respect, is different.
Every eight hours, for those level 25 (although more practically level 30), the planet erupts into three hours of global conflict. The robots of Accretia, the Elvish Cora, and the dwarfen Bellato wage angry war, fight to destroy the enemy's Chip. These Chip Wars bring with them rewards for the winning sides. Destroying a Chip gains access to bountiful mines, and financial boosts for the race. Such riches are spent on more and better weapons for the next push, eight hours later. This is massive massively multiplayer conflict.
Except there's a bit of a problem. It's a terrible mess.
Me: Why are you all here?
Me: You're standing still, doing nothing.
Me: I'm here to set you free.
Me: Look what you've become.
Me: Do you not want to run?
Me: To be free?
Hateman: preparing for the war?
Me: People, there's a world outside of here.
Me: You no longer have to be slaves.
Me: This isn't life.
Me: What are you fighting for?
Me: You have been enslaved.
Me: I weep for you all.
Cerebrus: wat the f u catting about???!??!?
The first and most significant issue with RF's focus on these clan battles is that nobody in their right mind would want to play long enough to get there. From the opening moment problems tumble over you like a screwed-up waterfall. First negotiate the shoddy log-in screen with its teeth-hurting sanctimonious music, and you're into the character selection screen. Madly translated gibberish might be trying to tell you the nature of the races, or how to change your washing machine to the 40 degree wash. Once you've picked between the tanky robots, magical elves, or mechanical midgets, you're then asked to pick a class. This time, rather than confuse you with Korenglish spluttering, you're protected by its offering absolutely no information whatsoever.
There then comes a tutorial that will have you tearing out the hairs on your head, legs, back and bum, as it patronises you with painstaking, unskippable instructions as to how to click on a button with a mouse, but not anything of what on earth you're meant to be doing in the game.
And then you're dumped into the middle of your main base, instructions barked at you by a mysterious stranger (not actually barked though, but scrolled up agonisingly slowly in a window - a window that doesn't word wrap, such that li
nes break off as soon as the edge is re
ached, no concern given for sense), and no guidance whatsoever. Kill so many of these for this slightly obtuse reason.
I wandered away, disappointed that no one seemed able to listen. It was too late for them. With nothing else to do, I aimlessly attacked some local beasts. Attacking was automatic to me, my brain or hands barely involved, only having to concentrate on consuming health potions every four seconds. They cost so little that I buy a hundred at a time, and as no one in this world is able to heal, it's become our norm. Life is to be lost and regained in a perpetual cycle. Everything is perpetual here. War repeats like clockwork, aims never change. No one is free. I amble tiredly toward a cave entrance. But don't I recognise that robot over there?
Working in teams creates disadvantage. Only the last person to hit something gains credit for the kill, meaning that rather than killing twenty of something, now you have to kill at least twenty multiplied by the number in your team. More likely double that for accidentally being the person to take a beast down. And none of this is at all fun. The inadequately placed keys can't be remapped, and mouse control is counter-intuitive. Attacking things is tedious and uninvolved, and yet 90 per cent of the game's content. And worst, kills can be stolen by anyone who happens to wander along and deliver a final blow.
Draw breath... Locations are barren, and while impressively large and occasionally pretty, a horrendous trawl to traverse, hindered by dreadful maps that must be bought for ridiculous prices. Screen furniture cannot be resized, the chat window three lines high whenever you're not typing into it, and hence obscured with the incessant in-game notices. And the translation, as mentioned, is farcical. Pant, pant, pant.
Begrudgingly, it must be admitted that at the least, RF Online is functional. Should you wish to, as apparently so many do, you can enter this grind. It's stable, and while what it offers is so tedious, and so careless, it all works. It never stops rewarding you with levels, new armour and weapons, even if it's a little slow to give new skills. The sell is the PvP on such a massive scale. The reward for standing still on a hillside with an unanimated mining drill is the rush of a huge, crazed fight with hundreds of other players, in a team effort to destroy the enemy Chips. The catch is that fighting is a mindless chore, even when compared to the admittedly mundane tendencies of the MMO. Common sense has gone into balancing the economy, with increasingly burdening taxes levied upon races that grow disproportionately rich. But the all-permeating ennui induced saps any hope of sustained joy. Having the mental strength to put up with reaching level 30 is a remarkable feat, but perhaps not an enviable one. Bothering to play on after this probably means coma.
There's no notion of second life, no roleplay (characters look almost identical, the Accretia especially, with their identikit armour), and no community. There are teams and guilds, but there's no atmosphere to accompany them. RF Online is like playing an endless game of slow-motion whack-a-rat, without the entertainment of the fairground surroundings.
It was Hateman. The man who had tried to justify the actions of the legion drones. He was stood alone, surrounded by the endlessly reborn docile victims of a thousand robot swords, morbidly hitting at something every now and then. But mostly trudging back and forth with no apparent purpose. Had he heard? Had I freed him? Or was he, like me, now trapped in this world without a purpose?