Combat, Glorious Combat
The real enjoyment in Nexon's newest game comes from the thrill of combat. It would be easy to just dismiss it as a mere hack and slash affair, except it's far more interactive than that. You have to dodge opponents' attacks. You can pick up and throw rocks, vases, even petrified dead bodies. You can hoist your enemy by the neck and suplex him into the baddies behind you. Almost everything short of the dungeon walls is breakable and usable in combat. Even your armor itself is breakable (though it does get repaired when you leave the dungeon, no permanent item loss). If you're facing a boss and he whacks you on the head with his massive hammer, there's a good chance it will break, leaving you even more open to damage. Luckily, if you can find time to rest long enough, they have combat armor repair kits which are relatively inexpensive. One of my personal favorite experiences in the game is waiting for a group of enemies to surround me, picking one up so that my back is facing the crowd, and then tossing him into them all and watching them scatter.
The combat is a little hack and slash. You will spend a lot of time and energy beating the hell out of your left click. But the combos you rattle off, the actions you perform, and the skills you use make it all feel far more interesting than just another rogue-alike. I've said previously, but Vindictus plays a little like what would happen if Diablo and God of War had a lovechild. It is an incredibly satisfying experience with boss fights that aren't for the faint of heart. Bobbing and weaving through the game's first boss fight, while chucking spears from a distance and charging in is unlike pretty much any other experience in MMO gaming right now. The downside is that the game's combat does become repetitive, especially during lengthy play-sessions, but we'll cover that later.
If you fall in battle while solo, you can use potion (or Goddess' Grace) to resurrect yourself, but these are few and far between unless you're willing to shell our real cash to buy some from the item shop. Still, if you're a cheap solo player, it's not really that depressing to quit the dungeon and try again. You don't get any XP or AP from quitting (as both are only awarded at the end of a successful run), but as far as death penalties go, there have been worse. If you're in a group however, and have Evie with you she can resurrect you in battle though there's a long timer on that skill. Additionally there are more easily obtained items which allow one player to resurrect another and on the harder missions it would be wise to have plenty with you.
Character advancement is handled a little differently than in most MMOs or RPGs. You still have stats and skills, but instead of just leveling up and finding a trainer to get them, you spend AP points on them and buy/find skill books to learn new ones. AP points can be earned simply by successfully completing missions and the challenges within. Each time you set sail for a new dungeon you can specify a challenge of sorts which if successfully met can net you extra AP and experience. Think of AP as experience points for your character's skills, while regular XP is just for your actual character level.
During your time in Colhen you can visit an NPC to assign your AP towards a new rank of any one of your skills. But you can only have one training at a time. So say I want to put points into Lann's skill "Thousand Needles". I need 100 AP to advance it to the next rank. But then halfway towards getting that next rank I learn a new skill that I'd rather put my points into. I can cancel the learning I've already done on Thousand Needles, but in doing so I'll lose the 50 AP I've already put into it. More often than not, it's probably better to finish one rank before moving to a new skill.
Early in the game you'll also learn a skill called Meditation that's passive and will allow your character to build and acquire AP while you're not logged in via real world time. You can only carry 100 unspent AP at a time, so this is Vindictus' way of urging you to log back in and, dare I say it, possibly spending money on some ship coins or other items. Still, leveling itself is briskly paced, and the AP system works well as a way for you to plan out and differentiate yourself from the endless pack of Lanns, Fionas, and Evies.
This is Crafting?
There is crafting in Vindictus, but it's not exactly going out into the wild, harvesting flowers, and making potions at a bench. Like all things in the game, it revolves around running dungeons. You'll find tons of different loot in Vindictus, and will quickly fill your packs with stuff that might seem useless at first glance. Is it shocking that Nexon offers more bag space via their in-game store? Probably not, and as long as it's convenience items like this, I don't really care. Guys have to make a buck somehow.
Take that stuff you find in the dungeons and head over to the Blacksmith (or clothier, or alchemist, etc.) and you just might find that he or she has something she can make for you. Often the game's best items are made via crafting and not obtained through questing, which leads to you spending even more time running dungeons over and over to get some rare crafting material you need to make that helmet of awesomeness. Some folks might love this, as it's at least more engaging than running around a field hunting for flowers, but for my own two cents I hate being forced to repeat anything more than a few times, so I doubt I'll ever have the game's more epic items in my possession.
Haven't I Done This Before?
If it seems like I'm knocking Vindictus' repetitive nature, that's because I am. I know that most MMOs are akin to Skinner Boxes, making us a press a button to get a treat, but the best ones are often very good at hiding that fact. Vindictus is not. You will run and rerun the game's missions. They do randomize the layout between one of a few different setups, but for the most part if you've one run mission in one tile-set, you've run them all. Some players will notice this less than others, but those who love the game and play it often will find it quickly repetitive and might even go so far as to claw their eyes out at the thought of needing three million gnoll hides for a decent item (that was an obvious exaggeration meant only as a joke). The bulk of the game is the dungeon crawling and the combat that goes with it. Both are exceedingly fun in smaller doses, but become repetitive and boring during longer play sessions. Your mileage, of course, will vary.
If the biggest knock I can give a game is that it can be repetitive during longer play sessions, than Nexon is doing something right. Crafting is more a chore than fun, and the adventurer in me would really love to see a fully explorable world from DevCat studios, but it is what it is. Vindictus may not be for everyone. Fans of traditional world-like MMO experiences or sandbox games won't find much up their alley here. But if you love a good fast-paced dungeon crawl, visceral combat, with slick visuals to boot, Vindictus is easily the highest quality F2P action-MMO on the market. Its storyline is engaging and its presentation is on par with some of the best AAA studio offerings to date. I wouldn't pay a subscription fee for it, but the beauty of it all is that you don't have to.
Taking Vindictus for what it is, a highly action-oriented dungeon romp with really shiny looks and an engrossing narrative, the game sets a new bar for F2P games of all types. Things will be even more interesting as they add new areas, and the final two classes (an Archer and a two-handed bruiser). Definitely recommended.