Monday, May 3, 2021

Take My Money

With Valheim on hiatus pending the Hearth and Home update, my daily gaming round these days mostly consists of Guild Wars 2, EverQuest II and Dragon Nest Origins. I've pushed further into the Dragon Nest world (not to be confused with World of Dragon Nest, which is another game entirely) than I've ever gone before. 

Dora is closing in on level 29. Progress seems comfortable. An enjoyable two-hour session might get me one level in the mid-20s. Something doesn't add up, though. According to the website, xp has been set at three times the regular rate and the estimated leveling time from creation to cap should be no more than ten to twelve hours.

I'm probably doing something wrong. I usually am. There's a lot about the game I don't understand. Most of it, in fact. Even though I've played Dragon Nest on and off for over a decade it's never been anything I've taken very seriously. Or at all seriously.

Any mmorpg played hyper-casually, in fits and starts, is going to remain opaque but Dragon Nest, being both somewhat silly and highly hyper-kinetic, is probably easier to underestimate than most. I've tended to find it quite engaging enough just running around blowing things up with my unfeasibly large gun and chortling at the badly-translated quest dialog without trying to figure out how to play properly.

Thinking back, that approach did begin to falter last time I got into the twenties. It's not so easy to mow through everything when most of your gear hasn't seen an upgrade for a dozen levels. The game gradually introduces more and more systems and options, various kinds of crafting, different difficulty levels, all kinds of special events and instances, until the time comes when you really do have to stop and take some time to work out just what the heck is going on. Or give up.

Last time this happened the decision was taken out of my hands. Before I could re-adjust my attitude the game underwent one of its periodic shifts of ownership and shook me off like a flea from a dog. I'm uncomfortably aware of the equally perilous situation I find myself in now, playing on a server of unknown provenance and unknowable security.

Still, play I do and learn I must, if I'm to progress. The first step was to think about getting some better gear and the second was to take my first look at the broker. It's a nice, straightforward post-and-sell system, very similar to EQII's. There were some good upgrades there for a few gold each so I bought a new offhand weapon and some gloves. Orange quality ("Epic" if you prefer). Never seen any before.

Buying gear will only get you so far in any mmorpg. It's no use if you don't go out and use it. The web page Guide advises "For Leveling we would recommend doing the main quest, since the Main Quest has increased Exp and Gold." Yep. Doing that. And I've taken on board the warning that "You should also pick up Side Quests, otherwise you will have to grind dungeons at some point to continue the Main Quest.

I would love to see this game translated properly.

I haven't, however, been following the suggestion that "Taking the Board Quest close to a dungeon entrance, if the dungeons offers one, is also a good idea". I tried it but I got muddled so I stopped. Dragon Nest Origins operates a recursive structure of instances, where towns, acting as quest hubs, lead to staging points, also acting as quest hubs, which lead to instances and dungeons that themselves splinter off to others inside them. 

In all my time playing I'd never figured out how all this works in detail. I'd never needed to. I just went somewhere, killed some monsters, came back. Yesterday I finally ran into a problem with that approach.

I've been taking the quests but I can't say I've been finishing them. There are a generous forty pages in DNO's quest journal but yesterday I found I'd filled them all. Rather than renege on promises made I went back to the beginning and began to clear them all out. Only first I had to be sure I was going to the right place. 

The quest markers took me from the city to the staging area to the correct instance but after that I had to learn to check the name of the exact dungeon and find the drop-down list of quests to make sure mine were included. It's been there in front of me all these years and yet somehow I never noticed. It makes a surprising amount of difference, knowing where you're supposed to be going and then using that knowledge to make sure you do actually go there. Who'd have guessed?

Once inside, clearing out old quests went quickly. Dragon Nest is old school in its approach to power. As you level up your character gets stronger while your opponents don't. It was very pleasant for a while to go back and slaughter my way through dungeons far below my level. 

So much of it has to be genuinely funny in the original. This quest revolves around a spoiled NPC with delusions of grandeur. The noise pollution in question is her trying to play dark elf music from sheet music she had me steal from them.

Only I kept getting more quests. I'd go back and hand one in and come away with two. My journal emptied then filled. And it seems the game's not quite as old school as I thought. The new quests, often as not, even though they took me to places I imagined I'd outgrown, came in at my level or thereabouts. It seems my assumptions on that were ill-founded too, like so much else I thought I knew about the game.

