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Welcome to 4Story, one of a fresh new approaches to free-to-play capable of surprising you like even some of the best paid MMORPG titles. There's truly a lot going for this game that you may wish to reconsider that World of Warcraft investment, and you're about to find out why, as we dive head-first into what makes this surprising free-to-play experience as special as it is. Seriously, please trust me here, 'cause this s*** is about to get heavy -- and you're coming along for the ride. So buckle up, sit back and let me show you what sets 4Story apart from some of the other stuff out there...
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Graphics and Presentation
4Story is designed to work on such a wide range of computer systems that graphics are somewhat of an afterthought as far as the evaluation goes: it's not going to be anywhere near the power of something like Crysis in its requirements or its visuals, but then it doesn't need to. Like some of the other big free-to-play titles out there (like Nexon's Mabinogi, for example) 4Story keeps it simple and all-inclusive so that the majority of the computer systems currently out there can support the game effectively. All you really need is 2-3GB of space on your hard drive and a GeForce FX5700 (s***, even my GeForce 9600 more than beats those older GPU cards). Add in a 1.6-2.4GHz or more Pentium 4 (again, beaten out by my 64-bit AMD chip even at comparable clock speeds) and you have all you really need, aside from 512MB-1GB of RAM and Windows 2000 or later (s***, even a Windows 7 installation works provided you give 4Story the proper clearance needed, and likewise under Vista if you're one of the poor fools stuck with that).
Even then, what you get is a fantastic visual treat: luchious scenery, vibrant locales, and enough opposition to be constantly rattled up with the classic tree-limb-as-a-stick routine. And in this world, there's a lot to do -- and a lot of fun doing it.
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Gameplay in 4Story is well-refined; simply use the standard WASD movement controls, then right-drag and slide the mouse to position the camera and use the left-click maneuver to attack (hell, I'm even sure the reverse is good as well for the southpaws out there). Can't get any easier than that (unless it were an effectively-designed mouse-controlled attack system, and I've seen my share of both good and bad on such control schemes in my short, one-year-plus free-to-play MMO career). This is truly one of the best ways to play an MMORPG of any category, making 4Story one of the most intuitive titles in the free-to-play sector, in fact giving 4Story the capacity to be putting itself on par with some of the best premium-play titles on the market in the gameplay department. Though you can play mouse-only if desired (simply double-click where you want to go) you don't always have to, though you will occasionally need to (when working with NPCs, menus, dialogs, etc.) Seriously, this is yet another part of the experience that can potentially set this game against the biggest names out there, World of Warcraft included. My only complaint is that you take damage as you deal it, which makes it tough to stay in the game in one piece for a long enough time to succeed in certain situations (but I'm not going to count that against 4Story at all).
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For example, when you're killed in battle you don't just lay there mortally wounded: instead, you show up completely separated from yourself (and by that I mean literally). Further emphasizing the point is the display going bat-s*** crazy, fading out of the typical vibrant colors and turning entirely grayscale; that's your cue to find some way to resurrect yourself and get back in the action. You can either use a systematic, self-uniting thing-jiggy (assuming you have anything on hand for that purpose), or you can go seek out a chaos wizard or some other source of mystical resurrection (although using the latter option will cost you dearly in health and magic capacity, albeit only temporarilly as you can thankfully rest it off until you're completely recovered).
Additionally, figuring out where to go next can sometimes be a chore: despite the next waypoint or NPC being clearly marked, it's easy to be disoriented by other NPCs and players -- not to mention the expansive landscapes. You do have a minimap to show you the immediate surroundings thereof, but it's sometimes not enough. Sometimes you just have to watch the on-screen cues that tell you wjat part of the area (villiage, mountain or otherwise) you're entering (and even the NPCs will give you directional hints sometimes) but otherwise you're somewhat on your own to find the next objective so listen/read carefully to NPC directions, and check your quest list (via the J key) if you get stuck but otherwise be ready to plan ahead. And if you have problems with the opposition in any area, you can use a Mabinogi-like enchant system to increase the stats of your equipment, albeit with some extra freedom in the process.
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Aside from the general interface, level of challenge and the robust combat system, all the standard MMORPG conventions are in the package as well, including quests, party-forming and so forth. Some of the other members of our MMORPG crew will take issue with the quest-loaded advancement of the game (sorry Michael, but I had to call you out here for once) as will some of the other impatient types in general; yet although this caveat does take a mark off the score for this particular category, it nonetheless provides a deep introductory system for those who have the patience to adapt to this kind of learning curve (in fact, a whole tutorial level is available at the beginning of the game to help guide you along the inner workings of the system).
Additionally, three individual classes -- Human, Fairy and Werebeast -- provide a load balance tailored to three individual playstiles for different types of players, along with six different class/specialty areas to further refine your desired abilities. Guild creation has a slight bit of potential unnecessary bulk, but not bu much: in fact, only one type of extra structure and very few guild level benefits are there so there's no real confusion -- and believe me, I've already seen worse. Not enough for any deductions this time, however. War, conquest and tournaments (some of it being comparable to Fantasy Earth Zero) round out the package, and provide some extra layers of depth to an already-strong experience.
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There's no denying that, when all is said and done, that 4Story is one of the better free-to-play titles out there, if not the hands-down best. The quest-loaded advancement may be too much of a challenge for some players but if you have the time and patience to put into the game, the experience can be exceptionally rewarding when you're done with it. Even with the few annoyances here and there, this is still free-to-play at its best, and you'll love every minute of it once you get into the routine of things. 4Story is certainly one of the must-play selections, and a definite classic in its own right.