Choose My Adventure: The final countdown

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|04.06.11

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Choose My Adventure: The final countdown
Your voices were heard! At least, I do hope those are your voices I've been hearing in my head... they are telling me to do things. And I listened. I am instructed to listen to the voices. The voices can't hurt me, right? Well, maybe not the voices themselves, but since they chimed in on experimenting with combat, I know I am about to get hurt some!

This week concludes our foray into Xsyon for Choose My Adventure, but I dare say it does not end my time there. Although the game does not fit the standard mold of MMO fare today, it has been quite enjoyable and a great change of pace. I have kept myself entertained with my adventures in-game and I still look forward to logging in each time (minus the apprehension as the combat loomed closer).

Take a (final) hike past the cut for the results of our look at combat, some final impressions on the game, and a sneak peek at your next CMA guinea pig.

A right hook

With so much to do and so little time to do it (six weeks have flown by much too quickly), it is not surprising that I haven't had the opportunity before now to practice my fighting skills. Not to mention that previous votes set me to work on the unique crafting skills in the game, which kept me pretty busy on the homestead. But no look into any game is complete without an examination of the combat features. So in order to experience this, we set up a good old-fashioned brawl and invited the readers to join in!

The first thing I noticed was that I suck! OK, maybe that is a bit too harsh on myself (then again, maybe not). Just trying to travel to the site for the contest introduced me to some wandering coyotes who sent me right back to square one each time. Before even getting to the main event, I learned the following:

To start, Xsyon's combat is twitch based (-1 to my ability right there). There is no way to auto-target or lock onto a mob or player-character; instead, you have to face your opponent, aiming your miniscule combat square at him either high or low (the first coyote killed me because I didn't even see the little guy at my feet!), and swing your fists or weapons. But even before this, you have to enter combat mode by pressing "c"; not entering combat mode will leave you completely vulnerable as whatever is chewing on you takes larger and larger bites. Unless you prefer unarmed combat, you also need to make sure you have your weapons equipped in your hands, else you may be fumbling a bit opening packs to get your gear equipped.

Now, once you are in combat mode and have your weapons equipped, you can hit your target one of two ways -- either by pressing hotkeys one (left hand) and two (right hand) or clicking the left mouse button (left hand) and the right (you guessed it, right hand). These actions swing your arms at your opponent. The only other combat commands are for blocking (ctrl + mouse button) and parry (alt + mouse button); each block and parry will correspond with whichever hand's button you clicked.

The animations are a bit clumsy, and I can't quite tell you whether block and parry are worth the time. Once you are swinging at your target, you can tell if you are successful by watching the target's health bar at the top of your screen. If you best your opponent, click on the corpse so you can loot or harvest the body (no you can't harvest players!).

The main event

It was finally time to participate in the Massively brawl. If you ever wanted to really let a writer have it, here was your chance. So how did the brawl go?

Well, let's just say there are really some issues to iron out combat-wise. Most notable was when lag reared its ugly head. My ping was a nice 31 ms, but one opponent totally disappeared completely off my screen, only to continue wailing on me. I couldn't really defend myself or even run away because I couldn't see my assailant! This happened previously with animals but is especially annoying with players -- at least the animals won't strip you!

Although I was conversing with folks in regional chat, very few willing to take part in the brawl ventured into the area. Those who expressed interest earlier did not seem to be available (I was cursed for making it during dinner time for West Coasters). Regardless, it was a fun time. The real downfall to such a contest is that once you're defeated, you are shipped back to your own totem.

When all was said and done, Ravelli in his impressive armor set beat the competition. At least I was last-girl-standing! (Never mind that no other girls joined in.) Of course, after defeating me so spectacularly, the victor took pity on me and outfitted me with some armor and better weapons. I fared much better at our rematch!

Xsyon in a nutshell

One thing I learned is that Xsyon is not a game that lends itself easily to polling. Because the game is slow-paced and meeting goals takes time, there is no action that you can dive into, complete, and move on to the next. I can't say that I have actually "met" any of my main goals yet, but I have made visible progress; there is always something more I want to build on the homestead, and there are many skills to improve.

One complaint I hear is that there isn't enough to kill. In fact, this faction seems to be very vocal, especially on the forums. However, I don't really find that a problem as this game is not about the PvP and the killing -- it is specifically about world-building. From the beginning, Prelude was meant to allow players to focus on building a base infrastructure in the world. And there is definitely world-building to be done: Towns and fortresses need to be built, roads need to be constructed, and goods need to be crafted.

There are no NPCs in Xsyon to give you quests or sell you goods -- all items will come from players themselves. Tribes will be the only source of quests; in order to do one, you must click on the tribe's totem and select the quest. Often these quests offer items -- perhaps raw materials -- in exchange for something else. It all depends on what the tribe sets up. This feature is interesting because no quest is just a pointless "kill 10 X and bring back Y" that has no meaning. Items you gather are actually then used by the tribes and remain in game instead of disappearing into the void.

