I'll admit -- I should have seen the writing on the breakfast table. When I sat down for the meal that first day, my table-mate John Smedley, CEO of Sony Online Entertainment, mentioned that the others seated with us were making a dragon game. He then introduced them as developers of Runes of Magic. It was only later when the press learned a new game would be introduced that evening that the connection clicked!
After the official announcement, I looked forward to learning even more about the new dragon-laced world. I was pleased to sit down with Smedley and those members of the Runewaker team again -- namely, CEO John Tang and VP of Business Development Tony Tang -- this time to discuss the new partnership and the upcoming free-to-play game.
Appearing as a blip on the gaming radar back when it was first announced last fall, Dragon's Prophet quickly returned to relative obscurity. That is, until the Thursday night keynote address. Not only do players now have more information about the game, but they can expect the beta early next year with a planned launch later in 2013.
So how did this SOE/Runewaker partnership come to be? Smedley called it an interesting story: He loved Runes of Magic, and he'd sent an email to business development noting to look into the game the same time one of the business development guys saw an announcement for it, so the studio reached out to the Runewaker team. He continued, "I think it's John Tang's personal involvement in making the game that is of particular interest to me. As an old programmer, I respect people who make games."
On Runewaker's end, although surprised by the larger company's interest, John Tang stated that the team felt that it was chance it had been waiting for. The team expressed enthusiasm to work with a studio of SOE's reputation (and even admitted to being former EverQuest players).
As for as how the partnership works, the actually development is all done in Taiwan. However, John Tang notes that they are going to have a closer connection with SOE to help tailor things in the game to the Western market.
Dragon's Prophet takes a very standard fantasy staple -- the dragon -- and spins it into a unique concept for an MMO. First and foremost, character skill customization comes through the dragons, not the players. Tony Tang explained this unique system where players choose one of four standard DPS classes and then change and tailor their roles using the active skills acquired from captured dragons.
What skills individual players have will depend completely on what dragons they find and capture, and what skills a player is currently imbued with at any given time depend entirely on which dragon s/he has out. Skills for each dragon are randomly generated, so it's like a grab bag for skills. Some skills are automatic, some are triggered by players (active skills a player must initiate), and some require energy. Some examples of skills are the ability to change magical defense to physical defense and vice versa as well as a teleport swap ability between player and dragon. Dragons also come with their own attack skills.
Thirty different types of dragons inhabit the world for a total of over 300 different dragons, including eight majestic ones. For skeptics who wonder when a typical player will actually see her first dragon, the answer is immediately! Finally -- a game you don't have to level in for umpteen months before getting your own dragon! All players start the game with a dragon and can begin capturing other dragons right away. To capture the dragon, you have to jump on in old-west style and tame it. And even better, all dragons are mounts.
So now we know how players get skills, but how do they use them in Dragon's Prophet? Combat is not your typical tab, target, and shoot affair that you rinse and repeat. In order to fight, players must be facing their target, but there is no way to lock on. Anything in the line of fire will get hit if it's a foe; luckily (for some of us) there is no friendly fire. There is also a combo system; the order in which you use your skills will result in different effects.
To give us an idea on the flow of combat, Smedley said that it is faster than TERA's; he likened it to DCUO. "The combat system in the Dragon's world is what made me fall in love with it," he said. "It's very visceral and you feel it immediately."
Housing aficionados will be overjoyed to hear that there is a return to a housing system that is reminiscent of Star Wars Galaxies. For one, unlike so many games that offer housing, Dragon's Prophet will not have instanced abodes. Players will be able to stake claims on plots of land out in the world and build their homes there. The lots come in various sizes, with larger ones understandably costing more and taking more maintenance.
Decorating will also be free-form. Players will be able to re-size, rotate, and flip items to place them however they want. To illustrate this, John Tang described one player's house in Runes of Magic (which uses the same basic system) that impressed him: The player literally had every item floating off the ground a bit to give the home a haunted, magical feel.
Housing decorations themselves will come from different sources. Furniture can be bought from vendors, drop from mobs (like a trophy head from bosses), and crafted by players. There will be boxes for storage and mannequins to display armor.
But frontier living isn't just about having a house to call home; ambitious guilds can form alliances and try to take over the frontier and become lords of specific areas of land. These conquerable areas are floating islands around the world. There are a fixed set of rules for conquest. John Tang explained, "The way you do that is basically you have to attack a fortress to take over the island. Once you have ownership of the island, you can do construction on it."
Players should note that these conquerable islands are PvP-enabled, although personal houses cannot be destroyed. However, lords of the land can exact taxes and build guard patrol stations to help improve safety in the area. Players are also safe inside their personal housing lots. For those who do not want as much PvP with their housing, there will be isles that are safer to build homes upon.
Dragons, non-instanced housing, non-standard skill and ability builds... Dragon's Prophet certainly sounds promising to folks who are looking for an interesting new sandbox-style game. We'll definitely keep tabs on this game, and I for one will heed Smedley's advice: "This is a game you've got to try."
What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporters MJ Guthrie and Karen Bryan to this year's SOE Live, from which they'll be transmitting all the best fan news on PlanetSide 2, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and the other MMOs on SOE's roster.