Empire Online for iPhone

's holds the distinction of being the first Chinese massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Lakoo has brought the distinctive and popular title to the worldwide market with a surprisingly fun English version. The free-to-download app is loaded with content and should satisfy adventurers of all stripes.

Empire Online has an anime-inspired look and feel reminiscent of many RPG games of old, which seems to be a trend among many of the latest crop of similar titles for iOS. It only takes a few minutes of gameplay, however, to realize how complex and rich in detail the game is despite its simplistic appearances.

The premise of Empire Online is relatively simple: players get to create a character by choosing from one of several races and classes. After that, they are plunged directly in an environment that does away with the minimalistic look users have come to expect from iOS apps. Their goal is to thrive and create your own empire, at turns collaborating, competing and fighting against your fellow players.

Empire's user interface comes across as extremely busy, particularly considering the relative lack of real estate on the iPhone. At any given time, the user has to contend with a multitude of UI elements, a complex and crowded game map and a chat overlay that takes up half the screen. The result is a visual cacophony that requires a considerable amount of time to understand and a lot of self-discipline to master. Both dialogue and narration need a little polish and often feel like they have been translated from a foreign language... with somewhat mixed results.

The game's raison d'être is, of course, its massive multiplayer support. And massive it is--from the very beginning, there are plenty of other humans running around as they try to complete quests and make their way through the various play areas. Unfortunately, there only seems to be one server available at the moment--a fact that has two important consequences: first, the world is a very busy place, especially in the initial areas. Second, there is no real geographical segmentation of the players, resulting in a mishmash of several different languages in the chat.

The good news is that both these two issues are not fatal. Eventually, one gets used to the interface and learns to appreciate the amazing level of detail that the game offers, and it stands to reason that the developers will, at some point, come up with a method to better corrall the crowds so that players have a little more room to breathe and can interact with other folks who speak their same language.