Justice Online (逆水寒): Game Design Analysis

In-game screenshot


Justice Online is an MMORPG developed and published by the Chinese company Netease Games. It features an expansive open world and a real-time combat system involving multiple classes and skills. There is a huge plethora of in-game activities to choose from, ranging from battling to fishing to making friends with NPCs, and countless more.

Link to official site: https://n.163.com/

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad


  • The player can navigate the open world by walking, flying, or riding mounts.
  • In combat, the player presses keys to execute skills, which have cooldowns.
  • Players can choose from a variety of goals, but a primary measure of game progression is one’s level and “combat score”, which is determined by experience points, gear, skill levels, etc.


  • The player roleplays as the protagonist of a main storyline set in the Chinese Song Dynasty.
  • The storyline is relatively linear with branches based on player-selected options that can affect minor outcomes. This grants some degree of player autonomy even though the overall flow of the story remains unchanged by player decisions.
  • There is a sense of suspense as the story is concerned with slowly uncovering the mystery of what happened to the player’s village, which was sacked when he was a child.


  • The game has highly detailed, realistic 3D graphics which help to craft an immersive experience.
  • Maps are designed in a style conforming to a reimagined version of the historical Song Dynasty.
  • The beautiful maps make it such that simply exploring the world and capturing screenshots can be an exciting mode of gameplay by itself.


  • A good CPU and graphics card is needed to render the realistic 3D graphics.
  • There are different graphics settings available. Hence, players’ experiences of the game aesthetics can differ significantly depending on the quality of their hardware.

Lens #52: Economy

  • The in-game economy is complex. Players can earn money by battling monsters or participating in other activities like crafting, fishing, and gathering herbs. This motivates players who are unwilling to pay for in-game currency to do more in-game activities to earn money. However, the activities may get dull as they are usually mindless and repetitive. For instance, gathering herbs simply involves clicking on a plant and waiting for the countdown to finish.
  • There is a central marketplace for players to sell their goods for money, as well as the option to trade with other players. This gives rise to a dynamic economy driven by supply and demand. The virtual economy thus recreates the allure of “real-world” shopping.

Lens #55: Visible Progress

  • Most aspects of the game have clearly visible markers of progress. For instance, combat ability is quantified using an overall score made up of separate components. One example is the gear score, which can be improved by upgrading weapons and armour. Besides character level, the game also encodes levels for non-combat related abilities like gathering and crafting.
  • The process of powering up a character is very gradual and many players spend years grooming a single character. These visible markers provide a sense of satisfaction as even a slight power-up is reflected clearly in numbers. They also serve as a basis for comparison among players, and are an important driving force behind continued playing of the game.

Lens #84: The World

  • Aided by powerful rendering techniques, the open world contains many large and beautiful maps. They are designed to appeal rather than to be completely realistic, hence players may find themselves marveling at the scenery when travelling.
  • There are different methods of travelling, which enable the player to experience the world from different points of view. For instance, the flying ability allows one to appreciate the view from high above ground.
  • The world is also interactive. As players explore the world, they can pick up side stories and missions which serve as backdrops to the main storyline. These are optional and can be done at any time, thus encouraging the player to explore at their own leisure.
Scenery from one of the maps in the open world

Lens #85: The Avatar

  • The advanced character customization system allows every player to craft their own unique avatar. There are also many outfits and accessories which can be bought or procured in-game. The emphasis on customizability is very strong, going down to details like makeup and body height/girth. Hence, there is ample opportunity for the player to construct an ideal avatar that appeals to them and expresses their identity.
  • However, the system mostly caters to common Asian standards of beauty, and may alienate people who do not identify with those standards.

Lens #98: Community

  • There are various in-game structures for building communities, including a guild system and guild events. Players are forced to cooperate with others as certain rewards can only be obtained by fighting together as a group. This is frustrating but also rewarding if one manages to clear a mission with their team.