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Platform: PC
Genre: MMORPG
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: NCSoft
ETA:  Q3 2006

 

 

 

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Dungeon Runners

 

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As the MMO market gets more and more cluttered with titles imitating one another, developers in this genre are having to work much harder in order to create a game that stands out to consumers.  At the same time, they have to be careful not to go too far out on a tangent lest they alienate their potential audience.  NCSoft appears to be trying to do something a little different with the upcoming Dungeon Runners, but the twist won’t be coming from the gameplay, which is a lot like that found in Diablo, nor will it be in regards to aesthetics, which have some decidedly World of Warcraft-esque leanings.  What is most likely to make Dungeon Runners stand out from the crowd is that it won’t cost a dime to download and play the game.

 

Bare in mind, though, that this whole concept of a free game does come with a few qualifiers.  NCSoft is a company, and not a charitable organization after all.  In order to make money off Dungeon Runners, NCSoft plans to charge a fee for various premium content in the game.  This will largely come in the form of elite items that players can equip.  What is unclear here is whether these items are consistently head and shoulders above monster drops in the game, or a mixture of super weapons, and cool looking items that only add aesthetic value to a player.

 

Of course, this buying of items brings up some sensitive issues.  For instance, will this drive a wedge through the haves and have-nots in Dungeon Runners?  Ie. Will well-off players have an unfair advantage in the game, over regular Joes?  Also, how careful will NCSoft have to be in the future about maintaining a balanced game?  In an interview we conducted with 

Richard Garriott last year, he discussed the risk of litigation MMO publishers could face by selling items themselves.  One of his main concerns was that if the game appeared unbalanced because a certain weapon, or class of items is overly powerful, developers may not be able to adjust the item in question’s stats, since they are changing the nature of the product that they sold to a player, meaning they had a different product now that they never asked for.  Essentially it would be like an auto manufacturer selling someone a car, then coming back six months later and swapping in a weaker motor.  It just wouldn’t fly.  So, how does NCSoft ensure balance over the long term in Dungeon Runners?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Besides, buying stuff, there are some other elements in Dungeon Runners that need to be looked at.  From what is planned for the game, it appears that NCSoft is trying to make it appeal just as much to casual gamers as the hardcore MMORPG crowd.  For one, the combat is lots of pointing and clicking like something out of Diablo, so one clicks, their alter ego swings, and finally the monster gets bonked on the head.  There’s none of this activating the “fight” button, and watching your character go into some sort of semi-automatic battle mode.  Also, the dungeons in the game will be randomly generated, helping to add variety to the game, as well as give players a chance to find rare treasure.  Again, we still need to know where these items sit on the food chain in comparison to the purchasable items NCSoft has planned for Dungeon Runners.

 

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To actually look at the overall presentation of the game, it does bare a striking resemblance to World of Warcraft (and I suppose that means it looks a tad like the Warhammer MMORPG as well, no?).  Whether this is intentional or coincidence is anyone’s guess, but it does give a sense of familiarity to the aesthetic of Dungeon Runners.  From what can be seen so far, the graphics seem to be doing a good job of creating a fantasy setting, and, more importantly, NCSoft is setting the system requirements at a far more merciful level than other games coming out these days, so players won’t need a high-end supercomputer just to play this game.

 

This approach that NCSoft is going with for monetizing Dungeon Runners will be what ultimately makes or breaks this game.  The buying and selling of items in-game is new ground for developers.  We’re seeing the start of it through micro transactions in new games and on Xbox Live, but these have been in the closed environments of single player games.  What we’ll need to keep an eye on is how this will be accepted in a community oriented MMORPG like Dungeon Runners.  Will there be a schism between the haves and have-nots?  Or will this game manage to avoid such tensions?

 

Mr. Nash

(June 1, 2006)