KurtzPel – When Karma Needs a Hand

Outside of the steady stream of licensed 3D fighting games such as Naruto or Dragon Ball, not to mention the underwhelming Jump Force, it’s not like you have many options to scratch your anime brawling itch. Luckily, South Korea once again comes to the rescue as KOG Games is about to release KurtzPel, an exciting class-based third-person arena brawler.

KOG isn’t new to the genre, having released a couple of action games before, albeit in somewhat different styles. Grand Chase and Elsword were both 2D side-scrolling brawlers and sizable successes. KurtzPel, on the other hand, marks the leap to full-fledged 3D arenas with complete freedom of movement, a dual-weapon system and aerial combos inspired by the aforementioned animes.

KurtzPel Preview Battle Start

Everybody Was Combo Fighting

The Early Access release of KurtzPel shows a no holds barred fighting system where you don’t have more than a couple of seconds of respite per match. Use this break wisely to gather your thoughts and rethink your strategy, since this is a game where player skill is of the utmost importance, against bashing the controls in the hope that some devastating blow appears out of nowhere. Practice makes perfect, as much as unlocking new abilities and items to make your character look good, but also to boost your stats.

KurtzPel begins with a personality test of sorts. If you’re wondering what this has to do with a fighting game… well, you’re correct to do so. Answering a few questions will steer you towards a specific type out of 16 possibilities, such as Observer, Hero, Shy or Leader. This test is based on the Myers-Briggs personality test that you can find online, but in KurtzPel you don’t get any kind of accurate report about who you are and what makes you tick; instead, your results will set you up with a prearranged character with a distinct stance, hairstyle and voice. However, you are not bound to the result and can change this before tweaking your character.

KurtzPel has one of the most in-depth character customization systems that I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. Scratch that – one of the most detailed systems in any online game. You can make your character tall, short, skinny or fat, change several aspects of your hair and dye parts of it, among other things. It’s not quite at the level of Black Desert Online as it doesn’t offer the complete freedom to customize facial features such as the nose and mouth, aspects that are sorely lacking, but you get more than enough to stand out from the crowd.

KurtzPel Preview Black Fang Battle

Eltheca is the hub town where you and other fellow Chasers unite. This label isn’t random; it is in fact inspired by one of KOG’s previous games, Grand Chase. Fans of this 2D brawler will immediately recognize some of the characters and it’s not unlikely that a tear or two will be shed. KurtzPel is set in a parallel universe of Grand Chase and while this may not mean a thing to most players, it’s a pleasant layer of fan service that should be celebrated.

One of the defining traits of KurtzPel is the Karma system. Karmas can be compared to the classes found in other games, determining the weapon and skills that your Chaser takes to the arena. Currently there are four Karmas available, with the first two being unlocked from the start: Longbow (Dance of Wind), Greatsword (Sword Taliah), Staff (Diabolic Witch) and Gauntlets (Blazing Fist). The next in line is the Dual Swords (Dual Souls) Karma, which is self-explanatory.

While you must pick a Karma to begin with, it won’t take long for you to unlock a second one. The big twist is that you can equip two Karmas and switch between them on-the-fly. The best players will even be able to create combos based on cunning Karma switching, but this requires quite a bit of training. Choosing a long-range Karma such as the Longbow and a melee-based Karma like the Greatsword results in a timeless combination that every fan of fighting games should be able to learn and master.

Additional skills can be unlocked when you acquire Karma shards. These can be obtained by your growing affinity with the NPCs in Eltheca, increasing the strategic options in the arena. When you choose a PvE mission, it is tied to a specific NPC and you can sometimes chat with him or her at the end of the dungeon. Picking the right keywords may increase your affinity level with Crim Plie or Lire Eruel, for example, paving the way for rewards such as specific skills or equipment.

KurtzPel Preview PvP Battle

Big Brawl in Little Eltheca

Being an instance-based dungeon brawler, KurtzPel is entirely comprised of either PvE boss battles or PvP clashes. In PvE you are tasked with missions that are related to an NPC and may be solo or two-player co-op, with a specific category of real-time missions only appearing at certain times. The only surefire thing is that you will be facing one threatening and usually larger than life boss…  well, apart from the Dark Elves Shay and Ney, who are very much normal sized but a tough challenge as well.

The PvE mode may feel a little bare-bones, but it goes without saying that KurtzPel is first and foremost a PvP game. This addition feels like the devs going the extra mile to please a portion of players disappointed by the lack of a story mode. Their intention is laudable and if you are not too picky, you can have a lot of fun with it. Otherwise, you would miss on some stunning boss creatures, so even if you are a PvP player at heart, make sure to learn the combat basics in the story mode.

