Vindictus might very well be the most bang for your buck you'll see all holiday season and into 2011. It's free to download, free to play, and as long as you show signs of restraint, you'll never have to pay a dime. Usually F2P games offer little to no production value or come off as some cheap knock off of a better game. Vindictus is neither of these things. Developed by Nexon using Valve's Source engine, it's easily the prettiest F2P game around and also one of the most fun. It's not without its drawbacks however, which mainly come in the form of shallowness and repetition: two things which are sort of commonplace with the action-RPG genre. It's a hard game to review really for this site, as Vindictus isn't your normal MMORPG. I have to rate it for what it is, instead of what it's not. And as we'll explore in this review of Nexon's newest title, Vindictus is a whole lot of fun and an extremely satisfying multiplayer action-RPG. For fans of hack-and-slash games, there's a lot to love here.
Characters and Classes
Don't go into Vindictus expecting an open-world MMO experience. That's not what this one's about folks. Like Dungeon Fighter and Maple Story before it, Vindictus is mainly a dungeon-crawling action-RPG affair. You'll start by picking one of three available classes (with two more to come). Lann is a dual-sword wielding speedy DPS class, Fiona is a shield-using defensive class, and Evie is a magic-using support and DPS class. Each one is gender-locked, but you can change the hair, facial expressions, eyes, and such at character creation (as well as assigning a new name for each character). Think of it like picking from the classes in Diablo II and you're on the right track.
For my time with the game, I spent most of my dungeon-crawling as Lann as I just enjoyed the hyper-kinetic nature of his attacks and his combat abilities. But I did play as Fiona and Evie, and all three classes are capable of both solo-ing and bringing something unique to a party. Lann's damage output on single target's is second to none, while Fiona can do an amazing job withstanding boss attacks with her shield, and Evie's support skills are a godsend later on in the game. Basically, no matter your preferred playstyle, you'll never have to worry about being hampered due to class selection.
Right from the very beginning of the game, you'll notice the extra attention to presentation that Nexon and Devcat (developer of Mabinogi) has paid Vindictus. After picking your character and entering the game, you'll be treated to a brief in-game cinematic explaining that a massive spider which was supposed to be protecting your hometown has gone mad and started rampaging up the side of a local cathedral. The town's oracle tries to prevent the militia from just shooting the spider, and your captain agrees to send you and a small force in with her to try and coax the spider down (apparently oracles can talk to nasty homicidal animals).
It's a pretty wicked and satisfying tutorial for the combat of Vindictus. You'll fight your way through a few rooms of bloodthirsty gnolls (who obviously have something to do with the spider's rage), and get a good feel for the basics of Vindictus' visceral combat. Once at the top you'll have to beat up on the spider since it doesn't feel much like chatting, and then after another cinematic you'll finally enter the game world proper. This whole thing takes about ten minutes and is a really engaging way to begin the game, even if the voiceovers throughout are campy and high on cheese.
The Town of Colhen
Most of your down time in Vindictus will be spent in the town of Colhen. Think of it like Dome City in Global Agenda or the subway stations from the ill-fated Hellgate: London. It's here you'll be able to barter and trade with other players, and it's here you'll do all your shopping and all your between-mission stuff. There's a bulletin board that serves as an auction house of sorts, but its interface isn't exactly optimal. My advice is that if you want to find anything, use the search function to look for it by name.
The quests or missions themselves are given by the NPCs stationed in each building. The Inn, Blacksmith, etc. are each privately instanced little spaces while the outer town itself is shared and split up into different channels depending on how many players are in each one. This works well enough at keeping the place not-too-crowded, but can making meeting up with friends a difficult task. Luckily, there's little need to actually meet up in Colhen itself, as all of the adventuring will take place in its own separate instanced dungeon.
The inside of each building in Colhen is not really a physical space, but more of a rendered space that represents where you're at. The inn for instance shows a bunch of beds and a fireplace. But they're not exactly places to explore. Instead when you enter a building, its tenants' portraits will be placed in a little UI window in the lower left, and by clicking each one you can interact with them. Whether it's for crafting items, progressing the story, or adding to your abilities, it all takes place in one of the town's many buildings. Sure it would add to the immersion if these buildings were actual spaces to explore, but this setup is functional, and anyone who has played a game like Nintendo's Fire Emblem series will be right at home.
The Boats and the Dungeons
The other shared instance space that's not one of the dungeons itself is the docks of Colhen. It's here that you'll organize and set up trips to one of the game's many missions. There are currently three docks, and each dock takes players to different dungeons with different missions attached to each. Missions are repeatable, and you will find yourself going back and doing many missions multiple times to meet different completion requirements in order to get more experience, different rewards, crafting items, and of course the wonderful ability points (AP) to upgrade your character. It's also worth noting that you're given a certain amount of coins which you use to pay the ships' toll in order to get to the dungeons. These are reset three times a week, and casual players will largely never run out. Should you need more than what the game allots you for free, that's when the real-money items start to come in: you can simply buy more from the in-game store.
There are bulletin boards at the end of each dungeon's dock, and it's here that you'll select what mission to wish to venture out on, or to join a boat (group) that's leaving for a mission you want to do. It's a process that's fairly straightforward and works relatively well for getting players together quickly and painlessly. Say for example I went to do "Mission of Awesomeness", but don't want to try it solo. I can check the board, and it will show if there are currently any parties getting ready to try that particular mission. If there are, and if they've left it open for more to join (up to four players) I can just click it and be brought to the ship where players are preparing to sail off.
Now when I say, "sail off", I mean that a little facetiously. The boats themselves are basically preparatory stations where you and others in your party can buy last minute supplies like potions or spears and whatnot. Then, once everyone has marked themselves as "ready," you'll watch as the boat starts to sail off and then fades to a loading screen. Once you've completed (or failed, or quit) the mission, you'll be warped back to the docks to rinse and repeat or mill about the town some more. But we'll cover the repetitive nature of the game a little later on. First, let's talk a little about Vindictus' most interesting aspect: combat.