Friday, February 27, 2009

Grouping in Atlantica Online

You may think a MMORPG that gives you control of your own self-contained party of tanks, healers, and DPS would be one where you wouldn't have any reason to group up or even be social.

You couldn't be more wrong.

The main storyquest line is a long and ardous chain which is designed to be soloed. Indeed, the bosses you will encounter in this chain can't be fought in groups. But, eventually, you will find yourself with good reasons to venture into the Shadow Dungeons which are instances meant to be tackled in a group. Even though you can control a maximum of 9 characters, wandering monsters will join a fight in progress and you could see yourself in a 9 vs. 27 if you are particularly unlucky. Shadow Dungeons seem to have automatic adds as I've yet to see a fight in there where it was just 9 vs. 9. So grouping for those is the way to go unless you have gold to burn on Bewitching scrolls. Group battles can be really dynamic as it is possible to cross-buff and cross-heal between the different groups. Finding a group is particularly easy due to a Peer chat channel that only reaches those in the same level range as you. This filters out a lot of extraneous info and insures you get level-appropriate advice.

There are also many reasons to join a good guild as soon as possible. Each character has a hotbar that can be equipped with a potion or scroll they can activate with the appropriate function key. F1 and F2 are standard but the F3 key is only available to those who belong to a guild. F4 and F5 is unlocked when your guild controls a city. Monster and craft info can be freely traded between guildies and you gain access to the private guild dungeons and training center. Training centers are a low-level training ground for guild dungeons and are a great option for those guilds that don't have a lot of high-levels needed to run a GD. Guild dungeons are timed levels where you must clear out the different floors and finally the boss for your fat loots. Groups are capped at 3 players per but you can bring as many players and groups as you like for fast and easy runs. There are also Nation dungeons available for those guilds that belong in a Nation. Those high-levels that want to run instances apart from their guild or nation can run Independent Dungeons. Eventually, Nations will want to engage in war against another Nation and group combat takes another interesting twist with open PK 3v3 groups.

One thing to note is that there is absolutely no punishment for grouping in this game and you gain the benefits of grouping (in the form of extra XP) even when the group members are separated by geography and levels. This is known as Long Distance Grouping or LDP for short.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crafting in Atlantica Online

At first glance, the crafting in AO seems to be typical of other MMO's. You have your crafting levels with new recipes available upon reaching some arbitrary level. You gather up the materials and the crafting job constitutes a workload you have to work through to come up with the finished product. As an aside, there are literally no trash drops in this game. Chances are if you don't know what an item does, it is used as an ingredient for some crafting recipe somewhere. This will drive those with packrat mentalities bonkers as they come to grips with the limited inventory space. After you gather up the necessary mats and go through the steps to define your job and workload, you will then find out where Atlantica Online diverges from the norm.

Your crafting progress is fueled by the XP you get from killing stuff.

Sure, you could get an auto-craft license on the market or as a reward for a quest chain you get in your 40's. This license will allow you to craft in the traditional way without having to kill anything and is a great option for those crafters unable or unwilling to engage in combat. But it really is faster and more efficient to craft the other way. The process seems a little strange at first and not a bit counter-intuitive but, eventually, you get used to it and will appreciate the fact that you’re not tied to a forge or sewing table if you want to make something. Guild officers can even set up guild crafting jobs where the huge workload is shared by everyone in the guild and their kills contribute to its progress, provided they aren't doing their own personal crafting. You can learn as many crafting skills as you want and there are a huge variety to choose from. Everything from weapons, armor, food, potions, buildings for your towns, skill books, and even licenses needed can be crafted. I'd say that short of special items only available from the item mall or special quest rewards, everything found in this game can be crafted. The only limitations being that it takes some effort and quite a lot of gold in order to level up your tradeskills. There are even plans to introduce end-game gear that is crafting-only; a move that hasn't met with universal acclaim.

That's not the only new wrinkle to crafting in this game. You gain crafting levels (up to a max of 100) by gaining craft XP. Once you gain enough XP to go to the next level, you will then need to be trained up before you actually gain the new level. It's even possible to gain enough XP to gain several levels at one time. Training can be done by finding the appropriate NPC or a player high enough to train you. For example, you can begin to train others at level 11 and can train those levels 11 and below. The same goes for levels 21, 51, and so forth. Training takes a huge chunk of Will which limits how often you can do it but the trainer gets a crafting XP reward as well for doing this which can be a great way to level up your crafting on the cheap.

