(Note: this review was so long, it had to be split into two posts - see first reply for part 2).
Although I like to consider myself a true gamer-girl through and through, I have to admit that there was one single genre I'd never tried - an MMO. The whole "pay to play" thing was a huge hurdle for me when I was a child, and so despite my fascination with the idea of such a large, virtual community, everquest and the like were always out of reach.
Fast-forward a decade and times have unsurprisingly changed. With nearly all MMO games becoming free to play, I finally had a chance to try out this genre that had piqued my interest for oh so many years. So around December 2012, I bit the bullet and started trawling through free-to-play MMO's, to see what all the fuss was about. And I have to admit, my first choices did not live up to my expectations. I tried games like Mabinogi and Rose online, but the combat just felt totally clunky and painful. There was little in the way of moving and dodging, with most of the focus simply being on casting skills with incredibly long cast times, and even longer cooldowns. Or alternatively, just whacking something with a stick over and over ad nauseum, before it keeled over and died. The graphics were bland, the enemies were repetitive, and the story seemed non-existant. I was beginning to think that I'd been seriously mislead about the nature of MMO's, and that they were all essentially just fancy IRC rooms.
But then I installed a lil game called Dragon Nest. Like my previous choices, I spent a large amount of time tinkering around in the character creator, eventually choosing a class called - wait for it - tinkerer. This is a cute little girl of about 13, who, when given the twin pigtail hairstyle, beared more than a striking resemblence to me at that age. The similarities were quite uncanny, which immediately grabbed my attention. Instead of roleplaying, I was simply getting to relive my youthful days as a young teen - something which meant a lot to me, being in my late 20's and utterly depressed at the fact that I'm not far off my thirties.
But the other games had nice character creations too, only to be let down by the game itself. So I wasn't all that optimistic about this game either.
My pessimism was shattered the instant I entered the game world. After a short introduction scene, I found myself in a beautiful snowy town, decorated with x-mas items and a nice big christmas tree at the centre of town, along with some really cheery christmas-y music. Not only this, but I saw many other characters running around - lil tinkerers like myself, sorcerers, and some rather charming looking clerics. The whole place was very pleasant and inviting, and I really felt a warm welcome to the game and the community as a whole.
As I ambled around the town, obtaining main story quests as well as side quests, I noticed that the story behind this game was very well executed, with lots of voice acting on all the main NPC's - a welcome change from static walls of text from mute characters that I'd encountered in nearly all my previous MMO games up to this point. I was also approached by a polite warrior gentlemen, whom, upon noting my newbie status, kindly started explaining many of the concepts of the game to me. He also invited me into his guild, which I was somewhat hesitant about as I didn't feel I would be of any use as a newbie. He assured me it was fine, and that anyone was welcome. I'm glad I accepted the offer because I went on to meet many wonderful people, who taught me a great deal about the game and were more than willing to help me complete tasks on many occasions.
Initially however, I chose to complete the dungeons solo, just to get a feel for the combat in this game. This isn't really an open world MMO, you simply have a town with many quests available, and then you have a closed instance field outside of the town for you (and any party members), with several dungeons being accessible from that field. This makes the game suitable for a wide audience, without needing too powerful of a computer (although don't get me wrong, the graphics are very pleasant too!).
Upon entering my first dungeon was my next pleasant surprise. The combat in this game is amazing! It was how I'd imagined all MMO's would play, prior to actually playing them. I've been told this style is called an action MMO, and it plays somewhat like a first person shooter / third person shooter, with a huge emphasis on reaction times, dodging, combo'ing, as well as carefully choosing the most ideal order in which to carry out attacks. It's very frantic, but also very rewarding. It's easy to pick up, but very hard to master. Having tried other apparent action MMO's, I have to say that Dragon Nest hands down has the best combat I've ever experienced - it's THAT satisfying.
I continued playing through about the first ten levels, but I was alone and in truth the game didn't feel that much different to single player RPG's that I'd played. This all changed when, upon my next visit to town, I was invited to my first party. I think this was the point where the game stole my heart, and I knew that I was going to be playing this for a long time. In fact, I ended up playing for 24 hours straight that very day, it was *that* endearing to me.
The game promotes teamwork heavily, with many abilities to help each other out in the form of buffs, debuffs, heals and the like. Not only this, but it was just simply fun to feel a part of something so grand. Even just chatting in town (which we ended up doing for hours) was immensely satisfying, and I met over 30 friends in that first day alone.
From this point on, the game consumed me - I played it all day, everyday, whenever I had the free time to do so. I was really eager to see what would happen next in the main story, while at the same time being happy to party with those of similar level (or even help those at lower level catch up to me). Before I knew it, my friends list was maxed out at 100. I had to tell people to add me and just send me a message whenever they wanted to party, as I had no room left on my list. Such friendships made me feel really happy - something that had been sorely lacking in my real life ever since an incident that left me scarred with PTSD, during which some brutish man tried to kill me (literally) over a road rage incident. He very nearly succeeded too, as he pushed my car towards a tree at 100 miles an hour, which I missed by mere inches. But I digress, this review is about the game not my own injustices. I merely wished to portray that my friends here really helped me come a long way to recovering from this incident.
So back to the game now - at this point I was steadily getting through quests and making my way towards the level cap. So now is probably a good time to talk about the "pay" features that you have in any free to play MMO. Dragon Nest adheres to the policy of paid items being primarily cosmetic in function - this is not a "pay 2 win" game, and there are many well known players who have not paid anything for the game at all, whom are still some of the most powerful and well-geared characters on the server. Of the few items that *do* help make a character more powerful (namely jellies for enhancing items, and stamps for allowing to sell certain high grade items on the market) both of these may be purchased from other players with in-game gold, negating the need to spend real world cash.
[To be continuted - part 2 of review in comments to this. Please don't leave your own comments guys, it will ruin the order of my replies]