And don't get me started on crafting. There's heraldry and enhancement and plates and codes and I have only the shakiest grasp of how any of that works. Then, when you get to nineteen or twenty and travel to the capital, Saint Haven, there's cooking and fishing and farming and a whole new channel with different storage and currencies...

Speaking of currencies, shall we mention the cash shop? Yes, let's. Dragon Nest, the commercial version, has one of the better cash shops I've seen. It's stuffed with very nice things to buy. There are mounts and pets and dozens and dozens of fancy costumes. You can see them all in the display window with your character modelling them and rarely have I felt so tempted to get out my credit card and treat myself.

There's practical stuff, too. Of course there is. DNO isn't terrible about storage space. You get an adequate amount for free. I always want more, though, and looking at tab after tab of locked slots is hard. I'm playing regularly. It's costing me nothing. I'd be willing to drop a few dollars for some bags and maybe a pet and something snazzy to wear around town.

At least he's not a clown

Except I can't. Or maybe I can but I don't know how. As a private server operating on donations there is, rightly, no way to pay real money for in-game currency. And even if there was I certainly wouldn't be handing out my credit card details to whoever's running this thing.

The cash shop is there, though. Tantalizing me. Taunting me. I spent a good while trying to figure out how to use it. I pressed every button on the UI. Nothing. 

Except the button for buying cash did do something. It took me to the website. I couldn't buy anything there but I learned that  "Cash stuff is obtainable ingame, by doing the circus. You can get a total of 196 Coupons alone and 256 a week, when in a Party of 4. Those Coupons can be exchanged for cash items."

Oh. The circus. That thing I've been ignoring since I first saw it many years ago. Why have I been ignoring it? Good question. I don't like circuses? Nope. Not that. Okay, I have no idea. I just never really thought about it. I'm sensing a pattern here...

I spoke to the ringmaster. I went to the circus. It turned out to be several instances with a lot of fighting. I killed three hundred Sparta goblins. That got me six coupons. I did it again. Then I found a bunch of monsters hiding in another instance and killed them, too. After about twenty minutes I had sixteen coupons. I went back to the ringmaster to see what I could buy. Nothing worth having. Nothing I wanted. Definitely no hedgehogs.

I want that hedgehog! And those bunny ears!

As far as I can tell the "Cash stuff" in that system is a) completely different from the commercial cash shop and b) linked to which zone you enter the circus from. So far I can't even get the "Cash Items" tab to come up. I would bet I need to be about level 40 and talking to the ringmaster in in the final hub village for that.

I'd probably forget about it only in Saint Haven, where everyone hangs out, I can see people parading around, dressed as if they're about to enter the costume parade at Comicon, riding exotic mounts, with even more exotic pets at their heels. There's a way to get these things. I just don't know what it is.

I don't know yet. I will find out. If I have to join the sodding Discord and ask, I will find out! I shall have my giant, pink hedgehog or I'll know the reason why! Or, I guess, I won't.  Know the reason why, that is. That's kind of the problem.

On the upside, I did find out how to take screenshots with the UI off. Dragon Nest is a beautiful game and as I level up I'm getting to see new and ever more spectacular locations. Trying to position the camera just so to get shots I could crop for the blog was getting old so I googled "Dragon Nest Hide UI". That got me some helpful information that turned out to be completely wrong.

Everybody jump!

It was helpful because it started me looking at the Gestures, those little icons you can slot to your hot bar and press to make your character perform various emotes. I'm not much of an emote person. I don't use them a lot in any game. I had noticed the gestures existed but I'd never bothered to play around with them.

Supposedly there was a "Selfie" gesture that would hide the UI and take a screenshot. No there isn't. In some version of Dragon Nest, maybe. Not in the one I'm playing. There is a Gesture with the same icon but it does nothing at all. There's also one called Jump Photo. That one makes you leap into the air but it doesn't take a screenshot of you doing it. 

While I was researching all this, however, I happened to notice someone on a thread explaining that the way you got your UI back after you'd taken a selfie was by pressing Ctr-I-PrtScr all at once. If that was a toggle...

It is a toggle! It's also a blindingly awkward combo but who cares? It works! Now I can take all the fullscreen shots I want. And I looked at all the Gestures and there are some great ones. I'll be able to take some amazing shots of Dora in all kinds of hilarious poses in front of gorgeous backdrops with no visual clutter.

I just have to work out how to get her something more impressive to pose in than shorts and a waistcoat. Plus she needs a pony. And a hedgehog.

Everyone needs a pony and a hedgehog. If that's not the law it damn well ought to be. I guess I'd better find a way to make it happen.

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