Dragon’s Prophet is the newest offering from Sony Online Entertainment and is currently in closed-beta until May 30th when it will go into open beta (and a soft launch.) Developed by Runewaker Entertainment, headquartered in Taiwan, DP enters with a fairly good developer and is being provided by a strong publisher, which means this game will have a great deal of expectations from its audience.
The game may currently be in beta, but it’s less than 10 days to soft-launch, so I’m going to be looking at it as if it’s a finished product. So far, it feels a great deal like an Asian-import MMO that takes a lot of cues from modern MMOs to make a compelling action-combat experience. It’s also free-to-play on SOE’s systems with optional virtual items that can be bought by players to increase their fun in the game. There’s also quite a population playing so it’s not at all wasteland or lonely.
The game itself may boast an excellent action-combat system with combo attacks, but it’s the addition of dragons (as mounts and fighting vehicles) that really set this game apart and actually give it an edge to play. Right now, the dragon mechanics aren’t well outlined or detailed, but they’re present in the game and can be extremely fun to participate in—especially after capturing one and then rampaging across the map.
Let’s take a look at what it’s like to play the game and decide if you want to download it to try it out.
Graphics and audio: It’s a mixed bag of environmental and quality but in the end comes out on top
The first thing that I noticed upon starting up a new character is how nice the character creator happens to be. Ordinarily with free-to-play games I find myself either locked into genders, or breezing through creation because there’s so little to do with characters. This creator may subtly hide some of the attributes (and there’s a lot) but it’s possible to control between about 12 different hairstyles, faces, and then change shapes and geometry of a lot of bone structure from there. Much of this is also visible in game when looking at other players (right down to noticing their eye color choices.)
The in-game graphics quality in this game feels like a mixed bag. The character creator and the characters feel fairly detailed and high polygon, but the texture quality doesn’t follow suit—although this game is still in a closed beta it’s as close to launch as possible. In order to make sure your experience doesn’t involve textures popping in and out, you’ll need to change the render-distance for ambient objects and the numbers way up (otherwise scorch marks on the ground were teleporting in-and-out of existence as I walked around town.)
The environments are fairly well designed and look alright. The game reminds me thoroughly of Asian import rendering engines and has a particular edge to it that produces a particular surreal effect. It feels like a console game or that the graphics are being specifically held back so that it will play on lower-end PCs, which is fine, because this could mean this game will run well for everyone in the market.
I had particular trouble with the way animations looked in the game. They felt a little bit soft or sticky when they triggered, and when actions triggered there were very few transitional animations—the result is that characters look like they’re snapping between different movements as they go through attack or movement animations. And jumping looks like a sort of slightly sped-up space jump with a sort of boneless leap.
The voice acting is super-cheesy! In fact, during the tutorial (or preface to the DP story) I think that I ran into Cobra Commander who even threatened me for interrupting their not-so-subtle plan to disguise their way into my village and kill everyone. Still, the addition of voices is nice, but the acting and the writing could have been done with a great deal more quality. Sadly, the voice acting does end when the tutorial ends and very few other characters have much to say at all—perhaps there’s more movie sequences later on for Cobra Commander to screech at me again.
I’ll look forward to that.
The music is alright, but overwhelming. In the beginning there’s a massive destructive event to get players hooked and give them a reason to partake in gameplay—namely a village suffers a massive attack and must be cleaned up. Mostly it’s all about killing bugs; and the music during this time is thick, action-danger orchestral music that booms and brontos a sense of adrenaline. I found myself turning it down just so that I could pay attention to the game.
Gameplay: Taking a page from open-targeting and action-styled combat the mechanics are fairly smooth
Dragon’s Prophet reveals a nature as a standard MMORPG with action-combat, combo-based fighting, and open-targeting to make for a fairly nice pace when fighting and exploring in this game. It also means that people who don’t work well with click-targeting won’t need to worry; there’s little need to move a hand off the mouse to press keys (one keyboard hand and one mouse hand will do.)
Four classes are available from the onset of the game: Guardian, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Oracle. These classes fall into the standard MMORPG trinity of the tank/melee-dps with the Guardian, ranged-dps Ranger, the ranged-dps/AoE Sorcerer, and a healer with the Oracle.
