GDC 2013 Dragon's Prophet demo and handson dishes up details
Last fall, Runewaker and SOE announced Dragon's Prophet, a free-to-play fantasy game focused on -- you guessed it -- dragons. Since then, we've been treated to various videos detailing the classes, the starter zones, and other gameplay. Just last week the game entered closed beta in North America, allowing select folks the chance to get in and test out the current stage of the game.

This week, I joined those folks in-game during my hands-on and demo at this year's GDC. I was also able to talk with senior producer Todd Carson and associate producer Rod Haza as they demonstrated different aspects of the game at the convention. What delectable tidbits of information about classes, housing, and (of course) dragons did I uncover? The answer awaits after the break.
Dragon's Prophet screenshot
A virtual tour

Before sending me off into the wilds by myself, Carson and Haza offered a virtual tour of parts of the game while sharing some of the backstory. Worried that a high prevalence of dragons within the game will result in bland carbon copies of the mythical creature littering the landscape? Don't be! Dragons in Dragon's Prophet are more than just your typical fantasy beasts. In the game's lore, elder dragons came to the world and mated with many of the native creatures, creating various types of new dragon-kind. Along with typical dragons, you'll also find raptor-cow dragons, buffalo dragons, and a myriad of other variations. Raptor-cow dragons, guys. If you've seen one dragon, you've definitely not seen them all!

The first part of the tour centered on character classes. There are four basic classes, differentiated more by fighting style and armor type than skills. The Guardian is a hand-to-hand melee character that wears heavy armor. The Sorcerer is the typical magic-based ranged class, whereas the Ranger is physical-based ranged, relying on arrows (and later in the game) dual-wielded guns. Yes, guns. The fourth class is the Oracle, a hybrid. Although you might expect the hybrid nature to be about partial healing with a little DPS, this class is actually more damage centered than healing. The hybrid comes in because the Oracle has both ranged magic and powerful melee attacks. However, unlike the other melee class, the Oracle can wear only cloth armor.

Warning: Once you make your character, the selection screen has your avatar standing next to a dragon, but that does not mean your character gets that dragon! Such a tease. Sadly, the dragons are only there to give a taste of what you'll eventually find in game.

Dragon's Prophet screenshotPicking a fight

What about combat? There is no auto attack button in Dragon's Prophet, so you have to actually physically initiate every attack. Combat also involves combos; what order you click your mouse buttons will grant different moves.

All characters have base skills for their class. Without a dragon, players are limited to using only those generic skills. However, the real individual customization comes when collecting your own personal stable of dragons (which we will talk about in a moment). Since what and how many skills a dragon has upon capture is randomly generated, even if two people get the exact same type of dragon, chances of obtaining the same skill set are quite low.

Some of our readers have wondered about the scenario of two classes -- say, Guardian and Sorcerer -- getting the same skills from a dragon. If such a happened, would the classes have the same skills to play? No. Think about it -- if both classes got a fireball skill, which one would be able to use it? Guardians do not fight ranged and do not use magic, so that particular skill is pretty worthless for them. (In fact, the melee class would likely take any useful skills from that pet and add it to another one, ditching the spell altogether. More on that in a moment.) However, there are plenty of dragon skills that all classes can utilize, like area heals.

Dragon taming

Of course, since anything beyond your basic skills is dependent on what dragons you have, you'll want to fill your personal stable. Free players have two slots in their stables, and players can unlock up to six. Six more tamed dragons can be stored in your inventory, for a maximum total of 12 dragons. Dragons can be swapped between inventory and stable at any time, but only the ones in the stable lend their skills to the player. The player-skills a dragon provides are available whether that dragon is physically called out or not; however, the dragon's personal skills and attacks are available only when it is out. And just so you know, dragons are AI; players don't direct the dragon or dictate the dragon's skills.

So what happens if you have too many dragons but you still want to get more for different skills? Each dragon has a random number of skill slots, and skills from one dragon can be transferred to another, effectively releasing the dragon whose skill was removed. This way, players can consolidate the skills they want in certain dragons and free up room to catch more.

Dragon's Prophet screenshot
With such a large variety of dragons, players could conceivably come across a number of dragon-kind without knowing. The one way to know for sure is to use the dragon-taming ability -- if it doesn't work, it's not a dragon. However, if it does work, a little minigame pop up and asks you to tame the dragon mechanical bull style; essentially you have to stay on until the dragon is tamed by using keys to keep in the center of a target in the minigame. Taming skill can be increased, just as difficulty levels of dragons also increase.

Dragons are more than just skill piñatas and mounts. They also can gather resources for you for crafting! (Players are able to craft armor, weapons, potions, food, jewelry, dragon gear, and housing items.) Here is where one aspect of the monetization of the game comes in. Most actions, such as combining dragons, crafting, and sending dragons to gather, has a cost. Many times the cost is in in-game currency. However, there are upper levels that can be purchased with Station Cash. For instance, players can send their dragons out to harvest for three hours for in-game coin only, but if they want to send the dragons out for six hours, it will cost Station Cash.

Home sweet home

Although we already knew from the interview at SOE Live 2012 that housing is not instanced and is located up on floating islands where PvP is possible, what we didn't know was that the housing islands are the only place there will be PvP. Yes folks, when you are down below working your way through levels, running your quests, and trying to lasso those dragons, you will not be accosted by unwanted PvP! In fact, according to Carson, PvP might not even make it in at launch and might be bundled into the first expansion with raids and aerial combat instead.

The housing islands will also be shared among all the servers. Players who want to access their homes without risking PvP will have that chance if they use one of their limited teleportation bind points in their home.

Dragon's Prophet screenshot
Getting my hands on dragons

Alas, SOE didn't let me sit there and play for eight hours straight so I could collect my own stable of dragons, but I did have enough time to scratch the surface of character creation and poke around the game a little while. I say scratch the surface of customization because Dragon's Prophet has a multitude of customization options and sliders. After a while I had to click "accept" just so I could get into the game.

As for gameplay, I wish I'd had more time. Even with my abbreviated character creation, I wasn't able to do much more than engage in a few fights. However, I definitely look forward to experiencing more of the game. I felt like I barely had time to get a feel for movement and combat before it was over. Hopefully soon I can continue my journeys in the land of dragons and then offer an even more in-depth look. But for now, I can say that I will be back to explore the many aspects of the game from crafting to dragon taming.

Massively sent its ace reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! Whether it's EVE Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic or that shiny new toy you've got your eye on, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!

This article was originally published on Massively.