I’ve played many traditional MMOs, which is to say those that require software be installed on your computer. But there seems to be a growing desire to release browser-based games, free of client software. Many free browser-based MMOs have been small and casually oriented. Others have tried to push the boundaries of what web gaming can be. This has lead to the latest entry from Resistor Productions in the form of a PVP centric, entirely built in Flash, MMO called Disciple. Although it has many good things, it also suffers from a host of problems.
What sets Disciple apart from other free browser-based MMOs is that it runs entirely inside the realm of Flash version 10. Because it was designed and developed inside Flash, this game can do things other web-based games cannot. For example, other browser-based games such as Free Realms (Sony Online Entertainment) and Fusion Fall (Cartoon Network) require small proprietary plug-ins that may cause accessibility issues. Anyone wishing to play these games may find their access restricted if they happen to be on a computer where installing software is not allowed.
Aside from plug-in issues most browser-based MMOs lack animation. In my humble opinion this restriction mares the game’s presentation and hurts immersion. Although I will say the recent release of Legends of Zork, and well established games such as Estiah and Cthulhu Nation, are no doubt fun for those who enjoy them, there is likely a large group of gamers (myself included) that want to see graphics. Call us shallow but we like eye candy.
Specifically the engine that drives Disciple is interesting. Built using a combination of proprietary code, developed by Resistor Productions, and new attributes available to Flash 10 and ActionScript 2 (and I would suspect ActionScript 3) this game shows fights happening in real-time, in a web browser, with animation. This is a first of its kind and an exciting moment for Flash based gaming!
The game is limited to a few customization options. You can choose between male or female light-skinned Volkerians, medium-toned Ashasian, and dark-skinned Haltians. The standard hair and skin style and coloring are available. If you’ve seen this in other MMOs then it will feel familiar here. You can also write a bio that, from what I’ve gathered, serves no purpose besides giving your character some depth. You can choose from one of three available classes: melee (Warlord), stealth (Bloodletter), and caster (Shaman). Before entering the game you pick a god. Gods are not important until you reach level 20 at which point you’ll get special abilities.
Disciple’s performance and lag is reliant on your connection to Internet. I found the game suffered virtually no lag. There are problems where Flash can consume web browser resources and cause instabilities, but thankfully this did not happen while playing. I read a thread on the forums where some combination of platform, browser, and Flash can cause stability issues. The issue is likely with Linux; a platform that Resistor didn’t have in mind for their game.
Graphics and audio is straight forward. Resistor did a good job trying to create a visual style all its own while locked into the signature look most Flash games have. Given the bandwidth limitations Disciple uses basic combat sounds and has a small handful of contemporary electronic tracks. Each race has a music track in their battle realm. While I appreciate volume controls, it was annoying that even with the music muted you could still hear it.
One of the bigger short-comings is that Disciple offers no in-game guide or tutorials on their website to show how to play this game. I don’t know if this slipped Resistor’s mind but it would help made the learning process easier. The Trailer gave a basic demonstration on how to play Disciple but it’s hard to see and skips over many things. For the first 40 minutes I stumbled around trying to figure out things. This is also one of the main reasons for the hard difficulty in the GiN Gem Ratings.
After an hour I was able to fumble my way around. You can jump into the action fast by clicking Battlefield, clicking NPC, clicking all, and finally clicking search. Now you have a list of NPC and players to fight against. You can also click my level and search for players and NPCs peers. You can also select many levels (the free game is capped at level 20).
There are four ways to interact with players. You can spar, battle, slap, or chat. Sparring matches test your character’s abilities without any ranking consequences. Slapping allows you to send slaps to a target’s profile for all to see. I assume this is some sort of visual addition to the game as it doesn’t serve any purpose beyond riling up your opponent. The main goal of Disciple is battles. Winning battles gives rewards and rankings.
Ranking is a major weakness. For more than month after official launch a ranking system has not been put into effect. The main point of Disciple is PVP. With no ranking system no one can tell who the best is. Worse yet there’s no information or news from Resistor on when this system will be released.
Continuing along I was able to figure out that my character’s profile and inventory are virtually the same screens; the only different is that profile shows character’s bio. There’s a fairly robust messaging system that allows sending and receiving messages from friends and enemies, in addition to keeping a list of allies and enemies. Finally you can choose from a list of PVP quests.
As mentioned before free members can play up to level 20. They have limited access to clan features, weapons, and armor. Free members can’t access the map location called Ally.
Available to paid members is a full clan system where you can see a list of clans to join or create one of your own, as well as design you Clan’s banner. The allied nation button allows you to join nations and buy Geldors (Disciple’s in-game currency). Armory shows a list of equipment and gear available to buy with Geldors. Premium members also get a stipend each time they level up.
In the early levels you can attack NPCs until you build up enough Geldors to purchase armor and weaponry. The problem here, and one I believe breaks the free aspect of Disciple, is that from what I’ve seen I could not buy better gear until I joined an Allied Nation. Joining an Allied Nation costs $6 per month. As far as I can tell I am stuck with my lower level gear until my character reaches the free account level cap of 20. I likely don’t need to explain why this is horrible.
An interesting facet of gameplay is that you can spar with other players that are off-line. There are cool surprises where opponent’s heads can be decapitated with a nice gush of blood. But early into level 2 the game felt like a classic grind fest. For a game that is PVP centric, the combination of consensual PVP with PVE combat against player-made Bots is weird and not fun. PVP should be PVP with no consensual choices against actual players.
Besides the restrictive free gameplay the other problem I have with Disciple is the community. That is to say one doesn’t exist. According to Disciple’s website there are just over 31,000, but these numbers don’t reflect the number of players actually playing the game. I’ve tracked "Deaths today" and every day the number has gone down significantly. While writing this review the number hit 25, down more than a thousand from a few days earlier. It’s not just tracking numbers that I’ve seen this. I’ve logged in on different days, and at different times, and save for the small handful of players — who I might add NEVER use chat — the game is mostly empty. What remain are hundreds of player-made Disciple characters sitting around. Without anyone playing them the game feels like a single-player Flash game. The official forums are hosted by MMORPG.com, and sadly only a couple pages of threads exist.
Disciple is marred with too many problems. The three biggest would be severely limited free accounts, a nearly dead community, and an unreleased ranking system (unheard of in a PVP centric game). A small gripe would also have to be no starter guide.
But Disciple does have its moments. Because it is browser-based the only requirement is Flash 10 and an Internet connection. If you are looking for a quick diversion — perhaps something to do on your lunch break, between studies, or while waiting in a queue to get into your favorite MMO — Disciple does deliver. But play it in short bursts, because playing too long may feel more like discipline.