Sometimes a saying like "There's nothing you can't do" needs to be put to the test. We're here to help!
I was looking through the raft of free-to-play MMOs the other day and came across Elf Online, whose slogan is "There is nothing you can't do". Saying something like that to me is like showing a red rag to a bull, so I decided there was nothing for it but to test their claim. It's therefore with great pride that I present to you…
The Top 10 Things You Can't Do In Elf Online
10. Use a password containing capital letters
Elf Online fails as soon as you try to log in. I went through the process of setting up an account, only to find that my password didn't work. Not only this, but their password retrieval system was "busy". Rather than wait for the system to wake up from its nap, I created a second account only to experience the same problem. When trying to log into the game, I was presented with the message, "Please pay attention to capital letter!!" Bad grammar and excessive punctuation aside, I discovered that the capital letters in my password had been altered to lower-case. This can be convenient when writing an article (so that it doesn't end up lOOkinG LIke tHIS), but is something of a problem when you can only log into an account using guesswork.
9. Look menacing
On getting into the game it's immediately clear that it's not currently, and probably never will be possible to either look menacing or be taken seriously. I mean… just look at the screenshots; there's no way that anyone's ever going to run away from your character, screaming in terror. If you try to make up for this by sounding menacing instead, you quickly discover how wrong trash-talk sounds coming out of a character that looks like it was ripped from a cartoon. However, things get worse should you accidentally hit the wrong button and turn your character into a baby. Yes, you heard me right - a baby. Select the wrong option in-game and you end up crawling around in the dirt, looking utterly pathetic. Sure, this is something you can't do in most other MMOs, but I'm not sure I'd class it as a selling point.
8. Experience a vibrant and bustling world
You might find that Elf Online feels a little… empty. On logging in, you'll probably see a number of NPCs, but no players. This is a bad sign in a subscription-based MMO, but even worse for a game that's being given away for free. If people won't even play when it's free, you're in serious trouble. It makes me wonder just what it would take to get people playing. Being held at gunpoint, perhaps? Or maybe telling your boss that you thought it would be a good thing to write an article on, before running the game for the first time.
7. Read the official forums without seeing ads for porn
I'm sure there are threads about the game somewhere on Elf Online's forums, but they're buried under thread titles like "Full porn vids" and "Wildest mature and granny fantasies". I'm not going to link to these threads for obvious reasons, but rest assured - they're real. It does, however, show that either those moderating the forum don't speak enough English to realize what's going on, or that they've long since given up on the forums but haven't yet removed them from the website.
6. Avoid laughing at the quest text
Have you ever run a piece of text through an online translator, then back the other way, just to see how close it is to the original? If you haven't, then I can tell you that the results aren't pretty. At best it reads a little strangely, but at worst you end up with a pile of incomprehensible garbage. Elf Online's quest text sits happily between the two extremes, leading me to believe that the developers either ran the game's original text through Babel Fish, or they hired the worst translator in the world. Gems such as "these relief will certainly make your village renerve" appear all too often, suggesting that whatever they paid the person responsible for the translation, it was too much.
5. Level up without grinding
If you can decipher Elf Online's quest text, you'll find that it soon boils down to fetch quests and "kill 20 of these stupid-named enemies". There's no imagination here whatsoever; leveling up becomes a case of leaving town and making things fall over until you lose the will to live. Any quests that are a little different - such as defeating a boss at the end of a dungeon - generally can't be completed without a group. Unfortunately, given that there are precious few people playing, trying to get such a group could prove fruitless.
4. Think the combat system is well-designed
A few words spring to mind to describe combat in Elf Online, most of them unprintable. "Turn based" would be the kindest way to describe it, but what you'll notice most about it are the terrible controls. The use of special attacks is overly clunky, and isn't made easier thanks to the same mouse button being used for both targeting and launching normal attacks against enemies. In other words, a simple mis-click could see you attacking something, when all you really wanted to do was target it so you could cast a spell. Given that most fights can be over in a few rounds, wasting a round this way means you'll end up taking more damage than you should.
3. Avoid shuddering in horror at the "Wet Nurse for Newbie"
This monstrosity can be found in each of the newbie zones, offering healing to characters under level 15. The concept of a healer NPC to help new players is a good one, but the thought of your character - let alone your pet - suckling from her pendulous breasts is the stuff of nightmares. For extra mental scarring, why not turn your character into a baby and get that authentic wet nurse experience?
2. Sell fellow party members into slavery
This is difficult for a number of reasons (not least due to the lack of buyers or anyone to sell), but it was something that needed to be attempted to fully test Elf Online's slogan. If I could pull this off, then maybe there was still hope for their claim. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Despite advertising my fictional party members (see point #8) as only slightly used, with some soiling in the trouser department and in need of house-training, I didn't get receive a single response. However, what I did notice at this point was a message in my in-game mail promising a way to "get rich quick", which only served to remind me of Elf Online's forums.
However, all this pales in comparison to the number one thing you can't do…
1. Escape the thought that, somewhere along the line, life has gone horribly wrong
If you're playing Elf Online for pleasure rather than out of necessity, there will be no escaping this feeling. Thoughts such as "what have I done to deserve this?" will echo in your mind as you yearn to play something else. If your life has come to the point where you're looking to things such as Elf Online for entertainment, you're in serious trouble. Even Ragnarok Online would be a welcome release from the horror that is this game.
In the end, there are so many free-to-play MMOs out there that something as dated and ill-conceived as Elf Online can't hope to compete. During my time in Elf Online I only saw a handful of other players, most of them curious newbies such as myself. The worldwide chat channel was suspiciously empty, as the forums would be without their more colorful posters. The simple fact is that the game's slogan, "There is nothing you can't do", simply isn't true. About the only things that make this MMO stand out are being able to turn into a baby and - unusually for the genre - almost total privacy.
The editorial you've just read contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of ZAM.com
Sam "azerian" Maxted