The free-to-play market is saturated with martial-arts themed MMOs. Sometimes termed 'import' MMOs, these games often have a common theme of classes based on Eastern philosophies and known martial-arts schools (Taoist and Shaolin, for example). Often cited as examples of poor localization in both game content and business philosophy, it's hard for an MMO some of these games to have a positive impact with consumers. But is it possible for one to not only do so, but to stand out from the crowd? Dragon Oath may just be the one.
Of Wuxia and MMOs
Dragon Oath is a free-to-play MMORPG from ChangYou.com, deeply saturated in the aforementioned martial-arts theme known as "Wuxia." A genre of Chinese fiction, Wuxia often encompasses the idea of the noble martial artist, who comes from low birth and does heroic deeds, becoming a legend. It's a perfect story style for an MMORPG, whose storylines typically take a new player from "zero to hero" throughout the course of their adventures. As can be expected, it also works very well in its native country; the game had nearly a million concurrent users before it even launched in the United States and currently has over 75 million registered players worldwide.
At its core, Dragon Oath shares the same skeletal structure as many free-to-play and even pay-to-play MMOs. Characters begin as novices, choose their clan at level 10, and advance through quests and light grinding. Crafting is available but optional, and a complex pet system is offered as part of essential gameplay. Movement is controlled by top-down click-to-move, and players will auto-attack enemies while using skills they've trained and placed on their skill bar. Unlike many of its comparable counterparts, however, Dragon Oath is 2.5D, which offers a little dimensional twist on the typical formula.
Choose Your Kung Fu Wisely
Based on Buddhist cosmology, Dragon Oath allows players to choose one of nine classes based on martial arts styles and philosophies: Assassin, Beggar's Alliance, Lotus Order, Pyromancer, Royalty, Minstrel, Taoist, Voodoo, and Shaolin. Although there is a 'tank' class (Shaolin) and a 'healer' class (Lotus Order), each of the nine classes has a unique make-up of skills, strengths, and weaknesses that give them individuality. The variety within the classes doesn't hurt, however, as each class is completely solo-friendly, as well as welcome in any group. Each class is also given its own class-only mount, class-only quests, and a special class area where players venture to train their skills.
Each class has several schools of learning, known as "books." Each book focuses on a different aspect of the class's offensive and defensive strengths, and each can be leveled up individually by spending money and experience points. Some skill books are focused on PvE and general skills, while other books are focused specially on PvP-useful skills like stuns, silences, and cures. The deeper one goes into a skill book, the more skills open up (about 3-4 each book) and the more powerful they become. With this system, it's completely capable, along with putting points into desired attributes like strength or agility, to build a highly customized character over time.
Disappointingly, character customization is extremely limited to a few basic faces and hair styles at character creation, with more faces and hair styles available from stylists for a handsome fee (surprisingly costing in-game currency, and not cash-shop money). For the most part, characters of each class will look the same as well, as each class gets its own costume set and costumes are obtained more rarely at higher levels. With the amount of players running around in a city at any time, the loss of individuality in appearance is certainly tangible.
A Pet for Every Occasion
Customizing your player experience doesn't stop with your choice of class and skills. Dragon Oath has designed an expansive pet system that offers immediate and strong benefits to players of any class. Several level ranges (1-45, 45-55, 55-65, 65-75, and 75+) of pets have almost a half dozen basic pet choices in them, from the quirky rabbit with an earring and the ever popular blue tigers, to the impressive rhino and unicorn. Each basic pet type is focused on a certain attribute, its own potential skills it can learn, and several variations (skins), ranging from common to extremely rare. Various limited edition pets also appear in the cash shop. Pets can also learn a variety of purchasable skills that suit the player's needs.
Pets don't derive their usefulness from their looks, however. Unlike many MMOs that boast a pet system, pets are more than just vulnerable stat-sticks and status icons. Pets are quite powerful on their own, doing a significant amount of damage and often taking the blows for their masters. An advanced player will do more than simply buy a pet off a player shop in the streets or tame the first pretty thing they see; they will take time to hunt down a rare pet with high stats, breed them with other players' pets, or increase their power through the 'savvy' system, in which a pet absorbs the powers of a wild or young pet of the same type. This very breeding system, along with the fact that pets are tradeable, also makes sure that rare cash shop pets - which cost approximately $10 - can enter the hands of all players eventually.