Order & Chaos

Order & Chaos (first gen iPad)
Order & Chaos (first gen iPad)

Rosanna and I have been playing Order & Chaos for about a couple of weeks now. I first found out about it thanks to Penny Arcade, showed the post to Rosanna and she simply bought the game on the spot. (The App Store reviews didn’t hurt.)

Is it a World of Warcraft clone? Sure, but then WoW was a Dark Age of Camelot clone, and DAoC was an EverQuest clone. The question is, is it a good WoW clone, or merely a cheap knockoff?

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (Macbook Pro 2010)
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (Macbook Pro 2010)

Rosanna and I both lost interest in WoW a little while after getting to 85. (Oh, and we didn’t have nearly enough spare time to deal with the “end-game”.) The latest expansion felt too much like the previous expansion with a new skin (complete with new time sinks copied from the old time sinks). Similarly, we lost interest in Pocket Legends shortly after quests were added to the game.

Here’s a quick list of things O&C does that WoW could learn from:

  • Warriors can solo and appear not to suck.
  • Tradeskills are driven by their own experience pools. Making something gives you points in the tradeskill which can be spent on new recipes.
  • Anyone can cook … I mean gather.
  • No arbitrary class/race restrictions. All races can be all classes.
  • There seems to be no race-determines-morality assumption. You can be a nice orc or an evil human.
  • More convoluted quests are implemented as series of simple quests, which also tends to provide more rewards for quests involving a lot of running around.
  • The world actually feels big. You can run around and not see a quest giver for several minutes. (It’s possible that the necessarily short clipping distance helps in this regard.) This is aided by the game having no concept of “binding” and the only “teleports” being the equivalent of WoW’s flight masters. Places can be far away and there are no real shortcuts. (Even the teleports will only follow one link and, relative to WoW, are quite costly.) In one instance I trudged an enormous distance with one of my toons to discover that an area I had hoped to find quests in was way too dangerous. In WoW I could have “stoned” back to an inn, but in O&C I had to trudge back again. This may all prove too “hard core” in the long term and get “care-beared” out of the game.
  • You can quit from any place and when you relaunch the game, it syncs to the server and voila, there you are again — same toon, same place, no log-in sequence.
  • Spawn rates appear to be dynamic. If an area is heavily camped the spawn rate increases, leading to pretty hectic play.
  • So far there are no instances and this doesn’t seem to be a problem. (Perhaps because of dynamic spawn rates, above.) I even heard a player accused of spawn camping in global chat. Instances have become such a cliche in MMOs that it’s probably worth mentioning that they are an elegant hack solution to a technical problem (overloading of servers) and not desirable in and of themselves. (Why should it be a Good Thing that I can walk into a building immediately behind you and end up in a different copy of the building?) It will be interesting to see if O&C persists in eschewing the “instancing everything” approach everyone else is taking.

I do have one big annoyance and a handful of minor annoyances. First the big one:

Micro Transactions. Aside from subscriptions you can buy runes or gold (both are $0.99 each or less in bulk). Runes let you buy advantages such as extra character slots or increased experience rewards. Gold is the in-game currency, so it just saves you time. Once you hit level 20 or so, gold comes fast enough that it’s hard to imagine many players spending much on gold. I’ll give the developers the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is just a placeholder for more interesting stuff (e.g. access to more content) later, but it’s painful that you can easily land in the store (which is slow to load) while navigating in-game menus. Ugly and stupid.

The big ugly blue arrow. Your minimap shows yellow arrows indicating quest rewards and blue arrows showing party members, but a giant, ugly cyan arrow floats in front of your character’s feet indicating the direction of your next quest objective (you pick which of up to twelve quests is your “current” quest). First, this arrow is freaking ugly. Second, it’s often impossible to see when you’re running on hills or swimming. I’d prefer another arrow on the minimap just for aesthetic reasons, but I also find having a big 3d arrow floating in the world to be irksome on a visceral level.

Text. In general, all the text in the game is too big and in poorly chosen fonts. Indeed, the UI seems to have been designed primarily for the iPhone and then adapted to the iPad by sticking it against a piece of wood and banging nails through it. Even so, on an iPhone the text is often a bit small to read easily, in large part because of the chosen typeface. Meanwhile the text is huge on the iPad and annoying to deal with — quest text is buried three layers deep in the UI and then usually has to be scrolled for several pages. Worst of all, the chat interface takes up a ridiculous amount of space and can only display about six lines.

Text Entry
The way text entry is "integrated" into the UI leaves much to be desired

Text Entry: Every place where you need to enter text (e.g. when sending in-game mail, or using the chat interface) is a horrible, horrible kludge. Perhaps the worst case is in-game mail where the the input manager changes the spelling of your intended recipient’s name with depressing regularity, and the text entry field is a horrible white rectangle (of the wrong size) overlaid on an otherwise-quite-attractive UI.

Chat interface
This is the expanded chat interface which manages to display a whole six lines of text.

Chat. Unsurprisingly, global chat is like an interactive version of YouTube comments, but while the game lets you mute channels (yay!) it forgets which channels you muted when you log off. Worse, whenever someone in the world says something in global the UI appears covering a goodly portion of the screen for a few seconds.

Content. The content isn’t bad, but it’s very generic (and very clearly “inspired” by WoW). As far as I can tell this is a game largely produced by Chinese artists and programmers with a small core of Europeans in design positions. The whole thing seems very “cranked out”. It’s solid enough (and probably has fewer typos in it than WoW did at launch) but it’s not terribly interesting or inspiring, and you won’t find little jokes and easter eggs tucked into every nook and cranny the way you do with WoW.

Bugs. Every escort quest seems to be flaky. It’s also not clear that the game realizes you’ve failed one and if so whether or how it can be re-attempted. (I’d be fine with escort quests being impossible to retry, but I’d like the game to actually cope with it properly.)

Probably the worst/scariest thing about O&C is it’s the first game I’ve ever played on my iPhone4 that made it run hot. And I’m not alone in this — I saw comments in global chat along the same lines. (And there’s no similar problem on our first generation iPads.)

Another big difference from WoW is in the level of spoon-feeding. In WoW you can basically go from start to finish by simply taking any quest you see offered and doing the quests you’ve been given. As of recent expansions there’s even in-game support for telling you where to go and what to do (if you target a mob, for example, you’ll be told if it’s something you need to kill or loot for one of the quests in your journal). O&C provides much less hand-holding, to the point where entire quest hubs need to be discovered by exploration with no real prompting. Players who like exploring maps will be rewarded.


The short version is that Order & Chaos looks good, plays well, the touch UI is generally well-done, there’s plenty of content, and the price is right ($6.99 for the game with a long trial subscription, then very cheap ($0.99 per month or less) for ongoing “premium” access.

O&C doesn’t break any new ground. At best, it’s an attractive and competent MMORPG that runs on very modest hardware. But did anyone expect risk-taking from Gameloft?

Overall, this is a very impressive achievement. Producing a competent WoW-clone is something many game studios have tried and failed to do, yet O&C was developed using a cadre of European and American content leads and a small army of Chinese artists and programmers. O&C would be a pretty impressive game running on a desktop or console, it’s simply breathtaking on an iPhone4 or iPad. Even where the game has necessarily been “cut down” to deal with the limitations of the platform, it has been done gracefully.