Massively multiplayer action games are rare as it is. What's even rarer are MMO action games that are free to play. The rarest of all, though, are free MMO action games that look as good Vindictus.
Rather than having you design a character from scratch, Vindictus has players select from a set of premades. These premades are gender-locked and have a basic set of abilities that can't be altered. Two of these characters were available for the demo: a male, dual-wielding warrior named Lann and a female with a sword and shield named Fiona. The other two players with me chose Lann so I picked Fiona for variety's sake. The differences between the two are straightforward: Fiona is more durable and defensively-oriented while Lann is a quicker, more agile fighter.
Though we didn't get to try it in the demo, you will have some leeway with customizing these characters. You can change their hair style/color, eye color, and so forth. An in-game store will allow you to purchase additional customization options with real money. These microtransactions, which extend to "items of convenience" (like potions) are how the game will support itself financially.
Vindictus's social hub is a town (unseen in the demo) and when you want to go to a dungeon, you group up on ships moored at the docks. This is where we spawned. Before heading out to the dungeon, though, we putzed around with the controls. Each mouse click swings your weapon; this is not like an MMORPG where you target an enemy and then auto-attack. Dodging (controlled by the keyboard like other movement) is manual as well. Pressing E allows you to pick up objects in the environment and swing them like weapons. F allows you to aim and toss javelins. The point of all this information is that the game really plays like an action game.
While learning the controls on the ship, the game's destructible environments became apparent. While swinging our weapons around, we ripped the barrels and boxes all over the deck to shreds. This destruction looks neat but it serves actual purposes in the game, too. The demo's dungeon, a gnoll-infested temple, was filled with stone pillars. Smashing these pillars caused debris to rain down on us or the enemies and cause damage. The pieces of these pillars could be picked up as well and used to bludgeon foes. At another point of the dungeon, we encountered a draw bridge that had to be lowered by slashing a chain.
The falling draw bridge and pillars were some of the demo's most prominent displays of the game's physics. A swinging, spiked log that we had to evade also sticks out in my memory. The physics seems to be a bigger factor in the full game, though. After the demo I was shown a video of the third character class, a mage, who had an anti-gravity spell that could cause all objects in the area to rise in the air. Another spell, likely high-level, allowed the mage to create a golem out of nearby objects.
The game is solid from a technical standpoint but I'm not completely sure of the actual gameplay constructed with this technology. Don't get me wrong; it was fun to slash up a bunch of enemies and bash their heads in with stone pots. Grappling enemies and finishing them off with contextual executions - smashing them against walls, tossing them off ledges - was entertaining, too. It was like I was playing a medieval beat 'em up. I'm just curious what the game feels like once we're past the quasi-tutorial stage.
To put it another way: Will we need to develop more careful combat techniques later on or will we still be clicking like a madman? The demo dungeon boss fight seems to suggest the game gets more strategic at higher levels. The boss was a giant gnoll that made slow, powerful hammer swings. After dodging these swings, you'd be free to get a few hits on him before he recovered and began another attack. How much more complicated will things get, though? How much coordination will teammates need to do? In this boss fight it just felt like we were three players who happened to be in the same game rather than a team working together. Will this be enough to survive in the future?
The fact that Vindictus is free just makes me slightly suspicious that it will be as complex as other games in its later stages, though. I guess I'm just old-fashioned and still skeptical of these new-fangled microtransaction-supported games. Still, the demo was entertaining and polished enough that I'll gladly download the full version for a test run.