Mabinogi is a Korean free-to-play MMO released in 2004 and then translated for North America in 2008, but it remains a rather unknown title thanks to its bland and uninspired gameplay and visuals. Afterwards, devCAT created a spinoff game known as Mabinogi Heroes, which came out last year, abandoning nearly everything about the original in favor of a more mature and highly focused action-RPG title. When released in the USA later that year, it was renamed Vindictus and received a much larger amount of attention and praise from both the press and the fan base.
Vindictus is laid out in a style similar to games like Diablo and Phantasy Star Online. A selection of pre-made characters is available to choose from and players collect quests designed to push them through running dungeons repeatedly to grind out loot, levels, and ability points to boost skills. The main area where Vindictus sets itself apart from other games in the genre is through the use of Valve's Source engine, which turns all of the dungeons into physics playgrounds that can change the nature of any fight.
Vindictus can be enjoyed in either bite-sized chunks or grinded for hours.
Nearly any item that can be seen can be lifted, and if it can't be lifted it can be broken into smaller pieces and then lifted. Once picked up, barrels, pots, chunks of stone pillars, enemy corpses, or what have you can then be used as a bludgeoning tool or thrown. The latter action is particularly useful for bringing many of the larger enemies to their knees, sometimes their own real moments of weakness. Bringing down pillars and trees can also take out player characters, so don't think you're safe just because there's an object between the angered and charging ten-foot gnoll chieftain and the petite spellcaster.
Thankfully, the character selection - while superficially limiting - has a good amount of variety, even down to the skill point distribution on a character. Defense and offense work very differently for everyone, even if much of the attacking comes down to repeating a set of combos. The four characters currently available (there's a fifth that will likely be released next year) include a well-rounded shield-bearing female knight with no real weaknesses, a nimble and fast dual-wielding swordsman, a magic-based spellcaster that can eventually swap ranged damage for melee if she wants, and the newest addition: a huge juggernaut that can shrug off even the strongest attacks.
The addition of the large support character known as Karok can have a profound effect on many boss fights. As the only other character besides the shielded Fiona who can take a boss head-on and survive, he has been given the ability to catch certain incoming attacks or pick up and punch the face in of a stunned boss. Whereas Fiona's heavy shield merely deflects, if performed right Karok's grappling can allow for extended periods of free damage from other players.
Therefore, it seems almost a shame that the addition of such a character was accompanied by a general weakening of the bosses. DevCAT made much of the game easier, presumably in an attempt to help draw in more players and assist new Karok players in catching up to the old guard. The previous version definitely had a good chunk of difficulty to it, and still retains some of that when setting a dungeon to hard mode with Season of Macha (a special mode that adds experience gained and makes enemies hit harder) turned on. Nevertheless, it definitely makes some of the bosses much more forgetful, as I was able to breeze through some formerly tough fights without a second thought.
But even so, Karok becomes much less dominant in later levels, showing his role as a support character instead of a primary damage-dealer much more prominently. While I believe the entire game has been soloed by people, it still remains primarily a team-based affair, with different characters relying on others in order to succeed optimally. Even though a hit delivered to Karok can be regenerated as long as he is simultaneously striking, or deflected by Fiona's shield, the spellcaster Evie and the swordsman Lann can be killed in as little as two hits if they are struck directly. Especially in the case of Evie, many of the most powerful attacks in a chain don't occur until the end of a six- or seven-hit combo. Having a boss distracted by another player while going through some of the lengthy strings of attacks can be the only way for some strikes to have a chance at hitting some of the faster and more reactive creatures.
But all of this fast-paced action for free does have a price in its own right: that of the servers. While the towns are run off of Nexon's servers, when entering dungeons it falls to the lead player to host the run. What this means is that if a dungeon is being led by someone with a bad connection, it will be a laggy and terrible time for all. While a certain amount of lag can occur in any online game, it's particularly bad when it happens in a twitch-based game such as this, which can often rely on split-second reactions. More so than in other MMOs, players need to be careful that they have a strong signal (as shown next to the party life bars) or else they could end up with a run that is an annoying chore at best.
Thankfully, bad player hosting and Nexon's occasionally unreliable servers are comparatively rare, and it's certainly helped by the short design of the dungeons themselves. None of them run for much longer than twenty minutes, with ten being closer to the median amount of time spent in any one attempt. This means the game can be enjoyed in either bite-sized chunks or grinded for hours, and if something should ever go wrong, the player has lost a minimal amount of time and resources.
Hopefully, devCAT knows what it's doing with the difficulty adjustments and will be able to attract more players, and Karok is a good addition that offers a unique experience from other characters. Vindictus is certainly exciting and fun, and with new content always lined up and the possibly final character not being released until next year, it also appears to have good staying power.