I have noticed that to experience the many different aspects of the game, you are better off working solo or with a small group. Large tribes rarely -- if ever -- let the individual mess with the terraforming and architecture features, two of the most interesting and unique aspects of the game. Granted, you don't have the safety that comes with numbers when striking out on your own, but this is where you have to rely on your own community-building skills -- if you want to travel safely in your area, band together with your neighbors to make the area safe and travel in groups.

Large tribes also seem to have all the professions covered and have materials harvested and piled up for ease of use. With everything at their fingertips, some players have become bored easily and complain that there is nothing to do. Being on my own, I actually do not agree with this assessment, but I can understand how players who have only a narrow niche to fill in their large group would think so. Also, those who lack imagination or who want to be spoon-fed their content will also find Xsyon a chore before long. In a game that is about creating, you have to have imagination and be able to entertain yourself. Some people are complaining that they don't pay to entertain themselves in a game, whereas others are pointing out that that is exactly what they are paying for. To each his own, but hopefully Xsyon developers do not bow to the vocal masses who want more themepark in the game, because there are certainly enough of those already on the market.

Worried about running out of things to do? Here is but a small list of some things that are possible to do in the game:
  • Explore! Travel far and wide, getting to know the lay of the land.
  • Meet your neighbors and band together to make your area a safer one, or conversely
  • Create a band of outlaws and terrorize the neighborhood.
  • Find rare resources.
  • Build a town or fortress to better protect you and your belongings once Prelude concludes.
  • Build roads and plan trade routes.
  • Stockpile resources.
  • Seek out new recipes.
  • Swim the length of the lake.
  • Time yourself circumnavigating the lake.
  • Organize PvP brawls.
  • Create a scavenger hunt.
  • Organize a survival race.
Truly, the limits are your imagination. I know some will read over that list and cringe, finding it completely droll and pointless. That could just be an indication that this type of game isn't for you. On the other hand, those who want a multiplayer Civilization-type game might have just found their home.

As much as I enjoy the concept of the game, there are certainly things I would like to see fixed or improved. Some things I really want to see changed:
  • Regional chat: If you must have a multi-zone channel, please do not make it the default spatial; give me the option to turn it off as well.
  • Give us an immediate-vicinity-only spatial chat! Many of the people wanting this type of environment to game in would like to roleplay, and that just isn't possible when people a mile away can hear your conversation. Currently, there is rarely any RP in game unless it is on tribe chat or whispers.
  • On the topic of chat, how about some variety and customization? Let me make different tabs to keep up with specific chatter (and give me the ability to banish chatter I don't want clogging my box). Also, let me increase the size or change the color.
  • Add a way to show whether anyone you know is actually online (if not friends list, at least tribe!).
  • Some indication of better armor or weapons actually being better; currently it seems as if being naked offers about the same protection.
  • The graphics: Even though the style is rough by some standards, the nausea-inducing strobe-light glitches in some zones and the disappearing textures need to be remedied. I literally ran from Secret Cove as fast as I could because of the migraine that the graphics caused.
  • Combat lag: Sorry, but dying to invisible things I cannot even defend against is just not OK. Especially when they can also loot me!
  • Give us a way for comrades to revive each other, given plenty of time and safe surroundings; perhaps a very slow bandage-style heal?
I know I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: Xsyon really is not a game for the instant-gratification crowd or those who want their content laid out for them. Xsyon's Prelude that is happening now is not even the game that will be available in a few months as the world takes shape. When the world is more established and the basic infrastructure is in place, the world will evolve with more content and more features. Until then, if you want to keep from burning out, don't log in and play for hours on end every day (that's a plug for the new reality game called "life").

A farewell to arms

And now the time has come, my friends. I pass the mantle (leash?) over to Karen Bryan, who will be your guide through the next round of Choose My Adventure and whatever game you pick for her. Hopefully, she will find the experience as rewarding as I did. But while I conclude my reporting on Xsyon, I will remain in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, slowly building my future empire. For me, this game was a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems to be barreling faster and faster down one single road. Does the game have its flaws? Most certainly. But I for one am willing to support this independent venture. Consider mine one voice chiming in with others that there is a market for the sandbox and the self-created content it espouses.

Strap yourself in for the ride of (six weeks of) your life! Where are you going? Well, that's entirely up to you, the Massively readers, to decide -- the where, the what, and the how are all directed by you. The who is MJ Guthrie! For the duration of Choose My Adventure, her virtual life is in your hands! Join MJ in-game and on-site to be a part of the adventure and watch the story unfold.
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