Vindictus – E3 Preview

A couple of years ago, the MMO genre started to go through a stage of redefining itself; sort of like the gaming industry equivalent of ‘coming of age and exploring one’s sexuality’. The genre had become stagnant and, more importantly, it was increasingly hard to break into the subscription based model. The notion of free to play started being bandied about and, eventually, it was the next best thing. More and more games were springing up out of nowhere, all of them looking to entice players into the micro transaction based lair.

Quality began to suffer and, as a result, the term free to play started to get something of a stigma attached to it. It was the sexually transmitted disease of the genre; nobody wanted it, and some may even deny they’ve experienced it, but gradually more and more people started to become infected.

That’s when a change started to occur; the pendulum began to shift in the other direction and developers stopped looking at how they could redefine the entire genre once again, and instead focus on the free to play (F2P) subsection. Slowly but surely, games began to experiment and before long the mocking persona they had built started to crumble away. Games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online began to persuade the industry that it wasn’t just your fledgling titles that could be free to play. Gamers and developers alike took note, especially once titles that had previously been struggling under the subscription model soon started turning more of a profit… and then we arrive at present day.

Despite being a seasoned MMO player for over a decade, I’m still sceptical about the whole free to play concept; there had to be a line drawn under the quality somewhere, surely? So it was with more than a touch of trepidation that I found myself stood inside the Nexon booth at E3 about to take a look at Vindictus, a title that has taken the free to play market by storm and was already seeing great results in both Korea and North America. Could Vindictus take on Europe and win the hearts of such a crucial territory to the genre? We sit down (or stand up, rather) with Jaeho Hwang, one of the producers of the game, as we get some hands on impressions.

Standing in front of the rather tasty looking PC setup, my heart began to flutter with tech-geek induced palpitations. A few moments later, and having composed myself somewhat, we start up the game; we were using two PCs, with Jaeho playing on one (as Lee threw questions at him) while I took control of the other and got to let my mouse and keyboard hands loose for the first time in what seemed like an age.

As is common practice with MMOs, before we could do anything we had to pick the character class that each would play. Jaeho opts for the character Fiona who, with her sword and shield, takes on the role as a tank, in essence meaning she’ll be suited to take a heavy beating and values defence more than offense. I opted for the rather unsubtle looking Karok, who was only released on June 16th. Karok is huge, and quite literally a giant of a person as he walks about wielding a colossal pillar. It’s hard to convey in mere words as the size of his weapon alone is something you really do have to witness for yourself, with the best way to describe it would be that he’d found the nearest tree, ripped it up and started swinging it around. Massive is an understatement.

I’d be making up the damage dealing contingent of the party and, with that sorted, we make our way into a dungeon. It’s only now that you can’t help but notice how good the game looks, and thoughts of the free to play stigma of ‘rushed and rubbish looking games’ begin to slowly fade away into the furthest recesses of my mind before almost evaporating completely.

From the first few tentative steps into the world, the beauty of the game is apparent – from the environment to the enemies, and of course the characters look great. This is an MMO as well don’t forget; a genre where graphical prowess is often on the back foot due to potential networking issues and system spec bottlenecks.

It’s quite surprising to hear that the game is made using the Source engine (think Portal, Half Life, Left 4 Dead) but yet it doesn’t necessarily look like a Source game. Playing the likes of Portal, you could see tell-tale signs that under the hood it did have the Valve-licenced infrastructure, but Vindictus didn’t, at least not in the time I spent with the game. Of course if there is one thing the Source engine can do, it’s run on nothing more than a toaster turned up to setting eight (the one that turns your toast black), so that should put to bed any fears of needing anything too top of the line to play it.

The dungeon starts and we’re outside in a courtyard, a perfect opportunity to button mash to absorb the controls. Vindictus doesn’t control like your typical MMO where you run around selecting spells off a number of tool bars. Instead it plays more like your standard action adventure game and, with support for numerous setups including keyboard only, keyboard and mouse, as well as a controller, there’s a setup to suit everyone’s preferences.

I begin, I suspect, as so many others do – by smashing everything within reach, with the nearby wooden crates the first to feel the might of my pillar as they smash into numerous physics based pieces. Time is of the essence so, as fun as standing around smashing up the destructible environment is, we make our way through the towering wooden doors and into a series of corridors.

We’re inside now, in what looks like some sort of castle; stone lines the floor and walls and yet more crates and ‘tease me’ objects are scattered around. It’s not long before the first enemies begin to approach us, a perfect opportunity to test out how combat works. A couple of left clicks with the mouse and I’m attacking in normal fashion, pretty much just hitting anything within reach; the WASD controls being almost second nature mean I’m dancing around the room with ease and then I right click, sending a smashing attack down onto my foe. Victory is mine and I quickly gather the spoils of combat – the loot.

Moving forward through the dungeon, we dispatch more and more enemies before Jaeho simply tells me, “press E”, and so I do. Lunging forward towards the enemy closest, I take hold and literally pick him up, a quick click of the mouse later and his back gets broken. Brutal stuff. I proceed to grab the next enemy but this time opt to smash his face into a nearby stone column, and the blood trickles down his face before his body collapses motionless. Suffice it to say, I was left suitably impressed with the combat; it was fluid, fast paced and in a way it reminded me of what it was like playing God of War, which can only be a good thing.

We reach the end portion of the dungeon and once again find ourselves back in another courtyard. It’s boss time. Charging head first into battle, the blows start getting exchanged and I’m quickly in trouble as my health bar edges precariously past 50%.  Jaeho leans over and taps a button on my keyboard; my character begins to start channelling a spell. Where Karok once stood now stands a figure with skin that looks like it’s made of metal. Under my new found guise I get back to the boss, and it’s not long before he’s brought down and, with us reigning victorious, the demonstration came to an end.

In the end, Vindictus did enough to leave me wanting to know more about it; the smooth and fun combat was a breath of fresh air amongst the action bar filled MMO genre, but not only that… it convinced me that the free to play subgenre should not be scorned and shunned. That it does have a light at the end of the tunnel and that gamers should walk towards it because, by doing so, they may just unearth a hidden gem, a diamond in the rough if you will.

Vindictus is currently available in Korea and North America and is due to be released in Europe in Q4 2011.

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  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    I didn’t actually think that an MMO could look that good. I had always assumed that the graphics would be blocky and suited to the lowest common system deniminator, but it would appear that Vindictus has broken the mould. One of those exterior screen really reminded my of Oblivion and the visuals are honestly impressive. That giant spider creature looks damn nasty; wouldn’t want to try and flush that down the plughole.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    I have to admit, I’ve never been one for MMOs, but this game looks like the most unique one that I’ve seen for a while, if ever. There’s a lot in it that I’ve seen from your coverage that I can’t admit to having heard of in other games, and so it’s got my attention for that, as well as the fact it’s running on Source. Crikey.
    Great job, Ben :D

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