Dragonica (PC) review
"Dragonica is a 3D, fantasy, action-oriented, side-scrolling MMORPG developed by Barunson Interactive. Its published by Gpotato in the EU and THQ*ICE in the US. As with most other titles promoted through both of these sites, Dragonica is free to play. However, gamers can opt to buy extras for their character from a shop dealing in real money. Anyone who has played Lunia or MapleStory will feel right at home here. Conversely, Dragonica has a level of polish not yet to be found in its overpopulated peers."
Dragonica is a 3D, fantasy, action-oriented, side-scrolling MMORPG developed by Barunson Interactive. Its published by Gpotato in the EU and THQ*ICE in the US. As with most other titles promoted through both of these sites, Dragonica is free to play. However, gamers can opt to buy extras for their character from a shop dealing in real money. Anyone who has played Lunia or MapleStory will feel right at home here. Conversely, Dragonica has a level of polish not yet to be found in its overpopulated peers.
Upon first installing the game, things appear to be really simple. As Christos Reid mentioned in his preview last month, the tutorial consists of telling you about the four classes and hands you basic instructions on how to control your little avatar. This comes as a remarkably refreshing change, given that most games in the genre totally kill the player's enjoyment in their first few minutes playing – either with absurdly long introductions (looking at you, Ragnarok Online) or hardly any competent directions at all (EVE). Dragonica gets the balance just right from the start. Gamers who have not touched this type of MMO before know what to do, but it doesn't spoil anything for us who like to explore efficient control configurations and character set-ups for ourselves.
Following this basic induction into the key action-based mechanics, my magician was plonked into the middle of a town and told to go kill monsters. Then the game's direct interaction with me ended abruptly. There was no great speech about how my spell-caster was going to save the world; the local NPCS just pointed me in the direction of the nearest dungeon and that was it. Dragonica is original and self-aware enough to realise that fancy story lines and quests would simply not be enough to keep folks playing. Instead, we're left to our own devices for the most part, so we can enjoy the fairly unique battle system without our hands being held along the way. Levelling up can be a bit of a grind, but there's a distinct lack of downtime between beating up enemies. As a Lineage II veteran, I realise that having an epic battle with a giant spider can be really cool. Having to wait around for half an hour while your health regenerates is not cool. Games try to balance out the action of elements of play with resting periods, and many fail at reaching the right equilibrium. Dragonica is a little different. Since a lot of enemies can be dealt with simultaneously, the pace is increased drastically, especially compared what we're used to. This is an action title, and it behaves as such. Even as a caster class, gameplay is far more than just hammering a single button over and over. Fighting takes skill, and quickly becomes a tonne of adrenaline-packed fun.
Exploring the world is also a marvellous experience. Remember that this is a side-scrolling game, but the artists haven't used that as an excuse to slack off. Each environment is as beautifully crafted as the next. This game's aesthetics are drawn up in a cute, chibi style which is probably just another way to reach out to the casual crowd. Every place you visit carries a distinct, prominent theme. Whether you're travelling through huge fields or dark catacombs, you'll never feel as if the developers have recycled any features of the design. Players are not expected to stay in towns for a long time, but each has its own, novel atmosphere. The developers realise that you're going to spend a lot of time simply looking around, so they try to make simply being in these environments enjoyable as possible.
Another way Dragonica tries to reel in the casuals is by branding itself as a social game. Many of its peers include similar ideas. Ragnarok, There and even WoW have ways to interact with friends, get married and so on. Dragonica basically includes most of the ideas found in its predecessors. Not only can you and another chosen loved one teleport to each other at whim, get married and openly share items, but there's also the option to search for a prospective partner. A lot of the time its simply beneficial to both parties to marry a random person off the street. Romantic rendezvous in the middle of battling beasts is probably not top priority for most MMO players, but its really just another ember of charm to the roaring fire of novelty that makes up Dragonica.
The class system has obviously benefited from a good polishing in a long beta period. The player starts out as one of four classes: Warrior, Magician, Archer or Thief. At every 20th level, you can choose between one of two specialisations for that character. Magicians are the only spell-weavers in the world, so the main career paths are split between becoming a traditional battle mage or healer. Warriors follow a similar process, whereby they opt to become a tank or DPS. The effect of forcing such decisions are profound and two-fold; It gives lots of opportunity to customise your class all the way to level 100, but that's still a very long time to stick with a single character. Its a big, intimidating challenge to get anywhere past level 50, which is why only a small amount of the population have gone beyond it. While more skills become available throughout play, the game slowly boxes you into a certain playstyle. Just because I like to heal when I first start up doesn't mean I'll still want to hours later. Despite this, my spontaneous profession selection limits me to doing something I don't want to. Overall, playing takes a lot of time, patience and commitment – things casual folks don't have a lot of.
There's other, bigger, issues with Dragonica too. There's very little thought towards party play for a game that is supposed to focus on sociality. Dungeon runs are often a simple case of the tank getting arggo from enemies while everyone else nukes its HP down. There's no technique or skill needed when around other people, so its no wonder people prefer staying alone to avoid boredom. Most areas of the game can be taken on by yourself, so its not a necessity to band together with others. This is useful, since players tend to be fairly incompetent to begin with. Grouping up with weak characters is certainly counter-productive, but encouraging solo gaming could certainly be seen as anti-social and ruins the entire point of a MMO.
Since the game is distributed for free, its basically an open invite for spambots and crazy people alike. Fortunately, the towns are not yet packed with such scourges of the Internet. Moderators will have to work long and hard to stop these sorts of people gaining a large influence over the servers. Its all very well to create an awesome game, but if the people who play it are idiots, then the entire project goes to waste.
Dragonica is a good game. It does appear to be based off a single novelty (side-scrolling) to begin with, but the whole experience carries a surprising amount of depth. Features like the class system and graphical greatness make this title worth playing. Its free, so there's no reason not to give it a try.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (August 01, 2009)
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