Let me get two things out of the way, before we go into the scoring process. One is that I like Dragon’s Prophet. There are a lot of great ideas here that need some more time to marinate, and I believe that overall Runewaker has crafted a game that has far more potential to be something interesting than Runes of Magic ever was. But that doesn’t mean I can excuse its faults. And number two is that “Open Beta” is just a marketing ploy aimed at giving the game a stream of revenue while they continue to refine the product. There’s nothing wrong with this, really.
Development on an MMO is always ongoing. But it does mean that we’re going to treat a game as launched, despite what label they slap on the thing. We reviewed Neverwinter prior to its official launch for this same reason, and we’ll be doing the same when Firefall goes into Open Beta next week. We feel that too many games are hiding behind the moniker of “OBT”, especially when they’re taking money from customers and the experience is as final as launch because there are no planned character wipes or server resets. All that said, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. For those interested you can catch up on parts one, two, and three of my Review in Progress before reading on.
AESTHETICS - 7
The visuals of Dragon’s Prophet are a mixed bag. On one hand, the spell effects, dragon models, and animations in combat are visually impressive. But on the other, textures, running animations, and general herky-jerky nature of monster animations can be really off-putting. Characters and enemies seem to float across the landscape, rather than walk on the ground; there’s no weight to their movement. If you dial up all settings in DP to the top end, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the particle effects, bloom, lighting, and much more. The armors and weapons, even early on, all look suitably “heroic”. But it’ll come crashing back down when you realize that textures are still muddy even on their highest setting.
The UI is fantastic, though, and has all the bells and whistles and quality of life bits and pieces needed. Though there is a supreme lack of bag space even after you purchase additional slots (which we’ll get to), the developers obviously went through the menus with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that little details like selling all your “crap items” with the click of a button was included. Plus, everything can be moved around to fit your preference. If it ever gets the ability to scale its many pieces, it’ll be near perfect. It’s a really robust user interface that covers all the bases well. There just needs to be more explanation on certain things such as the Dragon Stable, the Kindred Compass, and so on.
The sound is up to par. Decent music, decent sound effects, but nothing really memorable. The lacking part is the voice acting, though if you like English-dubbed anime, you might feel right at home.
GAMEPLAY - 6
The first hour or two of Dragon’s Prophet is going to be one of discovery. Combat mechanics, dragon taming, dragon fighting, character progression, the dragon stable...and then, once you’ve obtained a grasp on all of that you’ll quickly realize that Dragon’s Prophet falls apart into a repetitive boring quest grind along a linear path. I mean that literally, too. The actual path from quest hub to quest hub makes one large arch across the zone. It opens a little in later levels, but you have to endure some boring hours to get there. It doesn’t branch, it doesn’t offer room for exploration. You just grind mobs, quests, and public events in one area until you’re high enough level to move onto the next. It’s a perfect example of lazy design, and the game’s largest downfall. If Dragon’s Prophet had arrived a few years ago, it’s likely I’d be more forgiving. But the times have changed, and this sort of questing experience is just too mind numbing to forgive these days.
It’s not all bad though. If you can get past the questing and linear nature of it all, you’ll find some truly fun stuff. Hunting down dragons, taming them, and training them up to be your perfect companions is a blast. Even the mechanic to tame them is kind of fun, as you’ll basically go all Bodacious on each one, and the rarer the beast the more difficult the bucking bronco will be. Combat may seem more complex than it really is at first with oodles of combos to discover and learn, but ultimately it’s just a good bit of button-mashing fun. Left click handles your main attack, right click is context-sensitive, and your hotbar can be filled with Dragon Soul special skills, plus your few class specific skills. But once you learn the latter, you’ve pretty much learned all of the skills you’re going to learn for your class. The rest of your abilities will wind up depending on what dragons you tame and whether they have special skills you can use as well.
Progression in Dragon’s Prophet is a strong point, however. You can assign your stats to cater to your play-style, a la Diablo of old. There’s also a pretty deep Talent Tree for each of the game’s four classes, and several slots for builds that you can switch between. The problem with the game’s classes and progression is twofold though: one issue is that dragons are so important and helpful in combat that players will spend all (or most) of their stat points in Charisma to make the dragons stay around longer and become stronger overall. In my personal opinion, the sooner Runewaker and SOE make this stat do something else, the better it will be for the game in the long run. Right now, classes really only change the weapon and look of your character. I know the game’s theme centers on dragons, but right now that focus detracts from the actual character building and progression system they have in place. Classes don’t perform any traditional roles, as they’re all DPS, but this combined with the charisma importance means everyone’s just one big blob of dragon power.