There are other ways to gain crafting XP. There's the normal way of personal crafting jobs but you can also gain it through the guild crafting jobs as well. When the job finishes, it awards crafting XP to those guildies who contributed to the progress. You also get XP from dismantling gear into materials you can then use to create new crafting jobs. Teaching others also gains you crafting XP as mentioned already. These alternate methods are a great way to level your crafting without having to shell out for expensive materials. For example, I was able to level up my Machine skill from 0-12 purely from the XP I got from one guild crafting job (admittedly it was a huge one) without having to scrounge up so much as one lugnut or whatever it is they need to make things from that craft.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Combat in Atlantica Online

When creating your character, one of the first choices is the type of weapon your character will wield. This is equivalent to choosing your character class in other MMO's as the choice locks you into a set of skills you can learn and starting stats. The choices are sword, spear, axe, staff, gun, cannon and bow. With the most recent patch, two new weapons were added: instrument and power-saw with power-saw only available if you already have another main leveled to 100. Each class except for the new additions are roughly equal to the D class mercenaries that share their weapon type and they can learn all the skills available to that mercenary as well as main-only skills. For example, Staff mains can learn the healing spell Blessing of Life like Shamans but they can also learn the main-only skill Evanescent Scud which is an AOE attack. You can find a great page summarizing the different main character stats and abilities here.

Your very first quest in the game will have you hiring 2 mercenaries to aid you in your travels. At level 10 you will have an additional 4 mercenaries and gain the ability to add an additional one every 10 levels afterwards. At level 50, you will reach the maximum of 8 mercenaries available to be used in your formation. The starting D class mercs can be hired from a hiring NPC or you can find them wandering around and ply them with gifts to convince them to join your party. The ones later on will only be gotten from braving tough shadow dungeon quests or paying the exorbitant market prices for their summoning marble. Each mercenary brings something different to your group and much of the fun in this game is deciding exactly what the composition should be to maximize all the synergies between your units. This means every player is a self-contained holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS and you won't ever find a LF1M - NEED HEALER in this game. This also means that if your side doesn't focus fire in PVP, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Muwing has another great page summarizing the different mercenaries here.

One of the first things you will notice in combat are the huge numbers over each unit in your party. These numbers tell you how many Action Points that unit has. AP is important in that it controls how many actions a unit can do over the course of a fight. Each main and mercenary has a different AP recharge rate which determines AP gain per turn. During the first turn, only one unit can act and that one is determined by whoever has the highest AP that initial turn. Since the recharge rate is random within a certain range, this can be any unit but the ones with the most steady range of recharge like Swordsmen usually will act first. After the first turn, 5 units can act with the same restriction; however, it is now possible for units to pass their turn to another one that isn't scheduled to act this turn. As long as the desired unit to act has 100 or more AP, the passing unit can choose the Guard option for a cost of 50 AP and pass their turn on. You might need to choose Guard on several units before the desired one is finally selected to be able to act.

You can tell which units can act that turn as they will have green rings around their feet. The unit currently being selected to act will have the green ring completely filled in. It takes a while to get the hang of if you're not used to this style of combat but it won't be long until you are ordering your units around and grinding PVE mobs with zen efficiency. There are boss mobs that will keep you on your toes and maybe even get you to change your strategy up in order to beat them. And PVP becomes almost chess-like as you and your opponent try to get past each other's defenses.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Atlantica Online - What Would Bartle Think?

If you're a fan of customizing your character avatar to your exact specifications so that its unique look stands out from the crowd, Atlantica Online is not for you. The character creation options limit you to a small number of faces which look pretty similar anyways. The standardized armor system doesn't help either and you will find a number of clones hanging around the leveling areas.

If you are an explorer who just has to find out what is up that trail and behind the babbling brook, I can tell you right now there's nothing there for you to find. Everything can be found on your handy map/mini-map. Even supposedly hidden treasure chests.

If you love your fluff and cool pets that follow you around; sadly, AO is virtually fluff-free. What little there is usually purchased from the Item Mall. Even the usual vanity stuff like mounts, outfits, and titles have stats elevating them to the status of useful items.

But for everyone else, Atlantica Online has something that is sure to appeal to them. For the socializers, there are comprehensive guild and mentor/apprenticeship systems. They can communicate to peers of their level in the peer channel globally and will always be rewarded handsomely for lending a helping hand.

The killers will have their hands full with a combat system that plays more like speed chess than the usual hotbar mashing. There's plenty of PVE mobs to grind and when you get tired of those, there is a full-featured PVP league system (Free League) and weekly tournaments. If you are in a guild which belongs to an alliance of Nations, you might even find yourself embroiled in open PK called Wars.

The achievers will think they've died and gone to heaven as there are plenty of bars to ding. Level cap is 120 and there are also the 8 other mercenaries in your formation to level from scratch. Roughly 90% of all items found in the game can be crafted and there's many different crafting skills that you can learn. The aforementioned Free League also sets another bar to conquer as you PVP your way from rank 18 all the way to the top number 1 spot.

