Review: Crusaders of Light
Crusaders of Light (CoL) is a free-to-play, cross-platform MMORPG developed by NetEase. My review is based on two weeks of daily gameplay on both Android mobile (Galaxy S7 Edge) and PC platforms.
A Step In The Right Direction!
This is one of the few mobile MMORPGs I’ve played that actually feels like an MMORPG. You pick a class, complete quests with a main storyline, knock out daily missions, group with others to defeat powerful bosses, throw down in PvP, and grow your character’s strength through a fairly standard progression path (which has catch-up mechanics for new players that doesn’t involve RMTs).
NetEase has pulled out all the stops with Crusaders of Light and I honestly think is the push in the direction we all want mobile MMORPGs to go. It’s not perfect, but it does so much right that if it does nothing else but inspire others to meet its quality, then it’s nothing but a success. This game is one that has learned from others before it and any which come after will absolutely learn from it. Let’s dive into its key features of gameplay.
- Auto-Play – At first, I was skeptical. But once you’ve put some time into the game, you realize this feature is more of a convenience, as opposed to just flat automation. It’s not viable to auto-play Team Raids, as you’ll do about half of the damage you’d do by actually playing (and not following mechanics). This is convenient for doing things like rep grinding or some daily tasks, especially to give your hands a break (for mobile).
- Real Money Transactions – I’ll cover this more in the p2w section, but CoL features some real money transactions which allow you to buy gems, materials, currency and some cosmetic items such as banners, mounts, and titles.
- 3 Classes, 9 Paths – You’ll have the ability to play a Ranger, Mystic, or Warrior. Each of these classes have 3 of their own Paths, allowing you access to talent trees which you can tweak the style of gameplay you’d like your character to have. Similar to other MMORPG’s, roles include Tank, Heals, and DPS.
- Character Progression – Whether it’s increasing your character’s experience and level, your talent experience, progressing your gems, or grinding some high item level gear, Crusaders of Light offers a pretty traditional progression path for a MMORPG and should scale pretty well.
- Grouping System – A very large part of the game involves grouping with other players to conquer powerful enemies. With a pretty intuitive in-game voice chat feature and a fairly simple UI, it’s easy to find players to group up.
- Guilds – Guilds are a huge staple of Crusaders of Light. Since grouping is a core feature of the game, NetEase created a great Guild platform where you can participate in events, easily invite your guildmates, chat via guild channel, and progress as a Guild.
- Daily Tasks – If I had to describe CoL in one term, it would be daily tasks. This game is very much built around completing a plethora of tasks on a daily basis to gain experience, reputation, and currency. I think this is a smart move, mostly because it forces players to focus on the strongest points of the game – content and grouping.
- Reputation System – Complemented by Daily Tasks, there are a lot of different factions in the game. You earn reputations with these factions by completing daily quests, killing mobs, and doing PvP. At certain thresholds of reputation, you’ll unlock gear and items you can purchase to improve your character.
- Raids – Raids are what excite me most about CoL. These are group dungeons in which you kill mobs up to a boss that has unique mechanics and drops powerful gear and items. While the earlier normal raids you can complete using Auto-Play, there are also more difficult weekly Heroic Raids and Team Raids which require coordination and manual play to successfully complete.
- Hunts – Throughout the world, large, powerful monsters can spawn. The goal is to collect your guildmates and friends to group up and work together to kill these monsters.
- PvP – Whether it’s larger, objective-based battlegrounds or smaller, Arena skirmishes, PvP is actually pretty fun in CoL. It’s not something you’ll spend a lot of time on each day, but it’s something you can jump into for a bit each day with friends (or solo) and stomp some enemies!
- Trade Economy – In addition to the RMT store, NetEase did a good job in balancing the ability to acquire items by implementing an Auction House for both World and Guild. The game does a good job in rewarding items and currency by actually playing the game, so having an actual Trade Economy seems to be doing a good job in handling that delicate balance of f2p vs p2w.
- Achievement System – I commend NetEase for taking the time to implement a robust Achievement System. For basically every piece of content in the game, there are corresponding short and long term achievements. There’s also an Achievement Leaderboard, title rewards, and more – very well done.
Alright, let’s start off with what I truly enjoyed about this game. As a gamer who’s passionate about MMOs and has played through end game on nearly every large MMO to date, I feel like I have a good grasp of what makes a good game and what breaks one. So let’s talk about the good things in Crusaders of Light!
Learning from mistakes. The best thing about Crusaders of Light is that you can genuinely tell the developers have learned from previous mobile MMORPGs and even taken some things from PC MMOs and adapted them.
Intuitive grouping. Being an MMO, the ease of grouping was really something that brought out the true intent of the game. Being so easy to find a group for the task at hand made partying up fairly trivial – something so important in a game like this. With the live in-game audio chat, combined with the intuitive group finder, this game does grouping better than some AAA MMO’s on the market.
Daily Content. At first, when I saw the daily experience you could earn was capped – I was worried. However, after playing for a couple weeks – that’s genuinely not anything someone should be concerned about. With the amount of content available on a daily basis, some only being opened during certain hours, it’s going to be pretty difficult to regularly get to a point where you have nothing to do in-game.
RAIDS! Sorry, little WildStar flashback there… So this game has Raids. Raids are dungeons, Team Raids are larger, more difficult instances (similar to what most MMO players know as raids). These are really what set this game apart for me and have me most interested in its future. The true feeling of PvE progression, having to work out strategies and coordinate with your guildmates really hit home for me as to why I love MMOs. Huge props to the NetEase team on these and looking forward to many, many more.
