Though we haven't seen everything the game has to offer, Dragon Nest may be their most polished game yet.
As alike as they are unalike
It would have been difficult for the three games Nexon had on display at this year's E3 (Dungeon Fighter Online, Dragon Nest, and Vindictus) to be more different from one another. At Nexon's booth this year you could find a 2-D arcade-style game (DFO), a 3-D anime-style fantasy (DN), and a violent action game (Vindictus). But despite their obvious differences in style and tone, each of them shares a similar feel: Each features fast-paced, action-oriented combat that's just plain fun. In all of them, it's quick and easy to get from the starting screen to playing, and once you do... well, you know how when you played Diablo you would tell yourself it'd just be five more minutes and you'd throw up a town portal, sell your loot, and go do your homework? All of Nexon's E3 offerings have a that sort of vibe, though DN is certainly the most Diablo-y of the bunch.
Getting into the game
If you're familiar with MMOs (or with dungeon-crawlers like Diablo), gameplay in Dragon Nest is very straightforward. You're presented with a starting selection of four classes: Archer, Sorceress, Warrior, or Cleric. (The first two are ranged and the latter two are melee, though all have some ranged and some melee abilities, so no one's helpless when out of his or her ideal range.) Pick whichever strikes your fancy and you're thrown right into the game. (Customization doesn't seem to be an immediate offering, though you'll have options later in the game itself.) Once you're in, familiar WASD keys move you around, number keys will cast special attacks, and your mouse lets you look around and can be clicked to use a primary and secondary attack. With those basics in mind, you can run into the nearest dungeon (the demo we played was heavily instanced, and we were alone for the duration), and start wreaking havoc on the nearest bad guys.
As you defeat your enemies, they explode in a burst of loot (coins, food, items that provide buffs, etc.) which you can pick up by hitting F (when the rest of the game was so fast-paced, stopping to hit F every time we found loot seemed to slow things down). But be careful what you pick up! During the demo, in our zest to collect loot drops, we picked up a poison apple which (surprise!) poisoned us.
That sounds boring -- I want to know what combat is like!
The above video, from GDC this year, should give you a feel for what combat is like. But to put it into words, it's fast-paced, action-oriented, and features lots of brightly colored animations and effects. Click and keysmash away to revel in the defeat of your enemies. What more is there to know?
Well, OK -- though the game is simple enough to pick up, we have the distinct impression that some strategy is involved in playing well. As we went through the demo, we started to pick up on which spells worked best in which situations and, of course, you'll gain new abilities as you advance. How to strategically work those abilities intelligently into your combat rotation is up to you.
In talking about combat, the game's graphics also deserve some discussion. Each attack has a unique -- and exceptionally flashy -- graphical effect. For example, the Cleric has a spell that calls a massive cross down from the air to smash his enemies. (We admit, we lol'd when we first saw it.) When there are enemies near at hand, the Archer can leap into the air and do a spinning kick (think Street Fighter's Chun-Li). We gave all four classes a try in the demo and all of their abilities impressed.
But is there more to Dragon Nest than this adorable hacking and slashing?
Take a look at the cinematic trailer above -- which is to say that, yes, the game has a story which you advance through in chapters as you level up. In-game cut-scenes (we saw one rendered live after we'd defeated a boss) add a more cinematic feel to the dungeon-crawling experience. There are also puzzles to solve (we've mentioned before that they remind us of Phantasy Star Online), raids and PvP.
I want to play!
So do we -- but for now we're all out of luck. Nexon plans on releasing Dragon Nest in 2011, and the game doesn't even have a website that we can follow for beta information. In the meanwhile, of course, there's always Mabinogi, Dungeon Fighter Online, and soon, Vindictus.