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Choose My Adventure: Ballad of a teenage Zorai

Eliot Lefebvre

Last week, the unthinkable happened. Or at least the unprecedented. Yes, after a dozen or so columns under my belt for Choose My Adventure, one of the "joke" choices finally won a poll. Either everyone thought that the paradise city was actually a thing in Ryzom or the impassioned pleas in the comments the week before had done the trick.

For those of you under the misapprehension that this was, in fact, an actual thing, I apologize for the not particularly elaborate act of deception.

My question to myself, at this point, was what I actually had to do at this point. Did this mean that I had to search through every city in the game to find a paradise, only to discover at the end that paradise had metaphorically been at home the whole time? Was I already in the paradise city, judging by the fact that some people would call the jungle a virtual paradise? The girls were pretty, the grass was green, and by almost any metric you cared to use, Corlede was as close to home as she was getting.

But no, I knew what I had to do. Something I had known since I started playing. I went home.

Yes, but can your character there have a tribal... oh gorram it!What, exactly, is "home?" Why, the game that really hits all of the same notes as Ryzom, the one I found myself drawing comparisons to through my playtime. One that I've hinted at here and there throughout this particular adventure, and one that might come as little surprise to those who regularly read my scribblings.

Yes, I went back and played some Final Fantasy XIV. And boy, did it ever feel familiar.

This isn't a comparison I thought of when I put Ryzom on the initial poll. But I found it familiar when I started selecting a starter package, and as I played the game, there was an undeniable sense of deja vu. The ornate interface system, the strange omissions and odd design choices, the multi-skill leveling system that rewarded players for being talented universalists... it all drew me to the same conclusion.

People have suspected that I wasn't enjoying the game all that much, and they weren't entirely wrong. It wasn't that I found the game to be lacking in any kind of fun; it was the fact that I already knew a game that provided the same sort of mechanics and did so in a better fashion. And I'd be lying if I said that didn't color my overall perception of Ryzom as I played.

Unfair? Probably. But even judging the game entirely on its own merits, there are some serious issues. The game has a lot of complexity and detail, but a lot of that complexity and detail is in service to absolutely nothing.

For an example, one of the more striking elements that I mentioned in a previous column was a herd of migrating bodoc on the starter island. It was a large-scale migration, from the looks of it, and that fascinated me. For all that I'd heard talk about the game having a real ecology going, this was the first time I had seen it. So I ran with the bodoc, following them, just to see where they were going.

That's the part of the story I told. The part that I didn't tell was when I reached the end of their migration, which was... an arbitrary patch of ground, at which point the herd would stop, turn around, and run back in the other direction.

From the perspective where I started, it looked like emergent behavior. But a bit more research and I could see the strings controlling the puppets, and that pretty much killed the minor flash of immersion. And while there were some interesting ambient behaviors, as I mentioned... around the Zorai city, most creatures seemed to have the same natural sleep cycle and migration pattern as any other game's wandering enemies. They stood in a field and ambled about in a small area.

The great migration of the izams in the jungle begins and ends here.  I assume that's what they're doing, since none of them were eating, sleeping, mating, fighting, or doing anything.
It's not that the designers didn't try. But I think a lot of Ryzom could be summed up by noting that the designers tried really hard and would have been better off trying a bit less. The game aims high, but in the process it winds up missing a lot of obvious targets, and it's true everywhere.

Gathering, for instance, clearly has a lot going on, but the actual mechanics come down to "watch a bar fill." Crafting requires a whole lot of running around just to, again, watch a bar fill. And combat... you mostly just sit and use the same attack, over and over, often because it's the only real option that you have.

I also could have done without the leaf bra.  But that's not a major thing.All of this simplicity seems to be meant to make up for the option of creating your own abilities. But the restrictions you can place on abilities are also stunningly restrictive. You get three different "resources" for abilities -- Stamina, Sap, and Focus -- and you can only use one for each kind of ability, meaning that having more Sap has no effect whatsoever on your fighting prowess. The whole system of debits and credits for new abilities makes sense in the abstract, but it's covered in strange restrictions such that you know how to add a cooldown to make an ability balance, but it's not a cooldown for the right sort of ability, so you can't even put together something as simple as a strong attack with a 30-second cooldown.

It's very possible that all of this changes when you get into the higher levels. But even with my last bit of tooling around in Atys, I still hadn't found anything to change these fundamental issues.

So no, I didn't dislike Ryzom. But the game has some distinct issues, and while I hate saying it, I can see why it never really took off. And it's hard to motivate myself to play it when I can get what I see as the positive aspects in a much more pleasing form.

That's all from me for this adventure, but there are more adventures to be had. Tune in next week when it's a new contender in the driver's seat. As for me? I'll be adventuring along elsewhere... and I'll no doubt find my way back here for a third round.
After five months out of the spin, Eliot Lefebvre is back for another round of Choose My Adventure, the game where you decide what the writer is going to do! Check back each Wednesday for a recap of the last week's play, then sound off in the polls and the comments to determine the course of action for the next week!

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