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Craig Ellsworth's blog

3:16 PM on 07.03.2012

Review: Dragon Nest

Since Dragon Nest recently came out with a huge update (a new class), I think now is a good time to give a review of the game.

Dragon Nest is a Korean (but localized) free-to-play MMORPG featuring an action-based combat system, anime-style 3D graphics, and a witty, sarcastic sense of humor. If you want a distinct change from the grind of other MMORPGS, give this a chance.

I first discovered Dragon Nest a quite a while ago (around the time of the WoW review), and found it to be a breath of fresh air from all the other MMORPGs I tried out.

The Great

The action-based combat is smooth and feels like you're playing a console game. While your magic spells require a cooldown time like other MMORPGs, you never feel like it's a hindrance, because you can dodge or perform combo attacks with the mouse, which require little to no Mana or cooldown.

When you level up, you can add either spells or extra combat moves to your repertoire, allowing you to customize your character to your preference. And while the upgrades are supposedly permanent, you are occasionally given Scrolls of Unlearning that can allow you to re-upgrade your character from scratch. This comes is very useful if you find some skills just aren't as fun or as useful as you thought and you'd like to reapply your skill points to something more deserving.

Speaking of leveling up, you are often given pleasant level-up surprises in a special mailbox (really it's a screen that tries to sell you stuff, but the mail is free), such as extra inventory slots, Resurrection Scrolls (extra lives for you or a teammate), or quick Health and Mana potions.

The art direction is wonderful, with cutesy, anime-style graphics that sets it apart from the fantasy-based settings common to too many competitors. Level art is varied, providing snowy landscapes, dungeons, swamps, ruins, grassy hills, rocky mountain passes, and plenty more; the colors are vibrant and distinct, giving each palette a unique feel.

Usually vibrant; sometimes dark and dreary. But on purpose!

Cutscenes are perfectly placed, providing a reward for a vicious battle well-fought. The voice acting is extremely well-done, giving the anime-epic feel for the major characters, while having adorable catchphrases for shopkeepers and townsfolk.

Don't let the artistic direction fool you, however, because the humor of the game is delightfully sarcastic. When given a few dialogue options, the correct answer is generally the one that is a back-handed compliment, that the NPC doesn't recognize as such. The player character tends to be along for the ride, dreading each new confrontation or trying to avoid it altogether (consider, for instance, the hilarity that ensues when you meet your "nemesis", Landslide Krag, and he doesn't know the difference between a nemesis and a lover).

There are also funny asides and pop culture references, such as a cute 300 parody involving goblins.

The achievement system serves its purpose well, by giving the player stat bonuses for achieving Titles, which are given through achievements or groups of achievements.

I think this picture provided its own funny caption for me.

There are tons of options for solo and party play here, but you are almost never forced to do either (to advance the story, some quests require solo runs, but mostly it's just some side-quests). If you prefer to play in a party, you can always join a group, or participate in Arena battles (better known as Raids in other MMORPGs).

The level select screens are nice enough to offer a suggested group size and level for the party. Generally, Easy and Normal are for soloers, Hard is for groups of two, and Master and Abyss levels are for parties of four.

Player death is handled very well, by giving a player five lives a day, and if you do die, you start exactly where you died (gasp!) instead of fleeing for some safe spot, and you are given a few seconds of invincibility. It tends to feel like and old-school action game in that regard.

You are also not just limited to the five lives allotment, since you can also obtain Resurrection Scrolls, or, if you're in a party, have a friend resurrect you.

However, you shouldn't have too much trouble in that department, since I typically find that even soloing on Hard is not quite the challenge they think it is. You can certainly up the challenge by playing on Master or Abyss difficulties solo or in very small groups, if that's to your liking.

Although you do occasionally need to beat Normal to unlock Hard, which can get annoying if Normal is too easy for you.

The Meh

It is rather unfortunate that the game is not open-world, but rather has you entering portals to take you to various levels, where you choose your difficulty before entering. Although the designers made great levels, it would have benefited the game greatly to allow the player to actually slide into each new area with a smooth transition, rather than an abrupt load screen.

