GDC 13: Dragon’s Prophet Plans to Shake Up the MMO Genre

Persistent worlds and leveling up, the two linchpins of any MMORPG. As the massively multiplayer online genre continues to evolve, though, so too does the method by which people play. Meaning to say, it was once common place to pay a monthly fee for a game like World of Warcraft or Everquest, however, with the free-to-play business model on the rise, MMOs are moving away from their subscription-based ways. In the stead are microtransactions — something once thought to be the bane of any MMO’s existence. Now that paying for items to use in-game with real-world cash is becoming normal practice, companies are learning to implement such systems in effective ways. One of those companies is Sony Online Entertainment, the publisher behind the upcoming free-to-play MMORPG, Dragon’s Prophet.

Dragon’s Prophet is the second game from Runewaker, the studio most known for their break-out success Runes of Magic – another free-to-play MMORPG. But unlike Runes of Magic which heavily, I repeat, heavily, integrated a style reminiscent of World of Warcraft, Dragon’s Prophet is looking to carve out a niche all of its own, rather than ride the coattails of a pre-established giant. Ultimately, Dragon’s Prophet is a high-fantasy inspired MMORPG that looks to balance conventionality and newfangled mechanics to create a fresh, but familiar experience for the MMO gamer out there. At GDC, Hardcore Gamer had a chance to sit down with some of the guys from Runewaker to learn all about this upcoming massively multiplayer roleplaying experience.

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At first, Dragon’s Prophet looks traditional enough. It provides players with four base classes to choose from, none of which are all that original. There’s the guardian, a heavy-armor wearing melee-tank; the ranger, a distance-based DPS archetype that can eventually dual wield pistols; the sorcerer which is the typical ranged caster; and then the Oracle, or Prophet‘s equivalent to a battle-priest that can get up close and personal while still possessing a few casting abilities to round out their skillset. So far, things are looking rather formulaic. But this is where Runewaker stops sticking to the tried-and-true ideas.

The combat in Dragon’s Prophet is not the bland point-and-click fest that plagues Warcraft. In fact, we were emphatically told that there will be no auto-attacking in the game at all. Instead, the title is taking cues from newer MMO releases like TERA and Guild Wars 2 by employing a real-time combat system. In this setup, players will be active participants in each and every battle situation, dishing out attacks, dodges, knockback assaults and even combos that are dependent on skill-execution order. The experience was described as one that is “hands on” rather than the usual sit-back-and-watch-your-character-kill-without-much-involvement stuff.

Okay, so even thus far Dragon’s Prophet doesn’t sound all that ripe with new ideas; and then the game introduces its dragon taming mechanic. The universe of the game is one that’s greatly populated with these colossal flying creatures. In fact, the lore we were told about mentioned that dragons have bred with practically all animals and indigenous species, creating a slew of dragon-variant creatures across the world. There are different kinds of dragons here, and their role in the player’s journey will depend on how each person raises their beast. These giant creatures can reportedly assist characters in combat, collect resources, act as flying mounts and just generally impact how each individual experiences the game. Before they can do any of that, however, the dragons must be caught and tamed, a la Pokemon. Taming these monstrosities goes down via a handy minigame that gradually gets harder each time the player tames, or essentially levels up, their basilisk. Players can name their beast, decide what its attributes will be, which skills it possesses and even borrow some of its abilities to then use in combat for their character. It also does one other crucial task: performs work for the player while they are offline.

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While we may not want to, we must eventually log out of our MMOs usually due to this thing called “real life”, whatever that is. Unfortunately, in doing this we miss out on precious time to level up. Dragon’s Prophet takes a cue from EVE Online in this regard, and allows players’ dragons to do work for them while they are away. Dragons can harvest resources, collect gold and level up while players are disconnected, meaning that they will be pivotal in how folks progress through their adventure. While each gamer can capture up to six basilisks, those who are strictly playing the game free of charge, will only have the option to capture two dragons. Those who wish to pay a monthly subscription fee, or pay through Sony Online Entertainment’s real-currency cash-shop, will have all six openings available to them.

The dragon system isn’t the only aspect that makes Prophet what it is. There’s also an integral crafting mechanic that enables players to specialize in one of six professions: weaponsmithing, armorsmithing, cooking, tinkering (making jelwery), carpentry and alchemy. Choosing one’s craft will low and behold dictate what they can sell or trade, giving them a sense of economical purpose among Dragon’s open-world. There’s also the Frontier system to speak of, a series of floating islands that grant players the opportunity to buy plots of land in order to build their own house depending on the size of the lot purchased. From there, players can furnish the inside of the house with either purchased or crafted items, and even decorate the outside of them. The Frontier will also act as the PVP arena or sorts when it’s implemented in a later patch, a patch that will also put into place the game’s aerial combat system.

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When asked about additional mechanics being administered, Runewaker was quick to note that, while the raid system is not in place just yet, Dragon’s Prophet will feature robust instances available for solo and group play for up to five people. These instances will have five difficulty levels and, depending on the degree of hardship, will require a good amount of teamwork and coordination to complete successfully. They were quick to note, however, that the game will be solo-able for those out there that like to lone-wolf it. They also iterated that even though every person will be able to play the game to level cap, which is currently 60, those who choose the pay the optional monthly free will have more options open to them, and will be able to progress through the content quicker, but will not inherently be stronger or better than those who opt for the F2P experience.

All in all, Runewaker was excited about what Dragon’s Prophet has to offer the MMO crowd. The game seemingly juggles traditional gameplay elements with newfangled concepts. The dragon and frontier system seem especially original, with the former appearing to be the game’s claim to fame. These components, added to the action-oriented combat, skill tree that was promised to provide flexibility rather that strict archetype parameters and crafting system, make Dragon’s Prophet a game to at the very least keep an eye on. As of now, the title is in closed beta, and the developers stressed that there’s many ideas that have yet to be fully fleshed out. Even with being in this early part of the development process, the team is eyeing a 2013 release date. Something more conrete could not be pried out of them, but we think it’s safe to say that gamers looking to enjoy Dragon’s Prophet will be able to do so sometime within the next nine months.