Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One Out, One In: Dragon's Prophet, EQNext

A couple of SOE related news items popped up today. One had me me scratching my head in puzzlement, the other I cheered out loud.

The head-scratcher is Dragon's Prophet going into open beta on May 30th. That's according to many sources, not least the official Dragon's Prophet Europe website, which also confirms the NDA is down.

The international sign for "Help Wanted"
I've been in the DP closed beta for a month or two but I don't have much to reveal because I've barely played it. The first time I logged in I hated it. HATED it! Where to begin with how miserable an experience that was...

Disappointment set in at character creation; just one race on offer, if you call human a race. In fantasy terms I don't. The plastic faces and nasty armor didn't help. Already things weren't looking good: if you're not feeling it at character creation it rarely gets better from there.

There was an introduction of some kind that I've blocked from my memory. I recall all too clearly cut scenes that would have looked embarassing ten years ago peppering one of the worst "tutorials" I've ever played. The UI was vile and the controls worse; very close indeed to unplayable. The world, when I finally reached it, was hideous, everything far too large, lacking in any subtlety or even detail, with a garish color palette and ugly textures.

Yes, it's coming from me.
Whether the gameplay would in any way have mitigated this terrible first impression I have no way of knowing because in my desperation to get out of the repulsive starter village I scrambled down a rock face into a dry river bed from which I could find no way out. I hadn't completed the one quest I'd taken, which with awful irony was the one that would have given me a teleport to bind. I cut my considerable losses, namely a couple of hours in which I could have been playing something, anything else, closed the game through task manager since there seemed to be no other way of doing it, logged back in, deleted the character and left.

I really hope that's meant to say "Satsuma"
Mrs Bhagpuss also has a beta invite and she gamely had a go despite my dire warnings. She retired to bed in short order with UI-induced motion sickness, never to try again. I, however, being eternally optimistic, did try again. I had an email warning me there was an imminent full character wipe and experience suggests that you don't generally do those unless there are some major changes coming. Maybe changes that would make the thing playable, if not actually worth playing. Who knows? Miracles can happen.

Can and do. Second time around it was like playing an entirely different game. How much of this is due to things having been replaced and improved and how much to do with my massively lowered expectations is a bit of a moot point. One thing did change for sure: the control system now works. I still don't like it because it's one of those pointerless center-screen targeted mouse-button fire "action" systems but now I can use it perfectly well. It's no worse than the Neverwinter version and better than DCUO's.

There's still the issue of having to play a human but character creation offers a wide enough range of options now that I was at least able to get one I could stand to look at. There was an option to skip the tutorial which I fell upon like a starving nun on a cheese sandwich. Maybe they improved the tutorial too but I'm not crazy enough to go find out.

There were even several options for starting areas. I picked a different one to the original disaster and stepped straight into the world. They were fibbing a little about skipping the tutorial; there's still a little bit of the good old in media res "Help they're burning the town! Only you can save us!" compulsory action to be gotten out of the way but that's painless enough. After that you can do what you want.

Mrs Bridges! Is that you?
I wandered around town, which looked much, much more attractive than the other one. Lots of townsfolk were wearing enormous green exclamation marks for hats so I took the hint and chatted to them all. They spoke rather stilted, peculiar but largely comprehensible English and all had trivial problems that they probably should just have got on and sorted for themselves, only why bother with suckers like me passing by all day, offering to do any and all work for a couple of coppers or one of granny's old cast-offs.

Outside the rather attractive starting town was some equally attractive countryside. I wandered around that for a while shooting arrows indiscriminately at things I was meant to kill and things I wasn't. When I felt I'd ingratiated myself sufficiently with the locals I took off exploring and made it to the next town over, oohing and aahing at the lovely scenery and the unfeasibly oversized wildlife as I jogged along. In that way several hours passed happily if unoriginally. I took a lot of pictures but it seems the wipe also wiped the screenshot folder. Betas!

Uncanny Valley - Text Version
From a game I would have to be paid, and paid well, to play even for an evening Dragon's Prophet had transformed itself into a game I'd cheerfully play if I was at something of a loose end. Okay, that's not exactly high praise but it's one heck of an upgrade. And I would have played it again, too, only there's a lot going on MMOwise right now and by the time I had an hour or two free and logged in again wouldn't you know it, they'd gone and done another full character wipe.

So I left it at that until I saw the news today. I logged in, made another character (a Sorceror instead of a Ranger this time) went back to the first starting town, ran around, killed a load of giants in some sort of event and confirmed that yes indeed this is an MMO I might play. Probably will play. Some time. A little. Now and then.

Do I recommend it? How can I? I've seen two starting areas and got to level seven. The entire point of the game is to collect and train dragons that act as mounts, fighting pets and companions. The closest I got to that was putting the ability to catch the things on my hotbar. But it's not horrible (any more) and some people will probably enjoy it quite a lot.

Is it ready for open beta? Like hell it is. Not only is the quest and dialog translation still very obviously a work in progress but not infrequently there are still great strings of coding gibberish visible instead of the names of items and quests. As someone said in chat this afternoon it's in good shape for closed beta but nowhere near ready to open as a shop window. Hence the aforementioned head-scratching.

The other news item hasn't been made official as far as I'm aware. The smart folks at EQ2Wire picked it up from LinkedIn. Domino is back at SOE and she's working on EQNext. What with the earlier revelation that Psychochild and the Storybricks team are on board and now this fantastically welcome news, the EQNext project is really shaping up. Did Scott Hartsman get a new job yet?


  1. This is a Taiwanese F2P, which itself is still in beta. Apparently it changes quite a bit per patch and the US version is 3 patches behind them, so who knows where things will end up by the 30th.

    I got an invite as well, but the client doesn't recognize my station account as valid even though the beta forums do. It's been a week since I submitted a ticket about it. After reading various negative responses about the current patch, I decided I'm not in a hurry to try it out anyway. I'm honestly more interested in FFXIV's upcoming June beta period, which would take most of my time away from this game anyway.

  2. It's by the people who made Runes of Magic and it has a similar feel. I never really liked RoM much but it was competent and I guess this will be when they finish it. RoM was rough in open beta come to think of it - I remember hitting the point where they hadn't even done the quest translations quite early on, around level 15 I think.

    FFXIV is still under NDA so I'm saying nothing. Yet.

  3. "The other news item hasn't been made official as far as I'm aware. The smart folks at EQ2Wire picked it up from LinkedIn. Domino is back at SOE and she's working on EQNext."

    I thought Domino would be found among the causalities from TRION, but I did not find the evidence. Glad to see she is back working and I hope her contribution to EQNext is significant.

    As to Dragons Prophet, I played the beta a lot longer than you did, but my conclusions are the same.


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