Before downloading and playing the game, I didn’t know much about NosTale. I had heard about it a few times over the years. I knew it was a free to play anime MMORPG, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found turned out to be an enjoyable mix of retro nostalgia and solid old school design principles. Developed by Entwell Company in 2006 and published globally by GameForge, it has recently arrived on Steam with a brand new global server.
I chose the new server US-Cylloan GameForge opened up for the Steam launch. The character creation options are rather spartan and I was a little concerned that everyone would be a visual clone. I was wrong about that despite the simple beginnings. So, I chose male, red hair, and the scruffy haircut and Diarmuid was born.
I was dropped into NosVille, one of the main towns in the world and the adventures started. NPCs explained how some of the various systems work such as your class, gear, upgrades, pets, companions, housing, and trade amongst other things. The game has a lot of systems and some depth to each system and as hard as I tried to play I felt like I barely scratched the surface after nearly 30 hours of play time.
The interface is simple, clean, and stays out of the way. The perspective of the game is set at an isometric angle. The angle itself can be adjusted somewhat up or down to give a slight variance in perspective. Holding down the right mouse button allows the player to fully rotate the camera 360 degrees. Movement is 8-directional, think Diablo 2, and I found this to be one of more annoying aspects of the game. It’s clunky and gets in the way.
Characters start out as generic adventurers with basic weapons and skills that represent one of the three archetypes the player must choose at level 20: warrior, archer, and mage. Leveling is slow and a player will have plenty of time to explore their character before being required to make permanent decisions.
Characters have two level types, their job level and a more general character level. As characters level in both, various systems and progression paths will open up for them. Before level 20 I tamed an animal pet that assisted me in combat. At character level 25 I obtained an NPC companion called a “Partner” and around this time I also obtained a fairy companion. Advancing in level opens class options up in the form of a system called “Specialty Cards”. For example, at level 36 my character can go from mage to become a Red Mage, at 46 Holy Mage, 55 Blue Mage, 65 Dark Gunner, and so on though level 80.
These cards change the nature of the class, skills, and elemental focus. There are specialty cards for companions and for other purposes such as raids, events, and role-playing. Specialty Cards are obtained from a few sources including drops, quests, and raid rewards. They have their own progression and upgrade path that affects the power of the character.
My character has a few companions accompanying him on his journey. The first to join was a pet fox I tamed around level 5. Pets have stats and an adventure level for combat. They also have a loyalty value that must be maintained through pet food purchased at an NPC vendor.
At level 25 while working through the main story quest I obtained Bob the Archer who became my partner. Bob is around level 24 now and has gear and a loyalty value as well. Around the time Bob joined my I got my fire fairy. Fire fairy boosts my elemental fire skills and that buff gets stronger as Fire Fairy levels through combat.
Bob and Fox both have health and can die. This means they’re out of action for 3 minutes as a penalty and Foxes loyalty level goes down. A little pet food and makes him happy restoring the loyalty, but the time they’re gone makes mob farming slower and more dangerous so I don’t it lightly. Fire Fairy doesn’t die though. It’s a slotted item that manifests itself as the buff and a visual fairy orbiting my character.
The main story in Act 1 centers around tensions between human mine owners and their kovolt labor force. These story missions and quests are played out through a series of instances called Time-Spaces. These are presented to the players as a kind of portal the dots the landscape.
A Time-Space, abbreviated TS in the game, has a few interesting attributes that set it apart from a run of the mill instance. When first entering, the character lands in a staging area with a single exit. Here preparations can be made and buffs cast while waiting for the group to arrive or before going in solo. When any character exits through the portal to the first room a timer starts and the mission goal is posted on the screen. It must be completed before the timer expires.
The rooms in a TS are laid out on a square grid much like the graph paper used to map dungeons in “pen and paper” game play. The minimap displays them in the upper right corner of the UI to assist with navigation. Each room will have a portal on one or more of the four walls of the room linking it to the adjacent space. Early maps and objectives are simple getting more complex and challenging in tandem with level progression.
A lot of the story line TS are easier but some are quite challenging to clear within the time while completing all objectives and gathering all the chests. This is where grouping up has a great advantage. At one particularly challenging point in the main story line I grouped up with a nice player named Kimo and we worked through those quests and the Time-Space instance together. It would have been much slower and more expensive for me to try and do that on my own. I could have done, but a friendly coop session made the challenge much more manageable. It still wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t frustrating either and it was fun knowing that our cooperation turned that around.
Miniland is the character’s personal private home instance. They can place buildings, host social events, and trade out their pets or partners. I didn’t explore this much because like most of the game systems, decking out the nerd cave isn’t a handout. The game provides a small building for the player to practice with but then it’s up to them to put time and effort into it if they want to develop the plot.
Acting as a social event hub is a primary function for Miniland. There are Specialty Cards and costumes specifically for events within the housing plot. I could see guilds hosting parties and events or raid groups distributing post victory spoils.
The Game World
The world is made up of smallish zones connected to each other by portals. This didn’t detract from the overland experience like I expected. Maybe it’s because mob density is very high, respawn timers are short, and there are players everywhere. The sum of that gives the zones a vibrant dynamic feeling. Being able to meet random people and group up for safety or speed is a convenient feature, especially in a game that has some punishing encounters.
During trips back to NosVille it is common to see groups of two or three players farming mobs and chatting. Once in town there are always people hanging out socializing around certain NPCS, preparing for a group run, or trading in local chat. That sort of social energy is infectious and a great reminder of why community driven MMORPGs are so fun.
There is a vibrant economy in NosTale too. It’s common to see trades going on in chat, but there is also an NPC broker and player shops. It’s a bit surprising to see both systems, but it makes sense and exemplifies a common design thread of choice. Players can pay more for the broker and eschew the hassle of managing a personal shop, or they can set that shop up and keep the posting and commission fees the broker takes. It’s up to the player to decide and most every system in the game has these sorts of tradeoffs that add a refreshing depth to the game play.
NosTale really is free to play. When I logged in I wasn’t bombarded to spend money. I didn’t have to unlock slots or classes or play a scrubby version. It’s all open to play with no restrictions. Character inventory is reasonable and manageable even for a hoarder like me.
When first logging into the game a browser window pops up in Steam Overlay. It shows cash shop offers and has a daily gift, usually a consumable, but it’s as easy to bypass as hitting the escape key to close the Steam Overlay. I do feel the cash shop prices are expensive and there are items with stats that affect both pve and pvp. That coupled with the clunky directional movement knocked this game down a mark when it came time to score it.
There is so much more to the game I didn’t get to explore or have room to explain. Characters can upgrade and merge gear. Gear can be recrafted to fit the partner. There is pvp and raids and seasonal events. This is a game with a lot to offer. It’s free to play and if you’re looking for a classic MMORPG experience with a community then this game is worth checking out.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by PR.