(Sort Of) Early Access: Continent of the Ninth Seal
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
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Hey this is DizzyPW bringing you another edition of my OnRPG column, Early Access. I hopped into C9 earlier this month expecting a simple instanced based action MMO, and ended up spending a lot more time delving into the C9 world than anticipated. Webzen’s Continent of the Ninth Seal is an odd beast. The concept seems simple at first, gather all the quests you can find in the hub town, then leave town to queue up in one of many dungeons where your quests reside, then return to collect your rewards. Off of this simple concept though Webzen has built quite a complex game that has a much higher skill cap than most any MMO I have played in all my years of gaming.
Before I get directly into the features of the game though, I have to talk about their beautiful character creator. Even though C9 has been out for quite a few years over seas, the graphics in this game still rival some of the top competitors currently available in the western market. You can currently choose between three classes: the fighter, the hunter, and the shaman. Even though each is gender locked I guarantee you can adjust your avatar enough to make you stand out from your peers. Just look at my Shamans for example:
Yea my amazon bunny girl with a bad suntan stood out in a crowd without issue. Thankfully the customization doesn’t end there as each new piece of armor you acquire is rendered on your character in beautiful detail. This gives you a real sense of progression as leveling up in this game is fast and you will constantly be acquiring new gear to equip. If you’re worried about everyone looking the same at end-game then don’t worry as they even have a system to alter the appearance of your equipment to look like other gear you’ve acquired!
The maps are also beautifully animated and quite diverse. Just getting up to the level 14 dungeons I came across jungles, forests, beach towns, and even the inside of a volcano. Some maps even offer different routes to get from A to B, though the mini-map is well designed so that you’ll never feel lost or confused.
Something that really hurts the production value of the storyline though is the cutscenes. Cutscenes are done with ingame models and no CGI, which works well except for that the timing doesn’t seem to have been redone for the western version. This means you’ll often have cutscenes jumping around too fast to read the text. I found myself confused as to what my purpose was because 3 paragraphs of text whizzed by before I could finish reading the first. But while the cutscene timing is terrible, the actual dialog is localized with painstaking care. I’ve played a lot of freshly westernized games from Asian recently, and C9 is definitely among the cream of the crop in terms of translated dialog. Though expect the annoying ‘words being cut in half because a line breaks’ issue, like is common with most freshly westernized titles.
Of course the key feature that makes or breaks any MMO is how character progression is implemented. I don’t want to sound like I’m overly hyping the game but C9’s character progression is some of the best I’ve experienced! The system is simple but smooth. As you level up you will acquire skill points and unlock new skills within one of three categories: active, command, and passive. Active skills are your typical hotkey skills that you can assign to your 1-0 keys as well as other keys like z and x.
The command keys pull a page straight out of fighting games, forcing you to memorize simple key combinations to unleash some pretty cool skills on the fly. While the combos may seem simple, once you have around 12+ of them, you’ll start to see the difference between a novice and expert. Memorizing them all AND knowing the proper time to use each is quite a task, but makes the combat system beyond rewarding. A nice feature is implemented in which you can watch a small cinematic showing you how to use each skill in combat, as well as what key stroke combination you use to throw out the skill.
The passive skills are pretty self explanatory, helping you increase max hp, mp, and so on. However the nice part of the system is that your skill acquisition isn’t limited to economic factors like in most games but actually by the number of skill points you acquire. About every 3 levels you’ll gain the ability to upgrade skills you already know, and more skills are constantly thrown at you. There’s a lot of variety in how you build your character, though for comboing purposes I found knowing level 1 of everything and then powering up my favorites on the Shaman was the way to go.
In terms of the classes, the current three are pretty simple to summarize. The Fighter is beefy, packing serious defense but mostly only specializing in hand to hand combat. His sword and fast movement speed allows him to close distance quickly and dish out some serious damage. The Hunter I think is better described as a ninja. They can deal some wicked long range aoe damage with their bow, but their melee dps is just absurd. Of course they aren’t as tanky as the Fighter so you have more risk involved with the higher reward of going in for close combat knife play.
