When I first started playing MMOs, there wasn't a great deal of choice. Eight years ago, the only two real options were Ultima Online and EverQuest on PC.
However, with the huge success of World of Warcraft and Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo all embracing online play, gamers have never had so much choice.
Dragonica is a free-to-play side-scrolling PC MMO, which will be released later this year. I've been lucky enough to have spent the last few weeks in the Beta test and it's shaping up to be a great game.
Most free to play MMOs aren't the best, failing to match the quality of pay-to-play games such as Warcraft, EverQuest 2, Eve Online and Lord of the Rings Online. However, Dragonica - along with the recently released Free Realms - have proved, free to play doesn't necessarily mean cheap production values.
Developed by South Korean firm Barunson Inteactive and distributed in the UK by gPotato, Dragonica clearly isn't aimed at the hardcore World of Warcraft player. However, those who think its kid-friendly visuals indicate an MMO-lite will be in for a bit of a surprise.
Underneath its deliciously colourful wrapping lies all the elements that go into making a memorable MMO: Skill trees, quests, battles, special attacks, item crafting, enchanted weapons and, more importantly, loot drops. Finding items from downed creatures lies at the core of a decent MMO, and it's a mechanic which keeps players playing. It's implemented well here, with quest hand-ins yielding better equipment and weapons.
For those used to the open world aspect of an MMO, Dragonica is something of a shock. While it's possible to move up and down to a limited degree while exploring the world, the game is played out on a pseudo 3D map.
Another jolt to the average MMO player will be the control method. Dragonica largely does away with the mouse, relying instead on the cursor keys to move, C to jump, X to attack, Z and Space to interact with people and objects, while special abilities can be mapped to the QWERTY keys. Also, judging by iPotato's press release, it looks as if control pad support will be added at a later date.
It's hard to be too critical, especially as the game is still in the beta phase of development, but there are a few niggles which will hopefully be sorted before the game launches.
There are some terrible grammatical errors throughout and the menu system can be unnecessarily cumbersome and messy at times. Some menu overlays also stick, meaning you have to logout and re-enter the world, while the lack of 1440 x 900 support means the game looks a bit fuzzy on my widescreen monitor.
However, there's enough on display at the moment to suggest that Dragonica will be an impressive package when the game goes on general release. Definitely one to keep your eye on.