This weekend I finally found the time to check out Dragon Nest, a game that’s been eluding my radar successfully until I encountered some screenshots over at Bhagpuss. What was initially a very mixed bag of feelings ended in 8 hours of playtime counting today and yesterday, trying out different classes and spending a wee bit of cash on the ingame shop.
Dragon Nest was released 2010 in Korea but took another three years to come to Europe. That makes me feel a little less late to the party. My initial reaction to this free-to-play hub/lobby-based MMO (think Vindictus or GW) was rather critical: heavily instanced content and a cross-hair action combat, somewhat similar to Tera, that takes some time adjusting to. The translation seems rather poor in places, with one of the major story NPCs referring to my female character as “he” already in the introductionary questline.
I spent the first 10 levels playing a sorceress and that almost made me quit for good. I did not enjoy the controls at all, maybe the ranged glass cannon just doesn’t lend itself so well to the intended playstyle or I was doing it wrong. Luckily, I tried the hunter and blade dancer from there and that last one made a world of difference. The fast-paced smashy melee combat is loads of fun once you got the hang out of combos (which happens quickly enough). Combat feedback is very satisfying on the blade dancer and so I decided to stick to her. The whole active combat approach against multiple packs of foes reminds me of Mini Ninjas on XBOX 360 (or PC), a game I have fond memories of.
What impressed me from the beginning were graphics. I love the picturesque anime style of Dragon Nest, which looks like a successful fusion between Lime Odyssey and Fable. The game is cute, colorful and hilarious in places but it has its creepy moments too (yikes!). I won’t lie though, I miss a persistent world like crazy – at the same time, all the quest-based dungeon/instance content (which comes in different difficulty levels) is rather quick and rewarding, meaning it lends itself particularly well to casual play. Your standard MMO furniture is present and easily navigated by genre veterans: skill trees and trainers, quest and achievements logs, bank and auction house, mounts and minipets etc. What is somewhat bewildering at first are all the different currencies and marks that have started dropping after level 10 but since I have no lofty goals for Dragon Nest, I feel safe to ignore them.
As far as the free-to-play factor goes, Dragon Nest is no more intrusive than Allods or LOTRO, in fact I find it a little less annoying. There’s a banner on top of your screen talking about promotions and stuff like extra bag or bank space will need to be purchased, however I’ve not come across any game-breaking or particularly vexing features or money-gates thus far. What is very lackluster is character customization at the initial character screen; there’s little to choose from for eye-colors and hairstyles, no body types and the classes are gender-locked, yes really! That said, there’s more variety on offer on the shop including costumes, which come as “rental” or permanent purchases. I have never encountered an MMO that makes you pay real currency to rent costumes for 7-30 days but there you go. It ain’t cheap either.
Being a sucker for individual looks I ended up spending a few bucks on some unique class pieces (which I am keeping!) and also some extra bag space for which I received temporary rookie discount. I’ve decided to spend some more time with Dragon Nest in the future (I hear there are expansions), so I’d rather not keep looking at a half-naked character that looks just like everybody else. Cartoony or not, this MMO is still very Asian at its core which means a lot of silly gear and emotes for the ladies. I am kinda cool with my Blade Dancer now in her oriental outfit. I called her Symmetra.
Dragon Nest first look verdict: Better than expected and a nice addition to my standard MMO menu. I’ll be back!