Dungeon Runners: Our Look Forward From E3

It’s officially here, the end of our E3 coverage. Today we bring you two more pieces to cap things off. The first is a look at the NCSoft free-to-play hack’n’slash MMORPG Dungeon Runners.

E3 2007 Look Forward: Dungeon Runners
NCSoft (developer/publisher)
Article by Dana Massey

NCSoft’s Robert Garriott clearly listened when his parents told him not to be wasteful. He applied that lesson to the wreckage of Exarch – an MMO that had gone to the great code database in the sky after its cancellation – and from that, a crack-group of programmers and artists created the latest free-to-play sensation Dungeon Runners.

NCSoft believes that the free-to-play model has been under utilized in the North American market. Here, we mostly have Asian-imports, which makes sense given that continent popularized it. Free-to-play of course isn’t free, it’s just that instead of a monthly fee, players pay a fee for premium content, or individual items within the game. The rest of the world can play some form of the full game free of charge. Dungeon Runners became one of the first North American produced games to embrace that model earlier this year when it was released.

The team described Dungeon Runners as a “casual hack’n’slash MMORPG”. It’s fast, it’s point-and-click, and it’s got an isometric view. They might want to toss the word “retro” on there too. The game evokes feeling of Diablo or even the cartoon-style of World of Warcraft, but doesn’t have the heft of either classic. This isn’t a bad thing. They told us flat out that Dungeon Runners is the type of game someone might play for a few minutes while they wait for their raid to form up. The typical play session is about 15 minutes. It’s all about instant gratification.

“There’s no epic storyline in Dungeon Runners, it’s about little self contained nuggets of goodness,” we were told.

The dungeons in Dungeon Runners are procedurally generated. Essentially, the team built pieces and lots of content. The computer just spits out logical combinations every time someone goes in. This isn’t a hardcore game that someone can grab a map for off our website.

For many, the words “point and click” are an instant deal-breaker, but keep in mind perspective. Players can zoom right in close, but Dungeon Runners is intended to be an isometric game, a perspective that is especially suited to that control scheme. There are no roofs on the dungeons, for example. If the player pulls the camera down low and tight, they’ll notice the black void of nothingness above them.

They also don’t believe in these epic quests to create the perfect character. Players can respec themselves in Dungeon Runners rather easily. They pay some money – which isn’t exactly rare – and then have 15 minutes to do whatever they want. Note that the time limit is exactly the same as the time it takes to do a dungeon. This means, players can get in, try out combinations and then settle on a final specification all in real time. There is nothing that locks them too strictly or forces them to start over.

To ensure that no player is ever left with nothing to do, NCSoft eliminated pretty much all travel. Players congregate in a central town, grab an instance and go. They also took out some of the rather moronic staples of MMO games. Damaged? Normally players must sit down and recover. The team made a point to explain that not only is that not necessary in Dungeon Runners, but also that it is actually impossible. No sitting! How about a death penalty? Carelessness earns the player a trip back to town, where they can quickly port right back into the dungeon. That’s the extent of it.

In true dungeon smashing tradition, Dungeon Runners even has difficulty levels. The dungeon is always scaled relative to the player or the group leader, but if a group of grizzled vets want a bit more firepower, go into options and shoot up the level. This gives the monsters stat increases and makes the experience a bit more difficult, or damn near impossible, if it gets too high.

The gem of Dungeon Runners is its absurdity. DR knows what it is and an epic fantasy it is not. The weapons and items are at times patently ridiculous and it’s great. One rare item a player can get their hands on is a sitar. Not that anyone will be making music, no, this is a two handed weapon.

Items in Dungeon Runners come in six kinds: standard, superior, magic, rare, unique and mythic. Players who play for free can collect any kind, but are only able to use the first three grades. Paying players get access to the full gamut.

So finally, how much does this free-to-play game really cost? Well, anyone can download and play right off the website. NCSoft went the “premium content” route. For $5 a month, players gain access to an enhanced bank, VoIP, some free potions, login queue priority and of course access to the higher tier items. None of these are necessary to get in and have a good time, but if anyone finds themselves truly addicted, the price isn’t exactly daunting.

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