Into the Dragons' Den

With Dragon's Prophet about to enter Open Beta, Gareth Harmer takes another look at Runewaker's upcoming MMO.

In most MMOs I’ve played, the gallant hero is asked by a desperate kingdom to slay the wicked dragon. Not so for upcoming MMO Dragon’s Prophet. In this latest free-to-play creation from Runewaker and published by Sony Online Entertainment, you get the chance to tame, train and ride dragons of your very own.

For all those eagerly anticipating raising a clutch of magical reptiles, the good news is that open beta starts in North America on May 30. Founders with VIP access will get a 24 hour head start, giving them early access into the world of Auratia. Closed Beta testers will also be pleased to know that the NDA has been lifted from today, freeing them to share their tales of daring draconic deeds with friends.

During the weekend I dived back in, mainly to see how development had progressed since my first look last month. Joined by ZAM regular Chris Rainey, we livestreamed our progress (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) from character creation to the giddy heights of level 20. As an extra bonus, I’ll be streaming a special session on ZAM's Twitch.TV channel from 4pm Pacific on Thursday May 23, where I’ll be joined by senior producer Todd Carson to answer all your Dragon’s Prophet questions.

From the Beginning

Starting out, it’s clear that Dragon’s Prophet is designed for those who like to customize. Character creation is at the more detailed end of the scale, with sliders for almost every physical aspect of your avatar. Dye options are also in, allowing you to be as stylish or kaleidoscopic as your tastes demand.

There are only four classes available, but with good reason. Guardians and Rangers handle melee and ranged physical damage, while Oracle and Sorcerer do the same for those who prefer spell casting. Dragon’s Prophet also offers two different continents to start out on, ensuring a varied experience if the alt-craving grabs you.

Once I’d battled through the tutorial and awakened in Hunark, it was time to get to grips with the unique combat system. Dragon’s Prophet does away with massive collections of buttons, instead going for a combo system that feels reminiscent of fighting games and classic beat-em-ups. Tap the left mouse button a different number of times and your right mouse button will unleash a different effect; one moment you might be calling down lightning, another you’ll be sweeping round in a circle of fire.

As I progressed to level ten a few more abilities became available, each providing me with further combos to play with. Some were direct damage dealers, while others became devastating when surrounded by a crowd of mobs. There were several moments when I felt like I was about to die, only for a well-timed combo to utterly destroy everything around me.

While crunching through giants, undead and the occasional wolfman, I realised just how button mashy combat in Dragon’s Prophet is – and that’s a good thing. Bringing down the pain always felt fast-paced and frantic, with the occasional dab for additional doom. It’s a huge change from the rotation or priority based systems used in older MMOs that can feel like you’re keying in a sewing pattern instead of killing a mob.

Alas, the fun can’t run non-stop. Some of my most potent abilities require Action points to use. Without care, this precious resource would vanish with a few over-enthusiastic combos. While the stack of points replenishes quickly, it required careful management to unleash them for maximum effect.

Dragon Country

Unsurprisingly, Dragon’s Prophet is all about the dragons. It’s a mission that Runewaker has taken right to the core of the game, with the versatile reptiles filling in for everything from combat pets to non-combat mounts. At level seven I captured my first – a green rhino-like creature that was slightly better than walking. But while mine could heal in combat, another could charge in and knock mobs back – hinting at the fact that almost every dragon is different. If I wanted the perfect one, I’d have to catch it myself or train it up.

Pulling your dragon out in combat puts it on a timer, ensuring that it isn’t just a constant companion. As a free player you can have two stabled and ready to summon, but can increase this to six slots by spending some Station Cash. For the hard-hitting elite mobs I had a gliding green dragon that could stunlock very effectively, while for rampaging AoE-fests I’d switch to the docile healer.

And yes, while some dragons are stuck stomping on the ground, others can swim, glide or even fly. As Chris and I approached level twenty, we spied our ultimate goal – a pair of fully flying Dancing Lotus Dragons. Actually taming one was a challenge – I had to soften it up a bit first and beat it down to half health, before jumping on its back and wrestling the beast into compliance. Luckily I’d made the whole taming process easier by dumping some Attribute points into Charisma. I could have spent those points that I’d gained every level on something actually useful to my character, like Stamina or Intellect, but I wanted the snazzy new dragon.

The trouble with collecting new dragons is trying to decide what to do with the old ones. There were a couple of times where I waved goodbye and released them back into the wild, but a lucky few found a home in my Dragon Lair. I could train them with additional skills, send them away to gather crafting reagents or even teach their existing skills to each other. I handed over a few gold coins to pay for lodging, but it seemed a small price to have an army of dragon minions running errands for me.

Taking Flight

I’ll make no dragon bones about it – Dragon’s Prophet is still a way from launch. In the closed beta build I played, several items and quest names still had their placeholder text. It’s to be expected – localizing an MMO while it’s still under active development is going to result in a lot of changes. There were also more minor issues, such as voice-over speech not matching the subtitles, but that’s nit-picking the experience.

I’m also curious to see how monetization pans out in-game. I saw several options where I could spend station cash, from expanding the size of my Dragon Lair to being able to resurrect on the spot after death, but it’s unclear what form the final game will take. It’s possible that some free to play gamers might end up being locked out of some features, as there doesn’t seem to be a way of exchanging Station Cash for an in-game currency.

The only other note of caution I’d sound is around questing. During our final play session, from level 17 to 20, we noticed that several quests were sending us back to the same area to kill the same mobs for different reasons. With a main story questline, regular zone quests, public event quests and repeatable quests all clamoring for our attention, I guess it’s no surprise that we ended up with some duplication. But it’s something to look out for, particularly if you’re trying to maximize your experience gain.

All that said, Beta is Beta. We’re likely to see much change between now and launch later in 2013, and I’m keeping an open mind on how SoE will tackle many of these challenges. But as a game, Dragon’s Prophet offers a unique experience in a crowded MMO market, and that alone makes it worth trying.

Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor


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