Review by MargaretAnn

Reviewed: 12/10/10

What a free MMO should aspire to be.

MMO's these days tend to have a bad reputation, and for good reason. Many are plagued by lag, and devolve into horribly monotonous clicking experiences if played for more than an hour at once. While other MMO publishers try to recreate World of Warcraft's success in lavishly rendered 3D worlds, Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO) is content to appeal to its niche audience and provide a refreshingly classic gameplay experience for anyone interested.

Even the title lets you know exactly what to expect. There will be dungeons. You will be fighting in them. The game is online.

How well does it all work?

DFO plays like the classic arcade beat 'em ups that once dominated arcades. You move with the arrow keys, and have Attack, Jump, and Special buttons. Typing in an arrow combination before hitting the Special key will perform Special attacks that drain MP, and you can't use specials if you run out of MP.. Getting hit by an enemy will drain HP and if you run out of HP, you die in the dungeon. Keeping true to it's arcade roots though, you can come back from death as long as you have tokens.

Of course all keys are completely customizable, and you get 12 Hotkey slots if you're not so good at typing in the arrow combinations before hitting the special button, or if you'd rather just use a skill immediately.

The simple controls are accompanied by an almost too comprehensive tutorial that will ensure you know what you're doing before you head into your first real dungeons. Complete dungeons and you level up. Level up to get stronger and learn more skills. If you're familiar with RPG's in general this should all seem very familiar.

"Easy to learn, difficult to master" is such a cliche'd phrase it isn't funny, but it does do its job quite well in this case. As you level up you start to learn to chain your basic combo with special attacks, and start to work juggling into regular dungeon runs as a means of survival. There is a bit of a difficulty curve to get used to once the hand-holding stops, but with the Online aspect comes people other than yourself, and even a below average player can get by when partied with others.

Of course the game also contains a heavy PvP element. Though it's only rarely required to meet objectives the PvP channels will usually have a good number of people to test your skills against, or just play a friendly match with. With 4 main PvP channels, 3 of them based on PvP Ranking and the fourth being open to everyone, you can usually meet up with a friend if you'd like or fight better

And, well, it's fun. No fancy wording required here. The game has an emphasis on skill, so dungeons for the most part will continually get more difficult and you'll need to learn the ins and outs of your class to progress. Along with skill, DFO has a heavy emphasis on something a bit unusual for MMO's. Playing multiple characters.

As of this writing the game contains 6 main classes, with at least 2 more coming at some point but are currently available in other versions. Each of the main classes can advance into one of 3-4 Subclasses, where they learn more specialized skills. For the most part they are well balanced, but there are some issues involving certain classes.

DFO also makes use of a "Fatigue" system in place. Every room in every dungeon you go in will drain 1 Fatigue point, and you get 156 Fatigue points at the beginning of every day. Once you're out of Fatigue you can no longer do dungeons, but you're free to PvP all you wish. Fatigue points are character based though, not account. Hence the idea that the game actively encourages you to play several characters and try out multiple classes. If you end up not liking one, another may be a better fit, and you won't end up playing something you hate for an exceedingly long period of time with the Fatigue system in place.

Besides the obvious benefits of leveling, the only thing to keep you going in the game would be the story, something many players completely skip over. In a nutshell, a group of powerful things called the Apostles have made it into your happy little land of Arad. Even the weakest among them is able to wreak untold amounts of havoc, and well, you're a dungeon fighter in this world.

There isn't much to go by in terms of lore for the game, but for those who are interested it can be quite interesting. Otherwise the story is largely forgettable and the game can be enjoyed as a whole without it.

Appealing to the senses

Graphically DFO can actually be a bit of a mixed bag. The character classes are very different from one another, but don't seem to have as many frames of animation as they could for certain skills. Most of the NPC's scattered around the town's have only the barest minimum of animation, and will appear as nothing but a static image to those not paying close attention.

DFO does have a bit of palette swapping going on as well, and one particular enemy has about 6 palette swaps total, one of them actually being a boss.

But while the actual characters seem to be lacking in the animation department, the effects from skills are a vast improvement for the most part. Whether it's just the ground cracking after a ground punch, or an electric blue tiger that shoots from your fists with every strike, the skill animations are rather good. Similarly, large bosses tend to look very good and fulfill their job of being threatening.

Audio-wise, DFO has a fairly strong soundtrack composed largely of Rock or Metal themes. Some of the dungeon themes do seem a bit out of place, but this ends up being the exception, rather than the rule. All of the playable classes have a few grunts and shout the names of many of their skills. Most are done rather well, but a few can grate if heard too many times in succession. The NPC's in town are all also voiced, but it's limited to a few lines each, which you'll likely hear so many times you can identify them even out of context.

In terms of presentation, DFO is beyond passable into what could be considered good. Being a free MMO it can't have too high of a system requirement, but what's on display, low res as it is, is satisfying enough.

The money

Of course, nothing in life is completely free, and a free to play MMO has to get its revenue from somewhere. Using real money you can get NX Cash at the Official DFO site. This currency is used to buy items from the Cash Shop.

The biggest thing, hands down, the Cash Shop is used for is to get avatar tokens. You use these tokens in an avatar machine and receive a random avatar with randomized stats. These DO affect gameplay, however all avatars obtained this way are 100% tradable. So you're not required to spend actual money to get the same advantage as those who do, it just makes it a little easier.

Beyond this, the cash shop also offers some healing items (Again, the game has an emphasis on skill, healing items can only normally be bought from other players, no NPC's will sell them.) and items to use Skills and Equipment beyond your level.

The game is perfectly playable whether or not you decide to spend any real money on it, which is an important distinction from other free to play MMO's.

As a whole, DFO offers an action game steeped in arcade history with very few caveats. With a solid internet connection the game runs smoothly. As of this writing it is still receiving frequent monthly updates, and would be a worthy endeavor to anyone looking to recapture some of that beat 'em up nostalgia, maybe with a few thousand others while they're at it.

Things you'll love
-The action is fun, and fast paced
-Encourages several characters, with 6 different classes that play fairly uniquely.
-Keeping a mostly fair split between people who choose to pay and those who don't.

Things you'll hate
-The heavy emphasis on skill and a sometimes inconsistent difficulty curve
-Playing with or against people with bad connections
-Drab sprites

Score: 9/10
Dungeon Fighter Online is a good enough game that it could still be fun with the Online part removed, something most other MMO's can never hope to achieve. The faults it has are far outweighed by the positives and as a game I'd recommend it to just about anyone who's ever been a fan of beat 'em ups.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Dungeon Fighter Online (US, 09/22/09)

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