In this aspect, KurtzPel comes highly recommended, with bosses that are accomplished in every regard. Your foes come in different shapes and sizes, with a selection of attacks that will always require you to stay alert, either up close or at a distance. Some encounters double the danger, with a pair of bosses to defeat – while Dark Elf Karin stays safe in the distance using her magic-based skills, her oversized cougar Black Fang gets up close and personal, with fierce claw attacks to knock you down.

KurtzPel Preview Giant Stone Golem Battle

KurtzPel is a looker, there is no denying that, with the Unreal Engine 4 being put to great use. The anime design is clean and well-defined, with models that are far from being overloaded with needless details. The game truly shines when it comes to the dazzling visual effects, a spectacle of color and motion that often distracts you from your mission – arrows raining from the skies, dragon fire, tiny tornadoes… There is no shortage of things going on in each battle.

As soon as you set foot on the arena, you’ll immediately realize just how fast everyone moves and how your ability to use break skills is crucial to interrupt the enemy’s attacks, creating opportunities for your ally to strike. Each class has a unique Karma crystal, a powerful ability that works as a vital comeback mechanic – the meter grows as you successfully attack, but mostly as you take damage, a mechanic that isn’t to everyone’s tastes but that you’ll have to learn to work with to your advantage.

But fighting the AI-controlled bosses in KurtzPel is a walk in the park when compared to the real meat of the game, player versus player. I’m not overstating it when I say that I felt physically exhausted after a couple of deathmatches, such was the relentless pace, eye-watering projectile-based scuffles and brutal melee combat. Current PvP modes are 2v2 and include Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Conquest, with a custom match system where 3v3 is a new feature.

KurtzPel Preview Eltheca Hub Town

Deathmatch is exactly what you think it is: two teams of two players unleashing hell on one another, with the team that has scored the most points when the timer runs out winning the match. In Capture the Flag you must keep the flag in your possession for the longest possible, with the victory once again smiling to the team that has more points. Conquest is all about capturing and dominating the middle area of the map.

After some thinking, KOG ultimately settled on a free-to-play business model for KurtzPel, which means that the game must continuously generate enough revenue to support further development and updates. For this Early Access preview I received the Vanguard costume and weapon set, among other items that will be available as paid DLC. Besides looking good, these pieces of gear give your character a few stats boosts, and you can go to the Library to upgrade other equipment or unlock additional Karma crystal slots. Having two locked Karmas – which you can unlock through gameplay progress – stirred up some turmoil, but KOG has stated that this is meant for those players who wish to completely skip the PvE portion and dive in instantly in PvP. How this will work out for the game is still up for discussion, but the community will surely cry foul at the first sign of unbalanced clashes.

KurtzPel still needs fine-tuning to make all the Karmas feel balanced and fair. Nevertheless, that is precisely what the Early Access phase is for, with player feedback hopefully steering it in the right direction. It’s a game with high production values and an experienced and enthusiastic team. Unless something goes terribly wrong, KurtzPel is bound to give other games such as Dissidia Final Fantasy NT or Jump Force a butt-whooping to remember.

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10 Studios That Would Make Your Dream MMORPG

The MMORPG genre is far from dead, but it could surely use a boost from a top player in the industry. Can you imagine if the masterminds behind the Witcher franchise decided to make an MMORPG? Just how splendid that would be.

This thought alone led me to ponder on other studios that could potentially deliver your dream MMORPG. I chose to leave some renowned developers out of the equation as they clearly need a respite to reflect on their recent blunders. Who exactly, I hear you ask?

Bethesda, to begin with. The mess of a game that is Fallout 76 didn’t do any favors to its reputation, so they need the time to realign their focus – The Elder Scrolls fans are watching. BioWare also seems to be stuck in a rut following the lackluster releases of Mass Effect: Andromeda and the highly anticipated and equally unfulfilling Anthem. Finally, Destiny 2 is clearly showing that many players are getting tired of Bungie’s microtransaction-laden sci-fi worlds and the studio needs to move on to more rewarding and fair experiences.

Without further delay, here are ten studios that wouldn’t let you down – hopefully.

CDProjekt (The Witcher Franchise, Cyberpunk 2077)

Dream MMORPG Studios CDProjekt

The storytelling gurus at CDProjekt delivered three of the best RPGs ever made but are yet to prove themselves outside of Geralt de Rivia’s universe. Cyberpunk 2077 is its first stab at another setting, trading medieval fantasy for grim futuristic sci-fi. Here is a studio that doesn’t shy away from a challenge and is known for pouring its heart into each game. CDProjekt deserves extra honors for its crusade against DRM technology and the belief that players should feel compelled to buy a game for its sheer value, instead of pirating it.

The Witcher series has all the trappings of an MMORPG. Great lore, captivating characters, exciting combat and large regions to explore. CDProjekt could probably build on this to create a massively multiplayer world and considering that it owns the rights to video games based on The Witcher novels, there is no shortage of potential or visible blockades along the way – except when Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski realizes he needs more money.

