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We Rode A Dragon in Riders of Icarus, and We Want More

Those who fall out of the core group of hardcore MMORPG players can be forgiven for not recognizing Riders of Icarus, an upcoming MMORPG published by Nexon and developed by WeMade. The MMO marketplace is often filled to the brim with generic elves, magic landscapes, and some kind of vaguely World of Warcraft-looking production, but more importantly it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. To combat this, WeMade made a brave decision: the studio based the gameplay around collecting highly versatile mounts, including gigantic dragons. This week, we sat down with some of the developers to strap on for a wild ride ourselves, and walked away with a good first impression from Riders of Icarus.

For those who judge a book by its cover, the game looks downright gorgeous for an MMO. It’s graphically superior to other popular 3D-rendered MMO titles like Guild Wars 2, and players will find themselves thrust into a very customizable character creator right from the get-go. Like most other MMO titles, Riders of Icarus offers multiple classes, with some roles designed to dole damage out in close quarters, and others designed to heal their parties. For the demonstration we played the role of a berserker, who was certainly designed for the former.

As our pre-built account popped into a world, the group was already waiting. Our first task was to explore the backbone of the entire game: taming a wild beast. Riders of Icarus is all about using both air and land based mounts, and gamers will be tasked with a process that seems to blend elements of Pokemon and Red Dead Redemption to do so. Seeing a bear munching harmlessly on some leaves in the distance, our character immediately unsheathed its sword and went to work, bludgeoning the enemy forager with our class’s main attack.

As the bear weakened it becomes easier to tame, which involves a time-based jumping mechanic. A successful jump onto a weakened mount brings forth the taming minigame, which has players following quicktime events to avoid being bucked off. The bear, as powerful as it initially looked, was low level game for the level twenty berserker, and became a loyal mount in moments. Mounts can also be equipped with gear of their own, so players can don their beasts with ornate armors to grant stat boosts, as well as cosmetically changing their creatures. The mechanic is pretty natural, and timing the jumps adds a nice level of challenge to what risks being an otherwise repetitive system.

Now, for the fun part: once a player has a mount, there are three things they can do as they level it up (they gain experience from travelling with players and fighting beside them). Players can seal the mount, which means they more or less absorb the mounts soul into magic that can buff their weapons and armor, killing the beast in the name of stat boosts. They can also ‘pet’ the mount, which turns them into a cute miniature version of the beast which follows along with the player, and can help out by attacking enemies, so that they’re not just a cosmetic feature. Of course, players can also leave them as mounts, and navigate the world at a much faster pace. Rarer mounts will present more difficult taming scenarios, and later on in the demo the player character had to jump from a cliff in order to tame a rarer form of wild bear, as a jump from a similar height simply wouldn’t do.

Of course, ground-based mounts aren’t the wow-factor of Riders of Icarus, as cool as riding an amethyst wolf sounds. No, the real attention-grabber for the game is that it allows gamers to unleash their inner Daenerys Targaryen and ride dragons into combat. Firstly, let’s preface by saying that flying dragons around is exactly as cool as it sounds. Dragons can swiftly swoop through combat with motion-blurring speeds, and it adds a very visceral element of movement that isn’t often seen in the MMORPG genre. Most dragon-based combat involves visible attacks coming in from a distance, which lets players dodge their way out of danger as they close in to deal some damage of their own. While some of the combat inevitably became an MMO trading-blows style of affair, the dragon combat offers some of the great fun, even on the losing side of battle.

In the end, as much fun as it was, Riders of Icarus might not flip the MMORPG world upside down. That being said, the hands-on experience left a positive impression, and since it’s a free-to-play title, fans of the genre should certainly give the game a try when it hits open beta in early July. Whether they spend their time on-foot battling transforming counts in a castle or outside taming airborne dragons by leaping from their own flying mount, Riders of Icarus is shaping up to be quite a polished and enjoyable title, and WeMade should have a decent player base on their hands once the game launches in full, which will presumably happen sometime later this year.

Riders of Icarus will enter an open beta on July 6 for PC. Interested gamers can sign up for the beta here.

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