No Levels In This Free-To-Play MMO

by Adam Biessener on Jun 16, 2010 at 09:04 AM

What if you got access to your character class's entire skill tree as soon as you logged into an MMORPG for the first time? GamersFirst hopes that the answer is "play that game for a long time."

This PvP-focused 2011 release, codenamed Hailan after the swords-and-sorcery fantasy world it's set in, aims to change the way we think about MMORPGs. Producer Adam Smith has been working on MMOs for much of his career, and on free-to-play Western MMOs for the last three years. He contends that the genre's obsession with levels and XP grinding is baseless. "The only reason anyone does that is because of Ultima Online and EverQuest," he insists. Smith is building a game that puts no faith in these outmoded traditions. Hailan gives players all the tools of their main class from the very outset.

Though there are no traditional levels, Hailan does feature persistent progression and power growth. Each of the eight classes has 29 skills of its own, which can be boosted up to level 11 for maximum power by collecting tokens that drop during combat. By achieving specific goals, which work exactly like Xbox Achievements right down to having some being hidden at the outset, you can earn points which you can then spend purchasing access to other classes' skills. Because this is tied to an achievement system rather than an XP grind, Smith hopes that players will be driven to experiment and strive for success rather than spending obnoxious amounts of time on monotonous repetition.

The cost of purchasing additional abilities depends on your class's relationship to the skill you want. For example, a mage could purchase a healing spell relatively cheap since he's already a magic user. Alternatively, a priest has to pay through the nose to learn how to wear plate armor. Depending on your choices, you'll end up with between three and twelve cross-class skills after getting all 50 achievements.

Unlike most free-to-play games, Hailan is a seamless non-instanced world. The entire gameworld consists of public zones. Its PvP-centric nature means that the two factions will be constantly clashing in the many PvP-flagged areas. When asked about the inevitable numerical imbalance, Smith teased Hailan's nascent political system. Though he declined to provide specifics, he mentioned that players will vote for player representatives who will then have to make compromises in a political arena that have real gameplay effects. Smith laughingly declared that Hailan's system for dealing with faction imbalance will be "less clumsy than Wintergrasp."

Smith is aiming at newbie-boosting consumables and cosmetic stuff for the microtransactions that will fund Hailan. Post-launch instances will be made available for purchase, as well as new islands to journey to. Additionally, players will be able to rent access to a third combat vector to complement the baseline land and sea-based battle: airships. This isn't a segregated experience; players on land, in boats, and in airships can interact through ranged attacks or airdropping hit squads behind enemy lines.

Having been just recently announced, a number of questions remain about Hailan -- its real name, for one. Smith and GamersFirst are talking an interesting game with it, but we have no idea how good the content itself will be or how tight the gameplay is. We should be able to bring a more detailed report back when the game enters its closed beta (currently slated for September), but for now it's nice to see people innovating in the free-to-play space rather than crapping out yet another Lineage clone.