The game touts itself as action-combat and it’s a standard MMORPG setup with an action bar and a bit of open-targeting and mouse-combos. Right-click and left-click mouse buttons trigger standard attacks—abilities sit under the number keys, but class-specific strikes are ‘Q’, ‘E’, and ‘R’—with a ‘V’ being parry for Guardians. Many of these attacks, and especially those connected to the mouse will combo into more interesting attacks. Two right-clicks, and one left-click will execute a separate attack from three right-clicks, or other combination with letter-key abilities.
The mouse is open-targeting and moves the camera instead of a targeting aid: no clickers in this game.
The combo control scheme reminds me of DC Universe Online and C9, but the use of letter keys around the WASD keys in order to trigger class-abilities also seems like the game is trying to take mechanics from other MMORPGs that have seen success from those controls. In all, it’s a fairly good scheme and it has a very short learning curve—the tutorial gave me everything I needed to know to understand combos and the skill set.
Fighting monsters runs like pretty much every other MMORPG: run up, use abilities, dodge around, and then beat them until they stop moving. When they do stop moving, pick up their loot and move on.
The quests are delivered from NPCs with icons over their heads, they run the standard gamut.
As one might expect from the title, dragons play a significant role in the game. Players have a skill, “capture dragon,” that enables them to capture and bond with a dragon—which range from giant and scaled fire breathing type, to oddly lumpy and monstrous lizards combined with chitin and muscle. The capture skill triggers a minigame that has a difficulty focused around the traits of the player character and the dragon’s rarity.
Once captured, dragons become mounts and provide new skills, attacks, even some crafting and gathering skills might become available; also as expected, some dragons fly—enabling players to traverse the land much more easily. Of course, nothing’s quite like having a dragon to breathe fire, stomp all over, or rake opponents to death but the riding bit is nice too.
Free-to-play: VIP packages and virtual item shop, SOE is a powerful business and knows its audience
Dragon’s Prophet is a free-to-play game that supports itself with a virtual item shop and starter packs that cost money.
The starter packs are called “Dragon Packs” and each one grants players a small set of items, special titles, and other elements of the game specific to those packs to make them valuable—player who purchase a dragon pack during the beta get VIP access now—the three packs are: Dragon Seeker Pack, Dragon Master Pack, and the Dragon Lord Pack (ranging from $19.99, $39.99, to $89.99.) The latter two contain bigger-and-badder dragons for players as well as in-game housing.
To purchase in-game items, Sony Online Entertainment is using their virtual currency called Station Cash. Like most free-to-play currency, it’s possible to buy it in bulk from SOE and then use it across a multitude of their games, not just DP.
Like many final-beta games, this closed beta feels a lot more like an excuse to get players to pre-order Dragon Packs in order to get VIP access. This is a common business practice right now and although the Dragon Packs give instant access, it’s also not too difficult to get a beta key either, so this closed beta feels more-or-less like a regulated soft-launch.
Conclusion: As a game Dragon’s Prophet feels a little off, but it fits right in with the standard SOE fare
Dragon’s Prophet doesn’t feel like it’s going to be for most Western audiences due to the facets of the game that edge away from the traditional tried-and-true Euro-centric and Western themes that most players are used to by now. However, even as a free-to-play it has a lot of elements that are compelling and it’s published by a well known outfit (Sony Online Entertainment.) As a result, it’s really a mixed bag of interesting gameplay melded with some issues with graphics, animation, and cultural influences that might make it difficult to get into.
The combat and mechanics make for a game that’s easy to enter into and casual to approach, but the UI suffers a little bit in being just a little bit sharp edged and harder to follow from other similar games. That aside, playing the classes feels fluid and natural, and the combo-system takes a lot of the button-mashing out of the game that many MMORPGs suffer from when they have way too many skills to work with at any one time.
The way that players can capture, ride, and use dragons as fighting companions is a real innovation that makes the game feel fun and curious and I really enjoyed that aspect. Other players will probably find it just as amusing—especially after they pick up their first few dragons. Although, it feels like this game needs to grow a little in order to embrace and find a middle-ground with Western audiences before it will be taken seriously.
Sony Online Entertainment is well known for these sorts of games so the audience itself (and thus the player-base) may overcome many of these cultural problem by forming a community that subverts or embraces them as well. So that’s where I expect the game to go. It’s not going to work so well for storytelling or even solo play, people with friends in game and a casual approach will probably have a fairly good time.