Dragon Nest screenshot
I first got my grubby gamer paws on Dragon Nest at E3 2011. I stood in line to take my turn asking the devs questions, said no to an offer for free booze (it was early, after all!), and was thrown into an impromptu team with another writer who obviously had no single idea about how to play the game. Back then, I was blown away by how stylized and fun the game was.

It's still a fun title. If you ever have the hankerin' for beating up some fantastically animated goblins, minotaurs, and other various dungeon scum, download this free title and jump in. It utilizes basic FPS controls, but you have to actually time attacks thanks to a key hotbar that is packed with interesting abilities. The presence of the hotbar and "standard" powers make Dragon Nest an action game set in a standard MMO-combat universe. If you can get comfortable with the setup, you'll be in for many hours of wrist-destroying mayhem!

I sat down with Benjamin Boswell, Associate Production Manager for Dragon Nest at Nexon America, to ask him about the game as it reaches its first birthday.

Dragon Nest screenshot
Massively: Dragon Nest is competing in a growing market of action-based games. What makes it stand out from the pack?

Benjamin Boswell: The feature that truly makes Dragon Nest stand out is that the combat is skill based. Since the combat is real-time, the player must not only be managing her cooldowns as in other MMOs but be skillfully moving and executing her attacks while avoiding her opponent's fury. This type of combat is not only fun but downright addicting.

I remember there being some issues with controllers being compatible with the game. Has that been fixed, and would you recommend using a controller?

Yes, USB gamepads work great with Dragon Nest! This control option is well-suited for players who are coming from a console background. Since the combat is real-time, they will feel right at home using a USB gamepad. Players are able to map their attacks to the gamepad and create a control setup they are most comfortable with.

Why have a game that is sort of a Vindictus, Jr.? Have you split your playerbase, or do both games have different age ranges and player types?

While the two games do share certain commonalities, they are geared for different audiences. Vindictus has a darker, more serious art style; Dragon Nest employs a colorful anime style. I would not say they are for different age groups so much as simply players with different tastes.

The cash shop sells rental items. Are these popular enough to warrant more, or do players buy them because they have no choice? What do you say to a player who doesn't like rental items?

While Dragon Nest is a free-to-play game, we do have a cash shop called the Dragon Vault, where players can purchase additional items and costumes. We actually provide different durations for each item, ranging from 30-day rentals to permanent purchases in order to give players more options for their preferred value. We do see a large number of players purchasing rental items to simply try the costumes out or to customize characters more with less spending, while there are also players who prefer to purchase permanent items.

Dragon Nest screenshot
It's been a year. Looking back, what would you have done differently?

In the last few months, we have become increasingly more active with our community and seeing great results. Looking back, we see what we could have gained, had we had started doing this much sooner. While previously we did engage the community, it was nothing like we are doing now. We have the Dragon Nest team in the game and forums becoming a part of the community, instead of simply monitoring and steering them.

What sort of player would like your game? Is it limited to players who enjoy action only, or does it offer something for crafters or explorer types?

We believe Dragon Nest is accessible to many different types of players. While yes, the game would definitely be enjoyed by fans of action games because of the real-time combat, there is a large crafting component to the game for players who are fans of conventional MMORPGS and dungeon crawlers. Those players looking for something deeper to sink their teeth into will undoubtedly lose themselves in the excellent story that Dragon nest is wrapped in.

Dragon Nest screenshot
Beau: I'd like to thank Benjamin for answering my questions. I have to agree with him about different players enjoying the game. I certainly cannot physically play the game for the reported hours and hours that many players mention, but the way combat and quests are divided into chapters allows players like yours truly to jump into a dungeon, kill a bunch of bad guys, and jump out.

The main complaints I have heard about the game stem from the cash-shop items that are time-limited and the fact that the game is heavily instanced. The cash-shop items are cheaper if you rent them, but they disappear after a while. I see both sides of the issue: I enjoy changing out my look once in a while, but for some reason, I cannot stand losing access to an item even if I plan on throwing it in storage and letting it gather dust. The pixels in my MMOs are just as loved as many of my real-life knick-knacks and keepsakes... I'd hate for them to disappear. So I go with permanent items if I buy.

After a while, in the game the instances feel natural. After all, raiding in most major MMOs is an instanced behavior, and the persistent towns and player interactions are enough to qualify Dragon Nest game as an MMO. Still, I can understand the initial hesitation that comes from seeing a game that zones several times a night, but I believe it's part of the design of the game, intended to not only keep other players from ruining your good time but divide content into bite-size chunks.

I like bite-sized gaming. But then again, I'm not grinding out hours a night. What do you think? Do the time-limited cash-shop items and heavy instancing turn you off?

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.