And Then I Said, “HOLY @%*#!”

I actually chuckled (really it was closer to giggling, but…), all while mashing buttons and furiously trying to find the right angle of attack.

Like many people this weekend, I grabbed a key for the “Open Beta” of Vindictus. Technical difficulties earlier this week aside, I have to say it went fairly well as far as beta’s tend to go. This one felt like a real beta, too, because late last week they were still patching issues, and one of said patches actually required me to uninstall and reinstall the client. Normally, I would count this as a solid strike against a game, as Turbine and others have set the bar high for smooth launches, and most “open” beta’s these days tend to be marketing tools using a client that’s as close to release as possible. But something about this struck my nostalgic nerve and I actually didn’t mind.

Of course, all of the issues happened after I had gotten a few hours into the game so none of it really mattered at that point. It blew me away. The title and lead paragraph pretty much sum up my initial reaction. Luckily my children weren’t around to hear my stream of expletives (“potty-mouth” as my older son describes it). I’ve been playing games for a long time, and would say I fall solidly into the “jaded-but-optimistic” category of MMO gamer; any game that can make me laugh with the pure joy of unadulterated fun has done many, many something’s right. That was what Vindictus did for me.

The game’s combat is what I think Age of Conan was supposed to be – brutal and fast and cinematic and brutal. Instead of the wall of buttons plaguing so many titles, there are two basic techniques – light attack and strong attack. Special attacks are a matter of combining strings of light and strong attacks. It plays much more like a brawler than your typical MMO. Except this brawler has has cooperative online play with a host of RPG systems piled on top (character advancement, questing, crafting, etc.). Ravious at Kill Ten Rats has a great breakdown of what it’s all about.

Personally, there are a lot of things I think Vindictus does really, really well. The combat is immensely satisfying. The game is gorgeous and, because it uses Valve’s Source engine, it is highly interactive – good portions of the dungeons are destructible, and debris can be picked up and used as temporary weapons. The game uses physics to great affect, both in a few environmental puzzles and in combat itself; being thrown across a room by a huge gnoll both looks extremely cool and made me cringe at the same time. So far, it doesn’t appear that the primary goal is the better-to-best gear hamster wheel; equipment does bring stat boosts but more than gear, titles and achievements confer significant bonuses. It’s a nice departure from that particular grind, though I get a feeling there will be some kind of grind. Isn’t there always?

The only issues I currently have are minor for now, but could prove to be bigger problems in the future. One, there are currently only two classes (out of five) that are open to play. One is a dual-wielding DPS class and the other seems to be a sword-and-shield tank (I didn’t get around to playing this class). Not sure of what they plan to offer, but I seriously hope there is going to be a ranged class (at least) and, ideally, a something like a stealth class. Two, there are only two areas to play in right now – Perilous Ruins (the starter dungeons) and Hoarfrost Hollow. However, it looks as though Nexon has every intention of opening up more content, as there is an inactive “warp” point leading out of the town (presumably to areas inland) and the docks that currently lead to the dungeons have many more boats than the two that lead to the open areas. Also, considering the game is free, both are minor and should be resolved quickly if Nexon wants to see any kind of success (I haven’t done any research into what’s currently available in Korea where the game is live under the name Mabinogi Heroes).

I’ve read a few arguments over whether Vindictus should be classified a real MMO; honestly, I don’t think it matters. In many ways, its closer to Guild Wars or Dungeons & Dragons Online (is it any wonder I like it so much?); there is a town that functions as a lobby, leading to instanced areas (dungeons) where you complete quests. Considering both Guild Wars and DDO are both acknowledged as MMOs, I’m not sure of the merit of denying Vindictus the same classification. Again, not that it matters. The game is enormously fun, and that’s what it’s really about.

The game still has some issues to iron out, but so far it’s a solid offering from Nexon that, all things considered, will probably get me to spend some money. Right now I can’t see playing it full-time, but as a Free To Play title, it’ll be easy to come and go as I please. And right now, it’s at the top of my list, and was the only game I played this past weekend.

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