Vindictus is an MMO you need to know about. When it launched in October 2010, Nexon released into the wild a game which would redefine our expectations of free-to-play and change how we looked at combat. It would also fade into obscurity rarely to be mentioned for the industry-altering trends it helped to begin. Vindictus is an action-MMO in the truest sense. It features jump-in and jump-out gameplay more akin to God of War than World of Warcraft and does so with a sense of style all its own. Even now, with games like TERA and Guild Wars 2 dominating the action sub-genre, it holds up. It's sad to say that the lack of game world and ties to the cash shop bleed the game like a parasite.
It's not often we can say that an MMO redefines expectations. To understand that statement we need to hop in the time machine to late 2010. Back then, World of Warcraft and the subscription model reigned supreme but cracks were beginning to appear in the finish. Most players taking part the discussion seemed unconvinced that free-to-play meant anything more than under-developed grinds, heavy on anime and light on substance. When Vindictus appeared, many looked at it with doubt and disdain. But then something amazing happened – the game released and players were blown away by how beautiful it was. What's more, the still unproven action-combat system turned out to be a lot of fun! Two important concepts were proven then: free-to-play didn't mean low quality and tab-targeting had a worthy competitor.
We could say that Vindictus wasn't the first for either of these things and that would be correct. Tabula Rasa released in 2007 and had action-combat. But the unique combination of free-to-play awe and fantasy-world sword slashing made the game stand out. It fit where fantasy MMOs were headed and tipped the course for games like Guild Wars 2.
Before we look at how the game plays, let me say this: I remain unconvinced that Vindictus is truly an MMORPG, namely for its lack of open world. History has dictated that it fall into our genre, however, so I accede.
Rather than create an avatar all your own, players choose from six named characters. Each has a particular weapon set and fighting style. While this may seem disconcerting, these “characters” are really just gender-locked classes. Fiona, for example, is a moderate speed fighter with a sword and shield. Kai is an archer that changes his fighting style with the form of his bow. The character I chose, Vella, uses twin swords and excels at AOE damage. Following the prologue, you can customize body-type and hair style, though options are disappointingly sparse without shelling out real cash. Even with these options it's hard to shake the feeling that this was a lazy way to identify players on the battlefield. Giant is a Karok, Two-Sword is a Vella, and so on.
The prologue introduces the game's story and penchant for cutscenes. It's all rather cool seeing a spider destroy a bell tower and gnolls viciously slay an entire battalion, but once the prologue is over, storytelling changes to character portraits and text scrolls much like a JRPG. The real purpose of the prologue, however, is to introduce Vindictus' battle mechanics.
Combat is where the game shines. Attacks are delivered with left- and right-mouse clicks which can be chained together to deliver devastating combos. The most basic attack can be used non-stop but other actions are tempered by a stamina gauge, including dodges and blocks. Characters can now jump and attack from the air, an ability that almost felt overpowered due to its low stamina cost. Every character also uses a secondary weapon. In my case it was a spear which could be manually or auto-aimed.
The sense of impact in the game is fantastic. Enemies reel and fly. Spears and arrows stick out from where they're thrown. Even better, environments are destructible and will fall to pieces around you. Many objects can also be thrown, including the dead bodies of your foes. Corpse Bowling is a thing and it's fun.
The world is mask for rooms and lobbies. You begin in a town and are sent from building to building with no interiors. Entering simply means witnessing a still scene while you click through menus and text scrolls. When you're given a combat mission, you're sent to a lobby area made to look like a dock. Dungeons are same-theme settings broken into level ranges but generally play out the same: a few sections of trash mobs and a boss with the occasional hidden path or puzzle. The game earns longevity through plentiful loot drops, multiple difficulty modes, and a genuinely interesting (if occasionally silly) story, but it's no supplement for the open world. As a cooperative RPG, it's no issue. But is it an MMO?
Vindictus is yet another Eastern game which sexualizes its avatars. Even the Hulk-like Karok could pull off a full-page spread with the proper set of fur-trimmed pillows. Interestingly, the game doesn't start off this way, providing starting armors that, while not fit for a circus clown, have a thing or two in common with a burlap sack. Still, Nexon has employed the jiggle-and-sway of MMO boob physics, so the v-lines and mini-skirts are only a matter of time away. Abercrombie guys with OMGLOOKATTHOSEABS make up the other side of things, so at least it's fair. If there's one thing that Vindictus succeeds at, it's making everybody attractive to someone.
The cash shop is pretty innocuous. I did some digging and found this: Until level 70, you don't need to buy anything; the vanity pets, boosters, and enchants are ignorable for in-game options (though AP boosters seem a bit suspect). After that, item enchants become required for upper-level raids. I could live with that – 70 free levels! – if not for the incessant nagging about other people's spending habits. Every time someone opens a treasure box, an alert appears on your screen. I don't care about JoeBobs big box of mystery, Nexon, and I don't need your transaction monitor every ten seconds
Overall, I'm happy that I returned to Vindictus. The game is as fun as ever, but I can't get past the lack of world. As it stands, it's a cooperative brawler with MMO trappings; a good game targeting the wrong audience. There are also a disappointing number of bugs remaining in the game, such as the spider in the prologue appearing in mid-air instead of actually climbing the bell tower. If you haven't tried it, I encourage you to, if only to see the roots of today's combat revolution. Also, fishing. It has that for some reason.
Christopher Coke / Chris is a dedicated MMO player with a passion for smacking face. Something this happens with fish. Too often. Follow Chris on Twitter @GameByNight or at his blog, Game By Night.