2013 is proving to be an incredibly busy year for Sony Online Entertainment. Even as many of us collectively keep one eye on the calendar for the August 1st kickoff of SOE Live for a look at EverQuest Next, SOE has taken on a publishing role for some other noteworthy MMO projects. Among them is Dragons Prophet which is being developed by Runewalker, the studio behind Runes of Magic.
This week we had the opportunity to dive into the closed beta client of Dragons Prophet to check out some higher level gameplay, experience a short but sweet dungeon run, and learn more about how dragons directly impact the life of your character. While we had been impressed by what we were shown of these same areas during GDC last month, at the end of the day nothing beats a good hands-on experience to get a feel for the fun factor.
Of the four classes available in Dragons Prophet, I spent my hands-on time playing the Oracle. The oracle is an interesting specimen in that its a decidedly melee-centric class, but sticks to wearing cloth armor. During our play session, Senior Producer Todd Carson noted that the oracle is somewhat similar to the original monk class in EverQuest in that regard.
Thats really where any similarity to other MMO classes ends, however, as Dragons Prophet features one of my new favorite combat systems. Rather than loading up hotbars with piles of skills and forming rotations out of a select few, DP uses a combo system reminiscent of fighting games to weave different attack chains together.
Active combat systems have become the rule rather than the exception that they once were, but theres something instantly gratifying about how the system works in DP. Weaving together left and right mouse clicks will produce different results with the skills mapped to each dynamically updating and swapping out in those slots throughout combat. Likewise, skills mapped to the number keys or E, R, Q, and V can invoke even more combo chains.
Since just about every MMO combat system can ultimately be whittled down to certain core rotations best suited to a given encounter or combat scenario, I found the implementation in DP to be highly intuitive. It didnt take me much time at all to figure out some of the more potent combos available on my level 40 oracle, and learning what others were available that I hadnt yet stumbled upon was as simple as opening up the skill window where a full combo list can be found based on your unlocked skills.
As our group scampered around the countryside laying waste to any mobs foolish enough to stand in our way, we were actually contributing to the first phases of one of the many public events found in Dragons Prophet. In this case, we were able to complete a three stage event that culminated in a massive, pissed off dragon spawning outside of a nearby dungeon entrance.
We made short work of it, so stepped through the portal and continued our adventure inside of a dragon filled cave network. The dungeon itself was relatively short, but then again our characters were also slightly overpowered for the level of the mobs we were fighting. So much so, in fact, that the massive dragon boss at the end went down with ease with only myself and the sorcerer in my group actively participating in combat.
One minor issue I found with these larger encounters is that as is usually the case the boss was so huge that it literally filled my screen once I stepped into melee range. As a result it was very hard to get a feel for positioning or anticipate some of the larger incoming attacks so that I could avoid taking too much damage or having my combos interrupted. That, plus its always a bummer to engage in something on a seemingly epic scale only to miss the grand spectacle of it all as you watch your character put the hurt on a bosses toes.
Triumphantly shouting, I stubbed your big toe! Take that dragon! our group departed the cave in search of some smaller dragons to tame.
The dragon system in Dragons Prophet combines the concept of combat pets and mounts into one neat package. The cherry on top is that your dragon companions will be able to do things like gather crafting materials for you even while youre offline. There are fees associated with doing so, scaling up depending on how many hours you send your dragon out for (up to 24 hours at a time). However, the longer you send them out, the more materials theyll return with. Along with gathering materials, youll also have the option to send your dragons to train which can allow you to do things like customize their combat effectiveness.
During combat youll be able to summon one of your dragons to assist, but they wont necessarily function like a standard permapet class. Each one tamed does have a chance to unlock new skills for your character though, ranging from buffs to attacks, or even heals. Once unlocked these skills can be added to your hotbar like normal skills, and used regardless of whether your dragon is actively summoned at the time.
Dragons are literally everywhere in the game, and come in all shapes and sizes. Some will double as a standard riding mount, while others will have the ability to function as a flying mount. Youll be able to continue taming new dragons as you progress through the game, so youll have the freedom to pick and choose the ones you want to stick around in one of the 12 available slots.
The system of taming new dragons is pretty comical to watch, and almost reminds me of watching someone riding a mechanical bull. The way it works is that youll approach a dragon out in the wild, and use one of your characters skills to attempt to tame it. Doing so will see your character leap to the creatures back, and then a balancing mini-game kicks in. The goal is to keep your center of gravity for long enough for the dragon to decide youre worthy. For most common spawns this will be a relatively easy process, but rare spawns will prove to be more of a challenge.
While Dragons Prophet still has some rough edges commonly seen early on in closed betas, the core gameplay is a certainly a slice of fun. The combat system is both solid and intuitive, and other systems display a level of depth Im always happy to see in new games.
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