C9: Behind Webzen´s Red Curtain
I have to say up front, here and now, that Action RPGs are not my favorite. While I can appreciate fluid combat and a break from the normal MMORPG, they just never appeal to me in the same way as a more traditional MMO does. Going into the C9: Continent of the Ninth Seal VVIP Test I was excited in one respect but still hesitant in another. I've seen all the same YouTube movies you have, I've read the often hyperbolic press, and I know the game has been out over seas for quite some time, but I still didn't look forward to the event as much as some others did.
After doing even more research into C9, I found myself wondering what this North American release actually had to offer. Was this the first multiplayer action game to hit our shores? Of course not. Vindictus has been out in the United States for awhile already and a plethora of other games in this genre have struggled to find a player base to support them. Did C9 advertise any particular feature that was so unique I felt like I MUST play it? Again the answer is no. That is not to say that Webzen didn't do a great job splicing together some beautiful game trailers. In fact, they did create some visual stunners. In the end though when I went to sleep the night before the Press Test was to start I did not have dreams of C9 dancing in my head.
After 5 hours of gameplay on day one though, I did go to sleep with what felt like pixels burned into my retinas. I was enthralled. Besides the visual splendor we had already seen, C9 was, quite simply, a ton of fun. Sadly, there are many games today in the free to play market that fail to meet this oh so obvious objective. Getting into the game was a breeze through a fun but typical tutorial phase. Learning basic controls was made easy through the usual on screen tooltips and within 30 minutes I was already experimenting with abilities to find the best combinations for not only efficiency but also grading. C9 follows a format typical to the game's genre. A few small massively multiplayer social hubs that provide shopping, gearing, an auction house, and quests. These quests in turn lead to the game's instances where players will find themselves hacking, slashing, casting, and sometimes dying long into the night.
While quests themselves are typical, (gather x of these, kill y of these, kill z boss) each repeated run through of instances I had already cleared did provide additional routes I could take or even more area to cover as my story progressed. These instances also have numerous difficulty modes each unlocked by completing the previous difficulty setting. This aspect alone will have many gamers, including myself, running instances they have no quests for simply to unlock the next difficulty setting in an attempt to get better loot drops.
Boss fights are abundant and usually beautiful. Fighting enemies that are huge as well as detailed often involved dissecting a strategy and sticking to it. While the initial bosses are of the basic hack and slash variety, later bosses did require thought and often a death or two before a solid strategy was designed.
From a multiplayer standpoint, I only found myself grouping when I wanted to do so. I never had a requirement to do so. While some gamers may not like this aspect, I actually found it worked well for me. I was able to do just about everything I wanted to do to progress alone, but could group up if I wanted to do things faster or just with some company. While my quests didn't push me into the extreme difficulty settings before they had already pushed me to a new instance, I can tell you that often times Master mode will require either a party or you being at a higher level than the instance to solo.
The three archetypes available to us, Fighter, Hunter, and Shaman, were enough to pretty much flesh out all party roles but the game really starts at level 20 when you pick which advanced class you actually want. Each of the three basic archetypes has 3 advanced types to select from and these advancements come with new skills and abilities to start trying to combo together all over again. Just like most other players that were in game, I could not wait to hit this advancement point and was not disappointed in the new animations and damage I was able to dish out.
While the VVIP test did also come with a Stamina system that actually limited the amount of progression you could make in one day, it is unsure if this system will make it to launch day. GMs representing Webzen in game have stated that it is still a topic of discussion internally.
The number one thing about C9, at least from the testing phase, was the community and the GMs in game. I hope for all the players that are eargly awaiting this title that this type of interaction continues after game launch. GMs were interactive, helpful, and above all KNEW THE GAME. This is another thing, sadly, that can't be said about all games. Guidance, question answering, and even just general small talk were all handled by the GMs in a professional way. The community was all about helping each other and I saw little to no "trolling" in the test phase. I cannot stress enough to both Webzen and the C9 community how much I hope this level of courtesy and community stays in the game through launch. The communication between the gamer and the developer is probably the most important aspect of gaming and as of right now, Webzen has this nailed down in game.
Overall I enjoyed a great deal about C9: Continent of the Ninth Seal. The story didn't have me captivated but at no point did I feel like I needed motivation to step into that instance for the third time. I did it because I wanted to, because I needed to or I would risk not getting that next epic drop. Visually stunning, a lot of fun, and a solid community make me hopeful that Webzen will keep their high standards and implement a profitable but logical cash shop, alter or remove the Stamina system, and provide the updates the game will probably need due to a rather fast leveling pace. All in all, C9 left me wanting to play more every time I logged off and my initial hesitation could not have been more unjustly placed. Well done Webzen and I look forward to killing your C9 monsters for quite some time.
By Mike Byrne (aka Magicman)
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