Rise and Shiny recap: Planet Calypso

Planet Calypso is another one of those titles that has a perplexing reputation. Granted, in the past I have actually slammed the game -- and I mean slammed it -- but for different reasons. Normally -- and I have seen this over the last week as I told people about the game -- people bring up that they have "heard" that the game is nothing but a gambler's paradise, filled with thieves, liars, and the addicted.

Back then, I had an issue with the revamping of the game. I tried it on the day after release, bugs and all, and it was so unplayable that I couldn't move. Taking my own advice of looking back on games that we might have tossed aside, I can now say not only that the game has proved to be one of the most beautiful games I have played, but that the stereotype of the Planet Calypso player seems completely baseless. I looked, trust me, but all I found were nice people.

Of course, I did only play it over six days or so.

First of all, it's wonderful to get back into a game that is so open-ended and massive as Planet Calypso. Sci-fi games are few and far between, so it felt awesome to be able to sling some lasers at strange-looking monsters again. Also, it is a skill-based game, boasting hundreds and hundreds of skills to learn. If you want to become better at melee, you wield a melee weapon. Want to become a better crafter? Craft. It's so simple to start off down the path of a new career that it is almost overwhelming.

While I normally steer very clear of how-to guides, especially in a game as open as Planet Calypso, I decided to read up on one of the stickied guides that was posted on the main forums of the official site. I'm glad I did, and I even decided to follow the steps that the author recommended. Don't get me wrong; I have no grand schemes of making my living from mining virtual rock or by skinning pixelated animals, but I wanted a reference point.

The main point to clear up, however, is that the game is truly free-to-play. It really is. But none of the community members I met recommended trying to go at it without putting a few bucks into the system. See, this is where the "gambling" rumor comes from, I believe. For 10 US dollars you receive 100 of the the virtual PEDs. Not only will it set you up with everything you need to get started, but it will start you down the path of self-sustaining your character. You can buy some good gear, start hunting or sweat-gathering (think milking aliens instead of cows) and sell the goods you find to make more money. Most of the "big time" players I met told me that nothing grand, such as making a real-life profit from the game, could be achieved without putting a few dollars a month into the system. That's fine with me; the company isn't hiding it or trying to "scheme" anyone into paying. Truthfully, you could raise your funds yourself, just much, much more slowly.

I asked Fishface, a friendly higher-level player, about the connection. He broke it down basically like this: You spend money on ammunition, repairs, and other hunting costs in the hopes that the target (or targets) will drop something worth the costs. In that way, it is gambling. After all, the entire economy is based on real-life funds. Let me be clear, though: I did not spend a dime but instead was given my first 125 PED by Fishface himself. In fact, every player I met and hunted with was all-too-quick to help me out. This is not a community that is filled with weasels or snakes -- this is a tight-knit bunch, and many asked me to clear the game's name a bit, if I could.

So, how did the game feel to play? Well, I felt overwhelmed, abandoned on an alien planet with only my fellow humans for help. If you have played Ryzom, then you know that feeling of "us against the planet." It's actually a very uncommon feeling in many MMOs. In most games, the evil stuff is always tucked away in some dungeon, instance or clearly defined zone. In Planet Calypso, though, you have to be very careful. During a mission to visit several teleportation units that were spread across the globe, I had to watch my radar and keep close to water (aliens drown in water, for some reason) at all times. I spent hours walking, admiring the variety in the landscape while gritting my teeth. This is about as "hardcore" a game as you can get. Yes, spending money will help you -- a lot -- and even though skills can be bought in the form of implants (something I did not experience but only heard of), you still must take the time to raise your abilities.

"I've learned that with a game like Planet Calypso, one that has been around as long as it has and has done as many different things as it has, I can count on it to wait for me. "

The game seems to be centered around the raw materials gathered through hunting, crafting or mining. I spent an hour listening as one very nice player explained the market to me, and I left with a better understanding of the depth of the game. It's a lot like EVE in that aspect, with players who do nothing but spend time crunching numbers. Boring? Possibly. But I found myself feeling as though I had stepped into a living society, more than any game I have played in recent memory. It could be that real money was exchanging hands while I played, or that customization allowed players to stick out, but I felt like I had wandered onto an alien planet. Or at least an incredible movie set.

It is true, though, that a player could simply point to the massive number of skills and see nothing but a wall of grind. And at times, I was curious how long it would go on before I became respectably skilled. But the game can sit as long as you need it to, or until you are ready to push further down the line to uberhood. Once I stopped thinking about virtual economies and helpful forum guides, I felt lost in the best way possible.

Yes, this could just be the new sheen blinding me a bit. Either way, I don't care. I've learned that with a game like Planet Calypso, one that has been around as long as it has and has done as many different things as it has, I can count on it to wait for me. In the meanwhile, I plan on joining a "society" (guild) and downing some amazing game. Wish me luck -- I might just own an asteroid one day.

Next week, we are going to do something completely different and look at Free Jack, an MMORPG based on parkour -- you know: that thing when people jump around buildings and stuff. Well, this is a racing game and it looks amazing. My game name is Beauhindman, and it's in an open beta sort of state right now, so go download it and log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday and Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. PDT); the column will run on the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter or Raptr!
This article was originally published on Massively.