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Free for All: Ryzom - when a server merge feels right


I wonder what you readers thought when you read about Ryzom's latest issues. If you've been playing for a long time, you'll feel a sense of deja vu as yet another server merge or account tweak is being forced on the playerbase. If you're not familiar with the game (why haven't you tried it yet?), then it's likely the recent announcement of server merges and character wipes was a sure sign of failure. Ah, failure: the go-to word for those who don't want to investigate the normal goings-on in the MMO world.

MMOs, especially indies, can leap from owner to owner and server to server quite easily. It's not unusual to say the least. Ryzom has been through more of these changes than I care to recall, but the core game and long list of veteran characters have remained -- that is, until the developer announced that, along with the merge, characters would be wiped. Players flipped out. The forums were filled with intense conversations, and even non-players were astonished.

Consider the Darkfall announcement by contrast. Some Darkfall players are apparently looking forward to the character wipe. But Ryzom is not a FFA PvP title. Roleplayers are very happy in Ryzom; I am one of them. Luckily the developers tweaked the decision, and now I have been playing on my old character, back in the world of Atys.

Was the decision a good one? I think so.

Official Ryzom server merge screenshot from Facebook
When I first logged in my old character (named Beau, of course), I was thrilled to see so many players in one area. I was on the island of Silan, a sort of newbie tutorial island that actually does such a good job that I wish it were recreated on the "mainland" as well. Alas, Ryzom is not a linear themepark type of title, so the linear and lore-riffic questlines that are found on the island would not translate to the rest of the world that well. Sure, there are quests in the standard Ryzom experience, but they are fewer and less important. Players generally make their own way.

So, there I was on the island with all of these other returning players. I had all of my skills and my original name but wasn't sure whether that was intended. Part of the problem I had with the merge was how confusing the process was. I read a lot of bits of news and announcements during the week, but the finer details of this event were lost even on me. Did other veteran players start off on the island and have to decide whether to stay or to take off for the mainland immediately? I asked in game and found out that every player, new or veteran, starts off on the island. When we want to, we can leave.

"To me, what makes a truly great sandbox is the presence of as many options as possible, even if many of those options are linear."

I have been having fun going through the island quests on my old character (the quests were not in-game when I first started) and burning through the content easily, thanks to my old skills. The newbie island quests are still some of the most entertaining content in the game, although the rest of the game is not really designed that way. Would I like to see the rest of Ryzom feature linear questing? Sure, why not? In games like RuneScape or Glitch, players are able to pick a linear, quest-based path or go their own way, filling in the blanks as time goes on. To me, what makes a truly great sandbox is the presence of as many options as possible, even if many of those options are linear. The newbie quests on Silan are particularly fun because they also fill in chunks of the lore, but those chunks are delivered in the perfect amount. As I run through quests given by the crafting master, for example, I might learn something about the history of crafting on Atys and why it's important. Each step is easy enough for a newbie and very easy for a mid-level player, but I am still learning from quests that I never completed before.

Does this mean that the merge was successful? For now, yes, in my opinion. The main issue with even a successful wipe is the fact that the playerbase gets right back to where it was before the wipe. The economy can sink back down into the depths, players will quickly climb to previous levels and find themselves back in cliques and isolated groups, and soon, the thrill of having every character jammed into a small area rubs off. This all could happen with time.

Official Ryzom screenshot from Facebook
Still, Ryzom is eight years old! Its age is often misunderstood because the game's graphics were initially ahead of their time. MMORPGs age like we do, albeit at an accelerated rate. As we both grow older, we add on layers to our stories; time alone makes the most vanilla of us interesting. If you add nearly a decade to an already-interesting game like Ryzom, the added spice of player stories and interactions creates something truly unique and special in digital entertainment. Even with the chatacter wipe, the game would have continued to add on to player's memories. I'm still happy that Winch Gate decided against the wipe, but I think the game would have survived. The fact is that just the merge alone would have breathed new life into the game. There simply are not enough paying players to justify keeping three servers open, but the merge has justified the existence of the game.

"Seeing the developer talk about the merge as some sort of good thing makes many of us cringe until we see just how wonderful it is to have Atys bustling and full once again."

Seeing the developer talk about the merge as some sort of good thing makes many of us cringe until we see just how wonderful it is to have Atys bustling and full once again. Even the fact that the community essentially lost two servers is lost among the noise of happy players. That noise is at its most joyful on the newbie island. Players are chatting; three different languages are mixing within the international channel, giving the game the feel of a truly alien place; and the new is mixing with the old. I will continue to stay on the island until I finally finish all of the newbie quests, and I might stay a bit longer. The island will remain the perfect representation of what makes an MMO an MMO, at least for a while. I want to savor it.

Is a merge ever good news? Some players argue that, no, a merge can never be seen as anything but evidence of a dying game. Even if that merge were such evidence, how long do we expect these worlds to last? Like us, these fantastical places must pass on. Even though the merge could be seen as a sign that things are dramatically slowing for my favorite cosmic rootball, I prefer to see it as an older human slowly settling into a nice chair by the fire.

The night's not over yet, and there are stories yet to tell.

I admit that I feel a bit better about all of this because my older character was saved. I was not excited at all to start a brand-new character, especially after trying so many new characters over the years. Still, I would have rolled another one if I needed to. Even though I visit Atys in a casual fashion, I cannot stay away. And even though the world has recently grown much smaller, it's still there. It's still waiting to be explored with fellow Homins, new faces who use foreign words. Perhaps the merge wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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