Empire Online brings its popular MMO formula to the iPhone January 15th

Free-to-play social experiences are all the rage on the iPhone nowadays, but MMO-style social experiences still remain few and far between. Developer Lakoo is hoping to change all of that. Already a hit with more than 5 million players in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Australia, their popular portable MMO Empire Online will be arriving in North America later this week.

In Empire Online, players will be tasked to build their own sprawling empires while fighting alongside other real world players in turn-based combat. Gamers can assemble parties of up to five players, and even square off in one-on-one player-versus-player combat.

With an appearance that harkens back to the 16-bit top down RPG’s of yesteryear, Empire Online has the retro-style gameplay to match. Combat here is turn-based, and characters will be able to collect and equip special gear that can tweak their play experience, as well as spend level-up points to improve their characters stats.

Gamers will be able to choose from five different classes when starting the game and four different races. Warriors, Kung Fu Fighters, Wizards, Hunters and Shamans are all playable, and characters can join such colorful races as Eastland, Nordic, Atlantis and Maya. If you find that you’re not totally keen on your class after you’ve played around for awhile, don’t worry – Lakoo promises that player’s will be able to learn skills from different classes, and not just the one you’ve chosen.

Empire Online

Empire Online Empire Online

Social aspects won’t merely be limited to combat. Players will be able to unite with other players to expand their territories, as well as participate in chat and send messages.

“The Lakoo team has been anxiously awaiting Empire Online‘s expansion into the North American market,” said Kin Ko, CEO of Lakoo. “We can’t wait to give English-language players the keys to the kingdom. You won’t believe how many MMO elements we can fit on a smartphone.”

Empire Online will be released as a free download for the iPhone and iPod Touch this Saturday, January 15th.