The upper levels of DP, if you can survive the low level grind, open up a bit more. Housing, while quite expensive, is pretty deep as it stands right now. You can fill your house with just about anything you want, and can be an excuse to level some crafting professions. But it’s going to cost you an insane amount of in-game gold to buy a plot of land and even more to get your house unless you dropped money on the founder’s pack. And right now, other than a gold sink and a place to call your own, there’s not much reason to have a house. Later this month, the dev team will be releasing the Frontier update will allows entire guilds to obtain and fight over fortresses, but for now housing is mostly a money sink. Oh, and one big detail for those hoping it would be at least a place to hang out with friends? Wrong: the zone is open free-for-all PVP, so watch your back!
Dragon’s Prophet’s crafting is pretty deep, and actually useful. Your dragons can collect materials while you’re on or offline, and you’ll really want a lot of potions to survive combat since none of the four classes have healing skills (the only heals you’ll obtain are from dragons). Plus weapons and armor from drops are usually absolutely garbage unless you’re doing a dungeon, so crafting some gear will go a long way. And speaking of the dungeons, one thing I like is that you can enter them solo and receive less rewards (but still complete quests). They’re scaled down for you to be able to complete, but obviously they are far more rewarding if you do them with a group of four.
SOCIAL - 3
But therein lies another issue with Dragon’s Prophet. Not only can pretty much everything be soloed (something that’s a positive in my book, so long as grouping is encouraged and made manageable in other ways), but if you log into the game today you’ll likely find the starter zones void of just about everyone. This is a game that has no cost to enter, and no one’s playing. That should tell you something. Well, not “no one”. DP has its faithful crowd at the top levels, but I’ve not once seen the game’s servers higher than medium since the Open Beta launched. And a small community can still be a solid one. Look at Vanguard, for example. But in Dragon’s Prophet, the lack class roles, ease of soloing, and lack of players means the game quickly becomes very lonely. The only redeeming part is that most of the players I’ve run into so far have been helpful, friendly, and ready to play together. There just needs to be more of them.
POLISH - 4
Enemies run through walls, stairs, and get stuck miles away while still somehow being able to attack you. NPCs that are supposed to sit in a chair, are often stuck in the chair. Combat often feels unresponsive at the worst of times, and fundamental things like mob spacing, respawn timers, and the like are all off base. The localization of the text and UI has come a long way, but most translations are laughable at best. Yes, I know... “Open Beta”. But as I said before, when you’re taking money from customers, that’s no excuse. Dragon’s Prophet needs some more time to cook before it’s truly tasty.
LONGEVITY - 5
There’s a long climb to the top, lots of dungeons to play through, tons of dragons to collect, and some potential long-term PVP fun when the Frontier update hits this month. But to experience all of that, you’ll have to be okay with the mindless questing and slog through the game’s boring content. If you are the sort of player who likes the mob-grind (I know there are plenty who do), you’ll likely find a lot of game to digest here. Most others will quit before they get to the housing and endgame.
INNOVATION - 6
Despite my misgivings, DP is actually a pretty unique title. The dragon system alone is a selling point. The combat, while not perfect, has a lot of potential when you factor in all the dragon skills. It also has a decent housing system as long as you’re OK with always-on PVP, and this sort of freeform progression is rarely seen in MMOs these days. But the systems that do try to be different are not enough to make up for the incredibly dated quest system. Being that most of your time is spent slogging through levels and hoping for something fun at the cap, you’d think Runewaker would have taken more time to make sure the adventure to the top was actually fun.
VALUE - 6
Dragon’s Prophet is free to play... but only to an extent. Sure, you can experience everything in the game without paying a cent. But in doing so, you’ll be severely hampered. I was lucky enough to be given the founder’s pack and the station cash that comes with it, but not everyone will have that luxury. Take away the free stuff I was given, and I’d be constantly emptying my bags, I’d only have four total dragons as opposed to twelve, and I’d have to make a lot of runs back from town when I die because there are three million mobs pulled when I just wanted one. SOE’s fond of calling them convenience items, and truly they are. But what you’ll quickly realize is that they’re so convenient you can’t live without them, so be prepared to spend at least a few bucks to get more bag space and dragon stable slots if you want to stick with the game.
I had such high hopes for Dragon’s Prophet. Everything about it sounds like so much fun on paper. But what we have is a clear case of a game that needs a lot more time in development before it should be taking money from anyone. This shouldn’t be an open beta, and you shouldn’t be able to spend money in Auretia. I understand that SOE and Runewaker need to pay the bills, but both parties would have been far better off letting the game take a little more time in closed beta to take in and react to feedback from its community. Dragon’s Prophet isn’t the worst game I’ve played this year, but it could have been so much better. And that’s what’s really unfortunate.
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.
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