There’s been a trend of MMO burnout recently, and games like Dragona are part of the reason why. The game plays it safe taking cues from all the big MMOs on the market and while there is a few interesting ideas, the execution is rushed and lacklustre. I suppose I just summed up this review in the first two sentences, so I should take a moment to praise some highlights with more details on them later in the proper sections.
The art direction is very well done, especially the environments, but character models are disgustingly fan service, an auto travel feature, while badly implemented, is a nice try at the very least and classes do feel distinct from each other even though ability gain is far too slow. I suppose each of those points came with criticism but get used to that, it will be the entire tone of this review. Pour a glass of wine for this one, you may need it.
The world of Bartan is beautiful to look at. Environments, while not on the level of some triple A MMOs, are crafted with love. Smartly designed forests, cliffs overlooking valleys, beaches that o on for miles. Dragona takes place in a world you could get lost in if you wanted to. If can feel small and cramped at times, but the overall design is worth the effort to take in. The same can almost be said for monster design, though technical limitations hinder the looks of many monsters you face. The designs can be very good though and the imagination that went into the concept art can be seen in many of the world’s beasts.
Character models on the other hand are the exact opposite of the landscape. Fan service came first, and it makes the characters very ugly. Armour is devoid of any life being revealing for revealing’s sake. Busty women and scantily clad men are all you will see. Everyone is built off the same model of “idealistic proportions”. Not realistic ones though, anime ones.
The graphics themselves are not that great. The artists did well to work with what they were given, and the game can still be good to look at. Just don't expect to have your mind blown. On the other hand, for fun, take the time to compare the visuals between high and low settings. The game goes from having slightly less polish than WoW to looking like Quake 2. It is almost funny how much you can tune down the graphics, if only for marginal frame rate improvements.
A redux of my opening paragraph could easily be used to sum up the game play of Dragona. Kill quests galore await you and more so than others it feels like a grind as you rarely have to go talk to an NPC. Depending on your preference though, this may e a good thing. I'm usually the type of person who likes to grab as many quests as possible, do them all, and hand them all in at once. While this isn't possible in Dragona as you will only get four quests at once, at most, it does lend itself to my play style much better. That said, it made me miss NPCs, as amazing of a concept as that is. Turns out that break of handing in 10-12 quests at once is a needed cool down period between grinding for me. Who knew I would learn something about MMO design from Dragona? I guess inspiration can be found in all sorts of places.
Waking up on a shore surrounded by a disproportionate amount “Turtle Dragons” and “Sea Raptors”, an icon flashing at the top of your screen beckons you to click. This is how you get every quest in the game. A static character portrait and dialogue fill your screen explaining the situation. Your ship crashed and you are the only survivor. On a day when many people are making new character at the same time as you, wonder about this NPC sources of the crash fill your mind, or if you were indeed the only survivor on your ship just how bad sea training is in this world. Through this exchange you find out that the large number of reptiles on the beach are because all the other would be survivors and corpses have been eaten, creating an increased reproduction cycle in these critters. Again wonder fills your mind, and by “your” I mean the player, not the player’s character, of just how long you were out and exactly how fast these reproduction cycles really are. It may be flimsy, but at least there is an excuse for the large number of mobs in this part of the game. Of course all this talking leads to your first quest and sets the pattern for the game. Off collecting turtle shells you go!
The dialogue before and after every quest is quite long, which is great if you like lore and characters in your MMOs, but you just want to power level it adds needless licking (needless clicking in an MMO?) just to get to the killing. As you learn about the game world you'll find all sorts of things from the small towns and how they are being overrun by this gang of baddies, to the creation of the world, the greater evil you will face, and why you can transform parts of your body to get increased effects. While the transformations are fun idea in theory, the buffs buffs they provide may as well be passive instead of abilities as they have no cooldowns and can be used at any time. When you make your character you choose one of four transforming parts but as you quest you will eventually unlock them all.
The quest intravenous the game provides also wouldn't be as bad if combat wasn't so slow and clunky. I've never been a fan of auto targeting systems and Dragona may be one of the worst. The character reaction is slow, there is a delay between hitting attacks on your keyboard and them going off, nothing can be used while moving and there is no indication of when the global cool down starts and ends. This is all on top of the worst auto attack system ever. The auto attack is assigned to your weakest attack, one that will never be used at later levels, and takes up a global cool down when used. Because of this it messes up your rotation and makes you perform much worse. Luckily it can be turned off.
Sidebar: I know it’s hard to balance the spawn rate on mobs, especially in F2P MMOs when population can swing dramatically from week to week; you have my sympathy in this area. Filling every camp to the brim so it is a crowded area with infinitely spawning guys just to “err on the side of caution during those high density player periods” is not the right way to do this though. Even when the population is high it is still one of the biggest immersion breakers there is and makes many areas of the game an eye sore. Your artists put a lot of work into the environments, it’s a shame you choose to cover them up. Added to this is that the enemy AI in the game is dodgy at best, you're never quite sure when they are hostile or not. This is from each individual mob to another, not from type to type.
Trying to make NPCs less of an annoyance is a goal I can understand. No one really likes NPCs in their MMOs. Except that they can be used to add character to the world itself, give something relatable and grounded in the vastness that some MMOs can bring and generally are never a subject of complaint to most gamers. I can understand where the idea to have an intravenous of quests came from, but as the sole unique feature in Dragona it really falls short. There are still some NPCs in game, sometimes you do have to return items to them and you still have to find NPCs to buy and sell to and from. Without all the quest-givers though, towns and cities feel devoid and lifeless. When everyone is there just for the players needs, the world feels dull and lifeless.
Buffs that transform your body are also kind of cool, but not enough is done with them to really put much thought into. It is what it is.
Dragona is not buggy; in fact it plays quite well. That is all that I can really say about this area. At leasr it runs well.
Dragona doesn't give the player any reason to play. The plot is dull, gameplay static, and armor doesn't even really affect your character’s looks. There are quests, dungeons, and so on and so forth... but how many “Dragonas” have we seen lately? Of any sin that Dragona commits, it is that it misses the biggest sin of all MMOs, addictiveness. Unless you really want to grind with a subpar combat system or really want to unlock all the transformations, there is no reason to play Dragona past the first few levels. By that point you've seen all there is on offer.
Along with the clunky combat, you can also expect to find a clunky chat system as well. It’s not too terrible, but having to have the “/” before everything you type or else it just comes out in the area around you. On the plus side, Dragona has the single best (worst) profanity filter I've ever seen. “can use” will show up in chat as “C****e” becase of the space-separated word “anus”. Playing with the filter to find just how much it catches is one of the most fun user made side quests I've ever played.
This ties into longevity. The game is free, you get what you pay for, but you won’t get your time back. There don’t seem to be too many “wallet pickers” in the shop either. But there’s just no reason to pay for anything when it comes to a game this dull and lifeless.
Maybe I'm just jaded and my review is more harsh than usual because of it, but Dragona does nothing to set itself apart from anything else on the market. The little highlights of the game, like the environments, are often over shadowed or covered up by much worse features. Dragona just isn't worth anyone's time. I wish I could say more, I wish I could like it more, but in the end there is no use lying on the game’s behalf.