Of the free-to-play titles that caught our eye at GDC 2010, none were more compelling than Vindictus, developed by DevCat and due to be published in North America by Nexon. DevCat is the same studio that developed the free-to-play teenage step-up title Mabinogi, and Vindictus is actually published at Mabinogi Heroes in Korea, where the game recently went live. Vindictus has no connection to Mabinogi aside from being a brutal prequel to the teen-friendly virtual world-ish game released in 2008.
According to Nexon’s Min Kim, Nexon dropped Mabinogi in the title because the North American audience understood to be an Asian word. In fact, the word describes a body of Welsh and Celtic lore – the Mabinogion – that provides Vindictus with much of its story flavoring, including the war goddess Morrigan, the promised paradise of Erin, and the thoroughly Celtic idea of pleasing the former by slaying enemies in order to enter the latter.
Combat screenshots from Vindictus.
The phrase Min Kim kept using to describe Vindictus was “brutal elegance” – the animations are motion captured, absolutely vicious, and often result in enough blood splatter to make a Clive Barker slasher seem wholesome. But the violence isn’t just about the gibs – there’s no dismemberment or beheadings, but camera effects jar the viewer in all the right ways, putting me more in mind of a cinematographic console title than an MMO action RPG.
Wall, meet enemy. Enemy, wall.
But that isn’t even the best part in terms of how graphics and gameplay come together in Vindictus. Kim explained that Nexon has a longstanding relationship with Valve as the publisher of CounterStrike in Asia (where, interestingly, it’s a microtransaction-driven free-to-play game), and was able to modify the physics-intensive Source engine for use in Vindictus. What does that mean? “Everything can be destroyed,” Kim explained, grinning. Sure enough, boulders mowed down opponents, swords smack convincingly against shields (something Vindictus is perfecting in gameplay too), armor shows dents and wear, arrows stay stuck in opponents, staggered enemies can be used as shields from arrows, tree branches were wielded as weapons, and enemies were sent two feet deep into walls. Total destructibility offered some interesting puzzler elements too; in the trailer below, you’ll see heavy stones dropped through a wooden floor to reveal a new path.
As game-changing as the Source Engine is, it might somewhat limit the massively multiplayer-ness of the game, which is closer to Dungeons & Dragons Online than WoW. You’ll start and finish every mission in a social space with a tavern, crafting area, and vendors, then you’ll board a ship to go off to “war zones” or instanced dungeons where you’ll fight as a four-, six-, or ten-person team against seemingly unbeatable odds. Min Kim noted that you’ll encounter fishing on your first voyage – besides being fun (who launches an MMO without fishing these days?), it’s a low pressure way to teach new players combos.
Vindictus is a class-based game, though to give you some idea of how early a reveal Nexon treated us to, the classes don’t have English names quite yet. We saw a dual wielding class, a lance and shield class (the lance extending and distending like an old fashioned radio antenna out of combat, which was very cool), and a mage / healing class. Players do battle with fomors – sea monsters in Celtic mythology, but in Vindictus a fomor is pretty much everything non-human and under Morrigan’s curse. As exampled, Kim showed several enemies including a giant tremors-esque toothed worm, a variety of undead, and one huge polar bear. The last was exemplified as one of Vindictus’s tougher multi-stage fights involving harpoon spearguns, attaching chains to limit its mobility, and a final frantic melee stage to end the fight.
Evy, decked out in Mage gear, has become one of the more popular characters in Korea.
The game features loads of character customization options and armor, which wouldn’t bear stating nowadays except that the characters look so good. Right now, DevCat and Nexon have no plans to have player vs. player in the game; Vindictus is all PvE. Session length will range from fifteen minutes to an hour, and crafting weapons and equipment from components taken as loot is a major part of the game. And in a rare move, DevCat is opting to bring Vindictus to the West before the game is released in China. “DevCat studios believes that the US is the holy grail, and they think this is the game to do it.” Kim explained. “We think this is going to change the way people look at free-to-play games.”
Look for Vinductus in Summer 2010, and thanks to Nexon and Min Kim for showing the game to Ten Ton Hammer at GDC 2010.