Dragon Nest Review
Though I've always been interested in MMOs like World of Warcraft, there's been a variety of factors keeping me away from the so-called "digital crack." For starters, the price of admission has been historically high, many games requiring players to first purchase the game at full retail price, then sign up for a paid monthly subscription. Then there's the fact that having so many players forces developers to strip-down gameplay elements so as to reduce server strain, with plodding barely-interactive combat a common offender. And personally, my tastes lean decidedly to the Far East, with the Western fantasy/sci-fi/superhero flavor of most popular MMOs just not my particular cup of (oolong) tea.
And now, as if the perfect answer to my complaints, comes Dragon Nest.
Cute anime characters beating up on monsters? Sign me up!
Korean game-makers Nexon have been the top dogs of the free-to-play market for a while now, with Dragon Nest being their latest offering. The model is simple, the basic game is freely accessible to all, getting players hooked on the game, then taunting them with premium gear and accessories in the "cash shop." With many other popular MMOs now making the jump to free-to-play (even genre-dominator World of Warcraft now lets players below level 20 play for free), Nexon faces some stiff competition. Though Dragon Nest's mixture of crisp anime-style graphics and addictive dungeon-crawling action seems to ensure that this title will quite the breadwinner.
The first thing one notices about Dragon Nest is its art style, the bright colorful storybook world a stark contrast to grittier mature titles such as WoW or Nexon's own Vindictus. The graphics draw obviously from the world of Japanese animation, with the game's cute semi-deformed characters and monsters not too dissimilar to those of Nexon's most famous offering, Maple Story.
Even the monsters are kind of cute.
Calling Dragon Nest "Maple Story 3D" really isn't too far off the mark, and fans of that particular MMO's frantic brawling action will be likely feel at home here. As mentioned, the MMO genre typically features mundane slow-paced combat, requiring mindlessly-repetitive keystroke actions, as if one is role-playing a computer subroutine. Dragon Nest is honestly the first MMO I've played which offers a true real-time battle system, one that encourages players to smartly chain normal and special attacks into giant combos, while also deftly maneuvering out of the way of enemy attacks. The battles are an honest thrill compared to the grind of other titles, and over the course of my playthough I never got tired of beating up on baddies, especially given the insane fun of smashing through the game's massive packs of enemies.
300 goblins you say? Bring em' on!
This level of action would be impossible for the the 40-man guild characteristic of other MMOs (at least not without setting the server room on fire), which is why Dragon Nest restricts parties to four-man instances. Though it's honestly disappointing to know that the game is unable to offer a truly epic raid experience, it's a fair enough trade-off. The party of four is perfectly sized for the game's small dungeons, which though often a bit linear, provide plenty of monster-smashing action, as well as a healthy collection of loot. In addition to searching out the standard suite of weapons and armor, players can also hunt for item-enhancing crystals, stat-boosting crests, spellbooks for learning new skills, as well as special "gift" items used to win the favor of NPCs. And players will also want to keep a dimensional box key on them at all times, in the rare event that the magic dimension-travelling bunny shows up at the dungeon end, offering his locked mystery box crammed full of super rare items to lucky adventurers.
If you see this guy, you've just won the Dragon Nest lottery.
Though the standard dungeon-crawling aspect of Dragon Nest is great fun, the game's PVP mode stands out as perhaps its most exciting feature. The frantic action-orientated gameplay lends itself perfectly to these arena battles, and I found that the arena combat really rewarded tactical skill as opposed to sheer power, and I found myself easily decimating opponents many levels ahead of me simply because I was better at dodging attacks, able to punishing players who failed to connect with their poorly-timed special moves. Some of these battles also feature beacons which occasionally drop various health and MP potions throughout the match, which though a bit swingy in terms of balance, were pretty fun to fight over, and contribute to the arcade feel of the game. Again, the four-man instance limit is a disappointment, as the incredibly addicting combat would lend itself perfectly to a four-on-four battle frenzy. Still, the PVP is definitely one of the game's most shining features, and with a full ranking system apparently on the way, plenty will soon be competing for the top of the leaderboards.
Beat up your friends!
The game's biggest problem seems to be the lack of character customization options, making it very hard to distinguish oneself from the pack. The game offers just four character classes (Warrior, Archer, Sorceress and Cleric), with each class featuring a solitary gender-locked character model. The initial customization options are similarly limited, with little more than a handful of hair-styles and eye-colors to sate players. This is obviously intended by Nexon, who sell a variety of stat-boosting costumes and cosmetic changes in the cash shop (at an additional premium if you'd like the items permanently). Nexon was kind enough to hook me up with 30,000NX (the equivalent of thirty American dollars) for a spending spree, which was just about enough to purchase a full outfit. But even then, my character looked much like every other archer on the server, albeit with nicer clothes and a spiffy pair of angel wings.
Note the warriors in the background. Can you honestly tell them apart?
Additionally, some of the items for purchase seem a bit devious. For instance, players start with a rather limited number of inventory slots, and even less room in the game's storage box. So for those hoping to stockpile the game's many enhancement crystals and other materials, purchasing extra storage is a must. Again, the core game is completely free which makes these sorts of shenanigans more than fair, but it also seems that to truly enjoy the game players will eventually have to part with some cash.
In short, Dragon Nest provides exactly what cheap, arcade-loving anime fans like myself have been looking for. Thought there's a few things that keep this game from its full potential, Dragon Nest is still a downright thrill, and definitely a title I recommend highly. I'd say it's a must-buy... but hey, it's free!