MMORPGs, they come in so many different flavors and so many of them are very… very… protracted and dull. There’s been many attempts to shake things up by breaking the formula and mixing in various genres’ elements as tech evolves and allows for more real time combat within the traditionally auto-attack based medium, but one of the most remarkable attempts was an early one, Vindictus. Demon’s Souls had just come out the year prior, and Dark Souls was still on the horizon in 2011, the notion of having multiplayer combat in a game that featured intensive physical combat was a novel one, even more so as the underpinning of an entire MMORPG.
Yet with Vindictus, somehow, Nexon pulled it off using, wait for it, The Source Engine. Yes, a Source Engine MMORPG with exactly as much jank as one might expect of such an endeavor, but if you loved Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic are you ever in for a real treat.
It’s been a long time since we’ve stepped into the world of Nexon’s punishing hack and slash instanced dungeons, having originally played it a few years after launch. It doesn’t seem like the game has changed much in the past decade aside from content updates and UI refreshes. There’s a fairly popular caster class involving Bayonetta-esque gunplay but that’s not what made Vindictus special. What made it fascinating was its use of visceral sound design, weighty animations, sluggish controls and the gargantuan enemies that could seemingly pulverize you with a scary glance in your direction. The scale of these enemies telegraphed an absolute need to party up with your friends for an extended session if you had any hopes of pulling it off, feeding you plenty of deceptively tiny enemies to lull you into a false sense of martial superiority prior to the big reveal of the instance boss.
Why use Source though? It stutters and isn’t well suited to large environments, and anyone who has ever spent any time working within its anachronistic engine limitations knows how nightmarish the undertaking of converting it into large scale online play is. However, one thing Source does extremely well is physics, and the prospect of lobbing barrels into your foes to watch their ragdolls fly across the room is a gleefully enticing one. Vindictus ran with it, allowing you to grapple enemies, suplex them into floors, drag their faces against the wall with spiteful fatalities, and gain a one up on raid bosses by hitting their arms with a chain harpoon to prevent them from using their weapon or trip them up for a well-timed coup de grâce.
Vindictus is a game all about positioning and providing physical utility to your party, the movement is meaty and satisfying with the combat giving that robust sense of immersion that so many MMORPGs utterly lack. It is a game that would likely not be as remarkable today given the resplendent glut of pseudo-MMOs available throughout the steam store, but for 2010 it was absolutely groundbreaking, if not at times overshadowed by dire technical glitches and general instability. It’s a title full of brief moments that etch themselves into your memory as satisfying bursts of endorphins, and while I largely can’t recall the stock standard arsenal of spell-casting powers or even the way the stats worked, the combat… the combat sticks with you in ways few other titles manage to pull off outside of, say, Absolver.
As we speak, Nexon’s MMO-Brawler is still up and running in 2020, so if you find some time on your bandaged and bruised knuckles it may be worth checking out. Just tell the cowering Gnolls I said… hello.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice