We recently got the chance to sit down and try out the open beta for the soon to be released martial arts-based MMO, Hero Online. Already released elsewhere in the world by Korean developer and publisher MGame Corporation, Hero will now be available in North America.

The basic premise of the game is rooted in a deep storyline that was written by a martial arts novelist. The short version is as follows: twelve demons came and destroyed the land, causing much chaos while no one was able to stop them. Although many tried and failed, the world fell into darkness until a mysterious hero brought 3000 soldiers to kill them. All of the soldiers perished in the battle that ensued, but the hero lived on. Known as The Great Dragon, this hero upheld the peace until one day he was slain himself. It is believed that the demons have returned and were the cause of his death, but now there is no hero to vanquish them again.

The gameplay in Hero Online is also based highly on martial arts. Players learn skills and forms while leveling up that have their own distinct visual style and motion. I really enjoyed this aspect during combat because the characters have a much larger range of motions than in most other MMOs and RPGs, which adds to the visual experience immensely. Combat is extremely fluid and acrobatic instead of the usually repetitive weapon swinging found in many other games. With increased experience, players will also gain movement skills (as well as attack skills) that will enable them to do things such as fly over a building or wall, and run or stand on water. Stat points round out the basics of the character system, allowing players to increase their strength, dexterity or intelligence.

From the start I found Hero Online to be an immediately fun and high-action game. There were always many enemies around and on-screen at the same time, even though there were many players in the same areas fighting. The re-spawn rate seemed higher than in other MMOs, which was a blessing for the gameplay because the pace of the action never slowed and there is nothing more frustrating than waiting around for an area to re-populate after a few people have already cleared it out.

The gameplay mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played an RPG or MMO before and the learning curve is very quick. By far one of my favorite aspects of this game however is its bright, beautiful graphics. Combined with the amazing character animations I found myself amazed during combat more than focused on what was actually going on. Not once was I bored or lost with a lack of direction.

Although it is easy to jump into, there were a few minor control issues that I found as I played further into the game. This mainly centers around the keyboard setup, which is extremely bizarre to what many North American gamers are used to. Unfortunately, there was no way to change this in the beta, but I sure hope there will be in the final release. The camera control was the worst offender for me, causing much of my combat time spent in a minor panic trying to get it centered behind my character instead of facing him. Another annoyance was not being able to control movement with the standard WASD keys (it seems the S key is mapped to pick up all drops in the area that are assigned to your character, the others are mystery keys to me).

Aside from this, the only nuance I had with the game was the quest system. I found it odd that when your character reaches a certain level, regardless of your location, a message appears telling you to go see a certain person for your next quest. It seemed a little force-fed at first, until I spoke with on such person and noticed that they had all of the quests they will ever give you listed, even though you could only read and accept one of them at this time.

For the most part, Hero Online looks like it will be a solid release in the MMO market. With its quick action, deep storyline and beautiful, vibrant graphics, this game has a lot of potential. The character animations are certainly a high point in this genre. However, the first thing I will do when I play this one is spend the time required to tinker with the keyboard settings so that I can get the most out of my in-game experience.