I did mention that the cutscenes were well-placed, but there also tends to be a five-second cutscene introducing bosses each time you come to one. Having it once is fine (and thrilling), but to be forced to watch the same scene every time you fight the same boss can get grating.

Like a lot of other MMORPGs, it suffers from the annoying habit of making your equipment lose durability over time, and you have to constantly repair it. Other aspects of other MMORPGs creep in, such as upgrading your gear, storing items in town, trading in the marketplace, picking up items that have no value other than to sell for a few coppers, and many other staples that I simply don't find necessary. It seems they're there because they've always been there, and removing them is blasphemous.

The start-game character customization is severely lacking, only allowing for three or four options for each body attribute (hair, face/skin, eyes, shirt, gloves, pants, boots). It is also quite surprising that the character classes define your gender, where the Warrior and Cleric are male, and the other three classes are female. It is also rather odd that every class is human except the Archer, which is an elf. This tends to show a fair amount of cloning in-game, and detracts from the idea that you are a unique hero in the story.

Lastly, depending on your religious affiliation, you may find some aspects of the art and story to be insulting or even offensive. The Sorceress' faction maintains a strange cross between the occult and Jewish symbolism. I'm not sure what that's trying to imply. The Cleric has crosses, of course, indicating Christianity, but also, one of the primary weapons a Cleric can use is a flail and other whip-like torture devices, so make of that what you will.

The Sorceress and Cleric factions also have a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry to them, and the on-screen Cleric leader in the capital is referred to as a "frog-faced Bishop", and looks like Pizza the Hutt. The Bishop also references "the Pontiff", so you can see pretty clearly after a while just how derogatory the game is to Judaism and Catholicism.

But, I put this complaint under "The Meh" rather than "The Awful" mostly because I found it more funny than offensive. Despite running through some pretty risky territory in the religious department, it still maintains its sarcastic wit to keep the jokes in perspective. So, depending on your skin thickness, the religious content may be too much for you.

Okay, I'm pretty sure they were going for offensive on this one, but I can never tell.

The Awful

I have some of the same complaints with this game as I do with every single other MMORPG I've ever played. It seems that no matter how fun, new, and creative a game is, it is trapped and bound by terrible MMORPG conventions (some I've already mentioned above).

For one: You have to cross through the same level upwards of half a dozen times before all the side quests are complete for that area. I simply despise games that feel it necessary to give me a new quest for the same level I just beat, that only becomes available after beating the level once; AND I'm doing something I've already done.

For another: each of the five classes starts off with their own storyline (that's a great thing), but at around level 10, all the stories converge and you start playing the same levels over and over, skipping through dialogue you've read before, and you start to really feel the grind. Maybe it is too much to ask developers to create separate game paths for different classes or characters (however they choose to split that up), but the current method of slapping threads together is a sore detriment and severely diminishes replayability.

One problem that seems to apply only to this game is that there is a very specific order to what characters you should play as. The way the story progresses, you should make your first character be either the Warrior or Archer, then your second character should be the Sorceress or Cleric, and your third character should be the Tinkerer. The reason this is necessary is because the Tinkerer is a character from the future and spoils the storyline a fair bit, anticipating each plot point before it happens. Also, I split the other characters apart because the delivery of the Sorceress' and Cleric's stories implies that you already know what happened on the Warrior/Archer side.

Unless all you care about is PvP, which never seems to get a good story treatment in games.

This is basically only necessary until your characters reach level 10, when the stories converge (although the Tinkerer still has an annoying habit of knowing what lies ahead), but it can still throw a new player off-guard and confuse them.

Overall, the game's originality, action-combat mechanics, and humor far outweigh any of its problems, and make it well worth a playthrough. However, I can't speak for end-game content, since it's a forty level game, and the highest my characters have yet to go is Level 31.

You can download the game here:

If you like this review, I have more (and other stuff) at   read

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