The Shaman on the other hand is a really unusual class. They can’t take much damage but specialize in mid-range aoe magic. Their staff gives them about the same range as the fighter but the Shaman’s attack speed is pretty slow so getting into melee range to fight is only recommended against slow AI opponents. They do have a few devastating long range spells but they have long charge time, slow particle animations, and are difficult to land on an opponent in PvP. A truly good Shaman will have to utilize spell shields, dodge mechanics, and perfectly executed combos to unlock their full potential.
As you play your class though you’ll probably find a specific style of combat that suits your taste. At level 20 you’ll be able to class up and follow a dedicated new style that can maximize the effectiveness of your playstyle.
As I mentioned in the intro, the basics of the gameplay are nothing you won’t have seen before. Missions are entered from the lobby and offer you normal, hard, expert, and master mode to choose from, though you’ll have to unlock each difficulty before jumping straight into them.
At first I was getting a little bored with the missions as they were all simple go from point A to point B and kill everything in your way tasks. But as the game progressed I saw a glimpse of some real fun. One mission had me defending points in a beach town from a mermaid and crab invasion. The towers had HP bars that the mobs quickly chipped away at if unopposed, and I was forced to think through each aoe skill I had to maximize damage in order to keep the mobs distracted and tower standing. The quest I had to do on expert mode in particular was the hardest challenge (outside of PvP) that I faced in the entire time playing. This is a good time to mention the fury bar, a small purple bar that fills up under your avatar image in the top left corner. Once the bar is full, you can go all out for a short period of time, drastically upping your damage and movement speed. Without the potions that allow you to fill this meter instantly, there’s no way I could have held off the Mermaid’s minions solo. I can honestly say soloing this mission at level 14 was on par with some of the challenges I faced in Guild Wars, and yes it’s been that long since I’ve felt this kind of pressure in an online game.
Another interesting dungeon had me racing to save a group of hunters from the servants of Hannaman. While it wasn’t necessarily difficult as the hunters weren’t vital to my success, it did add a sense of urgency, and the fun factor goes way up in C9 when you’re in a rush to destroy your foes. Speaking of this, every dungeon you run is graded based on number of foes you killed, your skills used, the combos you performed, and your overall speed. Some awesome items might be waiting for you at the end of your run if you do well in each of these categories, and it really got me motivated each dungeon run to not slack off and give it my all.
At the end of your run you are graded and given 2 keys to open a number of boxes. This is one of the reasons I highly recommend you bringing friends while playing as it not only speeds up the dungeon run but each player gets to select two boxes. With a bunch of people selecting boxes you have a great chance of getting an item useful to someone in the party, so you can trade and grow stronger much faster.
One major complaint I have with C9 is the difficulty of missions doesn’t seem to scale much as the number of people in your party grows. Going solo in this game can result in some seriously epic confrontations, especially with some of the later bosses. However with a team the challenge nearly disappears and it becomes more of a frag fest to see who can kill steal the most monsters from the other players. Here’s hoping this gets addressed as this game is amazing but only when a real challenge is pressuring you to go all out.
Though I haven’t tried using a gaming pad, the keyboard controls in C9 are smooth as my Shaman’s silk. As I’m sure most people reading this by now know, C9 is among a new genre of online games in which every attack and skill is aimed rather than auto targeted to a selected monster. Even so, I found jump attacking, skill spamming, and melee comboing all performed excellently.
This might not be so readily apparent when first starting out, as the gameplay can be quite slow before you’ve picked up a good number of skills and commands. However once you have around 9 options under your command, you’ll find transitioning from one attack to the next to the next and racking up 50+ combos is doable on most any class.
One issue with the controls though is sometimes your character has issues stopping on a dime. A lot of skills will have you flying forward as an uncontrollable wrecking ball with no way of canceling the animation, such as the Shaman’s rolling front kick. This is fine under most situations but can get a bit dicey when fighting on cliff sides or in tight spaces between spike traps. I’ll never forget laughing at JamesBl0nde when he dove off a cliff and died from fall damage because he got greedy and tried to kill steal a final monster from me on his Hunter.
