Dragon Nest is the latest in a string of Action-MMORPGs to migrate from South Korea. While the developer, in this case Eyedentity Games, is usually responsible for the awesomeness in any given title, Dragon Nest owes a great deal to its localization team in North America for some of its more joyous aspects.
That's not to say that Eyedentity Games didn't do a great job, though -- because they did. Dragon Nest is a solid action game; the controls are tight, combat makes a lot of sense, and group interaction during the fifteen-minute (or so) dungeons, like rushing in to juggle an enemy after an ally has knocked them up, is intuitive while remaining interesting
They've also done a lot with very little in terms of visuals. While nothing in Dragon Nest seems to extend beyond PS2-era visuals, a cohesive, vaguely children's-bookish art style combined with smooth animations and lots of effects has stopped me from completely disregarding the simple looks. Dragon Nest isn't a graphical powerhouse (and given its intention of being playable on as many systems as possible, it was probably never intended to be), but presents itself with enough confidence and occasional pizzazz that its simple appearance never became an issue. That said, it's weird -- and kind of off-putting -- seeing some of the women with their boobs half hanging out in a game that, from a glance, looks so family-friendly.
But that's kind of Dragon Nest's MO. It looks simple on the surface, but there's a lot more depth (and fun) than initially meets the eye. Fighting isn't just a simple case of mashing the mouse buttons (although that's certainly part of it); dodging when you need to, turning your dodge into a counter attack, and knowing when and how to cancel an enemy's attacks are all very important. Self-preservation is key to the later, tougher fights, because even the Priest class (which I primarily played) heals only very rarely, and for quite small amounts. Instead, the "healer" relies more on disabling enemies and positioning them cleverly for allies to pour on the damage. It's a system I enjoyed immensely, though at times felt a little less rewarding than I would have liked.
Rewarding players is something that Dragon Nest definitely needs to work on. Sure, quests have rewards, but I found myself getting rewards that I typically had no need for, like Topaz Fragments (which I have yet to find a that requires them), or pieces of gear I couldn't use yet, like a level 20 necklace when I was still level 17. Finding gear that was too high-level for me was a consistent issue with Dragon Nest. There seems to only be gear made for specific level ranges, so during gap levels I found myself accumulating gear I couldn't equip. That's a problem, given how little inventory space you have by default. More can be bought permanently from the NX shop, but if you plan on playing for free, be prepared to go all Sophie's Choice on those new boots and that new pair of pants you found. More frequent usable upgrades would help alleviate this, because I would be less inclined to keep gear if I knew more was always coming.
Luckily, the quests themselves are entertaining, even with temporarily-unusable rewards. Whenever you pick up or turn in a quest, you are met with some genuinely clever, often witty dialogue with the NPC. Each NPC is completely fleshed out, and they make tongue-in-cheek jokes about the similarities they may have to other NPCs in other towns. Reading the dialogue is delightful, and it's entirely thanks to the North American localization team at Nexon.
Although the quests always send you to a dungeon, the dungeons have enough engaging encounters and difficulty levels that they tend to at least keep me interested throughout. The boss fights on the hardest (or "Abyss") difficulty are particularly cool. Sometimes Abyss bosses come with a second, identical boss for you to tackle at the same time. Other times they are just super strong, have way more abilities and double the health. Whatever the case, the boss encounters are always challenging and enjoyable.
Getting a group together to tackle a dungeon on Abyss can be a pain, though, especially if you've got a specific dungeon in mind. The current party system only displays players looking for party members in your local area. Players can display which dungeon and difficulty they're running, but typically don't, and there's no matchmaking. Nexon's other 3D session-based MMO Vindictus has a dungeon-by-dungeon party system which works much better.
If you get tired of running dungeons, challenge maps and a PvP arena also exist to ceaselessly murder in, too. I find the PvP pretty fun, but with more than about 8 players in a map it got too chaotic to really do anything. Instead, if I got singled out, I'd sit and watch my character get juggled for 20 seconds, unable to do anything except die. That's less than an ideal experience, but that's why smaller maps are available, I guess.