Comic Con Preview
Dragonica Online is an upcoming MMO brought to the American market by THQ and ICE Entertainment. Known as Dream Dragon in China, Dragonica Online is currently under localization and in closed beta. It is a Side-Scrolling, Fantasy Action, Free to Play game targeted at 13 to 17 year olds. Many side-scrollers have shallow foregrounds and backgrounds where a player can move, but Dragonica makes innovative use of jump pads to travel between levels and islands in the foreground and background in their 3-D map. In Port of Winds - which is the first large town a player reaches, everything you can see, you can get to.
System requirements are low and as you may expect, graphics are not the sharpest. However, the style and colors are soft and pleasing, a move away from the high contrast, high saturation colors of many games on the market, almost pastel in hue. The art style leans towards cute and humorous. Pirate shark boys replete with bandana and earrings, Racoons toting mucking big guns, Teddy Bears with spiked collars and sharp teeth, walking evil mutant Shrooms can all be found in Dragonica and more.
The town is not populated like full 3-D MMOs with NPCs walking around, nor can you open doors and enter buildings but visual interest is created by architecture details and animated objects. Fountains spout water, windmills turn and Dragon portals sparkle. These Dragon portals also impart history and provides quests in the overarching storyline.
The usual hallmarks of MMOs are present in Dragonica. Buying and selling is accomplished by opening a shop, and anyone can cook; all you need are the recipe scrolls and the ingredients. Eating your results (with a click of the mouse) imparts different types of skill boosts. I tried to see if stats would stack, but we only had ingredients for an Agility boost, not the Stamina boost. Enchanting is performed by an NPC vendor and that enhances weapons and equipment with the boost gems you find in the world - basically a socketing system, as higher level gear can be enchanted a number of times. Items can also be disenchanted by the vendor and with a little luck, that sword your mage cannot use may yield a nice little boost gem for your other equipment. Soulcrafting is a different type of crafting that enhances your character's base stats such as HP or MP, and this is done also at a vendor.
As a Free to Play game, Dragonica monetizes by micro-transactions. Items such as multi-packs of HP and Mana potions can be purchased as well XP increment scrolls, luck scrolls for better gold drops, (remember Diablo?) fluff equipment items like fanciful wings and other convenience items such as teleport scrolls.
Players in Dragonica will find the usual four generic fantasy classes; Warrior, Mage, Archer & Thief. At level 20, players choose a specialization, and at further levels, attain new titles and skills. In a mixture of combat and questing, players have 60 levels to attain at launch, unlocking hidden skills and combos with amusing animation effects. I had hands on play with a high level archer, firing off what looked like stinger missiles, deploying robot tanks and an AE nuke with fiery destruction raining from above while my character stood and saluted.
PvP is done out of the game world, but accessible via the game's UI once players reach level 20. Players are taken to a lobby where they can create or join games, selecting and setting Maps, Game Mode, Type, Level, Time Limit and Rounds. Also available are options to place Handicaps, Allow item usage from inventory and the ability to block the Dash-Jump skill which is often employed in the game world to make a quick escape.
An interesting feature in Dragonica is their Companion system. Players can have their characters of the opposite gender become a couple. While they play together, they attain some stat boosts and can teleport to each other. Amusingly enough, you can do one day trials to find out what advantages there are of being a couple and try the system out. There is even a matchmaking system for you to see if there are other players of your level out there looking for a match!
Another feature of Dragonica that I liked is the comprehensive information provided when you mouse-over an item or a skill. Very nice.
In game, I found most players hanging out at the portals for the Hero Quest Mode. These are tougher missions where parties are recommended. The maximum number in a group in Dragonica is four members and the guild function is fully supported. The greater the risk, the higher the reward and the quests are repeatable.
Beta, the launch and the future
Dragonica Online just completed its closed beta and open beta is due in August with a launch in October, 2009. It is a fully fledged game that is being localized for the North American market, so gamers can expect that new features will roll in quickly after launch. A pet system is currently in development and housing and a marriage system is down the line after that.
I've always enjoyed a touch of humor in my gaming and I will definitely be trying Dragonica Online when it enters beta. I enjoyed soloing the Hero Quests with a high level Archer even if I died a few times, gathering mobs, then firing off nukes and deploying weapons of mass destruction before finishing them off with regular attacks. So much so that the Devs quipped "I know what class you are going to make in game!"