MAPLESTORY 2 / Nexon / PC
The original MapleStory was the first (and AFAIK the only) side-scrolling action-RPG MMO to hit it big. Released way back in 2003, it was as close to a multiplayer MMO Zelda II or Castlevania as you were gonna get. It was more popular in Asia than the rest of the world, but garnered a decent international following and is still hanging in there over 15 years later.
Released in late 2018 in the West (2015 in Nexon's native Korea), MapleStory 2 keeps the central action-RPG conceit but re-imagines everything in an isometric world with a Minecraft sort of aesthetic. And as with the prequel, playing dress-up with avatars and just hanging out in the game world seems to be almost equally popular as actually playing the game.
It's a freemium game, but just about all of the actual gameplay portion of it is free. You have a time-controlled limit to how many dungeons you can enter, but there's a poopton of stuff to keep you busy outside of them that isn't really capped in any way. Where they get you for the money is the stylin' and profilin' of your avatar. You can design custom outfits in a paint tool and upload them to the game servers to turn them into an actual wearable cosmetic item, though you'll have to pay Real Monies to get the in-game currency needed for this in most cases.
So what is it you would say ya DO in MapleStory 2? Well, the Story Mode is a great place to start. As with most freemium games, you have to reach a relatively high level (50 out of 60 in this case) to open up all the later-game fun stuff. Simply following the main Story Mode quest is far and away the easiest way to level up thanks to huge EXP hauls for completing each objective, allowing you to hit 50 in a few days of playing for a couple hours each day if you really want to blast through it.
And you might as well, because the story is disjointed and all over the map (literally) and really just not interesting to follow. You start by picking a character class - you can have seven characters at a time, and can opt to pay Real Monies to open up four additional slots.
Each character starts with their own mini-story, but that seems to be abandoned very quickly in favor of railroading you into a main quest that has you skipping about the game world doing fetch-questy things for an absolute blizzard of characters. The color and variety of the game world is the best part of all this; the actual story is inane and whips through too many new characters with their own new busywork problems far too quickly to be engaging, plus the tasks are nearly always "go find 10 of this" or "go kill this specific monster." In terms of questing, the game is at its best with dungeons, which have some creative designs and twists. In the story mode these are few and far between, however.
I pretty much whipped through the story just for the sake of making some money from GameKit level objectives; I can't really say it was worth doing for its own sake. But once that's done, and you're sitting at level 50 with all the game's options open to you, you have to ask yourself what further reason there is for continuing to play the game?
There's the usual checklist of busywork tasks and regular "events" that basically boil down to grinding for in-game currency. There's little point to this unless you want to join a guild and do raids a la World of Warcraft (not my personal cup of tea or something I have time for, so not a quality of the game I can make useful comment on).
As mentioned before, many people play the game just to customize their character appearance and hang out. You also get an in-game home that you can build out, and can buy property lots and build all sorts of oddball buildings on them. This is more of a real money investment thing, and a pretty steep one at about $5 USD per item of clothing or custom building texture you want to create.
The aspect of customization that was most interesting to me is the music system; you can train characters up in the various in-game instruments and have them automatically play various sheet music scores. Some scores have multiple parts, allowing up to eight players to get together in a band and perform for the game world. The cool thing about it is that you can use an in-game composition tool to write your own music, or even import MIDI files to the game's music file format to convert them to a usable in-game score! This is something I actually wanted to really dive into, but I just don't have time ... relevant informative links are below for those who are interested, however.
There's a PvP aspect, too. Certain areas of the game world are set aside for PvP (though I found them to be almost completely abandoned when I went into them for late-game quests), but the centerpiece is an arena mode where you can climb the rankings for GUTS AND GLORY. There is also a battle royale mode called Mushboom Royale that was introduced late last year, but it appears to have been in stasis for months now - every time I try to enter it just says "check back next update" or something to that effect.
While it's fundamentally solid, the combat is one of the disappointing aspects of the game. It's essentially an easier and simpler version of Bastion. There's technically a skill-based edge to it, but really not much of one. Enemies give you some room to dodge their attacks, but major fights basically boil down to levels and equipment in the end. Each class tends to have two or three top skills that you just spam on enemies over and over. "World Bosses" appear regularly as an outlet for added PvC combat challenge, but they end up not working out real well. Either they are mobbed with players to the point that the game is skipping frames and you really just need to hang out in the vicinity to get in on the loot drops, or there aren't enough players and they're impossible to whittle down within their appearance window.
MapleStory 2 gives you a cute and colorful world to explore that is appealing in its own right, and it gives you a lot of customization elements that you won't find in more hardcore MMORPGs. In spite of the attempts to cobble in WoW and battle royale elements, however, it basically caters to the same social-focused audience that the first game did. Unless you dig the idea of building some giant weird animu house for people to visit and attending concerts with e-frands, it's probably not going to have long legs for you. And those elements will end up costing you money to do them right - otherwise the game has the standard freemium curse of thin, uninteresting single-player story content and a lot of time-filler padding consisting of fetch quests and repetitive tasks.
* Levelling quickly in MapleStory 2
* MIDI to MML conversion
* More detailed guide to importing and composing music
* Illuminati? In my MapleStory 2?
* Gameplay Video