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  • Birthday:November 25,1980
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So begin the travails of Musashisakai, Archer in the “world’s fastest” action MMO. Such is the tagline for Nexon’s offering, released in 2011 in North America. I can see where the appeal lies. The game has shades of Final Fantasy VI, as well as Golden Axe, in an updated setting. It is a world of dodging, aiming, powerups, bosses, and 17 hit combos. Here, the word “world” applies less to a virtual plane and more to a virtual rabbit warren; in the same vein as Guild Wars, everything outside of the towns are instanced, only here the instances are known as “fields” that are further divided into “dungeons”. These instances are relatively linear and path-like. The effect is similar to how I would imagine hiking the Colorado trail to be, if the Colorado trail were littered with ferocious poochums.


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This is not to detract from the overall effect. The game’s environments are atmospheric, and provide plenty of storytelling along the way.


The story in the early game centers around a princess-rescue scenario, where I had to go after a prophetess by the name of Rose who finds herself in progressively worse situations. Bits of the world are revealed as tangential plot twists along this primary arc: factions like the Ancients, the Dragon Cultists, as well as entities such as The Goddess and The Black Knight serve to drive the world’s history before the player’s path. The story contained a surprisingly dark tone compared to the doll-like appearance of the characters, involving plot devices such as mind control or properly laying the dead to rest. Rose’s love interest Timothy is killed off fairly early on, leaving her in the clutches of the Black Knight. Most of the story I uncovered was geared toward pursuing this Black Knight across different regions with the help of NPCs of questionable alignment.


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Rose isn't having a good day


The gameplay itself is a lot of fun, and this might be considered what the game is really about, after all. Approaching a group of enemies and using crowd-control skills, following up with evasions, performing knockdown attacks and juggles were all immensely satisfying. I never had to worry too much about my health or mana until some of the later boss battles I encountered. These would eventually test my ability to stay alive; during a couple encounters I was frantically opening my inventory screen and quaffing health regeneration potions, and one boss actually set me on fire just before I killed him resulting in a pyrrhic victory.


The skills themselves are obtained through a skill tree that grows and becomes broader as levels increase. Skills that are learned early on can be strengthened, and new ones unlocked. At level 15 a sub-class is opened up, which I understand can become even more specialized further down the road. Learning new skills must be done with a trainer NPC, and it costs copper, silver, and gold. So far, I’ve never run into problems with cash or points to spend on skills. The gear treadmill is here; after clearing a dungeon it was fun to go through all the loot I had collected, comparing it to what I had currently equipped and selling what was unneeded to the local vendor. It plays a subtle trick on the mind to see that that Etude longbow you just picked up has a broader damage range and higher average damage than the crossbow you currently have equipped.


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Dragon Nest is a Free To Play title: a model pioneered by Dungeons and Dragons Online that has virtually become an industry standard. Free To Play (F2P) can be extremely attractive because there is almost no barrier to entry. The downside of the F2P model is the dreaded cash shop paywall, often leading to the pejorative criticism “Pay To Win!”


Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case here. I did spot a ubiquitous purple camel across a couple towns, loaded high with items just waiting to be purchased with real world currency, but there was never any real incentive for me to consider these outside mere curiosity. The game progressed smoothly, and if there was a paywall it was all but invisible to me.


Dragon Nest does suffer some from the ‘playing alone together’ syndrome. After venturing out of the towns and into the fields, one has a selection of dungeons to choose from. None of the dungeons required more than one player to clear, and the going was never that difficult except for one or two boss encounters. The only time I experienced a community feel was in the towns where there were other players darting to and fro, off to settle various appointments. Most of these seemed too bothered to interact with me, let alone group. I was given a reasonable palette of social gestures, but as in most MMOs these tend to come off as sudden and awkward. That is not a criticism leveled at this game in particular, but more of a comment on present day technology and avatar design. Building a community seems to be one of the perennial conundrums MMO designers run into; is the best way to encourage in-game interaction to provide reasonable downtime, challenging objectives, or tools to help find others faster? Dragon Nest doesn’t seem too concerned about addressing this, preferring to focus on what it does best: fast-paced runs through dizzying labyrinths.


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The classes in Dragon Nest are gender locked; want to play an archer? You are by definition female. Cleric? Male. This doesn’t bother me the way it may some; there are plenty of real world historical precedents where various social castes are of one gender such that it didn’t interfere with my willing suspension of disbelief. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I am not really looking for that level of detail in a game whose salience is trails of hack n’ slash.


There have been a number of noticeable improvements to the game since I first picked it up back in 2012; NPC interactions have improved. I was no longer offered any [blank] dialog response choices, and during interactions the NPCs had artistic profiles displayed alongside their dialog. It was obvious that some effort had gone into polishing the experience, and a number of new changes were slated for arrival.


Dragon Nest is a game that is fun to play, and while you won’t find the deep systems that make some virtual worlds feel like player-driven metaverses, it is a satisfying romp through hordes of enemies using a tried-and-true formula.


I look forward to Musashisakai’s continuing saga in pursuit of Rose.
Tags:
Dragon Nest   First Impression   Action MMO  

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