Massively's Dragon's Prophet first impressions

Massively's Dragon's Prophet first impressions
I don't have many fond memories from Runes of Magic. I didn't play it long, and the thing I recall most vividly is being forced to hunt around Runewaker's cash shop for an item that would let me talk in global chat.

Fortunately, negative vibes like that didn't affect my recent hands-on with Dragon's Prophet's beta, which, in case you're wondering, is Runewaker's followup to Runes of Magic. Unfortunately, I don't think the new game in its present state is quite ready for prime time.

Dragon's Prophet - Ballistae
Like its predecessor, DP is a free-to-play fantasy MMO. Unlike its predecessor, DP is published by Sony Online Entertainment and banking heavily on the titular dragons to set it apart from the legions of other fantasy MMOs crowding the market. I logged a few hours in the closed beta over the weekend, and what follows is a series of general first impressions that may help you decide whether or not to do the same when the title rolls into open beta at the end of this month.

In terms of the basics, Dragon's Prophet is heavily quest-based, and right from the get-go I found myself sent out on various kill-this and deliver-that errands. My inventory soon overflowed with "intestine drippings" and other spoils, and I almost single-handedly exterminated the rhino beetle population outside the walls of Siberna.

Dragon's Prophet - SorcererSome of the early quests seemed a little of out whack, as I was routinely getting two- and three-shotted at level 7 by the level 9 mobs just up the road from the newbie town. These weren't heroics either, and even when I got a firmer grasp on the pseudo-action combat system (more on that in a minute), I found myself having to grind out a couple of levels on trash mobs before I could comfortably progress on some of the quests. Much of the game in general feels unfinished -- there are lots of items with labels like SYS240260255_NAME -- though I expect some of this stuff to be ironed out with a patch prior to open beta.

Character creation was a high point thanks to a generous helping of customization sliders. I was able to make a reasonably unique Sorcerer who looks as if he's been wandering the wild for years, as opposed to the perfectly coiffed dandies I've been forced to roll in many other fantasy titles. If ranged spellcasting isn't your thing, there's also a Ranger class, a Guardian (melee tank), and an Oracle (healer) to choose from in the current build.

Visually, I quite like Dragon's Prophet. The newbie town of Siberna and the surrounding quest hub of Mount Ayden has a nice red rock look to it, and there are tons of nooks and crannies to explore as well as interesting details like balconies featuring big wooden telescopes and ballistae.

The game's general aesthetic reminds me of Warhammer Online in that it's highly stylized with hints of realism, and there's a grungy, gritty feel to both the avatars and the environments that I really dig. There's also a day/night cycle, which is always a plus since many modern MMOs forego it, though the transition in the current build is far too abrupt.

Dragon's Prophet - Siberna statue
Dragon's Prophet's animations aren't quite as appealing, and while I'm not one to complain about such things usually (I'm more than fine with The Secret World's, for example), these could stand another coat or two of polish.

The troubled animations are particularly noticeable in an action combat game where you look at your character more than you look at your hotbar cooldowns. It's also unfortunate for Dragon's Prophet that I've just come off two weeks of playing TERA at length, and if there's a poster child for marrying action combat, animations, and slick visuals the right way, TERA is it. DP's occasional hitching and stuttering isn't a gamebreaker for me personally, but if I noticed it, more discerning animation aficionados surely will too.

And that brings us to combat, which SOE and Runewaker are advertising as action-based. I guess technically it is because there is no target-locking, but there's also not much skill required when you aim. Moving your mouse cursor-reticle-thing anywhere near a baddie results in a full body red outline, and you can then spam away with your left button attack, right button attack, or various hotbar abilities. It's incredibly hard to miss.

Dragon's Prophet
I had fun with my Sorcerer's Fiery Dragon's Breath and Ground Fissure skills, which BBQ the mob and an AOE radius around my avatar in the case of the former and fling the mob backwards after splitting the earth asunder in the case of the latter. There is a combo system, too, which reminds me of the one in SOE's DC Universe Online title.

Chaining together certain mouse button sequences results in some fairly spectacular particle effects and stronger-than-normal attacks, and this was probably my favorite part of DP's combat system. I wasn't as enthused with the fact that casting rooted my Sorceror in place, and while I understand that it adds an element of strategy and tactics to every battle, I just find it annoying after playing other MMOs that have abandoned the trope.

And finally, what about those dragons? Well, taming them is a little minigame that's heavily dependent on your character's charisma stat (which can be raised with stat points you gain while leveling) and your ability to counter your proposed mount's bronco-bucking with your W, A, S, and D keys. There's basically a small circular window on your UI that becomes visible whenever you attempt to tame a mount, and your objective is to keep a small red icon inside of the appropriate area with your key presses.

Dragon's Prophet - Dragon riders
There's quite a bit more to the game than I've recounted here, of course. I've yet to dabble in crafting or dungeons or collecting any of the higher-level dragons and gearing them out. As it stands, though, the portions of Dragon's Prophet that I did see feel fairly unfinished for a game that is releasing soon to soonish. Neither SOE nor Runewaker has officially announced a release date, but I'm assuming that it will be this summer given the recent NDA drop, the open beta announcement, and the fact that no generic fantasy MMO in its right mind would willingly compete with The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar juggernauts that are more than likely coming this fall.

That said, there's plenty to like about DP, and I'm particularly interested in getting some hands-on time with the game's housing and guild systems in the future. Assuming that SOE adds the game to its Station Pass offering, I'll certainly be returning to check in after DP has a few patches under its belt.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?
This article was originally published on Massively.