Gameloft’s ‘smash and grab’ school of game design may have mortally offended many video game purists, but it’s also resulted in some truly brilliant mobile releases. N.O.V.A. 2, Modern Combat and Sacred Odyssey all fine pieces of interactive entertainment, clones or not.
This trend is set to continue with the launch of Order & Chaos Online, a massively multiplayer online RPG which doesn’t so much borrow elements from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft as crowbar open the door to Azeroth and make off with its entire contents - orcs, elves, and all.
National elf service
Like the game it tries so hard to emulate, Order & Chaos Online requires you to create a character based on one of four different races: Human, Elf, Orc, and Undead.
Once you’ve decided which creed you’d like to join, you can then choose your speciality. Slash-happy action fans will no doubt pick the warrior, while more cerebral types can settle for a magic user.
After a cursory tutorial you’re thrust into a wild and exciting world along with countless other players. Although it’s still early days for Order & Chaos Online, this fantasy realm is already packed with participants. Despite its crowded nature, the game runs reasonably well, with little slowdown.
For the most part, Order & Chaos Online’s touchscreen interface is perfectly workable: movement is handled by the traditional on-screen stick, while attacks are mapped to a dial in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
Fingers and thumbs
Other parts of the screen activate particular features when tapped, and many are context-sensitive and can only be accessed when they’re flashing. In addition to all this, certain actions – such as talking to a character or selecting a combat target – require you to touch the subject in question.
Needless to say, the screen can quickly become an confusing collection of different interface elements, and it’s not unusual to tap something entirely by mistake.
Never before has an iOS release been more desperately in need of a trusty mouse-and-keyboard interface.
Despite these control conundrums, Order & Chaos Online’s potential is obvious. The vast and well-rendered environments look fantastic, and offer a tantalising world to explore and conquer.
Interaction with other living, breathing players is also a revelation, although it has to be said that the chat system is badly in need of fine-tuning. Inserting text is a clunky and awkward affair (again, a keyboard would be a godsend) and there doesn’t currently seem to be any way of filtering or translating the babblings of foreign players.
Like World of Warcraft, Order & Chaos Online requires a monthly subscription in order to play. You get three months free when you purchase the game, and renewal rates are reasonable - a single month costing just 59 pence/99 cents. Cash can be saved by committing to half a year’s subscription, which is available for £1.79/$2.99.
Rather less enticing is the ability to purchase gold in the game’s online store: a whopping £59.99/$99 gets you 150 gold pieces, which allows you to obtain many amazing items in-game but feels like a slightly insane amount of cash to spend in an iOS title.
There’s such a staggering amount of potential in Chaos & Order Online that it’s hard to condense all of it into a single review. Having said that, seasoned World of Warcraft players may feel slightly aggrieved at the lack of dungeons (Gameloft is apparently adding them in later) and the rough nature of player-on-player interaction.
Most MMOs take months or even years to mature, and Order & Chaos Online will be no different: judging it at such an early stage seems almost unfair, but what is here provides a very solid foundation for future excellence.
If Gameloft continues to support the game with enhancements and additional content, it could prove to be a mobile marvel to rival even Blizzard’s online epic. For the time being, though, it’s merely commendable rather than absolutely essential.