Much Fun Beneath the Surface
Dragon Nest is the latest MMO from Nexon, the company behind Vindictus, MapleStory and Combat Arms, and here at MMORPG we felt compelled to take a look at this brand new free-to-play (F2P) title. Especially in the wake of a fairly major update earlier in October, Dragon Nest is an MMO very much on the cusp of either critics’ recognition and fan support, or a wave of disappointed players who will never touch the title again. So, the question really is: Which one are you?
I’m going to preface this section with a note: As a female player, one issue I have with Dragon Nest is the chosen attire, body movements and overall portrayal of the female characters within the video game. However, I understand that: A.) Dragon Nest was originally developed for the Korean audience, and subsequently has a very anime and Asian-inspired appearance, and B.) The majority of male player audience – and even a fair percentage of the female community – isn’t likely to get riled-up about objectification and over-sexualizing of female characters; it’s simply par for the course within the gaming industry. It also isn’t exactly something I’m not used to seeing, as a female gamer.
That being said, there is a line, and I feel that Dragon Nest’s designers have crossed it. The only attire available to the female characters is skimpy to say the least, showing either gratuitous amounts of cleavage or a blatant view of the character’s panties, and numerous female NPCs deliberately move in a way to flash one or the other. Even during character creation, if you instruct the female Sorceress character to turn around she proceeds to do just that – by arching her back, sticking her butt towards the camera, and groaning. Since these elements are really only limited to the MMO’s graphics and style, my opinion regarding this issue only influences the Aesthetics score for Dragon Nest.
Dragon Nest’s user interface (UI) and controls have some issues, such as the implementation of mouse-look mode instead of a less frustrating camera design, but after a few hours of play-time I had almost forgotten about this complaint. The sound effects and soundtrack for Dragon Nest aren’t terribly impressive, but they are well within the theme of this MMO and work well with the graphics. The graphics definitely have a cute, anime-style feel to them, but especially during combat I was pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable the special effects can be. Little things, like the way grass and flowers sway when you run past, really enrich the visual side of Dragon Nest. The combat moves for the characters are very over-the-top, which lends to the excitement of the biggest boss challenges. The NPCs and even character avatars themselves are very limited in design options, so you see many recycled in other villages with only minor cosmetic changes.
Combat in Dragon Nest is something of a mixed bag. At times, the NPC monsters attack and react in a perfectly normal (if not entirely awe-inspiring) manner; other times, you can simply duck behind a destroyable bookcase or a convenient wagon to keep the larger melee mobs away from your character. Still, quite a few of the boss fights are a challenge, especially on harder difficulties. One aspect I very much enjoyed about Dragon Nest is the multiple level difficulties for each instance. Depending on your level, party size and healing potion stores, the harder difficulties can open up better loot rewards, more experience, and bonus achievements. Plus, each time you defeat an instance, you garner a final score which determines the quality of loot chests you get to pick from, and how many options there are. Whether you have two wooden chests or four gold ones, you’ve still only got one selection and just a handful of seconds to decide.
Leveling up in Dragon Nest consists of a seemingly never-ending line of quest chains, which take you to various NPCs, instances or require certain materials, but unfortunately the opportunity to just go out and kill random mobs isn’t really present. Sure, you can enter an instance without any quests for that particular dungeon, but it isn’t the same as wandering out into the forest and being attacked by monsters lurking at spawn zones within. However, this is increasingly common in the modern MMO, so Dragon Nest certainly can’t be faulted for using this technique. Call me old fashioned, but part of me misses the days of camping certain spawns in one particular leg of a dungeon, which is entirely overcrowded and impossible to leave without running for your life.
Dragon Nest is currently limited to four class options. (Read more about the 4-class limit below). The level cap increased from 24 to 32 in early October, and numerous new class abilities, dungeons, and costumes were implemented at that time. One thing Dragon Nest isn’t lacking for is a variety of class skills to choose from for each of the four class options. Players get to customize their character, choosing between two specialization paths for each of the classes. For example, Archers can become Acrobats and enhance their melee damage, or choose to focus on bow skills by becoming a Sharpshooter. This certainly lends more flexibility in character customization, but a few extra class options wouldn’t hurt.
Crafting in Dragon Nest runs along the lines of most MMOs: Gather materials, either through drops or destroying other items, and put them together at a forge to enhance weapons and armor, or make new items entirely. There’s also the Crest system, in which players add enhancements to available slots which open up every few levels, giving them total flexibility on what combination of bonuses they desire for that character. You can even make special treats to give to NPCs as a way of earning faction points for different parts of the world.
PvP in Dragon Nest is one aspect of this MMO I was completely unimpressed with. While easy to get to – you literally just load into the PvP section of the game rather than the other two zones – the action is boggled-down with wait times and the same frustrating social interface that exists in the PvE zones. Once you get into the arena and join combat, it can be amusing to battle friends and guild mates or even random other players, but it certainly isn’t something I would say stands-out among better PvP systems available in other MMOs.