Dream of Mirror Online is currently in the news for IP bans, and unexpected regional segregation between service operators. Leave all that go for just a few minutes.
Forget the disputes between the game operators and focus on the game. What is Dream of Mirror Online all about, what is it like to play, and most of all, is it fun? We've had our hands on the beta for a while now, and we've got some hands-on impressions for you.
Introducing the Mirror World
Originally, we are told, the Kunlun Mirror World in which DOMO takes place was to be a continuous reflection of the real world. A set of real-time backups for reality, if you prefer to think of it that way.
Once presided over by the Twelve Mirror Kings (King in this case referring to either gender), most of the Mirror Kings are missing. The dreams and delusions of people in the real world have clouded the mirror, and the Mirror World no longer resembles the real world very well at all.
The remaining Mirror Kings are summoning people to the Mirror World to help set things right. You are one of those summoned.
Getting started in the Mirror World
Character creation is simple and effective, with characters being one of four races, each of which has two genders available. If you're uncertain, start your first character as a human. They're the most generally versatile race and a good choice for both beginners and experienced players.
Appearance customization is nothing fancy and won't take you more than a minute or two, tops. Everyone looks a bit similar though. In the end, your gear, hair-style and hair-color are going to be the key distinguishing visual features of your character.
Each race has a slightly different (but similar) tutorial. Humans start out in the Beginner's village. One of the Mirror Kings (who actually seems a little distracted and oblique) greets you, touches briefly on the Mirror World and then sends you to your first task. The Landlord needs the wild Pupu numbers thinned.
A couple more missions for the folk of the Beginner's Village will help you master the interface basics, gain some levels and loot, and then you can transport to the city of Eversun to meet another Mirror King (King Collins), and make some permanent choices about your character, before you begin adventuring in the wider world.
King Collins will ask you a question about your destiny that will ultimately choose which storyline your character will follow through the course of the game.
In the early stages of the game you won't have to worry much about monster aggro. Herds of creatures will largely ignore you as you thin their numbers. As you become more powerful and begin to challenge more powerful creatures, you'll find that beginning to change, and creatures beginning to initiate hostilities with you, rather than the other way around.
There are a lot of character classes in DOMO. You start out as a Citizen, and once you reach level 10 you can take on a different class. In this case, they're called jobs. Each job has its own set of skills and abilities, some of which can be added as secondary skills to a different primary job. That gives you a lot of room to develop. As soon as you start thinking about getting new weapons or armor, you'll be wanting to look at jobs. Citizens only carry the simplest gear.
However - the job system really isn't explained with any great comprehensiveness, and you will absolutely want to deal with jobs before you deal with arms and armor. It's far too easy to buy equipment you cannot use, and wind up having to sell back at a substantial loss - there are colored indicators marking whether you can or can't use an item, but until you have more information about jobs, it is hard to tell what they mean or to see the distinction between them.
If you're familiar with Final Fantasy XI's job system, you'll likely be more at home with the one in DOMO, though a job can be used as a Support Job almost right away. The more time you spend advancing a job, the better the support skills from it will be, and the support skills you get from a job varies according to the job. This is something that needs more explanation than just the in-game conversations with the NPCs, alas. Either you need to use trial-and-error, or get someone who knows it better than you do to explain and answer questions.
Relationships are important - but not absolutely vital
DOMO is very strong on the formation and maintenance of relationships, though they are a completely optional aspect of the game. You can play casually, and solo as you please, but people who work on their relationships will be stronger. There are friends, masters, disciples, guildmates, and lovers. Friends are easy to make. Guildmates - well, join a guild!
The other relationships require the use of dreamstones to establish pledges.
When your character is created, your choice of race, gender, birthdate and birth-sign are all used to determine special relationships. A destined relative, destined enemy, or destined love.
My character's heart beats faster whenever she's around this male shaman - you can hear it. There's a connection there, between them. Characters in special relationships have access to special combos, joint attacks and cooperative skills. It's far more than just strength in numbers.
Fate and destiny are strong, underlying themes throughout the Mirror World, and the unfolding story.
Gathering and crafting
Crafting in DOMO runs through a number of phases. Gathering materials. Refining and the actual crafting process. The collection phase (gathering materials) can be an awful grind in some MMOs. In DOMO, you get yourself to an appropriate collection area with the right tools, begin collection, and then go and get coffee, play with the kids, read a good book, check your email, chat, or read the latest news on Massively. Collection will continue until your inventory fills up, you sign out or you choose to stop.
