Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dungeon Runners first impressions

I've been playing a new MMO today named Dungeon Runners, from NCSoft. Dungeon Runners is not only free to play, but also free to download, making it even cheaper than Guild Wars. The catch is that if you play for free, you won't have bank storage, and you won't be able to use the better items in the game, including the better potions. If you pay, you get the membership benefits, like jumping the queue when the servers are full, for a monthly fee of $5, which still is a lot cheaper than other games. If you are a Fileplanet subscriber, you can get a 7-day trial of the membership benefits. So, if it's free or so cheap, can it be any good? Depends on what you are looking for.

Dungeon Runners is an order of magnitude less complicated than World of Warcraft or similar games. It is basically a Diablo Online game, with simple mouse-based combat. You hack'n'slash your way through lots of monsters, and collect loot. If you run out of health or mana, you drink red health potions or blue mana potions. When your inventory is full, which happens a lot, as items take more than 1 slot, you use a teleport scroll back to town, sell the stuff, then teleport back. Very simple.

There are only 3 character classes, fighter, ranger, or mage. But you can buy the skills not only from your class, but also those of other classes, mixing and matching yourself a character as you like it. For example I made a fighter, but bought a 30-second run speed enhancement skill from the ranger trainer. I could have made a fireball-wielding fighter, but obviously that wouldn't have worked very well, with me running out of mana too fast to make it efficient.

There are quests in the game, but they are of the simple kind: Kill 25 rats, or collect 12 wolf pelts. The quest-givers are in towns, which are public areas, where you can meet other players and chat or form groups with them. But the quests happen in instanced dungeons, where only you or your group has access. Quests don't give xp, only money and kings coins, which can be traded for special treasures. Killing monsters seems to be the only way to make xp and level up. Whenever you level up, you can distribute 5 points among 4 stats: Strength, agility, endurance, and intelligence. Again it is best to concentrate on a few areas, and not put points everywhere. But if you are unhappy with your distribution, you can always pay some gold and redistribute the points.

Graphics of the games are on the low polygon-count side, but pretty and cheerful. Thus system requirements are low, this game should run on about any old machine. The controls are more mouse-centric than WoW, which takes a while to get used to, but they work well enough. I never had any problems with lag, nor did I encounter any bugs yet. There are several servers, but you don't need to remember on which of them your characters are; you only have one character per account, and he is on *all* servers, you simply choose a server based on population.

Dungeon Runners doesn't take itself too serious, the general tone is more humoristic than trying to create some sort of lore. For example as fighter you get the skill Way of the Roo: "You were raised by a semi-domesticated pack of kangaroos that taught you the secret art of Kung Roo. Their teachings have provided you with an innate ability that gives you 25% increased speed with all melee weapons." And the voice-overs of the NPCs frequently make fun of you.

I haven't played in a group yet, but I know it's possible. I just don't know whether at higher levels you must group, or whether it is optional. In any way, interaction with other players is limited: There are no guilds, and there is no way to trade with other players, neither directly nor via auction. There aren't any mailboxes either. Looking for a MMO without gold farmer? Dungeon Runners is it!

All in all, Dungeon Runners is very playable. It is a simple, cheerful, and cheap game. Fun enough, as long as you don't expect the same complexity as a World of Warcraft in a free game. From a technical point of view this is a lot better than most of the free games I've seen up to now. And as downloading it and trying it doesn't cost you a cent, I can only recommend trying it out.

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