The game Dragon Nest is a free-to-play 3D fantasy-styled MMORPG developed by Eyedentity Games and published by Nexon (in the U.S.) The publisher, Nexon, is best known for their game Vindictus (also reviewed here). DN’s primary claim-to-fame in the MMO world is a change-up in the combat system which allows for open targeting—you pull the trigger and shoot in this MMORPG, and whatever is in front of you takes the punishment; no need to target something first. It generates a bit more of a frenetic and action-based combat atmosphere where movement and facing matter.
The game world is built out of a series of instanced maps that lead the player around game—dungeons maps themselves are also instances and are best sought with partners rather than solo; however, I made it through more than one without a party in the beginning.
Let’s see what I got out of this game in my first run through.
Gameplay: It’s cute, but don’t let that fool you; this game lets you hit things hard
On the skin, Dragon Nest looks cute but the game itself belies a sort of kickass brutality that really makes it feel like I’m playing for keeps. The early enemies don’t really pose that much of a threat, but they do make for a good training regimen to understand how combat abilities function, when to use them, and what their range is. In fact, this comes in very important later when playing in a group and working to make sure your contribution counts.
To start, the game takes heavily from the themepark model by providing a lot of quests to do and NPCs who greedily hand them out. It also plays a lot on a sort of animosity between the different groups in the game. In fact, there’s a great deal of dialogue between my character and NPCs (I play a Sorceress) that seems to suggest that I’m the black sheep of my organization, and although I’m powerful, I’m not looked upon with much respect.
Of the classes players can choose from there’s the general archetypes: Archer, Cleric, Sorceress, and Warrior. I hear tell that there’s an Academic class—but it’s obviously not available in the U.S. release of the game since I haven’t seen it. Clerics and Sorceresses start in the same zone—an ice-capped mountain—and their factions seem to be at one another’s throats for no other reason than tribal drama. Archers and Warriors start in a different zone which appears to be a prairie grassland. Eventually everyone finds one another in the middle across hubs and will run into the same dungeons.
At about level 15 characters get to specialize their classes, adding a layer of customization to playstyle. For the most part, the specialized or elite sub-classes focus on a particular gameplay style of the class and allow the player to get more used to a particular role in the party or solo fitting whatever they liked about the game so far.
Combat is more-or-less arcade action with animations. Not so much fire-and-forget as hit the button, pummel that rockweasel, and then move onto the next foe who needs all of their fur singed off with a fireball. Combat in Dragon Nest is not boring and there’s always something to do next (provided you’re mana stands up and all your cooldowns aren’t ticking.)
Many describe this as an action-MMO, and I’d say that’s apt.
The dungeons work a lot like how instances work in Vindictus and Rusty Hearts—they’re sectioned up into smaller regions separated by barriers. I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately in free-to-play games and I think that it’s something designed to regulate the amount of data that needs to be rendered both my the game client (thus reducing the total system requirements) and the server. I suspect that we’ll keep seeing this sort of encapsulation until better optimization is done for instances and some of these free-to-play games so that they can run on weaker systems.
Keep in mind when going in, also, that instances only support 4-man parties. You won’t be going into any bigga-badda-boom raids with 24 of your closest friends to strike down these badguys. It’s quattro-e-mano for now. The instances are built extremely well for this number of people and the room sizes fit nicely to factor in all the movement and action needed for the combat system.
Instance drops are often quite nice bits of gear, buffs, sellable items; and also sometimes “gift” items for NPCs back in the hubs.
That leads to the next interesting aspect of Dragon Nest: NPC favor and friendship. Amid the different NPCs some of the can become your friend, or at least you’re able to earn favor with them. By bringing them items as gifts, doing their quests, and generally talking to them you can enhance your favor.
Gaining favor and friendship with an NPC opens you up to interesting gifts (sometimes mailed from them) some of which are extremely nice. Also, friendship with a particular NPC gets you discounts on certain items and other sundry—thus it’s actually a good thing to pay attention to who you’re friends with. Also, making friends with one NPC will probably annoy another one, so alliances must be chosen carefully for those discounts and relationships.
Graphics and Sound: A free-to-play game that doesn’t skimp on giving you what you want
The graphics in Dragon Nest have a rounded-and-vibrant animé storybook effect that works pretty well with the world presented in the game. The avatars are medium to complex in their polycount, and it’s easy enough to ignore some of the graphics shortcuts being used to make the engine run faster—it runs atop the Eternity Engine for rendering. Avatars and enemies are quite distinct, the landscapes are nice and fresh, and there’s a lot of variation to be had between maps and motifs.
The special-FX are also quite appealing, especially because they do a good job of animating where an attack has landed (although the enemy flying off, catching on fire, exploding, or dying generally does that for me.) And this makes both sword-swinging and spell-slinging an engaging and fun experience when running around the world of Dragon Nest.
As I’m sure you’re aware, I pay a lot of attention to what my spells look like. I’d really love to see a game that has three or four different animations for their spell effects (that may vary only slightly) that then randomly chooses between them when they go off in order to deliver a nuanced effect. Someday. Until then, pretty fireworks such as appear in Dragon Nest will suffice to ameliorate my hunger for variation.
All of the spells and attacks have their own range of sounds, walking, jumping, pounding a rockweasel with a sword. Even the NPCs have a few catchphrases (well recorded and often snarky) for you to squeeze out of them by clicking them too often. There’s nothing much to report here; I don’t really notice the game for its sounds, which means that they did them right.
The music in Dragon Nest low-key standard fantasy-fare music; its loop is long enough that it’s not infuriating and I rarely notice it. Chances are it’ll fall to the back of your head whilst you’re stomping through dank dungeons or wooded scenery and slicing up the wildlife so it’s not intrusive and it’s presence keeps the game from going deathly silent or hollow.
Freemium: They take the model by the nose and let people buy costumes and unlock features
The cash shop in Dragon Nest runs off Nexon’s NX microtransaction currency.
The cash shop contains a largely aesthetic equipment and outfits that you can purchase to make your character up. It doesn’t have anything that gigantically tilts gameplay in anyone’s favor. Most of the costume pieces come with time-limitations as well either 30 days, 90 days, or permanent. I don’t know why anyone would go for anything less than forever for a costume piece bought for cash; but there it is. The difference can be staggering, of course, $5 for something 30-day and $13 for something permanent might cause people to aim lower.
In the shop you can also purchase health and mana potions that are better than those that casually drop (giving you an edge when you need it) but mostly the freemium manifests in the limits set on free-accounts. Some of the things unlocked by spending NX happen to be locks on in-game mail, the auction house, and a limited amount of storage.
The cash shop really works to pull in people with less impulse control than fashion sense; and possibly those who’d like to be able to work with the more social aspects (and bag space) with fewer limitations. All strong hallmarks of the current free-to-play venue.
Conclusion: Dragon Nest is an excellent game with a lot of value and constant updates
No doubt about it, Dragon Nest deserves the accolades it’s been getting from the MMO community and its own fan base. It has things running and gunning for it from the PvE and PvP sides, there’s a strong community to run around with, a working and lively narrative, and a lot of instances to jump into in order to pull out whatever you need for your favorite NPCs and friends.
While the social and character progression limits in the freemium model can be a little bit annoying—shortened bag space and limited access to the AH—they’re easily resolved with a small amount of coin and it’s worth it if you intend to keep playing for any length of time. The lack of raiding content about 4 people feels a little strange at first; but this game is snuggly and pushes people together into tight knit groups.
Overall, it makes for a nice afternoon with friends or a few anonymous faces across the Internet to plough through a few dungeons and get snarked at by your mentor.