Continent of the Ninth Seal (also Continent of the Ninth or C9) is one of the more impressive free to play MMO’s currently available on Steam. Or at least that’s where I found it, turns out C9 had quite a large playerbase before it hit the world’s most popular digital distribution platform.
Starting the game highlighted C9’s first big problem. There’s a bug which causes the text on in-game buttons to simply not appear. It’s intermittent, but it started as soon as I started playing, so I stumbled through the character creation with even less clue as to what I was doing than usual. Eventually, through liberal use of what I assume was the randomize button, I created my Shaman. Something you should note is that classes are gender-locked, Warriors and Hunters are male, whereas Shaman and Witchblades are female.
At first I was upset at how little the game told me about the various classes, you get one sentence rounding up the class during the selection screen. Then I discovered that unlike ordinary MMO’s, different character classes are not expected to perform different jobs. Every class simply deals as much destruction as they can to the legions of foes that beset them.
When you get a character to level 20, you can then specialise them into a special type of that class. For example, the Hunter can choose to focus on ranged gameplay as a Ranger, or become more rogue-like as an Assassin. Since I chose Shaman I decided to pick Taoist, which meant I focused on merging fast physical attacks and powerful magic.
You spend a lot of the time in a small hub area filled with NPC’s and other players. Here you can buy and sell items, repair armour, train your skills and collect quests from various NPC’s. There are three of these hub areas in the world, you move onto a different one as your level surpasses the level of the instances available to that hub.
These hubs are also crawling with spammers, it’s actually quite hilarious. I’d estimate that at least 75% of everything in world-chat was messages from gold-sellers trying to entice people to buy. I don’t know if C9 simply doesn’t have a spam filter yet nor if these spammers have gotten around it in some way, but there were nonsense-named level 1 characters everywhere shouting about cheap gold and powerleveling.
Here’s an interesting thing in C9. You can, completely within the terms and conditions of the game, trade gold for cash. Not cash exactly, but you can trade vast amounts of gold in order to get W-coins, which are used in C9’s real-money shop. It’s also entirely possible to buy things from the shop and then trade them for gold. So I wonder how many customers the spammers actually get.
The quests in Continent of the Ninth Seal are very basic. Kill things, explore places, find stuff and use stuff on other stuff. I tried reading quest-text at the start but as usual it just cuts into valuable levelling time, I still think that DC Universe Online’s voice-overs are the best way to deliver quest exposition. What makes it even worse is that there’s what I can only describe as text-overhang. Words in the quest descriptions will suddenly cut off at the end of a line and start again on the next line, making it a real chore to read.
When you’ve collected all your quests and want to complete them, or if you just want to kill something, you leave through a special gate and can then select from a map full of instanced areas. These instanced areas are the only areas that you can complete quests and kill monsters, there’s no large game-world to explore outside of these.
Of course selecting my dungeon is when the bug I mentioned earlier comes back into play. Yet again I was looking at a lot of what were obviously buttons, but with no indication as to what they did. After a lot of trial-and-error I eventually entered my first dungeon.
When I finally found my way into some combat I discovered that the gameplay in C9 is surprisingly good. While in World of Warcraft I found myself standing in one spot casting repeatedly, C9 forces you to dodge and weave through enemies while dealing damage and trying not to have your face bitten off by a spider. So you’ll find yourself dodging, jumping and flipping through vast crowds of enemies most of the time.
The control scheme is very strange, I usually don’t mention controls for MMO’s so you know there has to be something interesting about them. For a game that requires a lot of movement and dodging to survive large enemy groups, it certainly doesn’t make things easy on the fingers. Trying to move backwards with S and hit 8 to activate one of my spells is pretty damn hard. I could use my other hand but then I’d lose camera and melee control via the mouse. There’s also no way to simply click on the icon and activate the spell, which was my fallback during similar situations in other games. So to get the best use out of all your abilities you either need to be prepared to move that mouse hand like The Flash or perform some impressive finger gymnastics.
Continent of the Ninth Seal has obviously had a lot of effort put into its visual design. Click on some of the screenshots dotted around this review and you’ll probably agree that the game looks very nice.
If you’ve looked at the screenshots you’ve probably noticed that my character has quite a bit of flesh on display. After getting some leg armour this became less of a problem, but for the first two hours of the game I was basically running around in nothing but a shirt and black panties. Even when I got leg armour I noticed that it wasn’t quite covering her rear. In face when I stopped to look around I noticed that an alarming number of female characters were running around in enough clothing to cover maybe a quarter of one of the male characters. This is par for the course in most MMORPG’s, but I haven’t seen it quite this shameless since Aion.
I would love to talk here about the PVP, but I couldn’t play it. After getting to a high enough level to enter an arena, I looked in the lobby and found no matches. I tried making my own with no success, and I tried simply checking in every once in a while to see if any games were running. The most I found was a password-protected game with an offensive name.
Continent of the Ninth Seal is unusual, and it’s worth a look for that if nothing else. I liked the combat, but even good things become tedious if you’re exposed to them too much. So I don’t think I’ll be playing it again.