Free Agent: Vindictus
Free Agent: Vindictus.
No Money Down
Vindictus legitimately surprised me. Korean MMOs have a reputation for running entirely on creaky, grind-loving gears, but this one kicked off by pitting me in semi-emotional and extremely cinematic conflict with a town’s former guardian. Admittedly, said guardian was also a giant spider, so you’ll forgive my lack of Scooby-Doo-worthy surprise at the fact that the whole deal went south. At any rate, that — combined with combo-heavy, timing-and-skill-based battles — gave the impression of a particularly daring dive into the MMO landscape’s relatively still waters. Understandably, I was excited.
So I emerged into Vindictus’ ramshackle hub town and embarked on my first real quest. An on-screen arrow elegantly guided me from place to place, once again emphasizing the Source engine-powered swords ‘n’ sorcery’s focus on fast, fluff-free action. And initially, as a free player, I didn’t feel like I was walled off from any of it. For the first 10 or so levels, things moved at a nicely brisk clip, with levels, gear, and skills coming at fairly regular intervals after each 15-or-so-minute-long quest. Meanwhile, the highly physical hack ‘n’ slash combat had me chaining together combos like I was playing the result of a mad scientist’s attempt at stitching together World of Warcraft, Half-Life 2, and God of War. Sure, I was being funneled everywhere — whether in the hub town or on largely linear instanced missions — but it just felt good.
You can, however, probably see where this is going. Though I never stopped carrying around a massive quest load that made Frodo and co’s volumes-spanning trek look like a cakewalk, I started noticing a general slowdown after my insanely quick three-hour ascent to level 10. Little by little, my experience bar began to putter along where once it loped like a marathon sprinter, and essential quest item drops became fewer and farther between. I also found myself acquiring quest rewards I couldn’t equip yet, which invited an unfortunate torrent of rain to my parade.
Gasp! He was full of candy!
Moreover, many quests were essentially excuses to tread through the same (albeit slightly randomized, thankfully) instances again, but with different objectives. However, since my experience bar had taken to moving with all the urgency of a sloth escaping from an active volcano, I had to do them anyway. Higher difficulty levels for each quest helped take some of the edge off by requiring split-second focus on dodges and attacks, but the gradually slowing progression pace and generally repetitive (with the exception of frantic team-based boss battles) combat took their toll.
During my early quests, I felt like emitting a guttural war cry every time I pinned an enemy against a wall and booted their guts into stomach-acid-flavored Spaghettios. But, once the initial rush — Vindictus’ and my own adrenaline — had died down, I started looking for new ways of entertaining myself at the cost of my own productivity. I tried to kill a giant werewolf creature by flinging countless brittle plates at its face, because at least there was more intrigue to it than more of the same slowly evolving hack ‘n’ slash drudgery. It was amusing at the time, sure, but in retrospect, I realize that I was desperately clawing while on the brink of slipping into yet another abyssal MMO grind.