South Korean publisher Nexon seems to have found their niche: the wildly profitable world of massively multiplayer online RPGs. However, the most interesting aspect of Nexon's growing library is that all of these titles are free to play ... technically. Though you could enjoy any of Nexon's games without ever spending a cent, players are encouraged to use the "cash shop" system to purchase more advanced gear and items with real world money. Basically, you have the option of grinding for a month to get that sword you want or taking the easy way out and feeding a few bucks into the machine. It's a very interesting concept that more and more game developers are trying out, and after a brief playthrough of Nexon's latest offering, Dragon Nest, it's clear that the pioneers of the "freemium" genre are still in the lead.
As someone who hasn't touched a true MMO since Phantasy Star Online, I was surprisingly entertained by Dragon Nest and may even consider putting in some more of my time (and money) once it rolls out stateside. I jumped into the fray as the Archer, a petite blonde anime girl with a devastating arsenal of ranged skills. Though a Nexon representative was there to fill me in on the various controls, for the most part the game was very easy to pick up and play. The intuitive controls were very impressive, especially in relation to the combat system.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Dragon Nest is its combat system, which--unlike clunky MMOs that only offer a facsimile of actual battle--actually plays like a real action RPG. The game uses a real-time targeting system in battle, meaning players must aim their attacks instead of relying on some sort of auto-assist. This mechanic is combined with a combo system that allows players to juggle multiple enemies and stack the damage count using special abilities. This is potentially the game's greatest asset, with the battles feeling like a very competent action RPG. The freedom offered in both maneuvering characters and aiming attacks puts you in complete control of the action, a dynamic not usually seen in MMOs given the strain it can put on the server. Nexon has shown that they're capable of providing this combat style with the already released Vindictus, and if Dragon Nest promises to be a shinier, happier version of its gritty predecessor, I'm more than ready to sign up.
After clearing the area of enemies and collecting the shiny coins and glowing pieces of loot littered about, I made my way to a gate, where my fellow players and I were able to enter the next area: an ice cave of sorts. There the Nexon representative explained how to access a character's special skills using the row of hotkeys at the top of the keyboard. Once we figured out which button did what, we quickly launched into battle, using a powerful whirlwind kick while the pink-haired sorceress lobbed fireballs from behind. Then the Warrior joined in, putting the combo system into action, and we slammed away at the big baddie in a long string of continuous attacks. It was an awesome time and most importantly, I felt as though I'd been playing a video game, not simply clicking away mindlessly like in many other games in the genre.
Dragon Nest has a lot to like, though there are also some very questionable design decisions to consider. For starters, the level of character customization seems sorely lacking. All classes are tied into the same character model, so all Archers are petite little anime girls in revealing tunics and all Warriors are plucky young boys with over-sized swords. The models are admittedly very well designed, but players seeking a dedicated character generation system will be sorely disappointed. Additionally, all actions in the game deplete your "Fatigue Meter," and once it reaches zero you simply have to stop playing. Fatigue fills once a day, and a special reserve of Fatigue refills weekly to provide some extra playing time. But honestly, an MMO that wants you to play for a reasonable length of time each day instead of playing until personal hygene completely deteriorates? Ludicrous.