I’ve never been a big fan of free-to-play online games. Something about nickel-and-dimeing players for fancy hats doesn’t sit well with me – as if monetizing the paper doll game is some cardinal sin against gamesdom, preying on my need to be an individual amidst a throng of clones. Dungeon Fighter Online is wearing down that prejudice. In the two weeks that I’ve noodled around the fictional realm of Arad, I’ve already felt the harpy call of Nexon Cash cards yodeling across the halls of CVS…
It’s surprisingly hard to recapture the feel of a good arcade brawler. Castle Crashers was a step in the right direction, but a buggy launch helped the online community fizzle out, ensuring that the only group-slaying done would be from a couch. Despite the goofy name, Dungeon Fighter Online does an exquisite job of recapturing the fun of something like Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystaria or Aliens vs. Predator Arcade. Part of this is due to the fact that the character classes – Male Gunner, Female Gunner, Priest, Mage, Fighter, Slayer – don’t really compartmentalize into traditional MMORPG archetypes. The Priest, for instance, isn’t your go-to guy for healing (he specializes in wielding huge weapons with a large radius of attack). Nor is the Mage your buff/debuff support. In theory, every character is suited for casual dungeon crawling, PvP, PvE and group work. Because of this, there's greater focus on the individual player's ass-kicking experience.
The result is a lot less MMORPG and a lot more Massively Multiplayer Arcade Beat ‘em Up. For what it’s seeking to do, it works. Partying up is painless, though bad wi-fi connections can cause some debilitating lag (here’s hoping the netcode gets a good scouring sometime soon), and crowded town plazas will make you feel like a member of the dime store clone crew. It’s seamless to drop in and out of groups or arena fights, and there’s a built-in fatigue meter to keep you from perching over the computer for hours on end.
If caught any news regarding DFO’s beta test, you may have soured to the game. It’s been widely reported that the U.S. test took the framework of Korea’s DFO and slapped an impossibly horrific fractional penalty to experience gain, something along the lines of 1/10 the rate of normal progress, which made the entire game a hellish grinding mess. Thankfully, Nexon’s come to their senses and fixed this oversight. In the brief time I’ve been adventuring, I’ve already managed to hit the early 20s on a relaxed pace.
The concern now is the apparent lack of high-end content. That low-20s character I mentioned a second ago? She's languishing in a few intermediate dungeons at the moment because I'm too weak to solo through them. Missions themselves have begun to drag, too. I'm finding myself running and re-running levels just to catch rare quest item drops. As a result, my progress has hit a snag. This won't be a problem to anyone who can find a reliable group to pal around with, but for ascetic introverts like myself it signals a concern for the overall arc of the game.
Also of note, the U.S. market is playing catch-up to it’s Korean doppelganger. There are a few bits of code that haven’t made it stateside yet. In particular, characters unlock a high-end “awakening” at level 48 that further specializes their skills. These are currently absent for the Priest and Gunner, which set them a bit back in terms of high level play. It's by no means a deal-breaker, but it does call to mind the grim specter of ability tiers.
If you're able to get to such lofty heights, you’ll likely be spending time in arenas, beating people up for fun and profit with fellow guildmates. There’s also a “hell mode” for some dungeons, offering greater rewards for increased difficulty and exasperation. Without a good guild or group of friends, though, I’m not sure it’ll be easy for most people to stick with DFO that late in the game.
It’s not a bad time to hop in and try it out. DFO’s currently running a clever stress test disguised as an event week (avatars turn red and players receive awards for prolonged dungeon crawling). As a result, the lands are teeming with newbies and alt-itis infected veterans, so it's not too hard to make a friend. For mindless fun, you could do worse. But if you're looking to recapture the feeling of a good arcade brawler, you'd be hard pressed to find something better.
Just stay away from the nX cards. Your wallet will thank you.