Action combat is all the rage in MMOs nowadays, and C9 has it down pat. Tab targeting is conspicuously absent. Combat is all about reaction time, situational awareness, dodging, blocking, and chaining together ridiculously powerful combo attacks.
Is it an MMO? As ever these days, that depends on whom you talk to. For its part, Webzen calls it an MORPG (leaving off the first "m" for massively), and the game focuses primarily on PvP and small-group PvE.
C9 is a class-based game that initially gives you four choices (Fighter, Hunter, Shaman, and Witchblade), the last of which was revealed for the first time at E3. The folks at Webzen were kind enough to let me take one for a test drive, and despite bouts of ineptitude brought on by years of plodding, holy-trinity MMO experience, I started to get the hang of the class by the end of the demo session.
The Witchblade is a master (or is that mistress?) of action and skill-based magic. Her playstyle is built on rapid attacks and equally rapid evasion maneuvers. Double-tapping your WASD keys (or holding shift and pressing the corresponding directional) serves to roll you out of harm's way, and you can follow that up with one of several devastating attacks by holding your left mouse button and then chaining together hotbar skills and combos.
There's also a little something called ultimate fury, which is triggered by clicking the left and right mouse buttons after you've filled up your fury bar in a particular dungeon. You'll get a temporary stat boost and some pretty spiffy animation effects (as well as plenty of foes lying dead at your feet).
I played with a keyboard and mouse, but Webzen also offers gamepad support if that's more to your liking. For purposes of the demo, I sliced and diced my way through a level 20 outdoor dungeon, dispatching trash mobs and bosses with relative ease. The game's skill system is quite deep, and I'm supposing that min-max folks will get quite a lot of mileage from tweaking abilities and builds just so. The presentation is high-quality, with slick, violent animations and a beautiful (and decidedly Eastern) world aesthetic.
There's plenty of PvE, including elaborate dungeon setups designed to test your mettle. C9's focus, though, is PvP, and the PvE is basically a training ground designed to wrap your brain around the many possibilities inherent in the combat system. There's also an interesting intrusion mechanic that turns a routine PvE dungeon run into a no-holds-barred PvP smackdown. This can be disabled by the user, of course, but those of you who opt to leave it on will no doubt find some adrenaline coming your way when you least expect it.
In terms of business models, C9 will be free-to-play. Webzen bills its monetization approach as "pay for fun," which means vanity items, XP boosts, and the like may be purchased via the store while the bulk of the game's combat action is available for no charge. C9 is scheduled to go into open beta on June 30th, with launch day soon to follow on July 11th.
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!