What is it?
Dragon's Prophet is a new Free to Play MMO due out this year. It's developed by Taiwan-based Runewaker Entertainment, who also brought us Runes of Magic. It's being published by Sony Online Entertainment in the US and Infernum in the EU.
The game is set in the land of Auratia, which is inhabited by both humans and dragons. It has an unusual combat system and hundreds of dragons that players can capture and train, as well as player housing and even the option of building a kingdom with your guild. It's also free to play.
I played as a ranger during this press tour, so I'll be looking at the game from this point of view.
I want to talk about combat first, because aside from the dragons themselves it's the most interesting feature, although if you're playing a ranged class it can take a little getting used to.
There is no tab targeting in this game - you focus on a target when you turn to face it. It doesn't pull you into fighting range, you need to work that out for yourself, and if you get turned around in a melee you have to concentrate on refocussing the target you're already working on, otherwise you have two mobs with half health on you and you take more damage. Targeting is a big part of the fight, get it wrong and you're going to accidentally shoot a mob ten paces behind your target, and if you're not careful, what looked like a simple kill can have you surrounded by mobs you accidentally shot a stray arrow or fireball at. This makes target picking important, you have to think about where you're standing before you pick a fight. This in itself gives the game a different feel to tab targeting MMOs, you can't just tab /faceroll /tab your way through a fight and you have to think about every battle before jumping in.
Fortunately, the way you use your skills balances out this extra difficulty. The primary form of attack is through clicking your left and right mouse buttons to activate combo skills - left mouse clicks set you up for a more powerful right click combo. So for example, you could click left, right, left, right to attack, which will get the mob down, but it won't open up any combos. However, clicking left, left, left right will give you a more heavy hitting attack on the right click. The skills tab shows you which combinations activate different skills.
You also have some keyboard attacks on the Q E and R keys, as well as some on the number keys, which are a little different to your mouse attacks. For the ranger class I got to test, the keyboard skills are more to do with close range combat and the mouse skills are ranged. Later on you can add dragon abilities to the empty number slots, but we didn't get far enough to try that out. I'm looking forward to seeing what's available for each dragon.
This system of focus targeting combined with a simple skill use system takes the emphasis off your actual skills and makes you think more about each fight as a whole. It's easy to learn patterns of clicks and key presses, and it becomes intuitive very quickly, leaving you free to worry about more important things like where you need to stand and what else is nearby. This makes it feel very different to MMOs that give you a large skillbar with lots of different options, you feel that you're looking at the fight on screen and not at your task bar.
You can also select a dragon to fight alongside you. The length of time they last for is determined by the dragon soul bar, which is up at the top with the health bar, and the amount of dragon soul points you have depends partly on your level. Once this bar reaches zero your dragon vanishes, so using it requires some forethought.
There are hundreds of dragons in the game, and not all of them look like dragons. In the preview I got to try out a beautiful flying mount, and I actually managed to train a rather lumpy cross between an armoured rhino and a mammoth. I also saw dinosaur-like dragons, delicate reptilian gliders and smaller, flightless dragons. This is just scratching the surface, I'm aware that I saw only a fraction of the creatures available in game.
Taming a dragon
Taming a dragon involves a small minigame. By pressing 6 you vault onto the unsuspecting dragon's back and rodeo ride it into submission. When you mount the dragon, a small minigame screen appears with a circle in the centre and a cursor that you move by spamming WASD. For harder mounts you also have to press G. If you manage to keep the cursor in the centre of the circle for long enough the dragon will submit to your pestering and agree to enter a partnership with you, but if it bucks you off, you've failed. You then have two choices - run away or kill it. Capturing difficulty depends partly on the type of dragon and partly on your own level, gear and skills, so a dragon that's easy for a level 40 player to capture may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a level 20 player to gain.
Dragons all have different functions. At the most basic level they're mounts that can be summoned to do some extra DPS. More advanced ones have different specialisations which you can use to compliment your character, for example if you're playing a cloth wearing sorcerer you can use a tanking dragon to keep agro off you. You're allowed a total of twelve dragons - six in storage and six in use, which means that you can't have them all! You'll have to choose carefully and pick dragons that compliment your playstyle and build. Fortunately, you do have the option to transfer skills between dragons using the Field Training feature.
Dragon training and specialisation
Dragons can be trained to do a variety of things, including gathering for you. This reminds me a tiny bit of the companion system in Star Wars: The Old Republic, in that you can send one of your dragons off to do something, wait an hour or more and then reap the results of their foraging, and during that time this dragon is unavailable to you as a mount or combat partner. You can train dragons by visiting the Lair Manager in town, which allows you to open the Lair interface and make changes to your dragon. Once you've increased your taming level you can open the Ability Distribution screen and increase your dragon's stats, allowing you to specialise them towards a particular role. For example, if you had a tanking dragon, you can increase its constitution to give it more health, and if your dragon is more of a DPS pet you can increase its strength and ferocity to increase damage and give a greater chance of critical hits.
Dragons can also wear armour, which gives them extra protection and stats.
Aside from all of this, the thing that really sold this game to me was being able to fly. When you're on the ground the landscape is pretty, but when your dragon lifts you up into the sky and you see the land spread out beneath you it gives you a real sense of the size of the game. At the end of the tour I spent a little time just flying around, enjoying the view.
