So, there's this South Korean MMORPG called Mir4 that's been out on mobile and PC for about six months now. It's free-to-play, so it started off with decent numbers, but from October to November the monthly average player count jumped up by 32k. It's tailing off now, but still averaging 60,000 Steam users over the last three months, a surge you'd think would be worth celebrating, right? I investigated and discovered that Mir4 is one bizarre game, with one soul-crushing USP: NFTs.
That's right folks. The game lets you mint your character as an NFT, and even mine cryptocurrency if you so choose. If this is the future, then it seems cold and strange and sad. Also, Mir4 is a terrible game.
Mir4 is an MMORPG set in a fantastical, East Asian-inspired world that also supports crossplay with mobile players. Once you're in (with a sign-in via a Google or Facebook account) a 5GB download kicks in without warning. The hallmark of a mobile game that makes you feel a bit uneasy, like it would catch you in a trust fall exercise but demand cash in exchange. Just a few quid for the favour, that's all.
Once you hit the game's character creation screen, though, Mir4 looks somewhat polished. You pick a class from the likes of Warrior, Taoist, or Mage. Character animations are crisp, with combos presented on screen through little windows. Woah, look at the warrior, spinning and slashing and leaping! Cool! Select a class and there's a fair number of customisation options too - perhaps more than your average RPG. For a second, you think that maybe this isn't a masquerade, and Mir4 will be good. That is, until you start playing.
Well, you don't so much as "play" Mir4 as you "be present with it". So long as you are a sentient being constructed of cells, Mir4 will accommodate you. Games often have stories, so Mir4 has decided it needs one too. You, a hero, must rescue a princess who's on the run from a nasty lord. The lord wants to kidnap and marry her as a means of becoming king. You don't want that, so you take on quests from masters and monks to stop The Bad. Achieving this requires the odd click here and there. You needn't control anything. All it asks from you is to click very occasionally and autopilot will take care of the rest. It will fight for you, run you to quest givers, and to my knowledge, unlockable "auto-questing" will automate the lot once you reach a certain level. I've not got anything against autobattlers, but there's surely a limit.
The longer you spend out off the starting menus and playing the game, the more it becomes obvious everything in Mir4 a ruse. At first it's pretty good. You are a warrior, with a health bar and abilities. You swing your sword and enemies are hacked to bits in these flashy animations. Numbers POP. EXP UP! Levels rise. Then you notice the chat is entirely unmoderated. Someone's WhatsApp number sits in the centre of your screen, with a garbled offer to sell cryptocurrency next to it.
You can manually do things, but Mir4 constantly defaults you back to autopilot, as if to say, "Come on now, you don't want that." You, a human being, one with thoughts and feelings, should rein it in, and take that emotion elsewhere. "By now", it seems to say, "you should know this isn't a game". As you mindlessly arc from quest to quest, Mir4 barrages you with new unlocks. The pace is relentless. New slashes and shouts. New orbs: blue, green, gold. So many orbs and herbs. Pets and slots. You can combine the pets, in fact, and you are followed by this squeaky dragon who doesn't do much except squeak and be a dragon. You can meditate at some spots in game for energy, for seeds, for something. Notifications remind you to spend, SPEND DAMNIT. With each and every point allocated, or slot highlighted, your stats increase by 1%, then 1.1%, then 1.2%. It's like playing an MMORPG that's overheating. No, it's like watching an MMORPG that's overheating as it plays itself.
No, actually, Mir4 is like watching a play. You are waiting for the actors to drop their guises once it's finished. And as the curtains lift and the actors step onto stage and bow and wave, you wait for them to melt. All of them, reduced to piles of nothing. Save for a graphics card plugged into an extension lead.
That's because the game is hollow. It's a thinly veiled attempt at a game where, really, you await the notification that lets you mine Darksteel. That's the moment when all pretenses are dropped and Mir4's true form as a bundle of air and wires is revealed. Apparently at level 24 you get the chance to go to a quarry and, if you're lucky, mine Darksteel for 30 minutes. At level 40, you can go ahead and mine it at your leisure. All those stat increases may mean flashy new moves, but really they're just numbers that signal your gradual transformation from fantasy warrior into mining machine.
Darksteel is Mir4's gateway into cryptocurrency. You smelt it down into a currency called Draco, blockchain-based tokens that can be used to purchase in-game items, or converted into real world money. You can track the price of Draco here, alongside other cryptocurrencies Hydra and Drain. Hydra has its own lore, because crypto has zero shame. While it's a real commitment to reach a point in the game where you can earn actual money from Draco, it seems to have drawn a pretty big crowd. The number of players you see, juddering from quest to quest to spend 30 minutes in a digi-mine, is ridiculous. Take a shovel to Mir4 and you'd unearth a complex network of railway tracks, steering players towards their next mining venture.
The play-to-earn future that these big corpos want pervades the game. Mir4 takes the traditional MMORPG template and uses it as a convenient vessel for mining coins and minting NFTs. The mundane tasks you're set, like eliminating 20 snakes, all lead to a sad endgame where you morph into a graphics card churning through bits. For all its emphasis on automation, the only automatic response you should have to this game is not to play it. Just don't do it, it's not worth your time.