So go get your Bartle quiz done and see if AO is right for you. You really can't go wrong with the price of admission.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Atlantica Online

This is a post that I've been meaning to write for some time now but have been putting off. But seeing the negative posts recently on some of the blogs I frequent, I thought I'd balance them out with a positive one.

I have to admit my first impression of this game wasn't a favorable one. I went in, as is my wont, having no previous knowledge of the title except that it was a F2P MMO of Asian design (I would later find out the developers are Korean). This explained the light anime graphic influence and the bad text translations to English. Neither of which were exactly endearing to me. The turn-based combat system was a pretty novel idea for a MMORPG but past experience has taught me I'm fairly bad at those types of games. Adding a timer to such a system certainly didn't help either. Instead of the typical MMO single character model, AO has you controlling up to 9 characters at once in a fight. These other characters are mercenaries that you can recruit or are given to you as a quest reward. About the only thing that impressed me right off the bat was the auto-move system. It was one of those now why don't more games use this feature moments. I would later have many more of those moments after spending some time with Atlantica Online.

So the game languished forgotten on my hard drive until I read this post and this post on Syncaine's blog. Wow, that certainly sounds interesting...what game was that again? Oh right, I already have that installed. Maybe I should take another look and see for myself some of these novel features he's talking about. I decided to do some research and find out more about this game. This led to a decision to reroll which wasn't that hard to make considering my original character was only around level 10 I believe. I began to get the hang of the combat system and I started to appreciate some of the unique features AO had to offer. The auto-move and enchanting system were just the tip of the iceberg. People actually are rewarded for being nice to noobies. I was bombarded with gifts in the mail containing gold and equipment and offers from strangers to be my mentor. Since I had done my homework, I knew that there weren't any strings attached like there would normally be in other games. Gift-givers get an XP reward based on a percentage of the gift's monetary value and mentors gain mentor points as well as a substantial gold reward after their students turn 30.

You know those other MMO's that seem to want to punish you for grouping for some reason? Not so here. There's no reason not to ever group as everyone gets additional XP as well as small XP books which can be saved up or used at your convenience. This system works even if the party is not in close proximity to each other and is typically known as LDP's or Long Distance Parties. Be careful of leechers and it's best to check with guildies first when doing this. Speaking of guilds, there is comprehensive support for guilds in this game. Guilds can control a town and multiple guilds can band together into alliances called nations. Nations can even go to war with one another which can result in players suddenly being able to attack one another. Other perks for guilds include access to guild dungeons and training centers as well as being able to add buildings to your growing town if you are the guild leader. The rank and file can also help out by convincing wandering NPC's to move to your town, doing town quests, and contributing to the guild crafting by killing mobs. But guild crafting is also a two-way street as everyone gains crafting XP as well just by being around when a guild crafting job is finally done. I've gained levels from different crafting skills without having to scrounge up one scrap of material because of this.

The graphics, especially the landscapes, can be stunning at times and not even the aforementioned auto-move system can detract from this. It actually enhances it, in my opinion, as you have more time to gawk at your surroundings when you don't have to worry about if you're heading in the right direction or not. The setting is a hodge-podge of eras from the real world with Spartans and Vikings fighting at your side along with the steampunk gunpowder might of Gunners, Cannoneers, and Inventors. The world map is very familiar as is the names of the cities and towns within it. Even the familiar is not to be taken for granted as I learned when I fought some camels with bulbous mouths for humps which spat out some deadly cannonballs.

This game's design reminds me a lot of Eve Online without the sandbox. In fact, there is a central storyline quest which will teach you everything you need to know about this game. But, like Eve Online, this game has features that dare to be different from your standard MMO. And all those features are tightly woven to produce a very complex MMO.

You say you want a revolution? Well, are you willing to make some time to play one then? If so, give Atlantica Online a serious try.

Monday, February 9, 2009

So Close...

The current tower I am stuck at in Dragonspyre is called Edrik's Vault. The reason I guessed there were at least seven floors was that I happened to die on my best attempt at the seventh floor. So I now find out in this excellent post from the Wizard 101 Central forums (Great forums I highly recommend BTW to anyone wishing to learn more about this game) that there are indeed 7 floors to this particular tower.

So I died during the last floor.

I had lost all desire to try again after that attempt. But now that I know how close I was I'm probably going to try again to solo this monstrosity. Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tower Power

So it looks like the end of my soloing days in Wizard 101. I had a sneaking suspicion that Dragonspyre was meant to be tackled in groups in my previous post. This was confirmed when I came up against a tower instance that had at least 7 floors from what I had seen so far that would reset completely in the event of failure. 7 floors and 3 potions. I didn't like the math but was determined to try anyways. Even dinging during the middle of one attempt which acted like a fourth potion didn't help. There was no way I was doing this solo.

