Developer: Eyedentity Games
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, Pentium 4 dual-core CPU, 1 GB RAM, GeForce 7600 or better graphics card, 4 GB hard-drive space, DirectX 9.0c or newer, broadband Internet connection
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
MMORPGs have become a major segment of the modern gaming landscape, but many of the most successful of them feature content that really isn’t meant for the younger gamer. Publisher Nexon brings PG-13 material to the genre with Dragon Nest, a fantasy/action MMO that tries to tone down the graphic violence while still making the game enticing to adult gamers.
The story is fairly complex, but you’ll most likely forget most of it as you move through the game. Fragments of a long-dead dragon are hidden in the world of Verathea. The fragments, called shards, offer great power to those who find them, but they can’t be recovered without a key. This key is in the form of a young, red-headed girl who is kidnapped by unknown villains intent upon claiming the power of the shards for themselves. You must rescue the girl before the villains can get their hands on the shards and resurrect the dragon.
Dragon Nest was first released in Asia in 2010 and has only recently arrived in North America. It’s a kid-friendly MMO featuring bloodless combat and cartoonish graphics that can run on almost any PC with a decent Internet connection. It’s also free to play, with in-game transactions available in the Dragon Vault, where you can purchase items such as costumes for your character, extra item storage, etc. You start by creating a character in one of four classes (Archer, Cleric, Sorceress or Warrior) and customizing his or her appearance. Select a server where your character will reside and off you go.
The game world is organized into villages, which are the hub areas where the quest-givers reside. NPCs are attractively drawn and broadly voiced, fitting into the general cartoonishness of the environment. Quests take you outside the villages into “dungeons,” which you can tackle alone or with up to three other players. Finding a party is easy: you can search existing parties for those who are exploring the dungeon you’re seeking, or you can form a group of your own. The party browser is simple to use, but the sort function doesn’t always return the results that you seek, which can be frustrating when you need to find players of similar levels to tackle the more difficult dungeons. Once you enter a dungeon, you must progress through several areas to reach the final battle. Most require you to kill all of the enemies you find, although some quests also have you looking for specific items or talking to NPCs. Experience points accrue as you move through the dungeon and are credited to you when you defeat the end boss, which forces you to play the entire dungeon even if you fulfill the quest requirements before you reach the last area (you can jump out of the dungeon at any time, but you have to bring up the game menu using the ESC key, and you lose durability in your weapons and your accrued XP). It’s an artificial method of stretching out gameplay that can become tedious and frustrating, since each dungeon’s layout is the same every time you play it; the only difference to be found is when you replay them at higher difficulty levels, when enemies become stronger and more numerous.
Dragon Nest has some good things going for it. The price is right, for starters. It downloaded and patched faster than any MMO I’ve ever played; I was playing less than 30 minutes after I started the client download. There’s a strong player base, with every hub world bustling with activity at almost any time of day. There are multiple fast-travel methods available to you without having to unlock them. Dungeons are designed so that you can’t fall off of cliffs or other dangerous areas during battle. Inventory management is simple; it’s easy to identify items that aren’t usable by your character’s class, so you can avoid picking them up after combat is over and clogging up your limited inventory space. The death penalty is less severe than in other MMOs: you get five respawns to use during combat, after which you’re sent back to the hub area with no loss of XP or currency, and the respawns are reset every 24 hours or so. And you don’t have to fight your way back to the beginning of the dungeon when you defeat the boss; one touch of a button transports you back to the hub. But there are also significant annoyances. Avoidance controls have a cool-down period, so you can’t roll out of the way of an enemy more than once every 10 seconds or so. The penalty involved with exiting a dungeon before defeating the boss is disturbing, especially if you complete the quest conditions early in the dungeon. Items can be obtained before you know what to do with them, making it possible for you to trade or discard things that you might need later (this wouldn’t be such an issue if more free storage was available). You can learn a skill before you’re allowed to use it; I unlocked a Level 16 attack skill when I was only Level 12. Inventory items can be enhanced by the local blacksmith, but you have to unequip them before you can have them enhanced. Quests are available from Commission Boards throughout the hub areas, but some of the quests have you completing tasks that you’ve already done. But the worst part of Dragon Nest is the constant repetition in the questing and the lack of variety in the dungeons. You can skip the side missions and concentrate on the story quests, but in doing so you limit the amount of XP you can earn and slow down your level progression. If you choose to do the side quests, you keep being sent back to the same dungeons over and over again, as many as five or six times each, making gameplay boring and unsatisfying.
I applaud Nexon for making the MMO genre more accessible for players of all ages. The graphics are bright and colorful, the characters are engaging and pleasant, the NPC dialogue is cleverly written and humorously voiced, and the combat mechanic is simple and easy to use. But there is a crushing lack of variety in the environments and the gameplay that threatens to make Dragon Nest tedious and uninteresting long before you reach the Level 32 cap. Hopefully there will be more material available during the life of the game, but as it is now, Dragon Nest might not hold a serious player’s interest for very long, especially considering how many options are available in the MMO space these days.