Vindictus Beta Impressions

The online MMO market is in somewhat of a rut it seems. While some developers are adopting challenging and sometime rule-breaking approaches to online game design, most are content to languish in the familiar pattern set up by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Nexon, the company behind Maple Story, is bringing a new game to the US and European market that takes a slightly different approach to an action-oriented MMO with Vindictus. With the recent Closed Beta complete and Open Beta looming on October 13th, we wanted to put together a preview of what games can expect from this new title.

When most players hear the term Free-to-play Action-RPG, an image of Diablo or Torchlight-like 3rd person looting and clicking probably comes to mind. While Vindictus has elements of that click, kill, loot formula in it, the visuals and gameplay are actually far more similar to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series or Atlus’s Demon’s Souls than Blizzard’s diabolic click fest.

During the recent Beta we had an opportunity to play two of the game’s character archetypes -Lann, a quick two-weapon fighter, and Fiona, the defensive traditional sword-and-shield type. Fiona and Lann begin the game with very different scripted storylines, which is a bit of a change from what one might expect from an open-world game. Vindictus is a game that ties story strongly to the player character’s choice of character. The personal missions and experiences of your avatar are identical in many ways to everyone playing around you, but the game somewhat ignores the multiplayer aspect when it comes to storytelling and you know what, that didn’t bother me at all.

Since everyone picks from the playable archetypes and can then customize or develop from there initially there was the sameness you expect from early levels of an online game. The player works through many tasks and earns new skills, weapons and equipment by taking missions established in the game’s social hub area – which in the beginning is a small village.

These missions reminded me a lot of Monster Hunter’s bounty contracts and often required me to rally at the nearby dock to find a group of fellow adventurers who were pursuing the same goal. Once a group assembles, the game transports all the players in a team to an instance where usually you roam through ruins or an enclosed area killing enemies and earning rewards.

Since it’s an action RPG, Vindictus plays less like the “click, watch, click, combo click” style of games like World of Warcraft, and instead uses active combat and positioning in real time like Turbine’s Dungeons & Dragons Online. There are still combination skills and weapon attacks, and the environment of the instances is infinitely more reactive and destructive than a traditional MMO allows. I found that even just in the short time I spent roaming the Beta characters quickly learned new skills and diversified in appearance quickly.

Vindictus is also obviously a modern game design. Using Valve’s Source engine, you can interact with object and creatures in the game world with full physics modeling. The visual fidelity is also impressive and far above what I’ve come to expect from a free-to-play design. Story sequences and missions are very well rendered and animated and it’s actually easy to forget this is an online game from moment to moment since there are solo quests and the world responds too your character uniquely and not generically.

There are a lot of features that Vindictus has in its back pocket, I suspect. During the Beta I did not get a very clear picture of what the tiered content model associated with the free-to-play approach would mean, but at this point I was able to have fun and earn levels while spending no money over multiple play sessions. Nexon understands the desires of free-to-play casual games, but this looks like a good first step into more serious, adult MMORPG territory. I’d recommend if you’re even a little interested you sign up when the game opens up later this month.

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