Character classes and specialisation
The game has four main classes, Guardian, Oracle, Ranger and Sorcerer, and they're all essentially DPS. I'm not entirely sure how healing works in this game, but from the gameplay we saw it doesn't appear to be a massive issue, and if I had to guess I'd say that healing dragons come into it somewhere. The classes define the type of gear they use, and the Dragon's Prophet EU site defines them quite neatly:
The Guardian is a heavily armored swordsman that uses the strength and sheer power of his attacks to topple enemies and monsters alike. The Oracle bends the forces of nature to his will and wields a scythe in combat. The other two classes strike with deadly attacks from long distances. The Ranger has a selection of the finest bows and creeps through the undergrowth, looking for prey. The Sorcerer commands the power of the elements, summoning the ancient winds of Auratia and burning his enemies with mighty firestorms.
I only got to try the ranger during the press tour so I can't speak for the other classes, but the ranger was a lot of fun to play. It handles like a standard rogue, with ranged attacks as well as a few assassin-like close combat skills. Sorcerers seem to fit the typical mage mould, guardians are warriors, and oracles... well I'm not entirely sure how they work, but I want to find out. Apparently they're kind of like an EverQuest monk with damage abilities.
Four classes initially seems quite a low number, but then you realise just how far you can take character specialisation in this game.
As well as gaining new skills automatically as you level, you can also specialise your character using the Talent Tree. All the points available won't max it out, so there are lots of options for customising your character based on your preferred style. You also appear to be able to have more than one set of talents, which reminds me a little of the role swapping found in RIFT. This is a feature I like, as it allows you to make more unique characters, and I can see this being an important part of PvP. What I really like, however, is that it looks as though you could have different setups to go with different dragons. If that's the case, this would introduce a level of class customisation that even RIFT didn't achieve.
The character screen itself shows some evidence of adjustability, it looks as though you can increase certain core attributes in a similar way to the ability distribution system for dragons. All in all, there's a lot you can do with each of the four classes.
The gameplay we tried out was a lot of fun, and it was easy to get into from the start.
Open world events
We began in a coastal area called Underworld Port, where an open world event was just starting. This again made me think of RIFT, where open world events were one of my favourite features, and it's nice to see another game pick up this idea of dynamic world events that you can just run into and participate in. It starts out with a global quest to kill crab-like beasties and crocodile-like dragonkin and progresses through several stages to a boss fight with a huge red dragon. The world events are well thought out, with participants getting a loot prize that matches the effort they put into the fight. This means that if someone comes in half way through they aren't diminishing the loot drop of the other players, but they aren't going away empty handed either. It's a system that should make open world events worth participating in.
We then moved on to a dungeon. These are easy to spot, as the entrance is a huge circle of mystical sigils hanging in the air. Walking through the ring takes you into the instance.
The first thing that struck me about the dungeon we tried out was just how pretty it was. Despite being a dank underground cave, the walls glowed as though covered in light emitting algae, water glistened in the darkness and strange light gave it a dreamy, under sea quality. Its very arty.
After slaying a few mobs we made our way to the final boss, and the SOE team stepped back and let us fend for ourselves. It was a pretty easy fight given that we were way over level for the instance, but I can see that at the correct level it would have been pretty challenging, and my character was knocked off her feet a few times by the boss's attacks.
Dungeons have different difficulty levels, and this scales up to a difficulty level that the whole guild can try together. The dev team are keeping their cards close to their chest on this one for the time being, but it's encouraging to know that their will be content in Dragon's Prophet that's designed for a whole guild to tackle.
While I tend to avoid passing judgement on the look of a title that's still in beta, I have to admit that Dragon's Prophet is a beautiful game. The landscapes are well drawn, the town areas feel right and the characters are handsome and elf like. The dragons themselves are the stars, with so much variety available in even this short visit. All the things I look out for when judging the look of a game, like realistic water effects and complex, cloudy skies were there, and the addition of flight and the ability to explore from the air making it feel large and full.
The combat graphics have a classic Korean feel to them, with battle stats appearing in slanting, graffiti like text, blood splattering out artistically and weapons making arcs through the air. Fights are beautiful to watch, and I'd apologise to my dungeon group for pausing to take screenshots if I wasn't pretty sure they were doing the same thing. There were no obvious graphical bugs, which is a good sign at this stage, and one thing that really struck me was just how far you can see into the distance. The scenery and music are very immersive and really pull you into the game.
I always feel that there's no point making a new MMO unless you can add something new to the genre, and it seems as though that's just what Dragon's Prophet has achieved. While elements of the game feel familiar - mobs to slay, quests to complete, crafting, trading and all the usual gubbins that come with an MMO, it plays very differently to most of the titles I've tried, and it adds something that you really only get in Pokemon games - creatures that you can capture and train. It also showcases a style of combat that you don't usually see in MMOs and sets it in a world that feels large and well designed. In short, I liked it a lot and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a new MMO.
Getting your hands on the game
Dragon's Prophet is now in beta. US players can apply here, and EU players here. If you just can't wait to get into the game you'll be pleased to know that there's a Founders system, which will give you VIP beta access and in game items - click here for US and here for EU to read more. Prices start at $19.99/ €15.99.