Auto-Play. I’ve played a lot of mobile RPGs and a lot which “featured” auto-play. Up until this game, it’s been a “feature” which I absolutely despised. With that said, NetEase has found a way to make auto-play a convenience and not a mindless thing you end up using 99% of the time. There are daily tasks, such as Trials, which are super tedious to complete manually. So, join a group, pop it on follow and multitask. However, there are tasks such as Heroic and Team Raids which actually have mechanics and DPS checks which basically make it impossible to finish without playing manually. For me, NetEase finally found that balance of auto-play that we’ve been wanting on mobile devices – well done.
So, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is the perfect game – that’s never going to exist. NetEase did a lot right in Crusaders of Light, but I think it’s also not quite there yet in regards to a true, sustainable MMO. I think part of this is because of the nature of what it takes to build a successful, profitable MMO, but also because as gamers, we’re still honestly learning what we want a mobile/cross-platform MMO to actually be. So let’s talk about what I thought could have been done better.
Microtransactions. Alright, so RMT, along with p2w is always a topic of conversation when it comes to f2p MMORPGs – always. For me, a perfect world f2p MMO is a game in which what you can purchase via RMT is exclusively cosmetic. The big problem here is that if a RMT can boost your character’s power, more people will buy it – being more profitable for the company (hence why we see so many p2w games out there). I think this is where we’re still learning to find that balance and figure out how to make an even level playing field. For me, you can currently buy too much power, and honestly not enough cosmetics.
Performance. I was a little torn on adding this one, but I felt I had to. Most of my experience in the game was using a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – a fairly new phone. For the most part, with the solo play, I didn’t have any issues. You start to see a little choppiness during party play and then once you get into Team Raids and PvP with a lot of characters at one, you really start seeing the stuttering and lag come into effect. I think this will get better over time, but with Team Raids being so focused on mechanics, it’s a tough situation to be in to encounter choppy gameplay, so you might want to do those weekly tasks on a PC or high end tablet instead.
Inactive groups. So one downside to the Auto-Play feature in which I ran into very often was inactive groups. For the majority of daily tasks, you’ll want to join a party. However, a large percentage of parties in the group finder end up being players who are idle. This was honestly just more of an annoyance than anything, but something I ran into very often and likely something that could be fixed with some tweaking to the grouping experience in the future.
Text communication. This was honestly just an issue with mobile, with a couple exceptions, but communicating via text chat was a pretty big annoyance in the game – to the point where I just didn’t do it. There are also some Trivia games that occur in various chat channels that it took me a week to understand how to actually participate (and sometimes even then the latency made it impossible to answer in time). This is something NetEase can continue to improve as feedback comes in, but also something that is just really not an intuitive way to communicate inside of a mobile game – but who knows, maybe there’s a better way (the voice chat is a great start).
Is It Pay To Win?
Let me preface this by stating that the term “p2w” is something that’s interpreted differently by everyone. So let me define what it means to me – p2w means that a player can directly increase the power of their character via RMT (real money transactions). With that said, the only time p2w bothers me, personally, is when it directly impacts the competitive nature of end game progression.
Alright, so now we’re on the same page. Crusaders of Light, to me, still qualifies as a p2w game – and I’ll explain why. I will say, the developers have done a good job in moderating the threshold of p2w in the game via mechanics such as daily experience gating, server level experience diminishing returns, and restricting the amount of some items you can buy. I think the best way to explain this is to simply recap what aspects of the game are p2w and how free to play (f2p) players can keep up.
- Gems. These are items used to insert into your gear that add specific stats, increasing character power. There is a different tier of gems every 10 levels and each tier has various qualities. Players can upgrade gems to the next highest quality by combining a certain number of them. This means technically an f2p player can eventually get Best in Slot (BiS) gems, but a p2w player can get them much faster. It’s worth noting these gems provide considerable boosts in character power.
- Materials. Crafting is a viable means of acquiring powerful gear in the game. With that said, there are some rare crafting materials which p2w players can purchase via RMT, that are quite difficult for f2p players to acquire.
- Currency. This is probably one of the larger can of worms for me. You the in-game currencies, gold and silver, via RMT. These currencies are used to increase talent power (gated by talent experience), but more of an issue is being able to use gold to purchase items players put up for Auction and for bidding on items that drop in Team Raids. What this means is that while a f2p player can save up their gold to bid on these items, a p2w player can easily crush their bid to win the items by dumping their wallet into gold.
As a mobile game, Crusaders of Light does a lot right. With mobile app stores dominated by blatantly p2w games, it’s refreshing to see NetEase’s take on how to challenge that model with something that is absolutely a better balance for the f2p players. While they didn’t hit all of the right spots, they definitely hit enough for me to recommend playing. This is one of the few f2p games out there in which I don’t mind tossing them so cash via RMTs, if for nothing else but to commend them for pushing boundaries, trying something new, and actually listening to the community of gamers.
It’s also worth highlighting that NetEase seems to actively participate in the community. While the game is still new in North America, it will be interesting to see how the team addresses community feedback and continues to grow the game. They are hosting competitions for Heroic Team Raid completion, creating update videos on social networks, and genuinely communicating with their players – this is a huge deal when it comes to any developer. While an initial review of the game can be useful to gauge interest and provide feedback, the developer’s commitment to community and their game will be the true test.