There’s dozens of kung fu-based MMOs out there; I think Aeria Games publishes at least three. They aren’t hard to find, but the best and most popular of them has just come to the States last year, and that’s Dragon Oath, the WoW of Chinese kung fu MMOs.
I came across Dragon Oath during my series on IP-based MMOs. The game is based on an epic “wuxia” novel, Tian Long Ba Bu, serialized over four years in newspapers starting in 1963. With a cast of hundreds and a complexity that could only be appreciated by a Robert Jordan fan, TLBB sparked a string of over-the-top kung fu movies, television series and so on. As an IP-based game, they have a tiger by the tail. Dragon Oath has over 75 million players the world over. Granted, it’s a free to play, so who knows how much yuan it’s pulling in compared to WoW, but it’s no slouch.
You don’t typically find strong character creation in Asian games. Dragon Oath gives you very few options to start with — gender, name, one of three outfits, a very few hairstyles, and a nice selection of portraits to represent you. More hairstyles are available, naturally, in the cash shop. You don’t get to choose your school of kung fu until level 10, so you’ll be off and in game in just a few minutes.
The Newbie Experience
So much waits for level 10 — the good armor, your school of kung fu — that it’s a relief when it turns out the tutorial leads you through the first few levels. Aside from a quick foray out the city gates to kill a monster in order to demonstrate fighting, your first ten levels will be spent running around the city, learning how to move, interact with people, and figuring out which of the nine schools of kung fu will be best for you. There’s shaolin, voodoo, assassin, lotus, beggar’s guild, minstrels, royal, pyro, and another. Each has its own abilities and style. Minstrels, for instance, rely upon gadgets and traps. Shaolin-style are masters of polearms and thunder magic. Pyros specialize in the nukes. Lotus-style focuses on healing.
Dragon Oath wants you to have a pleasant newbie experience. As long as you’re logged in, you’ll keep getting gifts of level 10 gear just for pressing a button. If you prove you are not a bot on one of their random checks, you get another gift. Very soon, you’ll be standing in front of Master Zhao and he’ll be asking you to go check out the kung fu schools (via teleports, travel is fast in DO). This is when the game really starts.
Dragon Oath moves entirely through click to move, which can annoy some people. The good news is that you needn’t hardly use it, as clicking anywhere on the area map moves you there automatically. Quests that have specific locations have clickable links that bring your character there. The automove window lists every single NPC in the zone — click on a name and your character runs there. Even for short distances, it is often easier to just tab open the map and click where you want to go than to clickclickclick your way there manually.
While the game is 3D, the camera is permanently placed above your character looking down, Diablo or Mythos style. You can zoom in and there is limited vertical movement, but largely you will get used to the aerial perspective.
The UI is standard for Asian F2Ps, which is to say, pretty noisy. Something is always begging for your attention.
The quests so far have been fairly standard — kill ‘n’ of this critter, bring this thing to this other person and so on. I have to emphasize that I only played the game for a little while, getting to level 15. There were many things I didn’t get to. They have a full kung fu soccer game built in; I haven’t seen that yet. They were gathering people for kung fu CHESS of all things; so there’s more than a few things to do there.
Asian games seem very much concerned that you won’t find the love of your life in real life if you are sitting on a computer playing an MMO. Dragon Oath shares that concern. Many city quests involve finding characters of specific genders and schools of kung fu and gathering them together. There is a full matchmaking system built in as well, including an entire wedding system.
You get a free pet from the newbie experience, and your school will have another pet for you. If those aren’t enough, you can travel to the aptly-named Pet Island and try your luck with the wildlife there. Pet Island is heavily farmed, as killing enough of the regular pet fodder spawns powerful bosses which can be tamed.
Pets can be tamed, trained and leveled alongside their master. They can also be bred to make new kinds of pets, apparently.
Combat is why you want to play Dragon Oath. You won’t believe the variety of skills. Experience is spent on various skills and skill lines, and you blend attacks with debuffs and buffs in a very fluid and fun system that is right out of the movies. Combat is forgiving enough, at least at low level, that I could take on a pair of critters ten levels higher without any trouble.
All in all, a fun game, one I expect I’ll continue.
And now, three minutes in the world of Dragon Oath for your viewing pleasure: