Vindictus: MMO, Hack and Slash or Dungeon Crawler?

Korean MMO maker Nexon’s forthcoming English-language conversion of Mabinogi Heroes, re-titled Vindictus, is launching today in North America and Canada. What makes this launch particularly notable in our minds here at The Slowdown is Nexon’s curveball partnership with Valve Software: Instead of going for the common go-to engine in Epic’s UE3 (which is used, for instance, in DC Universe Online, Mortal Online and Huxley), the game instead runs on an adapted version of the Source engine.

Bear with me as this post is largely hearsay given players in the EU are currently locked out of the game at this juncture, but the general assumption to be made here is that the combat more closely resembles that of other Source titles like Dark Messiah of Might & Magic and Zeno Clash, in turn bridging the gap between an MMORPG and an online dungeon crawler. There are other ways, too, in which the utilization of the Source engine affects the game’s overall design and gameplay. The Source base becomes more evident in the trailer below, illustrating a wider-than-usual array of smooth close combat:

Like Source titles commonly, the game is also rather heavily instanced, with relatively few truly “open-world” locations; instance portals are supposedly littered all about the main city. The game’s Source-based server architecture also explains the key reason as to why the open beta has been so strictly regionalized so far: Unlike MMOs normally, Vindictus operates by having one player serve as host with other players connecting. An EU version of the game, for which a placeholder website already exists, was nevertheless announced during Gamescom earlier this year. This does sadly mean the game’s EU launch – or a beta available in the region – will occur much, much later.

I’m actually quite keen on seeing just how well the gameplay pans out – we are all big fans of both Dark Messiah and Zeno Clash, both which brilliantly show the engine’s ability to lend itself to close combat – and completing smaller-scale instances with four to eight people seems just right for quick dip-ins rather than solitary grinding. The screenshots (borrowed from the Mabinogi Heroes website; for those interested, the Korean website has much more content than its US counterpart) definitely seem dynamic enough. All these things added up together, Vindictus sounds more like a co-op dungeon crawler that is then monetized with an additional layer of MMO-like features.

The game operates on Nexon’s own virtual currency, “NX,” which is used for purchasing various upgrades ranging from clothing and apparel to tokens that are used to enter higher-level dungeons. The instances require an escalating amount of tokens, too, and it appears that if you plan on playing the game every day, purchasing more tokens seems to be your only option. A late beta revision to the token system actually caused a bit of a ruckus in the community after players realized they would not be getting an endless supply of tokens to play with, with the Nexon team going so far as to invite fans to discuss the matter in their office. At the time of writing, lower-tier tokens replenish three days a week. That sounds more like the Korean-style optimal slash maximal grinding that we know to expect.

Another aspect that has been honed down to questionable perfection are the highly sexualized and youthful character models:

While this is strictly speaking nothing new, as every MMO under the sun has been marketed with good-looking women, this time around, as evident in the wallpapers above, the “moe” is extremely strong with the player character designs that additionally go with first name only instead of a character type or class: “Evie,” “Fiona,” “Lann” and so on. In fact, according to Massively, Nexon USA Vice President Min Kim describes the game as

…kind of like 300, except with sexy girls kicking the crap out of stuff as well. So, it’s better than 300.1

I suspect the player characters come packaged with first names in the hopes getting players more attached to their characters, but even more than that, the designs are there simply to beg players to spend more NX. The game’s store currently sports such atrocities as a “Captivating Scent Inner Armor” for “true fashionistas.” Gosh, I’m blushing here. In other words, Nexon are basically counting on players to throw about NX in order to take clothes off their characters just as much as they expect them to put on clothing. These money shots below will really tell you all you need to know about this aspect:

I wouldn’t be too surprised to find a good portion of the games press harping in on the marketing and the character designs as sexist, classless and gaudy; they are, surely, but I do also think that they are far more telling of the peculiar all-out design of the Japanese-Korean video game development style than anything else. Whether it will take something away or undermine the team’s efforts is something that remains to be seen very soon.

  1. http://www.massively.com/2010/04/28/vindictus-is-not-your-kids-nexon/ []