Gamers who have had a taste of the Chinese massively multiplayer online scene may recall an action title called Continent of the Ninth Seal (or C9) a year or so ago. Fast forward to this month, and GameSpot Asia recently got some hands-on time with the global version of the MMOG. Bugs notwithstanding, we were surprised about how effectively it conveys its message of unbridled action.
After dealing with a tutorial that involved a fight against a giant beast monkey and a village rescue from a pack of gnolls and goblins, we were thrust into quest after quest to move the plot along. We were accompanied by AI soldiers John and Fortz; they weren't much help, but they serve more as companions to forward the story, thanks to their banter. While minimal and predictable in nature, the publisher, Webzen, is doing its best within the free-to-play structure.
Players will get to choose from the close-ranged fighter (which we picked), the long-range hunter, and the spellcasting shaman, as well as the option to not only customize how they look, but also see how they would look covered up with high-level armor in the future.
Players have their basic attacks mapped to the left and right mouse buttons, and additional skills from specific classes can be mapped to numbered keys. Each class has its own set of active skills, command skills pulled off with the basic controls, and passive skills that increase stats. Leveling up earns you skill points, which you can spend on the aforementioned skills via a designated trainer in the town hub. There's also a short clip of each activated skill on the right of the skill menu that shows off how each action looks, so that you have a clear idea of what you're upgrading with a trainer or what you wish to chain together for your future battles.
Within mere hours, we were chaining up attacks and beating up mobs of imps, goblins, birdmen, gnolls, and other humanoid uglies until kingdom come, thanks to the easy controls and tweaked-up action role-playing gameplay. Every hit we dished out felt impactful, and every special move we lined up came out responsively, making us feel like badasses from the get-go. Our elite fighter could bust up a mob with a combination of a thrust kick (a thrust attack followed by circular swipes) and a wide-range bash and kick attack. To clean up the mess, we finished the mob off with the upper swing technique, which launched enemies into the air, allowing us to juggle them with normal attacks as long as we were standing at the correct distance.
On top of that, we could activate fury formation by clicking both the left and right mouse buttons after our purple fury meter was full from all of the bloodshed. This triggered an aura surrounding our warrior that gave him super armor (can't get knocked down), increased attack and movement speed, and heightened damage and defense ratings for a short period of time.
The only time we used this was when we were overwhelmed during a boss fight at the end of a dungeon. Specifically, we had to use it during a fight in the Imp Mines against the brutal kruger, a giant ogre that used a flail and shield to deal huge areas of knockback damage. Because we couldn't rely on potions due to their cooldown periods, we resorted to using all of our accumulated skills in tandem with the fury formation technique to best giants like the kruger.
If you have any experience with action games like Devil May Cry or even the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, you'll feel right at home with C9's mechanics. Because there isn't a targeting system at work here, gamers will have to land their special moves at anyone or anything within their line of sight. Mastering the distance of each class's attacks is key in pulling off the longest chain possible, especially against tougher bosses in future instances that do not give you room to breathe.
Bumping up the difficulty within the same instance showed some differences in level layout and introduced a tougher version of an existing enemy. Case in point: We came across a purple imp with higher hit points in the Imp Forest and more bomb-chucking mole creatures on a harder version of the Imp Mines. We recommend that you find a cooperative group if you're playing a dungeon on the highest difficulty.
By the time you reach level 10, which really shouldn't take too long in the standards of an MMOG, you have the option to promote your class via a time trial. You have to kill a mob of enemies in an arena for three rounds before time runs out, either on your own or with an online party. Traps mix things up, like a lightning bolt shooting downward after every five seconds during a bout. As soon as you reach level 20, you can choose different classes that have their own sets of skills and abilities.
Daily bonuses are given for each day of the week that you are playing on the servers; whether you get a short boost in experience-points acquisition on a Monday or an increase in gold rewards on a Wednesday, it's a nice feature to have, and it gives an incentive to players to keep on grinding. Noncombat activities include getting a job as an artisan; once you select your craft of choice, you can start leveling up your artisan skill to make items for selling or equipping yourself. Later on, you can even change how your items and gear look as you level up by using the town blacksmith.
MMO fans craving player-versus-player action aren't left out of the loop, although at this point in time, most of them aren't available in the beta. There's a deathmatch-esque mode called Rank & Destroy and a practice arena where you can test your skills against bots.
While C9 isn't aiming to replace WoW or Star Wars: The Old Republic, gamers who just want to go in for a fight with like-minded groups should give this MMOG a try. At its primal level, the combat feels satisfying, even in a closed-beta state, and the crafting and customization systems are promising enough to give long-term players the tools to deck out their avatars. The closed beta is currently going on until February 28. Webzen stated that the open beta will be available this later this year.