Or they could go for something completely original instead, no strings attached. No matter CDProjekt’s decision, it’s a proven fact that they value their players and would go the extra mile to create something utterly memorable.

Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto Franchise, Red Dead Franchise, Bully…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Rockstar Games

No matter what Rockstar sets out to do, Rockstar achieves – even if it means putting its staff through excruciating long hours. That’s the ugly side of the video game industry, sadly not as unusual as it should be.

But back to the matter at hand. Rockstar Games is a huge publisher with several subsidiaries with proven track records. Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead are its two major franchises, where they show their skills both in single-player and multiplayer. There is no doubt that they would work wonders in an MMO environment…

… “But isn’t that a thing already with GTA Online and Red Dead Online?,” the observant crowd asks. Well, you ingeniously inquisitive fellows, the answer is both yes and no. These online modes for the popular franchises may be robust and excitingly entertaining, but I want to see Rockstar doing something bigger and bolder. Not just multiplayer revisions of the original gameplay, but something supporting way more than 32 players. An entirely new IP, featuring the same open world ideas from the above-mentioned games but with a more elaborate, story-based approach to the game world.

It would be an interesting challenge to tackle, and I’m convinced that Rockstar would be successful. Business as usual.

Ubisoft (Far Cry Franchise, Assassin’s Creed Franchise…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Ubisoft

Currently, Ubisoft is synonym with Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but the French company has a lot more under its sleeve. The Division 2, for example, is just one of several games that happily dabble with online gameplay, but is it a true MMORPG? I wouldn’t say so. Oddly enough, there isn’t a single full-fledged story-driven MMORPG anywhere to be seen in Ubisoft’s enviable backlog.

Ubisoft’s experience with rich open world settings would be invaluable when it comes to building a vast and diverse map for an MMORPG. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey shows a developer with several great ideas and a brilliant grasp on art direction, storytelling and combat system. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is a potential candidate for a massively multiplayer release, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Ubisoft using its expertise and resources with an original IP.

Epic Games (Fortnite Battle Royale, Gears of War…)

Dream MMORPG Studios Epic Games

The overwhelming success of Fortnite Battle Royale coupled with the industry-leading Unreal Engine are the two main drivers of Epic Games’ unstoppable growth. The failure of third-person MOBA Paragon wasn’t enough to deter the studio, and it was convinced that Fortnite would come out of development hell and convince the masses. It did, but the “help” of a rival to steer it in the right direction was essential: PUBG introduced it the wondrous world of Battle Royale.

For a studio that was founded in 1991 and enjoyed several successes over the years, Epic Games is sitting at the top of its game. They could easily design a traditional third-person MMORPG as they have the resources – mainly the engine –, the know-how and the financial freedom. They are proven masters of every visual style, so they could go for a sci-fi fantasy theme enriched with realistic features (as seen in Paragon) or choose a laid-back cartoon approach (Fortnite). While it is early days for fully-fledged Unreal Engine 4 MMORPGs (Nexon’s Project BBQ, Blade & Soul’s Vision update, NCsoft’s Project TL…), Epic Games could easily stand out from the competition with its expertise with the engine.

Grinding Gear Games (Path of Exile)

Dream MMORPG Studios Grinding Gear Games

Is Path of Exile an MMORPG or is it not? That’s a discussion that could go on for days, but the general opinion is that it is an ‘online action RPG.’ Rightfully acclaimed as one of the best examples of the Diablo school of hack and slash, Grinding Gear Games’ title could work as a great prelude to an MMORPG.

Grim and gloomy just as Diablo is – or was? –, Path of Exile could serve as the stepping stone for an isometric MMORPG in the style of Lost Ark. With open world areas and world bosses for dozens of players to cooperate, along with the traditional instanced dungeons, it’s not like GGG’s first and only game strays too far from MMORPG territory. Their updates are renowned for being huge and going in the direction of player requests and aren’t afraid of drastically changing something that doesn’t feel right – as they did with the Fall of Oriath expansion, completely altering the campaign structure.

The big question here is if it would be worthwhile developing a second game that fundamentally would borrow many mechanics from Path of Exile. Perhaps going for a different, less grisly theme would be the best choice?

Digital Extremes (Warframe)

Dream MMORPG Studios Digital Extremes

Through perseverance and unshakeable belief in its original vision, Digital Extremes managed to surpass everyone’s expectations and showed a thing or two to many publishers of little faith. Warframe went from being a niche game to a behemoth of an online action RPG.

It’s this perseverance and long-term vision that would ultimately set them apart from other developers. Ironically, it was absent from hero shooter The Amazing Eternals, but realizing early on that something isn’t going to take off may be a positive as well.

