In Asia, there are a ton of 'freemium' MMOs on the market: these are online games that don't require any subscription fees or anything of the sort, but allow you to purchase (with real money) special items and accessories to make your experience more enjoyable or easy.

I got the chance to preview one of these titles, known as Zentia. It's an mystical-Chinese-themed MMORPG where, as you may have guessed, you run around, killing enemies, earning levels, and all that normal stuff you do in a game like this. Though I wouldn't necessarily write it off so readily, as I was quickly surprised with the amount of options that the game presented.

First, classes: the class options given to you are your standard MMO fare. There's are clasess like the high-defence character, the mage, the healer, the summoner, and so forth, nothing too unique here. After picking a faction and a server, you are thrown into this stylized world to fend for yourself, though not without help.

Getting quests and completing them is a given in a game like this, so let's talk about what looked interesting. What came up quickly on my list was the concept of pets in Zentia. Unlike most MMOs, where pets are either simply pretty arm candy or with deep interactions limited only to a particular class, Zentia has pets in a much bigger role. You're thrown a pet at the beginning of the game (I chose the white pug) that does little more than sit there, look cute, and raise some stats. As you play, though, you learn that you can become a monster tamer of sorts, getting monsters in the wild bound to you through skills and luck. Later in the game, as your skill grows, you'll also have a chance to do some advanced monster capturing which means taking on a beast with a group of friends, using specific items to counter the monster's buffs as you try to capture it.

And as pets fight with you, they learn new skills and earn better attributes (which in turn add to your abilities). As long as they're kept fed, their various passive boosts help you greatly. All of this also applies to your mounts, as well, which was surprising to see. Of course, if you don't want another pet, you can just turn the various creatures you can catch into pet food. It's the circle of life.

Another interesting addition to the game is that of talismans, special pieces of equipment that gain strength and abilities as you fight using them. You could refine them by finding expensive and rare gems to increase their abilities, though eventually you would want a new talisman as your abilities outgrew the maximum limit of the one you owned, thus having you strengthen and grow another one.

There is a list of events that take place daily, offering rewards to those who participate. These are things like bandits attacking the town, harvesting points being double-yield for a time, and other things that basically can help you out if you have the time and the levels. A little indicator comes up every now and then reminding you when an event can take place, and it actually looks pretty interesting. Though the servers were bare, the thought of a group of people converging to fight off bandits and earn extra experience in the process is not an unpleasant one.

There's a lot of other minor stuff to mention, such as mazes you can run through to earn some experience and treasure, the presence of crafting (and auto-gathering), costumes that you can wear over your armor to customize your appearance, learning skills not through levelling up, but through skill books, and things like earning rewards for defeating player killing characters. There's also a form of social levelling in which groups of players must work together to unlock higher and higher-level content.

The game looks really beta right now, as far as appearances go. There are translation and user interface issues all over the place, though those will likely get fixed before the game goes live. Aside from these issues, Zentia certainly looks interesting, with a whole lot of things to keep one's interest, and the fact that it's free (aside from the 'token shop', where you can purchase various items) makes it that much more appealing. There's not yet a firm release date for the title, but casual MMO players who want just a bit of Chinese style in their games can look forward to it in the future.