by Gabriele Giorgi, Onrpg writer
9Dragons is a Free to Play MMORPG set in ancient China where the players impersonate wannabe martial artists fighting to support (or to overthrow) the Emperor.
At first the characters are simple vagabonds, able to learn only the most basic forms of kung fu. As they progress, they will have the opportunity to join one of the clans, specialise in advanced techniques and choose a specific role.
Contrary to what people might think, White Clans are not “good”, much like Black Clans are not “evil”: the white ones support the Emperor, the black ones don’t. There are currently 6 clans you can join; the remaining 3 are advanced clans but, as of now, they have not been introduced yet. It is speculated that you might join them once you reach level 170.
As soon as you’ve chosen your starting point, you will be presented the opportunity to follow a quick tutorial. If you are a veteran MMORPG player, you can easily skip that part, since it covers just the basics. Whatever you need to know about 9Dragons will be explained as you progress, through specifically designed quests.
Leveling is a bit peculiar, in 9D. There are 20 major levels, each one divided in 12 sub-levels called Cheng, for a whopping total of 240 to be gained. As usual, they require more and more time to attain. Problem is, most of the XP you need must be earned through grinding. There aren’t enough quests to complete a level, so you will always end up killing mobs just for the sake of it. On the other hand, those errands are made to show you how the game works, to let you know the world around you and to advance the main story, so they are a welcome break from the grinding routine.
Minigames are another pause from normal gameplay: one in particular, Chi Breathing, will have to be performed at the change of every major level (every 12 Cheng) and, if you are particularly quick at it, you will be rewarded with additional skill points to distribute.
Controls are also worth mentioning: the game lacks WASD movement in favour of a point-and-click mode. For those who are used to the other way it might be a bit unsettling at first, but it works quite fine with a sort of fast-run ability that you will receive early in the game and use quite often to travel from place to place.
Combat and Roles
Unlike other MMORPGs, you do NOT choose your role at the beginning of the game. It’s only when you join one of the clans (level 25) that you are given the opportunity to select it: you can be a warrior, a healer, a nuker or a hybrid. Most of them are self-explanatory, at least to any seasoned MMORPG player. The hybrid, as the name implies, can use anyone else’s abilities, albeit less effectively. You can change that choice once (and only once) before you reach level 61. This feature is quite interesting, since you don’t have to choose from the beginning of the game and, selecting the hybrid, you can also experience how all the skills work before making a definitive choice.
Combat is a bit disappointing: all you have to do is click on a opponent and your character will do the rest, using the skill you selected beforehand. Actually, as soon as you have enough different skills, you can use some sort of combos, but they are not really worth it since you end up delivering more damage with one single skill anyway. What’s more, to maximise your combat effectiveness, you’d better focus on a specific weapon (usually your clan’s) and a limited amount of selected skills: the more you progress, the more time you will need to improve them. It’s not uncommon to meet a monk (healer) who will buff you while you are busy grinding mobs. Don’t be fooled: they are doing a favour to you as much as to themselves. It takes a lot to raise skills at higher levels, but the game also provides ways to improve the learning rate for a limited time, like drops called manuals or boosts acquired through acclaim coins (they can be bought with real money and can be spent for a variety of different in-game benefits).
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are no doubt one of the best aspects of this game: the lands and the sky are beautifully designed; the animations during combats are accurate and fun to watch, the icons of all the different items are well drawn and recognisable. The faces of the characters are a bit manga-like and pretty standardised but, on the other hand, the outfit makes them distinguishable (although usually you will just be wearing the garment that provides the highest bonus).
There is only one major drawback: the entire top bar of the screen is occupied by everchanging ads. This starts happening when you reach level 13: you are given a sample of how the game looks without for the first levels, then, if you want to keep it like that, you have to upgrade to a premium subscription. The ads can be quite annoying, but ultimately, since it’s a F2P MMORPG, it’s up to you to decide whether they really bother you or not.
Sound is quite valid: the musical score fits well with the setting (you may find yourself humming it after you’ve been playing) and sound effects are good too.
There is a decent number of players in 9Dragons at any time, and it’s not going to be hard to find a party to kill mobs together. Players can also form guilds called Hero Bands (the founder must be at least level 49), and up to 5 bands can form a Hero League.
What most players do is try to buy and sell better equipment for their level, and this can be achieved both through the chat system (where usually you can find people advertising the latest drop they found and want to sell, since it’s not suited for their class) and personal shops, nowadays common in most MMOs, where you can offer your wares to passerbys at a fixed price when you are away from keyboard.
In PvE things are pretty easy at the beginning: you just choose a mob to fight and it’s a simple 1vs1: it’s only a matter of how many fights you can take before having to rest and recuperate. When you start to level, though, you will notice that you tend to attract more and more mobs, so you’d better be very careful and judge when it’s the best time to retreat… or else you can always gang up with other fellows and you’ve got the option to share the experience or still earn it individually.
PvP is available only in specific areas, like dueling or normal Player Killing. Of course you cannot kill members of your own clan, and you accumulate Good Karma (sort of reputation, that might provide also some bonuses) if you kill members of the opposite faction. As of now PvP is a bit unbalanced, with nukers being the most effective class while healers are quite useless.
9Dragons stands above the average F2P MMORPGs. If you can bear the ads and the grinding, it will be worth playing, especially since you will be able to experience deeper and better contents the further you progress.
– interesting and unique setting
– nice graphics and animations
– good learning curve
– extensive grind between levels
– intrusive ads at the top of the screen
– skill development forces to focus on just a few