Free dragons for everyone!
Hello to all our new readers, and welcome back to those who have been following ZAM's bi-weekly column, The Free Agent. Our mission, as always, is to answer the question "Can gaming REALLY be free?"
Last time on the Free Agent the Oculus Rift inspired us to brave shrapnel and rocket launchers in the FPS mech title Hawken. If you happened to miss out on the action don't worry, you can always go back and give Episode 12 a read.
But for this week's episode we're back to MMOs again. And unlike my last foray into free-to-play MMOs, this one seems to diverge somewhat from the traditional MMO template. After a minor launch delay Dragon's Prophet stormed onto the scene on September 23rd under the Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) banner. Even with so much on the go it seems SOE is more than happy to bring Dragon's Prophet to North America from Taiwan based developer Runewaker Entertainment.
With a name like Dragon's Prophet it's no surprise that dragons feature quite prominently in this title. Of course dragons are kind of a staple to the Fantasy MMO genre, so that isn't exactly much of a hook. However, for the dragon obsessed among us (you know who you are), Dragon's Prophet offers up something new that should put a grin on your face; a giant, scaly, many-toothed grin. Let's take to the skies and learn more.
While two weeks is arguably an inadequate amount of time to truly experience an MMO, I've done my best to at least get a taste of a variety of features available to me. So let's just start with what makes Dragon's Prophet different than the traditional MMO model.
Dragons, dragons and more dragons
Certainly, if you've played any other MMOs for any length of time, you probably have fought dragons, ridden dragons and maybe even allied with dragons. However Dragon's Prophet is probably the first time you've been able to go out into the wide world, stumble upon a cool looking dragon and tame it so that it can act as both a combat pet and a mount. And all of this is as early as level 5.
Essentially the game begins when your character awakens, confused and decidedly noobish after a blow to the head, in a town that is under attack by zombies and dragons. You learn that you are something called an Osiran and that you have fallen from the sky. Basically you stumble around like an idiot unsure of exactly what is happening until you have to fight some zombies. At which point you quickly forget how confused you are and button mash your way to victory.
Having saved the town, one of your first quests beyond the confines of its walls is to capture a dragon. This sets you on the path of what becomes the back bone for the entire game. Capturing and taming dragons, which is accomplished through its own sort of mini-game, giving you access to an impressive roster of over 300 dragons in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Not only do these act as mounts (with land, sea and sky variants) and combat pets with their own list of AI controlled abilities, but it also grants special abilities for your character depending on which dragons you currently have with you. These Dragon Soul skills as they are called, add an extra level of customization to your character class. Though to be honest it took me a while to figure that out and it quickly grew annoying having to redo my action bar every time I swapped out a dragon.
More on classes and skills later though; let's keep talking about dragons because it is clearly a robust system that Runewaker has put in place. Both on and off the battlefield there seems to be lots to do with your dragons and ample reason to collect as many as possible.
I was thrilled to see a separate action bar pop up when I mounted my dragon for the first time, surely promising that unlike most dragons I've ridden in past MMOs, this was far more than just a means of transportation. I could actually wreak havoc from the skies with my scaly companion.
Sadly, like so many features in Dragon's Prophet I could only guess at how this system worked as I had no skills that I could assign to this action bar. It was only by accident that I discovered a separate list of mounted combat skills, all of which were unavailable until I reached at least level 30.
While the dragons you take with you into combat can be managed in your (apparently portable) dragon stable, off the battle field the options really open up through the dragon lair (seen above in all its confusing glory). Found in most major towns or cities, the dragon lair allows you to not only house additional dragons but also level up their stats and attributes, transfer skills to other dragons, send them of on field training missions or even send them out to gather crafting materials.
As the game progresses and you collect more and more dragons you'll likely sell some off to the Laedis Academy (where they are made into glue?) in exchange for provisions which can be used to increase the level cap of your other dragons. Or if you just need to free up some room in the lair you can send any unused dragons to the dragon chamber, which is sort of like a bank for dragons.
Regardless of how you choose to manage your dragons, you will most likely end up designating some dragons to combat role and others to a farming role. All in all, it's a pretty robust system that's rather fitting of the games title.
My only complaint about all this is that it's not very user friendly, and without digging pretty hard through 3rd party wiki sites and the like, you are likely to miss well over half of the features surrounding capturing, training, fighting alongside and stabling your dragons. In fact despite the depth of the system, I could see some people missing the point entirely and just defaulting to using dragons as mounts, with just 3 different handy-dandy places to store them. Old habits die hard after all.