The last trip down the realm of Alteia had us playtesting the Warrior and the Cleric, as well as testing out what it's like to play the game with three other like-minded loot hunters. Our latest foray into the game is during the Southeast Asian closed beta testing session where we started off as a level one sorceress on the icy plains of Mana Ridge.
As with all standard role-playing games, the sorceress excels in dealing area-of-effect damage at the cost of low hit points. This weakness was very evident as we were slaughtered mercilessly against the fight with the Red Harpy boss in one of the Cristal Stream instances early on in the game. The beast and her cronies started throwing slow-moving tornados that juggled our sorceress continuously for massive damage because we didn't stay a safe distance away and played the luring game.
Luckily, the sorceress is armed to the teeth with really good multi-hitting spells that make fights like the one above a little more manageable, provided that you keep your distance. Her Flame Worm spell comes out fast, hits multiple times against groups clustered up in front of her, and has low cooldown time. Her Wheeling Staff attack makes her lunge forward and do a spinning staff attack that also affects enemies within her circle of death. As the staff spun, it hit whatever was near our reticle: a good tactic was to move the reticle to the biggest cluster of enemies whenever the spinning animation started.
She also has a few different secondary melee attacks depending on what she equips. If she's holding a grimoire, she gets a significant magic power boost at the cost of an inefficient melee. However, when she's equipped with a crystal ball, she can do an area attack where the ball spins around her. When using the voodoo doll, she can summon a dark shadow that lunges at any front target. The attack comes out slow but is strong.
When leveling up, you can spend SP points to either buff up your existing moves or go to a town sorceress to unlock new spells and moves, with the latter requiring SP points and money. Void Blast is a long-range spell that summons a purple energy ball which explodes and damages anything nearby for huge damage. Poison Missile acts nothing like a missile; it's a short-range wave blast that damages and poisons anything foolish enough in front of you. The spell works effectively against enemies knocked down to the ground. Our favorite combination was to herd enemies into a group and then use Flame Worm, Wheeling Staff, Glacial Spike, and Poison Missile in that particular order. For enemies closing in from a distance, we used Void Blast to soften them up.
As we used these attacks, a combo counter appeared on the right side of the screen. For each consecutive hit on an opponent we did, we added one number to the counter. The higher the combo, the more points we scored in an instance. Subsequently, the higher the score, the higher the monetary rewards and experience points you receive at the end of the dungeon run.
If you are committed to the wily ways of the spellcaster long enough, you'll get to choose two specialization classes to boost your firepower further. Whenever you reach level 15, you can choose to specialize as either an elemental lord or a force user. The former bolsters the sorceress's existing elemental powers significantly, while the latter shoots out gravity balls, black holes, and even speeds up or slows down time to suit her needs.
The elemental lord maximizes her area-of-effect tactics with her new spells. Her Fire Bird spell can burn up enemies in its trajectory and path, while her Freezing Sword spell launches enemies surrounding her up in the air. The force user, while also being able to do group damage, has a few buffs to help out the sorceress and her party, like the cooldown time-speeding Time Acceleration spell and the mana-regenerating Payback Mana spell. Getting all of these sweet moves will demand you to further level up your current moves. The elemental lord's Freezing Field requires your current Glacial Wave to be at level 3, while Gravity Ball requires Void Explosion to be at level 3. You will need to plan ahead and get ready to level-grind before figuring out which specialization to master in the game.
And grind you will! While this display of repetition is part and parcel of a role-playing game, online or otherwise, Dragon Nest tries to shoehorn story elements into its design that do not make sense. For example, after completing the very first quest in the Paralina's Resting Place instance that's part of the main storyline, we were given yet another main story quest where we had to go through the exact instance two extra times. This wasn't a separate path located in the instance; it was the exact same path with the same enemies and pathways.
If the later parts of the game are indicative of this structure, sensible players may be turned off at the developer's lackluster method of integrating story into massively multiplayer online level design. To put things into perspective, imagine playing Super Mario Bros.' level 1-1 over and over again, only with a different starting message and with the flag at the end in a different color and shape for each playthrough. At the very least, Dragon Nest put forth some effort by including one-time-only story bosses with unique attacks, like the aforementioned Red Harpy and the red-masked Dragon Follower.
The fights were challenging enough on the default normal difficulty; the Dragon Follower could not only summon lightning, but also teleport across the room, summon more legions of goblins and orcs, and also regenerate its health when it was at a good distance. Bumping the difficulty up to hard, master, and abyss would require us to party up with three other players since new enemy types with additional hit points and attack ratings would make a solo run near-impossible.
The open beta of Dragon Nest will be up and running this August all across Southeast Asia. For more Dragon Nest features, check out GameSpot's interview with the game's brand director.