I’ve been playing Runewaker’s Dragon’s Prophet now for about a week. As I said in last week’s “First Impressions” piece, I was given a Founder’s Pack with which to review the game by SOE (the North American publisher of the title). Included in that sucker was a boatload of Station Cash, and supposedly some nice cosmetic armor and special dragons. I say supposedly, because as of this writing I only have the station cash, and none of the other perks. That said, I’m very grateful for the SC, as there are quite a few convenience features in DP locked to real-world money that you’ll probably want to pony up for or risk becoming frustrated. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This week we’ll talk about the basic gameplay, dragon taming, and Station Cash shop.
Dragon’s Prophet is both a game of novelties and innovations... but also severeLY tired mechanics. On one hand, its dragon taming and training system is the stuff of RPG greatness with a slant of Pokemon. Its free-form character progression system is also a welcome addition to the genre’s tired basic “skill trees”. But you’ll only really come to appreciate either if you can get over the title’s very basic questing and overly-crowded mob spawns. You might start the game with a cheesy but welcome cinematic, but then DP quickly becomes an adventure of collect this and kill that. In oh so many ways, it reminds me of TERA. The combat is redeeming enough to keep me going, and in DP’s case so is the progression of my Ranger and my many dragons. But if it weren’t for those systems, I’d have rolled my eyes and quit already.
It’s also a blessing that combat is fun and allows your character to take on multiple mobs, because the questing areas are so jam-packed with aimless mobs and static spawns that you’ll need to be able to wade through 3-5 at a time. By the time you get your first flying mount around your mid-teens, you’ll be thankful you can stay out of harm's way much easier when just trying to get from point A to point B.
Then there’s the fact that because all of my skills can hit in a cone in front of me, I often find myself aggro-ing unwanted additional combatants. This is fun, at first, because you really feel pretty powerful right out of the gate. But then you start to get annoyed when you just wanted to finish a quest requirement and find yourself accidentally training a ton of monsters on your poor collection-trodden hero. The good news is that this has a tendency to get you a lot of loot and experience points rather quickly. So maybe Runewaker’s crazy like a fox?
The dragon taming and subsequent training of your dragons is a highlight of the game, but also a little disappointing in its own right so far. SOE and Runewaker may be telling the truth when they say there are hundreds of dragons in the game, but so far though I’ve seen different colored variations I’ve only stumbled on four different dragon-types: big tanky bruisers, little alligator-like creatures, bat-winged gliders, and the more traditional flying dragon you see me riding above. I know there are more, but I’m betting by the time I hit the cap the count will be a few dozen or so base models with variations in color and so forth.
Luckily, though the actual difference between all these dragons in terms of art assets isn’t too great, the taming and training of each makes up for that shortfall. Each time you tame a dragon (a process of keeping a reticle in a circle with arrow keys while said dragon tries to buck you off... like a dragon rodeo), it is assigned random stats, skills, and so forth. Some will benefit that dragon’s ability to fight, or to gather materials, or even some will have special dragon soul skills that can be used by you the tamer. In the screen above, you can see four such special skills and each one comes in handy and uses the yellow Dragon Soul bar which recharges slowly.
You can stable any of your dragons at the Lair Manager NPCs scattered through towns and send them off to collect materials, train up their skills, and so much more. It makes sense to log off in a town when you know you’re going to be away for a bit because you can take all of your dragons and train them up while you’re gone. I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving a few in the stable to collect materials at all times for me, while some others will stay out and adventure with me: only going into the stable to train up skills and their own stat points when I know I’ll be logged out for a while. You can only have a total of 12 dragons at any one time though (six in the stable, six active), and additional slots cost a buck or so to unlock per character.
You can also increase your dragons’ stats and lengthen the amount of time they’re able to fight before needing a rest by boosting your charisma attribute. Oh, that’s right: Dragon’s Prophet is one of the few recent MMORPGs that allows you to decide where your attribute points are funneled. Want to focus on physical damage and crit? Spend your attributes on strength, ferocity, and focus. Want to be a better tamer? Spend them on charisma. More HP? Spend ‘em on constitution. You get three per level, and can re-spec for free until level 15. After that, each re-spec will cost you $3.75. But we’ll talk more about the SC store in a bit.
After level 15 you’ll also unlock your Mastery: a fancy word for Dragon’s Prophet talent trees. Only in this case, you can unlock and save four unique builds (with station cash after the 1st freebie, of course) that effectively change what kind of role you’ll fulfill. Some masteries lead to you taking more damage, others focus on dragon taming, while others might focus on dealing more damage, and plenty of them are all new skills that can only be obtained through masteries. And like any good skill tree, you can only get so many points and only master a handful of the skills available to you. So there will likely be plenty of reason to unlock at least one additional Mastery slot (at the cost of about $3).
And that, lastly for this week, brings us to the cash shop. It’s hard to look at this objectively when we’re given free fake money to spend, but I’m confident that most gamers coming from say... Neverwinter, will actually nod agreeably at the prices in Dragon’s Prophet’s cash shop. Pennies can be used to fast travel to specific locations you set, including your whole party (though with the game’s own travel system this will most likely only come in handy for those who want to fast travel to a dungeon I’d wager). Fifty cents can be spent per instant resurrect, or you’ll have to respawn at the nearest town to get back into action. You can buy suits of cosmetic armor for the higher end 1375 SC (or $13.75), but that’s only if you’re the vain sort (I am). Most everything is a dollar or less, and none of it is really something you need to play the game. It all just makes the experience more enjoyable through making things more convenient.
If there’s one thing in the store I’m not fond of it’s the armor repair hammers that can be bought with SC. These will repair your gear without reducing the item’s durability. EDIT: I redacted that last bit, because upon further exploration and with the help of our wonderful readers, I was able to dig into the Soulcast Artisan UI (in towns) and find that you can actually increase durability and fully repair items with in-game currency. The question then becomes... why include these repair hammers at all? Unless of course you're hoping that players such as myself never find these features and instead buy the hammers. Hmm... additionally, another move that screams too costly is that all these unlocks of inventory space, dragon slots, and so forth are only per character. So you will have to spend a lot of money of you want the same level of freedom on all of your alts.
Overall, I’m still enjoying my time in Dragon’s Prophet for the most part. The questing is pretty much on par with just about any of your recent WoW clones, and will be familiar to anyone. But the systems of the dragon taming, the character progression, and dragon training are keeping me going (along with the fast-paced combat). But the general missing layer of polish (mobs and dragons getting stuck in walls, attacking you from there, etc.) and the sheer denseness of enemies in some places make for a frustrating experience at times. I also worry that the SC purchase of an “Instant Rez” at your death location could be too intentional a cash grab... I’ve often used it when I don’t want to run back deep into enemy territory because the enemies are too densely populated. Perhaps a better system would be to give one for free on an hour cooldown, and offer additional between that hour cooldown for the SC.
I’m also worried for the game’s longevity, but one of the first big new features to be added in coming weeks is the Frontier System that pits players and guilds against each other while building keeps and strongholds, and I’m curious about what housing involves and if it will hold my attention. If you were to ask me now whether I’d recommend picking up Dragon’s Prophet I’d likely say: “Come for the dragons and the action, but ignore the quest text.” It feels like one of the more robust and interesting F2P imports in recent years, but we’ll see if I can add more reasons to play in the weeks to come.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.