Digital Extremes is absolutely at ease with sci-fi and fast-paced movement, so it would be the perfect candidate for a frantic action combat MMORPG. They are no strangers to open world MMO gameplay as well, with Warframe’s updates Plains of Eidolon and Fortuna showing that they can hold their own in this department.

The only downside would probably be that this hypothetical MMORPG would be, just as Warframe, in open beta for all eternity and beyond. But we all can live with that, right?

Riot Games (League of Legends)

Dream MMORPG Studios Riot Games

Riot Games must step up its game soon or risk seeing the fountain of riches that is League of Legends eventually dry out. How fun would it be to see Runeterra becoming the stage for an MMORPG? It’s not as crazy as it sounds either; it was Riot Games’ co-founder Marc Merrill that came up with the thought and fans reacted accordingly.

Of course, this is nothing but speculation. While Riot Games is said to be “experimenting a lot of stuff,” and considering the implications of going head-to-head with World of Warcraft, nothing is set in stone.

However, it should happen. League of Legends has some terrific characters and intricate lore that could work nicely in an MMORPG. The colorful cartoon aesthetic feels just right for a third-person perspective, and it goes without saying that the League of Legends player base would jump at the thought of seeing its favorite world expanding. This MMORPG must be made while the MOBA remains at its best, so that gives them… two to three years?

KOG Studio (Grand Chase, Elsword, KurtzPel…)

Dream MMORPG Studios KOG Studio

KOG Studio is something of a weird case. While an expert in online games, the South Korean studio still hasn’t dipped its feet in traditional MMORPG territory. Grand Chase and Elsword are acclaimed MMO games but they are action games at heart and couldn’t be further from the likes of World of Warcraft or EverQuest.

Nonetheless, Elsword is considered a 2.5D action MMORPG, which means that it includes core mechanics such as guilds, PvP and item trading. KOG’s latest game, KurtzPel, switches to a third-person perspective but is a focused PvP brawler experience with boss raid PvE gameplay tacked on.

So why do I reckon that KOG could deliver an outstanding MMORPG? Because they have years of experience in online games, a couple of successful titles under its belt, and a mastery of action gameplay. The cherry on top is the combat system developed for KurtzPel, which would work impeccably in an MMORPG. The same thing goes for the beautiful anime graphics.

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon, but adding hub towns with proper quests to KurtzPel would be a great place to start. Follow it with complete dungeons, let it cook for a couple of years and we would get a stunning anime MMORPG. Sadly, KurtzPel isn’t going to be that game, but KOG may eventually get to it in the future.

DevCAT (Vindictus, Mabinogi, Dragon Hound, Ascendant One…)

Dream MMORPG Studios DevCAT

For many of you, the name DevCAT may not ring a bell, but what about Mabinogi and Vindictus? Now that tells you something, doesn’t it? The South Korean studio is behind these classic MMORPGs, with Vindictus being one of the best examples in action combat before TERA or Black Desert Online showed up to the party. This game is live and getting updates up to this day, further proof that DevCAT stands by its work.

A sequel to Vindictus is long overdue and was once in development, but it felt more like an arena brawler spin-off than a proper follow-up. It ended up being canceled, with DevCAT moving on to other games. The monster-hunting online game Dragon Hound is one of its upcoming titles and a very promising one, and DevCAT is also reimagining Mabinogi for mobile devices, and it looks terribly cute. DevCAT’s catalog shows that it is a studio capable of tackling any challenge, from MMORPGs to MOBAs and even card games.

DevCAT should consider updating Vindictus to the current generation, just as Neople is doing with Dungeon Fighter Online’s sequel (codename Project BBQ). A third-person, brutal action combat MMORPG mixing Vindictus’ varied character selection with an open world like Black Desert Online could be a pleasant recipe. Nexon just needs to give them the go-ahead and we’ll all be happy.

SEGA (Yakuza, Phantasy Star Online 2…)

Dream MMORPG Studios SEGA

I’m not even going to bother with Phantasy Star Online 2 anymore. I gave up on the promised western release a long time ago, but SEGA could at least be so kind as to officially confirm that this version is dead and buried, something that they didn’t even worry about telling their fans. We need some sort of closure on this subject, guys!

SEGA is no stranger to MMORPGs, as you can see, so it’s peculiar to realize that it has all but abandoned the genre. A new Phantasy Star Online game would result in millions of joyful players worldwide, but I wouldn’t rule out something based on the Yakuza franchise as well. This prolific series is acclaimed for its open world and story, as well as for the abundance of mini-games and entertaining side-quests. Aren’t those some of the fundamentals of a full-fledged MMORPG?

Between a new Phantasy Star Online and a Yakuza MMORPG, the choice is far from easy. Recently we were fooled into thinking that the latter one was happening, but Yakuza Online turned out to be a mobile card game. In your face, expectations!

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