Once, in a far off land, the Gods created a world where mankind and dragons lived in peace. Man inhabited the earth and dragons the air. Man was not content though and sought to rule the dragons, drawing them into conflict. The dragons had the upper hand until man managed to harness the power of the elements and were able to defeat them. The dragons withdrew for a realm of their own, except for one who lusted after the power of the five elements for his own, and drawing upon the forces of evil, began a new war. It took the united force of five heroes who arose to claim each element and the other dragons to defeat the forces of evil and imprison this one rogue dragon. For a time.
That's the backstory to Dragonica Online, a fast-paced, side-scrolling game with 3-D elements, quests, crafting, grouping, guilds, friends, PvP, and an in-game mail system with housing yet to come. All the main hallmarks of any full featured MMO in a free to play game.
Dragonica has managed to create a game that is not only fast paced but has one of the lowest learning curves in MMOs that I have played. A keyboard based game which can be easily customized to game pad play, the only issues I had as an MMO player was getting used to movement using the arrow keys and skills and attacks with the left hand. Luckily, the keys were also easily re-mapped.
The interface is straight forward and well laid out, and all information and actions accessible with a simple right or left click of the mouse. Mousing over any object will provide stats and information. The simple tutorial walks you through all your movements and at key moments, you will get pop-ups which show you further features.
There are three aspects to crafting in the game. Cooking is accessed via recipes that drop from the appropriate creature. Lamb chops from sheep for example. Mousing over the recipe tells you what it makes and the stat boost it provides when consumed, and clicking on the recipe opens up a window which shows you the ingredients required and whether you have them in your inventory. Enchanting and Soulcrafting are both done at an NPC, and involves drops from monsters you hunt and a bit of luck.
With a little bit of getting used to the keyboard, combat was a fast button mashing fest, using skill combos. For example, the first skill the mage receives is an AE which blasts creatures up and stuns them. They lay down for a second or two. That can be combined with an air attack or a "re-launch" and then an air attack. As a side-scroller, despite some availability of 3-D back and forth movement and jump pads that get players into the background and foreground on the maps, combat is directional. Horizontal as well as diagonally upward, but not forward and backward although you can move in those directions. This can have some interesting positional problems in multiple enemy scenarios and Boss missions when there are many other players on screen. It may seem as if it will be easy to get away from mobs as they have very short leashes in side-scrollers. However, successful mob attacks are often knock down and when you have multiples - and you usually do - your HP can be reduced to nil very quickly.
Quests are mainly kill quests and provide your basic equipment in the beginning before you begin to get drops from higher level creatures. The "Gift Box" one sees in many Asian games is not missing in Dragonica. This is the quest reward that can be opened multiple times. It provides level appropriate items when opened, then transforms into a higher level box which can only be opened at that level or higher. There is a separate "Mission" system in game and these are closer in concept to Battlegrounds where you expect to enter as a group to take out a crazy number of mobs and bosses.
Loot and drops include potions and critter meats that can be used in recipes, some that can be consumed, providing HP or MP. All items are graphically represented (and sparkly) and players have to roll over them to automatically pick them up. Copper, Silver and Gold automatically convert in your inventory and similar items stack. Equipment also drops, especially from boss mobs. They are not unusual drops, but uncommon from other mobs. Where the wolf kept those warrior pauldrons I cannot begin to guess.
PvP is accessible once your avatar reaches level 10 and this is a separate system that is accessed from within the game, but takes you to a lobby where you can participate in different PvP matches and maps. There aren't any in-game arenas or PvP areas.
The four generic fantasy class are present - the warrior, thief, mage and archer - each evolving into different forms. A fifth is expected - given the backstory, but no news is available about that as yet. After level 10, players begin to lose XP when they die. Players have two choices: resurrect in town, or if they have items, may resurrect in the field. Resurrection in town conveys full HP and MP and in the field, potions have to be used to restore HP and MP unless a premium resurrection item is used.
