E3 2011: Dragon Nest is not a cartoony Vindictus

If you've played Nexon's action- and physics-based MMO Vindictus, you have experienced Dragon Nest. Well, somewhat. Both of the games feature over-the-top graphics and combat, but Dragon Nest is definitely a separate product. You know it when you hit your first mob, and it just feels different. At this year's E3, we were invited to try the game out while tethered to another player in an instanced group.

Unfortunately for us, our partner didn't seem to have ever played a video game in her life, but luckily we were able to press random buttons and try out different menus while we waited for her to catch up. We fought our way through an instanced dungeon, one that felt similar to Vindictus' dungeons in its mechanics. We killed some monsters, avoided some kind of gassy traps, and waited for our partner at the familiar red portals that would bring us to the next stage in the dungeon. The experience was much too short, but it did provide a good look into this newest Nexon title.

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The first thing we had to ask about was whether, like Vindictus, Dragon Nest would require players to purchase coins to access the instanced dungeons that will make up the bulk of gameplay. According to Nexon, not at all. All of the dungeons in game can be accessed for free. The cash shop should feature mostly potions and cosmetic items, but whether the items will be time-restricted (rentals) or mostly permanent is still being discussed internally.

"Graphically, the games look different. Both are beautiful, but Dragon Nest has a fluidity and smoothness to the environments while Vindictus is slightly more brown and harsh."

So why make a cartoony version of Vindictus? Exactly how many ways does the company want you to kill monsters? Well, Dragon Nest does feature action-based gaming, but it also features some of the standards we see in typical MMOs. You have a hotbar and abilities that can be fired off with hotkeys. The effect is that gameplay is not only fluid but strategic. We recognized some of the combos that we had seen in Vindictus, but combining hotkey abilities with those combos led to some pretty nutty results. There is loot that needs to be picked up with a shortcut and destructible items in the environment, although not physics-based ones. You wont be picking up a piece of concrete to hurl at your enemies, but that's fine with us. It's more casual but at the same time a lot more fast-paced.

Graphically, the games look different. Both are beautiful, but Dragon Nest has a fluidity and smoothness to the environments, while Vindictus is slightly more brown and harsh. This more cartoony look doesn't translate to feeling like a "kids game" but instead feels like a really evil cartoon come to life. You won't see gushing blood or grappling moves in Dragon Nest, but environmental traps and tricks will still keep you on your toes.

The game features four gender-locked classes. When players reach level 15 (out of a max level of 24 when the game is first released), they can choose a specialization. For example, a Warrior can go for Swordsman (faster attacks) or Mercenary (slower attacks but much higher damage). Each class can stand on its own. A Cleric, for example, who normally would be a squishy healer, can actually solo quite well.

Crafting seems to be similar to the crafting system in Vindictus. Players can gather items or treasures then "seek out" certain NPCs to sell to. We are not sure what kind of market might be involved when the game is first launched and how gear will figure into that. Other Nexon products feature cash-shop items that can be sold in-game, something that might be very welcome in a game that allows players to literally farm dungeons for drops. After all, Dragon Nest will allow players to play as much as they want -- and we have a good feeling they will.

The server lag that you might have found in Vindictus just might be a thing of the past with Dragon Nest. While Vindictus used a peer-to-peer connection, meaning that the player with the worst connection in an instance might drag down the rest of the group, Dragon Nest connects players directly to the server. This means that the infamous "Bars of Poor Connection" that can often hurt Vindictus should be gone. Performance should also be better since Dragon Nest requires slightly lower system requirements. This is good news for those players who might not have the latest hardware or who had issues running Vindictus. It's good to see that Nexon is continuing to raise the graphical bar with free-to-play games while still keeping the game accessible.

In our limited experience, Dragon Nest stands firmly on its own as an action-based MMO. It's light-hearted, bright, and visually interesting. Where Vindictus is trying to recreate a very gritty reality filled with nightmarish monsters and giant enemies, Dragon Nest is a bit more on the fun side. It also seems as though Nexon has learned a lot from many of the issues it had with Vindictus, issues that are hard to forget (like cash-shop prices, dungeon access, and performance).

Expect the release later this summer, with a closed beta this month.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.