R.O.D.E.—aka Rise of Dragonian Era—is a free-to-play fantasy MMORPG developed by NetGame and published by MGame USA, Inc. At first it comes across as a Eastern import MMO due to the almost-Asian mythological elements stirred into the narrative. It’s a nice 3D MMORPG with a lot of elements that make it a workable game to play.

As a game, it presents an odd mixture of high and low points; but really the hallmark of this game is the fact that you can use mounts to fight, that there is aerial combat (yes, dragons) involved in the game and not just in the opening credits, and that it’s got some powerful graphics going for it. As a result, MGame has published an interesting game with a lot of mileage in it.

It launched from its open beta only March and has been growing and patching ever since. As a result, this game is still a little bit in its infancy. It’s coming into the free-to-play market amidst a great deal of competition so it has huge shoes to fill.

Graphics and Sound: Standard MMORPG with a lot of polished elements for a classy game

The rendering engine for RODE has all the necessary marks to make a modern day MMORPG with lush environments, detailed monsters, and an easy-free movement through the world. The first zone is full of interesting NPCs, strange creatures, and even stranger plants (fortunately, the plants don’t fight.)

Each of the different classes have a set of powers fitting their abilities and these have their own animations.

There are six races available listed, but only three per the two factions: Asrai, Shedi, Halfkin, Orial, Sinkong, Kaebi. Both factions get a elflike-willowy race, a large stout race, and a small childlike race—in fact the Azurian kaebi look somewhat like dolls with small goat-like horn buds. Initial character customization is somewhat limited to a set of faces, eyes, and other aspects; but it’s enough to get something of a different look out of the character.

The environments seen in RODE are nicely rendered 3D expanses with a lot of foliage, rocks, backdrops, waterfalls, rivers, and the like; in fact, I rather enjoyed moving about them and getting a look at some of the strange plants. As a result, the game has a very high quality graphics set that puts it well within the bounds of much of the market—and as I mentioned above the animations are fairly well rendered.

Portions of this game are voiced, primarily the one-thing that the NPC happens to say, although it starts to get a little bit weird the fifth time someone tells me that the “power of the blue dragon is on the rise.”

There is some music in this game, although it is on an extremely short loop. As a result, the music is highly thematic and I didn’t forget it each time I played—in fact, I rediscovered I recalled the music when I started to play the game again. Fortunately, it’s not the type of melody that would cause me to mute it on another game (I’ve played a few that had this sort of problem.)

Spells and monsters each have their own requisite animations and sounds that go with them. They seem a little bit limited; but then again I didn’t experience that many spells or skills having only tasted the beginning of the game. It’s obvious that the developers spent some time working out and making sure that players got workable experience of throwing their spells—one thing that I noticed was that final-kills with skills and spells triggered a special animation…

That is to say, creatures would explode into gory gibbs or crash down with electrical arcs slashing out all across their bodies. It’s a detail that I think exemplars the interesting development scheme put into RODE and I came to enjoy watching the final blow—sometimes timing my skills so that the one I wanted to see would be used at the last moment.

Gameplay: Slow building storyline in a game that keeps you on your toes

RODE plays exactly like almost every other MMORPG on the market. There’s an immersive 3D environment, with a hotbar, mana/energy and health. Combat is engaged from the hotbar and blowing down the badguys is a merry chase of button presses and sometimes running away.

There are four classes: Cleric, Mage, Rogue, and Warrior. Each class can handle two different weapons and switch between them seamlessly (with a weapon switch button and/or with skills that use those weapons.) The cleric and the mage both have ranged magic skills; the rogue has a ranged bow-and-arrow skill as well as a daggers for melee; and the warrior fights primarily melee range. The player can choose an autocast skill—from a number of different ones—which enables the player to pay attention to heavier-hitting spells or skills during a fight.

After killing an enemy, they drop a chest that contains their items. Sometimes that chest is also a monster—probably called a mimic in any other game—and they’re often very strong. Since both crafting materials, items to pick up from the ground, and etc. look exactly like monsters with a health bar. Of course, this isn’t the only element that made sure that I was paying attention to what was going on…

There’s also this odd element to the game currently where mixed in with low level monsters is an absurdly leveled creature. Fortunately, for the most part, monsters are not aggressive—but accidentally picking the level 33 out of a group of level 3s can be devastating. This certainly kept me on my toes playing the game. Perhaps this happened to be a bug?

The most hilarious part of early gameplay is that the mounts themselves are combat capable. I discovered this when I received a bird mount to ride across the countryside so that I didn’t need to hoof it place-to-place and I found something I desired to beat up. Turns out, my mount had an attack! So I employed that—basically a chicken-scratch, it was a giant bird—so shred the monster to death and I enjoyed it greatly. However, I’d really like it if I could access my spells/attacks and the mount’s attacks at the same time (within reason) but I’m willing to take the mount.

I believe this is the case because late game also involve aerial mounted-combat. Well, and good to the name, also dragons.

Getting a dragon is a long-hard-arduous journey through the game buts it’s the pinnacle of the gameplay. It also features heavily in the PvP and siege based end game.

Events are also always going on and always being announced—I didn’t look to see if there was a way to turn this off, but event announcements made a ping! sound that interrupted the mood a little bit. However, it told me that there was a lot going on in the game and gave me something to look forward to if I wanted to involve myself in an arena or a global PvP session…

Freemium: Standard cash shop with the usual microtransactions running the show

RODE runs on a microtransaction currency called nCash that is supported by NetGame. It’s purchased at a rate of about $1 USD for 1,000 nCash. This currency can be used to purchase premium in game items from the cash shop—payment options include PayPal, Gocash, Paysafe, VISA/MasterCard, and others.

There’s a few service-related premium items for sale such as a “Memory Fragment” that resets skills so that they can be respent into specializations. There’s even “Seed of Growth” is a basic in-game XP booster that increases experience by 15% for 70 minutes that only runs while the player is logged in. It’s also possible to purchase 30 days of Premium—essentially a sort of subscription that increases XP, provides more vending slots, and greater auction house access—the next tier up is Super Premium.

There’s also an item called the “Pandora Box,” which is basically a grab-bag box that pops out a random item when used…most of the items therein are Premium items, and some of them are high leveled slottable gems called “beads” and a couple other items.

Conclusion: You get to fly a dragon, but you have to stick with the game to get there

Rise of Dragonian Era has a lot of good things going for it. A solid engine, a lot of narrative to work through, a certain amount of voicing, and a few diversions from the standard MMO mechanic.

It’s hampered a little bit, though, but how slow it is to receive a dragon mount and the later game that isn’t immediately accessible to new users. As a result, those who come to the game via the free-to-play market may find a game that differs very little from the rest of the MMO ecology and won’t stay long enough to find the interesting sections.

That’s not to say that the game has little to offer on the gaming front. Although it has a small-ish population, it has some extremely heavy PvP elements, and a lot of skill choices to back that up. The tease of being able to ride a dragon in aerial-combat or to siege castles in events is something that might hook and keep a lot of players in the game.