Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting
The basic premise of 9Dragons is genius. We’ve all seen martial arts movies where the hero starts off as a young villager and trains up under a cantankerous old master. We’ve all fantasised about fighting like Jackie Chan or going on a revenge spree like Bruce Lee. Well here is your chance to play an MMO game which is focussed on martial arts. Set in a genuine historical period during the Ming Dynasty with rival clans battling for control of China this game is at least partially grounded in reality. The design isn’t exactly revolutionary and the art is fairly basic but this is impressive for a free MMORPG.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
In the beginning you will go through the usual process of character selection. Once you have crafted your unique character you can begin your journey through the dusty streets of ancient China. It is the Era of Nine Dragons and the Ming Dynasty sits upon the throne. The most obvious pressing concern is to get some combat skills and you won’t be able to join a clan until you do.
Once you have learned from a local master and got some nifty moves you need to choose from one of the six playable clans. Martial arts fans will recognise some of the names and you can select from the Shaolin, the League of Beggars, the Wu-Tang, the Heavenly Demon, the Brotherhood of Thieves and Sacred Flower. Later you may get the option to join one of the three advanced clans, the Union of Noble Families, the Disciples of Iron Fist or the Black Dragon Clan. The process of levelling up is based on training and you need to use skills to master them. You can do this in a training environment or by embarking on quests and engaging in real combat. Outside the villages there are wild animals, monsters, bandits, loners and the deviant clans. You can also party up and embark on challenging quests.
If you don’t fancy monster hunting or questing with other players there is always the clan war. The clans are split into two opposing groups, the White clans are loyal to the Emperor and the Black clans are not. Each clan has their own style, different techniques to learn and preferred weapons. There are also different classes represented in each clan. You can take part in Storm vs Storm battles where two armies face off and compete for control of a fortress.
There are PvP servers where you can be attacked at any moment and non-PvP servers where you need to agree to a fight before it will happen. The game is packed with items to discover and there is some attempt to expound on the philosophy behind martial arts. The game also draws heavily on folklore and some of the characters and clan histories are very engaging. The gameplay definitely has some depth to it. The website mmosite.com actually gave 9Dragons the best PvP, graphics and storyline awards back in 2006.
Camera and Controls (2 out of 5)
For me the camera and controls were deeply annoying. The game takes a point and click approach and the camera is free spinning around your character. I’m so used to WASD that this control method really grated on my nerves but I guess it is a matter of opinion and some people will have no problem with it. It is easy enough to pull off the moves you want and there is no skill factor involved in controlling your attacks. This is a shame and for a martial arts game it would have been nice to feel as though you were responsible for the moves your character is unleashing. This put me off the game and there was no danger of this MMORPG becoming an unhealthy obsession for me.
Graphics (3 out of 5)
This is a free MMORPG and as you might expect the visuals are not the greatest. The character design is actually very good and the developers obviously had rich material to draw on in this regard. The translation from some of the excellent 2D concepts to the actual 3D models is not always great. The environments are fairly dull and the buildings and backdrops give the right impression but they are basic in design and implementation. There are atmospheric areas and some nice vistas but much of the level design is repetitive. The animations are reasonably good. There is no doubt the visuals are dated but it doesn’t really detract from the gameplay. For a free game this looks better than average.
Sound (2 out of 5)
The sound is generally terrible. It is sparse and intermittent and the sound effects are not terribly convincing. It really doesn’t do much to improve the game and you may be tempted to turn it off.
Overall (3 out of 5)
The real strength of this game is the setting and the gameplay. There is some grinding involved and levelling up can be a tedious experience which feels like a chore. The quests offer a decent range of activities and some nice stories but as with all MMORPGs there are a limited number of types of task and you will soon exhaust them. The AI also leaves a lot to be desired. The PvP side of the game is really what 9Dragons is all about and it is far more engaging than non-PvP. The rich setting and well designed characters and clans are a big draw and for martial arts fans this is definitely worth a look.