Is it possible to be simultaneously annoyed and enchanted by an MMORPG? I think it just might be, now that I've spent several days and hours with Atlantica Online, now published by Nexon. It might not make sense to a lot of you, but the overwhelming and possibly overly complicated UI and systems of gathering basic information ("where's the bank?") filled me with a sense of wonder and even awe. There was so much to learn and see -- or was it just that the poorly designed UI gave me way too much information in too many ways?
For example, if I wanted to locate the bank, I would open up an information window, go into a few more selections until I found the city and then the bank, then either try to find my way there or click on auto-walk to get there. Once there, I would have to join the bank then ask why the bank didn't allow me to store items in addition to money. Then I would find out that the only city with item storage is Rome, so then I'd need to open up the information book to find Rome, only to discover that I had no way of getting there until level 20.
So then I would need to find an NPC through the book, auto-path to him or her to sell the goods that were taking up way too much room in my inventory, then double-click on the quest so I could double-click and auto-path my way top the NPC who gave me the quest (since the quest's mobs were not linked in the book), then continue on with my quests that would result in my bags becoming full again. Phew.
Click past the cut and let me tell you all about it.
After all of this searching for basic information like "does a bank store items, and if not, where can I store my items?" you would think that I would have thrown my keyboard through the wall. Really, though, I didn't want to. Yes, it was frustrating, and at first it felt like very, very poor design, but after a while it just made me feel the size of the world. It's a big one, after all, modeled after real-world locations. Walking somewhere takes a long time, and I sort of liked having a central bank to store items. After all, how immersive and realistic is it to have magical banking portals spread throughout the world so that our characters could have access to them at any time?
Could Atlantica Online, even with its turn-based combat and crazy monsters, be one of the most truthfully immersive games I have come across?
OK, let's not go that far. Still, it needs to be noted that whatever the design goals for this game, it certainly gives you a lot to do and think about. The previously mentioned turn-based combat is a lot of fun and makes the usual string of kill-ten-rats quests much less of a boring grind and much more like an ever-tightening game of strategy. When you walk around the world, you are represented by a single avatar, but in combat, you are that same avatar with up to nine mercenaries who fight with you. You can have ranged- or magic-users, sword-wielding heavy-hitters, or even vikings!
Combatants take turns hitting each other, and turns are long enough to allow room for some pretty cool decisions. You can move a non-injured merc in front of another so that damage is redirected, and you have to consider flying units or ranged units when taking your turn. Generally you can get a way with clicking madly and watching the carnage, but boss fights and mobs that are higher level than you can easily kick your butt. I attacked a tree monster for a quest, and he killed me within two or three turns. I saw how he did it, adjusted my strategy, and came back to beat him down.
"The login screen shows a large battle of probably two or three players, which amounts to scores of mobs and mercs once you figure in the size of the mini-armies."
I'm only up to level 12 or 13 at the time of this writing, but I want to go back and try different mercs to see how they perform in battle. The login screen shows a large battle of probably two or three players, which amounts to scores of mobs and mercs once you figure in the size of the mini-armies. I want to see battles of that size!
Recently I sat down with the Atlantica Online developers as they took me through some of the more open, table-top style missions that had just come out in a recent patch. At level 20, players can take a limited number of mercs into a map that allows for free movement yet is still turn-based. You can take over certain buildings and use those buildings to make vehicles, and weather has an actual effect on the outcome. I was impressed then, especially with the table-top feel of the game, but now I just want to hit level 20 so I can try it some more.
Not only that, but the same patch included housing, something else I looked at during the tour. I was impressed with the customization and the functionality of the housing, but the classic '50s Americana look of the homes gave me the creeps. I'm hoping that by the time I buy one of the homes, the game offers different models than the Leave it to Beaver-style homes that are currently on sale.
But back to one of my original points: Could Atlantica Online be a truly immersive game world? I think so. The "realistic" travel and spread-out world were at first a little shocking. Then I was shocked that it's been so long since I had played a game using my "Rules of Immersion" (a set of rules that govern everything from realistic movement to eating) that I had forgotten that most "inconveniences" are really just the result of years of pampering. My character has two legs; he'll be fine using them.
So I stuck it out, enjoyed the scenery as my character auto-ran to his target, and tried to get better at using the strengths of my army. In the end, Atlantica Online can be very annoying when you are looking for a simple bank or bit of information, but I think a lot of this can be tweaked by the developers. Once you figure out where everything is and how it all works, and once you start to tweak every little bit of equipment for all of your mercs, the game really does start to suck you in. It takes time, though, but it is enough of an effect to convince me to continue playing after this article.
Next week I will be taking a look at CrimeCraft, the "poor man's APB." I heard how horrible this game was from almost everyone I asked, so that makes me want to play it even more. Join me on the Exeter server; my character's name is Beau. Or come shoot me, of course.
Now, go 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. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!