Dragon Nest has been in open beta in North America for a while now, and the gameplay and design is truly a breath of fresh air to the MMO genre. Though it is free-to-play, developer Eyedentity Games put a lot of work into its well-designed and well-developed MMO. Several aspects such as gameplay, combat, and character customization showcase the craftsmanship and hard work put into Dragon Nest.
One of the most prominent ways one can tell Dragon Nest has a great level design team is the logical flow of quests and events. A player never feels scattered or lost or overwhelmed when trying to complete several quests at once. Even when players choose to complete additional side quests, they aren’t distracted from the main quest-line, as many areas like dungeons and catacombs have shared quest objectives.
Another showcase of good level design is the use of zones. This is impressive from both a technical standpoint as well as design. The world is broken up into sections, accessible by portals, however the world is not fragmented. One can look in the background of the portal and see the next section they are about to enter, and are only separated by a loading screen. This is an effective design decision because it temporarily narrows the space players play in. This helps players know when to leave a zone or when to continue completing quests. Often times in poor MMO’s, players accidentally leave quest zones without finishing important storyline quests or even quests that will help them complete other quests or defeat bosses later in the game. In addition to a good level design decision, this also helps the game engine run more smoothly as it doesn’t have to render large spaces simultaneously. The loading screens between each zone is usually less than 8 seconds, so the great technical design doesn’t come at the cost of long loading screens, as can sometimes be the problem in other games.
One more great aspect is the exciting combat system that engages players more actively than other MMOs. Rather than selecting enemies and having a player’s character auto-attack, in Dragon Nest players actively attack enemies in addition to using special abilities and attacks. For classes like the Archer, this makes even the simplest attacks require active engagement in the game; aiming at enemies and consistently attacking, all while trying to avoid being hit by enemy attacks. This brings us to another aspect of combat that players can participate in. Players can utilize dodge mechanics to avoid being hit by various enemy attacks, by jumping in the air, side-stepping in a given direction, rolling on the ground, and even doing complicated flips forward and backward.
The character customization is quite advanced for a free-to-play game, however it isn’t special or different from other MMO games like the combat system is. Players have a skill tree, level up, and get better gear and items. Character creation isn’t very differentiating from other games as well. However, this lack of uniqueness with respect to customization doesn’t detract from the game. All the aspects of customization have become an integral part of MMO and RPG games, so much that to call high level customization an new genre-specific industry standard wouldn’t been too farfetched. Dragon Nest is certainly up to those standards, and though isn’t necessarily unique, it certainly makes up for that with exceptional and distinctive gameplay, game design, and combat systems.