If you’re familiar with the Chinese epic, Journey to the West, you’ll recognize the titular character in the latest browser MMORPG from R2Games, Monkey King Online. Indeed, MKO is based on the world of Journey to the West. Plenty of artistic liberties have been taken, but the core qualities of the Monkey King’s story have been kept: he’s powerful and he’s ready to wreak havoc in heaven after being imprisoned under a rock for half a millennium.
Right from the start of the game, you’ll have the opportunity to choose your character’s class. You’ve got the staff-wielding Monkey King, the eternally young and sword-equipped Fox, the Bull — demonic royalty with a literal axe to grind, and the aptly-named Iron Fan, who is a princess warrior who wields, well, an iron fan. The difference between the characters is little more than aesthetic, but it’s still nice to have some say in the avatar you play.
No matter who you choose, the game starts with you being released from a 500-year prison sentence and your character has a huge beef against the heavens. I guess hundreds of years in prison will do that to a person. In true browser MMORPG fashion, you take off auto-pathing right from the get-go. The first few missions require that you run around collecting your basic effects. Of course, auto-pathing means that the only thing you’ll actually be doing as a player is clicking “Quest Complete” whenever it pops up. Once properly equipped, your character immediately dives into battle with the guardians of heaven.
Unsurprisingly, the combat is automated too. Your character will automatically run up to one of your targets and then start casting every spell they know as soon as they’ve cooled down. Once an enemy is down, your character will book it to the next target, whether that’s another enemy or an NPC so you can turn in a completed quest.
Everything about the game is extremely efficient — more so than any other browser MMO I’ve played. The automated pathing and combat are automatically chained together so that you literally don’t need to do anything except hit the “Complete Quest” button whenever it shows up. Of course, there’s plenty more that you can do. Whenever you find a usable item or beneficial equipment in combat, a little window will pop up so that you can instantly choose whether to use/equip it or to keep it in your inventory. There are tons of menus to work with to modify and upgrade your character, and it all can be done while your character is completing quests in the background.
Monkey King Online is charming, but there’s just not much game there. I usually decry the heavy application of gameplay automation for this very reason — it just doesn’t leave much for the player to do. Then again, automating the boring parts of a game isn’t a bad idea at all — leave the interesting decisions to the player and let the computer sort out the rest. Monkey King Online has done just that — running around and fighting enemies in the simple combat system both feel tedious when you control them manually. I can’t blame the designers for automating these parts, but then if the meat of the gameplay is boring, why does the game exist in the first place?
Admittedly, Monkey King Online does have plenty of charm. The setting and character design are interesting, and the story isn’t terrible. The dialogue even includes some lightly humorous snark straight from a Saturday morning cartoon, such as, “These are the armies of heaven? You’ve got to be kidding me.” You acquire a shape-changing horse early in the game. When you’re not in battle, you ride it around to get to places faster and when you’re in combat, it acquires a human shape and helps you in combat. Either way, your character and your mount will chat with each on the bottom of the screen to add some extra flavor between quests.
Just like a free-to-play MMORPG (League of Angels), Monkey King Online is absolutely packed with rewards, upgrade systems, stats, challenges, and currencies. You get free stuff for hitting certain levels, for logging in each day, and for being online continuously for certain lengths of time. There’s tons of gear to acquire and all of it can be upgraded. You can strengthen your relationship with deities to improve your stats or even summon them in battle. You can apply special orbs to your mount to get it to level up and eventually evolve into an entirely different form — by its third stage its not even a horse anymore. There are more stats than you could ever keep track of, but it’s not really a problem because you just constantly upgrade everything and then equip new gear when the game indicates it’s better than what you’re already wearing. If you’re short on any specific currency (including specialty items like Mount Orbs that you must spend for certain upgrades), the game will tell you how to acquire more. Sometimes this means putting some money into the game to increase your VIP level (higher levels mean better rewards on a regular basis) and sometimes it means doing well in the PvP arena or in boss dungeons.
There is so much going on in Monkey King Online, but it does a remarkably good job at filtering all the noise in a way that makes it easy for you to understand. Almost every menu has at least one sub-menu you can open up, so your screen can fill up really quickly. These will be dynamically moved and reorganized as you open and close them so it’s easy to focus on only one menu at a time. Keeping track of locations and enemy types is not an easy task, but auto-pathing is there to handle all of that for you. Understanding the implications of every stat is going to take several hours of your time, at least — but the UI makes a great use of colors and icons to make sure you know when X is better than Y, and when it isn’t. The game even has a small window on the side to track the small stuff like when your mount can ascend (evolve), when you can enchant a piece of gear, or when a prize is available.
Overall, I think gameplay is king and, unfortunately, Monkey King Online plays like a glorified Farmville. It’s “click here when this is ready” over and over again; and your best choice is completely obvious 99% of the time. That said, there is a huge community of players who really get into these free-to-play MMOs. I have to give credit where it’s due — Monkey King Online is the most streamlined of the browser MMORPGs I have spent time with. The efficiency of playing the game and how easy it is to mostly understand a complex set of menus is impressive. So, while the gameplay might be pretty lackluster, a love for the excitement of constant, rapid improvement (you’ll be level 30 in less than an hour) might mean Monkey King Online is the perfect browser MMORPG for you.