Gathered materials are then taken to an NPC to be refined, and the refined materials can be used to make assorted useful things.
Scattered all over the Mirror World are blue urns that contain crafting recipes for a wide-variety of useful objects.
Of course it can be time-consuming to gather everything you need for some recipes. Instead, you can trade with other people. You can set your character in one of the market squares of Eversun, operating a small, customizable stall, set to log out when they are done selling (another good opportunity to catch up on that reading you've been lax on). If you're ever short on some materials, a browse through the player-run stalls in Eversun will usually turn up the things you're missing.
Certain special mirrors can be used to capture weakened creatures, who can then be deployed Pokemon-style to aid you in battle. My own exposure to the pet system so far has so far mostly consisted of envious glances at the pets of others, however. The explanation for how that all works was kind of foggy.
Well, actually you can fly. On swords. Let me just go over that again. Flying on swords, yes. Also flying on sabers, sticks, rods and dancing fans. It's more like sky-surfing or sky-skate-boarding, and it's very cool indeed. You'll have to hit at least level 15 and polish off a few quests to get started on this, but flying is a game-skill all of its own. It's something your character can get better at.
Screw the epic mounts - fly the friendly skies on three feet of deadly steel. Flying makes travel to many hard-to-access locations much easier.
Storyline and quests
The story follows a set of epic quests in chapters. There's always plenty of side-quests to do, and as much grinding as you could wish for in between times, however. There never seems to be a shortage of missions.
In actual fact, there are two epic quest lines. Your choices with King Collins when you enter Eversun will make one or the other available to you.
As a bonus, the Job Master in Eversun will give you a guide with quest notes so that you can more easily locate mission objectives if you need a hint.
Graphics and interface
Everything's cute and anime-styled in DOMO. Even the User Interface is cute. No, really. Right down to the little sleepy fairy at the bottom of the screen who provides periodic advice. Characters are expressive and have a wide variety of anime emotes available to them.
There's always something to make you smile.
The map and travel
The minimap can be zoomed out to full size, with key points of interest for your current quest(s) marked on it. You can also tailor which markers appear on the map and when the map is full-size you may click on a place on the map to make your character run there. If the area is relatively safe, you can go and make a cup of coffee while your character travels.
DOMO integrates nicely with the Windows status icons and will issue popups when your character is attacked or has arrived at her destination if the application is backgrounded or minimized.
Combat and Combos
Filling the combo bar lets you make more powerful combo attacks. Paying special attention to how it fills and when you use them allows you to build and execute super-combos.
What I didn't like...
- The job system, I felt, was inadequately explained. It's complicated and I felt a bit confused by options. I'm still not quite clear about changing jobs after I've chosen one. The job system is good and I like it, but I'm just not understanding my options (and potential penalties) very well.
- The pets system as well isn't really very clear. If you're going to deal with pets, you'll want someone experienced to help you, or be prepared for trial and error.
- The translation is just slightly spotty here and there - as you would expect converting from one subtle and nuanced language to another.
- Walking and running animations feel a bit odd. The avatar's hips remain at a constant height above the ground, which means the leg animations tend to have a slightly awkward 'skating' motion to them.
- Blue text indicating objects and rewards you are given tends to appear right over character speech balloons, and takes quite a while to fade, interrupting the whole flow of things.
- The keyboard shortcuts aren't anything like you'd usually expect. CONTROL-D for your inventory, CONTROL-F for the map, and so forth. You get used to them fairly quickly, but it's a little awkward if you've come from a standard Western MMO.
- Turning your avatar/moving your camera by holding and dragging with the right mouse button doesn't lock the mouse pointer - so as you turn, the mouse-pointer continues to move towards the edge. Once it gets there you have to shift it back towards the middle for another drag.
System requirements are comfortably lean, allowing a wide variety of systems to play. Better systems can look forward to better graphics. DOMO runs only under Windows (but should be undemanding enough for virtual machines), though the 1GB initial download may put some of you off.
All in all, though, for my casual MMO gaming dollar - that's zero dollars admittedly - Dream of Mirror Online is a win. It makes me smile. When I'm not worried about screwing up somehow with the job system, I'm having a lot of fun.
Dream of Mirror Online already has more than 400,000 players in its original language, and is free-to-play, supported by sales from the online item store. The English version went into Open Beta at the end of November, and you can download it now, and enter the Mirror World yourself.