The Free Agent: Episode 13 - Dragon's Prophet

Free dragons for everyone!

So what is this Frontier System all about?

The Frontier System embodies the competitiveness and enjoyable repeat game play that only PvP can offer, with persistent open ended player controlled content. If they can implement it correctly I can definitely see Dragon's Prophet carving out a very successful niche for itself.

All of this takes place on what are called the Sky Islands, which are essentially islands floating in the sky, with their own infrastructure, housing plots, NPCs and monsters. What makes it all very exciting is that Alliances (which are made up of two or more guilds) can gain control of these islands and are thereby granted the right to rule and govern that island however they see fit, setting taxation rates, planning public events and defending their island from external threats and internal politics.

Currently this system is still under development and all is taking place under the watchful eyes of GMs, but eventually alliances will be granted ownership by winning an Island wide battle for control. The leader of the winning alliance will then become the Highlord of that island, a supreme ruler in their own right. That is until someone else challenges their authority and the battles begin anew.

Of course one of my first questions was "how does this affect those who own housing plots on a contested island?" As it turns out there is no immediate threat as you do not need to be a part of the ruling alliance, or any alliance for that matter, to have a house on their island (though you may grow to despise their rule and seek to over throw them which, admit it, just sounds like fun). On top of that, when one of these island wide PvP battles is initiated it becomes an instanced zone that is separate from the actual real time zone which is only affected once the outcome of the battle is determined.

Keep in mind I have not personally experienced any of the Frontier System. Player housing doesn't open up until around level 30 and even then, this only allows you the smallest taste of the Frontier System. The real fun begins when you can actually participate in one of the Frontier PvP battles, which Senior Producer Todd Carson and Associate Producer Rod Haza informed us during our tour was pretty much a death sentence unless you are at least level 60 or higher.

On top of that, the NPCs that guard some of the key capture points on the island (called Strongholds) are no pushovers. When asked about the relative strength of these NPCs Carson mentioned that you will need a full group of level 80s to defeat the NPCs and capture the Stronghold, to say nothing of enemy players showing up to defend the Stronghold.

From the sounds of it, trivial dabbling aside, the Frontier System really is an end game activity and therein lies the problem, reaching the end game. Even as early as level 20 Dragon's Prophet suffers from a common problem that is often associated with Eastern MMOs but is also just as prevalent in the West, the grind.

Nothing kills a gaming experience more for me that a meaningless grind. All games by their nature include repetitive elements and repetition in and of itself is not a bad thing; it's all about how the repetition is addressed. As soon as I hit a point where I feel the reward for repetition is no longer immediately evident (i.e. small incentives along the way, memorable moments or just downright enjoyable game play) I find it very difficult to continue on.

I'm aware that some people see "the grind" as a way to weed out the less dedicated players and reward those who have the resolve to push through it, but that just seems counterproductive to me. I think gamers should be given access to meaningful and enjoyable experiences that will in turn encourage them to stick with and invest in a game, not be forced to stick with and invest in a game before being given access to meaningful and enjoyable experiences.

And then there’re those pesky microtransactions

Love them or hate them, you of course can't have a free-to-play MMO without them. But, as always, not every microtransaction system is created equally. When done correctly gamers are left with a sense of "there is nothing that you can get with real money that you can't also get just from putting in your time". More often, however, gamers are left feeling, at best, that they are being 'nickel and dimed' and at worst that it's a flat out pay-to-win scheme.

Dragon's Prophet strikes me as falling into the 'nickel and diming' category, for a number of annoyingly obvious reasons. First, simply look at the sheer number of things you can buy in the in-game marketplace. It's enough to make your head spin and honestly well over half of it I'm not even sure what it does, but rest assured there will be a handy pop up that offers me an easy way out by buying an item when it is needed most.