It got me to thinking more about the intended audience for Wizard 101. It's always amazed me and the more mature players I've grouped with how appealing this game is for adults. The difficulty level seemed way out of proportion for something you would expect a child to enjoy. I now think this wasn't by accident. The first world is easy enough but by the time the player reaches the second world, Krokotopia, the difficulty starts becoming too much for the average child. Who better to seek help from but your parents, then? So Wizard 101 wasn't really designed strictly for either kids or adults to enjoy. But for whole families. The revelation didn't exactly help my situation but it did soothe the rough feelings about it a bit.

I still want to fight that bastard Malistaire so if you have access to Dragonspyre and want to help or need help yourself, let me know. I won't promise to adopt you but I might say some nice things about you in this blog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes

"According to Jacobs, another way to measure success is to look at the number of servers a game has added in a six-month period. “The corollary to that is if you’ve seen a game consolidate servers, you know it’s in deep, deep trouble — that’s not a healthy sign for an MMO,” he said, citing Sony’s January-released “Pirates of the Burning Sea” as a recent example. “It will be the same for ‘Warhammer.’ Look at us six months out. Look at us six weeks out. If we’re not adding servers, we’re not doing well.”

There's a point in the parable about the Emperor's new clothes where somebody finally has to tell the Emperor to please put some clothes on for the sake of everyone around him. I think we have reached a similar situation now that the EA report has put some hard subscription numbers to WAR for everyone to see.


There will be those who will measure those numbers a success and also those who will measure it a failure. Regardless of what the numbers may mean, can we finally get server merges for those poor beleaguered servers that desperately need them? Success has been measured. Can we now at least put some pants on?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Free to Play - Enjoy it While You May

I'm old enough to remember when TV used to be free. Drinking water as well. I remember thinking why on earth would I ever pay for something I can easily get for free? Heck, there was even a time when free Internet was more than a buzzword and NetZero really did live up to its name. But times change and we either adapt or we play around with the rabbit ear antennas still.

So it really mystifies me when I come across those who dismiss F2P (or Free to Play for us internet-savvy types) so casually out of hand. Yes, the games coming down the pike with this payment model may not be your cup of tea. But you will never know unless you try them. And trying them, get this, won't cost you anything but your time. Games are all about wasting time so I don't even want to hear about time being money.

For those who do find something to their liking, play the heck out of those games. Don't be afraid to throw a few shekels out to the developers. Goodness knows you don't want to assume that someone else is willing to finance this free ride. We all know what happens when we assume. While I'd like to think F2P will be here to stay, the pessimist in me isn't too sure. Only time will tell. Now excuse me while I sip my bottled water and surf the cable channels over my high-speed Internet line.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dragonspyre Ratchets up the Difficulty

One of the first things I noticed after I got my first "kill some wandering street mobs" quest in Dragonspyre was the increased HP's of the average mob. In Mooshu, the typical trash mob would have maybe 675 HP. In Dragonspyre, they tend to have around 1200 HP. This would necessitate a change to my typical deck design which had revolved around abusing Immolate for fun and profit.

Immolate is a Fire spell available as a reward after completing Krokotopia so only primary Fire wizards have access to it. For four pips, it deals 600 fire damage to an enemy and deals 250 fire damage to yourself. I had accumulated enough spell power gear that I was able to knock out around 700 HP's in one successful shot even without any charms or traps to augment the Immolate spell. With my Mooshu sword, 4 pips were almost always available during the second turn and sometimes rarely on the first. So unless the mobs were Fire and thus resistant to Immolate damage, I would face them with a 40 card deck that had 6 copies of Immolate increasing the odds that I would always see one on the first or second turn. Add in Fire protection shields that reduced any Immolate damage by 80% and fire resistant gear for even more fun.

The increased toughness of the random Dragonspyre mobs meant a halt to the Immolate festivities. The damage I was doing to myself would mean that I was just doing the surviving mobs a favor in killing myself. So this relegated Immolate to a closing spell to do the final damage to the last mob and increased the importance of my big-hitters, the 5 and 6 pip spells, Stormzilla and Helephant. This also meant an increase in the time needed to kill the pairs of common street mobs you typically come across when soloing. 1200 HPx2 is nothing to sneeze at especially when both mobs are constantly throwing hexes to reduce your spell's power and shields to reduce your damage. Fizzles are absolutely magnified in Dragonspyre as they go from being momentary nuisances to major time sinks.

The increased HP's are not the only feature of the increased difficulty in Dragonspyre. Tower quests are back which have you running through a gauntlet of floors without any health wisps to top you off between fights. Bosses also have some annoying features like one that has two companions wisps that do nothing but cast every protection shield known to man on the boss mob until you manage to kill them. I'm sure the increased difficulty is there to put the brakes on ardent soloers like myself and to increase the importance of grouping up in the endgame. It's all good if it means I have more time to savor the last 5 levels to cap in this game.