Vindictus is a free-to-play game of the likes we've never seen before. It's running on Valve's Source Engine and looks simply incredible. It represents a major departure from Nexon's usual stylized graphics -- Vindictus is as realistic as they come, with crisp graphics and clean animation. It's also a departure content-wise: Vindictus is joyfully violent, allowing you to hack away at monsters, smash almost anything element in the environment, and destroy your opponents with finishing moves. And, of course, to look damn good while doing it. It's "all about elegant brutality," Nexon tells us, and we have to agree.
Before we say anything else, you should watch the E3 trailer, embedded below. Go on, we'll wait.
Now for a surprise: While this isn't exactly gameplay footage, it gives a great impression of how Vindictus feels when you play it.
Crush! Kill! Destroy!
Let's start on that last point. If you see something in the game, you can probably move it, smash it, or throw it. The game has real physics and, though we vaguely recall taking physics in high school, we don't remember it being this much fun. Smash stone columns and watch them crumble into flying debris -- which can hurt both friend and foe! Be laid flat by dangerous traps (we didn't encounter any giant boulders, but think Indiana Jones)! Hurl anything you come across at your enemies! Vindictus is good, old-fashioned gaming fun. Run through the dungeon, lay waste to anyone foolish enough to oppose you, collect your loot.
When we say you can destroy anything in the game, we do mean anything. Armor is an anything and it can be damaged while you're taking hits. This is why they allow you to customize your, er, "basic articles of clothing" during character creation. You could conceivably be out in battle and find that shiny new piece of armor completely smashed by the swing of an enemy's mace. (We didn't see this happen during our demo time, but the possibility is there.)
Come on, what's the gameplay like already?!
Vindictus is a fast-paced hack-and-slash that has a bit more of an FPS vibe (though it's not first person) than an MMO vibe. Not to say that it isn't an MMO: It's certainly massively multiplayer with all of the trappings you'd expect, but combat (which most of our demo consisted of) felt very visceral and immediate.
Teamplay is also stressed. The first time we went by Nexon's booth to get our hands on the game, the crowd was sparse, and we found ourselves playing through the demo dungeon solo. When we came back later to find crowds of people at the demo stations, a second attempt (partied with other players in the demo area) gave us a completely different look at how the game could play. For example, the final dungeon boss was a large beast with a giant mace. If he hit your character, you'd go flying across the room (possibly smashing through crates or columns in the process), but he was very slow. It took him time to perform any of his attacks and time to recover after. This would allow you to run in and out to attack -- dart in when he's preparing to swing or recovering from a swing and get a few hits in before he turns to swing at you. Or, if you had a character with a shield, bring your shield up to block in advance of a swing to absorb damage and then go back to hacking away at him for a few safe moments after.
Even in a group it didn't feel very much like a standard MMO trinity of tank, healer, DPS. Of the two demo characters, one had two large swords (think DPS) and the other carried a sword and shield (think tank), but both of them seemed to do damage effectively and neither were weak in the defensive department. (And either could heal himself with potions or resurrect his companions with items.) Is Nexon breaking away from the long-time MMO class triumvirate? The demo on the floor only included two characters, Lann and Fiona (though each of the Lanns and Fionas had a unique look, perhaps to show off their customization options) but we didn't miss having a dedicated healer at our backs throughout our hands-on dungeon crawl.
We get all of this for free?
Like all of Nexon's games, Vindictus is free-to-play and supported by microtransactions. Though they haven't decided on the exact nature of items to be offered in the store, they've assured us that free-to-play means it's free to play. Players shouldn't have to buy anything in order to enjoy the game or be competitive. In line with other Nexon titles, we'd expect to see a cash shop with vanity items and convenience items.
Though there's a general assumption that "free-to-play" is a sort of stigma, indicating a lower-quality gaming experience, reaction to the title at E3 (at least in Nexon's opinion) has been positive. Demoing the game on the show floor, we overheard "It's free?" more than once. Just look at Vindictus along-side Turbine's free-to-play Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online: The free-to-play model is growing up.
The Source Engine is no slouch, and the graphics are a testament to that. But it's also flexible -- if you don't have a top-of-the-line machine, you can turn down the graphics settings and still enjoy the game. (Though in what state is difficult to tell -- the demos we saw were running on top-of-the-line Alienware machines.) The minimum requirements are single core 2.4GHZ with 512MB RAM and a GeForce 5600. The recommended requirements are a dual core CPU with 1GB RAM an a GeForce 7600.