Looks like Webzen has seduced us in again with lilting promises of their newest action-oriented combo-based free-to-play MMO C9, aka Continent of the Ninth Seal. Not too long ago, about February, the game was going through its closed press beta and we brought our first look to the Ogre audience, and we even came back with some extremely gorgeous screenshots form in the game. With the open beta test on, and the public flooding into the game, it’s about time to put it through its paces to see how it stacks up.

From the first look, it’s eerily similar to how Vindictus from Nexon works: celled and instanced dungeons, open-targeting action-oriented combat, and a grading system after each fight. Then there’s the cobo-system (which is a great deal of fun) especially being able to throw opponents into the air and beat them into a pulp.

Also with the launch of the open beta, Webzen has made the final character class—the Witchblade—available.

Graphics and Sound: Pretty good, with a strong homage to special effects

The graphics in C9 are superb. It has a strongly Asian-centric feel to the development and design and that aesthetic permeates the characters. The game has a good looking rendering engine with nice textures, good looking buildings, and even water effects. One of the striking (although amusing) details is that vegetation sticks up from the ground in weeds and sproings when walked over by characters. There’s no sound, of course, but in the peripheral vision it’s a lot like wading through underbrush.

As we’ve seen in other screenshots, there’s a lot to be said about how far the graphics render but it’s obvious that the maps are designed to keep the engine’s torque to a minimum. Fortunately, this map making trick doesn’t take away from the landscapes.

Just walk around the town a little to see what I mean.

When it comes to combat there’s an interesting anti-screen tearing effect that happens when you turn quickly or unleash a massive combo—it’s a peripheral blur that allows the renderer to catch up with the action without blinking. In some ways this can be immersion breaking, but it does create a sense of adrenaline in large groups.

All the attacks have their own animations and since it’s action oriented. The attack region gets the animation and the special effects, the opponents get bashed violently, and numbers splash across the screen. It’s got everything it needs to be a lot like an action-brawler and there’s something of an oomph when fighting a larger group. In fact, many  of the animations and FX are designed to show off multiple-hits-at-once.

When it comes to music there’s a piano number that feels a little bit overwhelming—and for some reason I keep getting the impression that I’m being serenaded with The Neverending Story theme, but then it veers off in some other direction—fortunately turning down the music just a little makes it more than bearable. It’s not the only music playing in the game, which seems to run the gamut of genres. Some of them are quite pleasant to listen to.

There’s also a certain amount of ambient sound. I think there’s a place in the city where lots of people gather and you can almost hear the low rumble of coffee-klatch conversation like in a restaurant.

Attacks and monsters all have sounds that fit and I got used to listening for them when plunging through a dungeon.

Gameplay: Action-oriented combo-brawler with an expertise advancement system

At first look, calling Continent of the Ninth Seal is about pointing out it’s action-oriented and open targeting. This is a trend we’ve been seeing with TERA and Dragon Nest, and many other MMOs that have been taking advantage of breaking from the targeted-attack style of World of Warcraft. It also means that there’s going to be some attempts to create a fair-to-use mouse-centric UI. As usual, it’s WASD to move and the mouse for the camera.

There’s four classes, including the most recent addition, the Witchblade, who wields two swords—a long one and a short one—and provides fire-support via a lot of AoE magic.

One thing that I noticed quickly about the combo system is that it allowed me to choose either numbers or letters (topmost row and bottommost row). This helped out a great deal because I like putting combo actions beneath WASD instead of into the number keys. Also wonderful is that some of the attacks are enabled through mouse movements in combination with other actions, such as normal mouse-button attacks with slashing motions with the mouse.

With so many ways to trigger attacks and combo-strikes, this gives the game an edge that lets me think on my feet. I really enjoy that because it means that I’m not just pecking buttons on the keyboard and instead I learn a set of reflexes for particular situations. It also means that the motion of my character (led by my mouse) brought me a lot of immersion.

For example: If as the fighter, I have enemies next to me, I can use the strafe attack with a normal attack button-press and a swipe to the side.

Add this to a system basic class advancement that triggers once at level 11 and a second time at level 20. The first advancement opens up “Elite” (and a bunch of armor and weapons, essentially bringing the game into full bore) and at 20 players get to choose a specialization. For example, fighters get to go with a tank-ish Guardian, a DPS dealing Blade Master, or even a defense-and-attack class with the Warrior. Hunters have an advancement after elite that permits them to lay traps (the Scout); and Shamans even have an up-close-and-personal magic fighter called the Taoist.

Freemium: Cash shop expected…but not yet ready

Since the game is currently in the open beta phase, the commercial phase has not yet begun and therefore there’s no virtual item shop present. As a result, I cannot give you a proper review of what to expect.

However, looking at the game this is what I predict: there will be a cash shop, it will use microtransaction currency, there will be a lot of time-saving items (xp boosters), there will likely be a large number of aesthetic items present that allow you to change the color of items or wear different items. This is the basis of what we can expect from any cash shop in any MMO.

Meanwhile, when the game does launch commercial, I shall publish a seprate article reviewing the cash shop and then update this section here.

Conclusion: A fairly good game with a solid basis that looks like it’ll do well in the market

Am I liking Continent of the Ninth Seal? Absolutely.

It has a strong feel belonging to an East Asian-import MMO visible in the character faces and the buildings and it produces a style that I’ve gotten used to looking at the market. The graphics are quite nice but not so nice that it’ll be difficult to run this on current generation machines. There’s also a surprising amount of customization for each of the classes (even if they are gender locked) I enjoyed using interesting and very vivid tattoos on my face.

The combo system is intriguing and leads to learning not just a “cycle” of keys to hit, but looking at a group and striking the buttons in a particular sequence to best the enemy.

I could use a slightly better LFG system—although it’s exactly like how it works in Rusty Hearts—but so far it’s not been difficult to get into a group and get going. They do have an automatch system (you can find it at the bottom) but I’ve probably been spoiled by others and chances are they’ll get better. Your experience may vary.

There’s a lot of people in the open beta so there’s no chance that you’ll be lonely.

The game goes fully live July 11, 2012. Enjoy!