Crafting and Social Interaction
The crafting system in C9 is simple but effective, and one of the primary reasons I see people coming together as a community in C9. The reason I see this bringing players together is you can create some really powerful equipment and items through crafting, but each player can only master a single profession out of the five available.
Tailor: Tailors are your armor makers. They specialize in handling all types of cloth materials and can also build tapestries for your guild house.
Metalworker: Metalworkers specialize in weapons as well as more hardy guild house items.
Chef: Chefs put together ingredients to make dishes that can power your team up for long durations.
Alchemist: Alchemists are similar to chefs but more about creating fast acting potions.
Wordworker: Wordworkers are a bit of a jack of all trades class, allowing you to craft bows for Hunters, firewood to quickly restore hp/mp, and guild house items.
The actual process of crafting items is pretty tough. Expect to spend many hours gathering items, or purchasing them from other players to complete some of the higher level recipes in the game. Basically if you want to get good at crafting, make sure to break all the pots and boxes, and open all the chests on each dungeon run to start getting a good supply of crafting materials in your bank. Believe me, you’re going to need all of them.
The actual guild system itself is pretty impressive just due to the amount of customization it offers. Guild leaders can do all the basics such as assign rankings to members (currently I have the option of making members officers, diligents, commons, newcombers, or guests). Also you can choose to ban someone’s ability to speak in guild chat, which is a godsend to anyone out there that’s had the pleasure of running their own guilds before.
As you play the game you will earn guild points for your guild that can be spent by the guild leader to level up the guild or purchase special guild buffs. Leveling up your faction allows for special perks like adding a guild logo next to your guild name, or purchasing guild housing as the ultimate status symbol. The most useful feature though is guild buffs, in which players can acquire guild-wide strength boosts to give them advantages over normal players.
Currently C9 only has two real PvP modes, though quite a few more exist in the Korean version that haven’t been transitioned into the Global client yet. The first PvP mode is your basic dueling system. Unlike most MMOs where you walk up, click a player, gain an orangish glow and start fighting right on the spot, C9 initiates the duel a little differently. You and your accepting opponent will actually be transferred over into an official dueling map, consisting of a beach side island with only a few obstacles and a large amount of land to kite across. Duels consist of a best of three rounds system, with each round consisting of three minutes.
I found the three minutes fly by rather quickly and a lot of my matches would be decided based on who had the most hp left, rather than who knocked out who. Anyway while duels don’t mean much, there is a ranked version that is tracked by Webzen through a ladder system. At the time of writing this it seems a player is in the lead with 100 wins and 12 losses, so people are definitely getting a kick out of dueling to have played so many matches in such a short period of time. I can’t blame them as dueling is pretty addicting! Even at level 20 without my 2nd job update I found each match against James to be intense. You really feel like the proper timing of your skills makes a difference and it’s not just another spam till everything is on cooldown while standing still facing your opponent type of PvP action. This is real action combat as you shield, block, roll, and flank your opponent trying to get a 5+ combo in to seal the match in your favor.
The other type of PvP in the game I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to experience yet. This is called intrusion and from what I understand, involves invading and conquering another player’s instanced dungeon run. Now I complained about the lack of challenge when traveling with a large group earlier in this article, but if I had to fight against another team of players while completing the dungeon, that complaint would instantly disappear. Needless to say, while the PvE elements of C9 are well made, it’s the PvP systems that seem to have received some real love by the developers.
C9 is one of the most well rounded titles I have tested in quite a while. Character design, dungeon variety, and fine tuned PvP combine to make this a prime choice in the action MMO market for 2012. While the number of features in the game might be a bit too much to take in all at once, an extremely detailed help menu exists if you hit F1 that can teach you just about anything you need to know in the game. Brutal framerate lag was one of the main issues I had with the game, and thankfully it seems to have been resolved in the last few weeks of the beta test. I think once the text and cutscene issues are patched up a bit, this game will be ready for a strong commercial launch to the global market. And with Team Deathmatch and Relay PvP on the horizon along with a fourth class, I see nothing but good things in C9’s future.