There’s plenty of MMOs that promise to get you right in the action, but few of them really deliver. You have to zone out of the city, have to go hunting, have to buy provisions, have to find your quest area… and that’s fine.
But why make life complicated? Sometimes you just want to put a coin in the coin slot and slaughter stuff wholesale. But, with other people.
Arcade MMOs like Pi Story and LaTale and follow the lead of the genre leader, Maple Story — a side-scrolling world, easy and quick grouping, heavy anime influence, lots of enemies, over-the-top attacks and drop-in gameplay.
THQ*ICE’s Dragonica Online, currently in open beta, includes all these things, along with player housing, loads of customization, and a 3D engine which playfully toys with the whole side scrolling experience by having enemies and players turn and move around, devastating critical effects blasting monsters into the computer monitor (which cracks! They hit so hard!) and platforming aspects that have you moving in and out of the world as well as left and right, using conveniently placed hyperjump platforms to send you flying into a different path.
You choose from four different jobs at character creation, familiar to any RPG player. Warrior takes hits and wades into the middle of an army of critters, unleashing devastating close melee attacks; Thief darts around the battle, dealing vast damage with their twin claws; Mage uses the power of fire and wind to control the battle and gather things together for the big booms; and Archers use magical arrows to keep monsters at a distance, prevent them from attacking and helpless to avoid a continuous stream of longbow-launched death.
Healing (and power regen) is via potions or crafted items. Crafting is about as simple as it can possibly be. Monsters drop recipes fairly often; right click on the recipe, check the ingredient list, and if you have all the ingredients — trash loot from monsters — you press the button and out comes yummy food which can heal you, grant you more mana, or give you a wide variety of short term buffs.
While you can level purely by setting foot outside of town and killing everything you see, you’ll likely want to have quests in your journal for a little extra incentive. Every quest hub has a wide selection of your standard kill quests, some repeatable. Your main driver, though, will be the special storyline quest that starts off as a quest to just find a lost puppy, but expands into the story of an evil that threatens the entire world.
These storyline quests typically lead to mission hubs. Mission hubs are instanced maps with five difficulty levels, from solo to full group. The first two are fairly easily soloed, the third with some care, but you’ll want to partner with others for the last. Parties can have up to four players, and joining a party is as simple as hanging out at a mission platform and clicking on the “looking for more” bubbles floating on top of the group leader’s head. Dragonica Online uses the F1-F10 keys as shortcuts for most actions; the shortcut keys for the various misison difficulty levels are F1 (easiest) through F5 (elite), so you often see people looking for more for F3-F5 — the three highest difficulties.
The reward for completing a mission can be sealed (unique) gear, armor enchantment powders, XP potions and other good stuff. The number and uberness of your reward depends on your grade for the mission. You’re graded on contribution and speed, on a letter grade scale (S, A, B, C, D). Repeating F5 missions is one of the best ways to get xp and loot, as well as the sheer fun of killing huge crowds of monsters at a time.
With only four classes, relatively few character customization options and gear being fairly similar among people of the same class, Dragonica Online funds its free-to-play business model with an item store where you can find all manner of fluff gear. THQ*ICE has been giving open beta players piles of fluff loot, including giant kitty masks, toy balloons, resting chairs and unique costume pieces. Players have full control over their avatar’s look with a full screen of appearance slot inventory, so you needn’t sacrifice looks for stats.
Dragonica has full player housing support, guilds, and an achievement system to identify the hardcore players.
Free-to-play, side-scrolling Arcade MMOs are a fairly crowded field, but Dragonica Online’s humor and sheer over-the-top mega destructiveness keeps me coming back where other, similar games, were easily set aside.
Check out this video I made yesterday, showing the end of an F5 (elite) mission that wraps up the storyline quest from the starting city. I, an archer, join with another archer, a thief and a mage to whirl through the maps leaving wreckage in our wake. Note how the thief tosses enemies in the air where the archers can keep them lifted on a stream of arrows, while the mage engulfs them in fire. The special class abilities dovetail extremely well. The video looks best full screen, high quality.