Graphics and Sound
Dragonica is all about cute, funny and fun. The player avatars are chibi-style with big heads, large eyes and egg shaped bodies. The graphics are soft but pleasing and combat animations are diverse. Emoticons are exactly that, animated graphics that appear above your avatar's head, but each class actually has different running and dashing and jumping animations with the warrior doing mid-air summersaults and the mage summons cannons. Player customization includes space suits and chicken hats to be bought. NPCs are also over the top in cuteness with Raccoon plumbers (yes, there is a quest to collect their plungers), shark boy pirates with bandanas and earrings and biker teddy bears.
Sound is nothing to write home about but this is not unexpected in free to play games. There's some combat sound, town music and appropriate grunts from avatars and NPCs alike. Enough to know that it is there.
Unlike many of the forerunners, many free to play MMOs these days only sell fluff and convenience items. No uber game shifting weapons and equipment may be found in the cash shop but fluff items like chicken hats, watermelon helmets, space suits and handbags and toilet paper bows. Consumables include town portal scrolls, teleport scrolls to take you to a map you've been to before, health and mana potions and resurrection feathers that restore full XP, HP and MP. Enchantment insurance can also be bought to prevent a weapon or piece of gear of being wrecked instead of enhanced. The game provides you with your first taste of these convenience items such as the Phoenix feather for field resurrection and Safety Foam that makes you invulnerable to attack for a time, allowing you to run through a dangerous area unscathed.
In-game shops and mail system
Players have to be online and in a town to open a shop. The free system gives you five slots but licenses can be purchased from the Cash Shop for offline time and increased selling slots. The mail system allows you to send messages, cash and items to other avatars, including your own Alts.
Social and Community
Surprisingly, the game requires you to group rather early. Despite the over the top combat and the ability to kill many, many creatures quickly, I didn't find myself racing through the lower levels, until I started grouping with a different character. The first mission is given to you at a low level and you will require help to finish it. Grouping also led to friendships and friendships give you additional friendship points for each mob you kill while grouped, that Hermit Alvin will gladly convert into XP for you. Another nice thing about having friends is the ability to group up and warp to them.
The game also provides a matchmaking system for players who wish to group and actually "matchmaking" isn't far from the truth as it also has a Couple system which provides additional benefits to couples. To participate, you have to have avatars of opposite genders. If you decide to "de-couple" there are penalties as well. To assist this process, players can participate in short couple trials before deciding to take the big step. Like friendships, when couples are logged in at the same time, they both experience benefits and even more if they are grouped.
I've found that the grouping requirement has produced sociable players looking to group and make friends. "Let me help you," a random stranger told me, and before the hour was up, we had added each other as friends and were gaining friendship points as well. "You're okay," he told me and we moaned about school starting soon and cutting into our play time or at least, he did and I commiserated without letting on that I was reviewing the game and on my third class... and I found out that level 12s could group with level 1s. I never made five levels quite that fast.
Yet to Come
Player Housing and the Pet system. The Real Estate Agent is in game as is a shiny banner over a house, but inaccessible. The pet system has been announced, and we know eggs are tradable but pets are not.
It's cute, it's cuddly, it has sharp teeth. Dragonica is surprisingly fun if you enjoy fast paced side-scrollers and if you enjoy humor in your games. It's hard to identify with your avatar when your avatar has a body like an egg and you won't find immersion in Dragonica when you are blasting mobs with cannons and stinger missiles. The combat is fast paced with little down time. Mob respawn is fast and players can be easily overwhelmed if they are not careful, so there is challenge involved, especially with positioning since attacks are directional. It is very easy to learn and pick up and with it's appealing graphics, I can easily see kids taking to the game.
One bit of praise I must toss out. Bravo THQ:Ice for the excellent localization effort. The grammar is good, the language flows, the many spelling errors that we've come to expect in Asian games localized for the American market are not evident and there definitely isn't any "Engrish as she is spoke" to be found in Dragonica Online.