There is a consumable item you can buy that does just about anything. Don't want to have to walk back after dying, there's an item for that, want to redo your attributes, there's an item for that, want to force your dragon to train more than 3 times per day, there's an item for that, want to do more daily quests than normally allowed, there's an item for that, have a pesky wart you just can't get rid of, there might even be an item for that, hell I don't know. Trying to figure out exactly what has been monetized in Dragon's Prophet is enough to give you a headache. It's probably easier to just assume that everything can be purchased for SOE Station Cash (SC).

Don't worry though; with 100SC going for $1.00, most of these items are extremely cheap and in many cases come in well under five dollars. You probably have that kind of change sitting in the cup holder in your car right? Nickels and dimes, the sweet seductive currency of Mr. Spendypants himself.

The other area where Dragon's Prophet will nickel and dime the snot out of you is slots. I use slots as a generic term because there are so many places it applies throughout Dragon's Prophet. To name just a few there are backpack slots, bank slots, dragon stable slots, dragon lair slots and dragon chamber slots. Typically to buy extra slots costs 99SC, basically $1. This price increases by $1 for each consecutive slot you want to unlock.

Considering that you start the game off with only two slots available for dragons. Which if you are using one for a mount (which of course you will), only leaves one free spot open to capture a new dragon that you might happen upon in your travels. That means you'll need to go back to town (oh there's an item you can buy for that) and drop one off at the local Dragon Lair before you can capture another. Of course if the lair is full then you’re screwed anyways (unless you buy an item for that too). You will quickly discover that you have an overwhelming urge to smash your face against your keyboard if you attempt to play Dragon's Prophet for free.

Now in terms of playing Dragon's Prophet for free, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that pretty much everything in the store can also be purchased for Dragon Insignias (which oddly enough are denoted by a clam shell... not sure how that works but oh well). Dragon Insignias are earned from doing daily quests, so technically if you wanted to grind out a crap ton of daily quests you could have access to everything a paying customer has access to.

So where does that leave us?

Normally I'd say that since you can purchase anything in the store for in-game currency (Dragon Insignias) that technically Dragon's Prophet really is free to play. But I just can't bring myself to say that. Everything about it screams microtransactions. Everywhere you turn there is a reminder that you could just pay money to do this easier. It may technically be free but having to put up with the annoying salesperson that pops up around every corner leaves me thinking this isn't the answer we are looking for.

Monetization aside though, Dragon's Prophet is a good mix of hack-and-slash entertainment and MMO elements with a very promising end game in the Frontier System. If I could fast forward through the grind and start experiencing the Frontier System first hand I would definitely be interested in sticking with this title. But of course, our time is up and I must move on.

I hope you enjoyed this week's episode and if anyone from SOE or Runewaker is reading this, know that I think Dragon's Prophet has a ton going for it, but in the Free Agent's opinion it needs to ease up on the microtransactions, find ways to reduce the grind and for goodness sake, bring back the tutorial please, some of these systems are just not user friendly.

That's all for now. Join me next time when we finally give some love to Mech Warrior Online.

See you next time on the Free Agent.

Robert "Caergan" Gray
Follow me on Twitter @Caergan

1 2 3 Next »


Post Comment
# Oct 21 2013 at 11:50 AM Rating: Decent
Been playing this game almost since it was released and every point you made is spot on. Especially about the grind and microtransactions. It is a great game but can get very tedious when almost everything you need/want to do requires sc to do it well.
# Oct 21 2013 at 7:10 PM Rating: Decent
28 posts
Thanks for the feedback. Its good to know I'm not the only one who came to those conclusions. Thanks for reading.
Dragon's Prophet Dungeon Noobs
# Oct 19 2013 at 10:19 AM Rating: Decent
28 posts
If you're looking for more Dragon's Prophet content you can check out:
Watch as the Free Agent and several of his noob friends utterly fail at clearing a level 20 dungeon.
Decide for yourself, what sucks more, the quality of the video or just the players themselves.
Originally I was going to publish this in parts along with the column, but it was not to be.

Edited, Oct 19th 2013 12:19pm by Caergan
Post Comment

Free account required to post

You must log in or create an account to post messages.