Thursday, August 13, 2009
Atlantica Online - Not a review
The fun thing about being a blogger and not a game journalist is that not only can you write what you want, you are also free to change the structure whenever you want. So as Atlantica Online is not a new game, and has already been reviewed by other sites and bloggers, I won't write a regular review post about it. But there are interesting details in this game where AO is doing things differently, and in some cases even much better, than other games that you are more familiar with. So I'll just post a short overview and recommendation in this post, and will spread out the discussion of various other aspects of Atlantica Online, and how other games could learn from it, over several posts in the coming weeks.
Atlantica Online is a Free2Play game. And as I previously wrote in my review of the microtransaction system, at least for the first 50+ levels you really don't need anything from the item mall, and can play the game perfectly well without paying anything. Especially at the start you will receive a lot of goodies for free that are otherwise for sale. And there are lots of events on the website, or in the newsletters, giving out even more freebies. Of course that is done with the intention of getting you used to the stuff, so you'll buy it later. But you aren't obliged to fall into that trap.
Unlike some other Free2Play games, Atlantica Online is not a cheaply produced game. In fact it is perfectly comparable in degree of polish with a monthly fee game like Aion. For somebody who has played neither it would even be difficult to sort out screenshots of the two games, because the graphical style is very similar, Aion is just a bit prettier. Atlantica Online has a large world, lots of different classes, the biggest crafting system I've ever seen, a solid economy, and tons of different items.
The main big difference between Atlantica Online and other games is in gameplay, specifically combat. You do not play just one character, but you have a main character plus a group of up to 8 mercenaries. Whenever you engage in combat, you are transported from the regular map to a small battlefield, where you will find your formation of characters facing the formation of the enemy, be it another player in PvP, or a group of monsters. I had hoped that combat would be similar to that in tactical RPGs, but in Atlantica Online you do not move over the battlefield, the only possible movement is to change the formation of your group. Nevertheless combat is far, far more tactical than that of classic MMOs: Depending on the class of the acting character, and the ability he uses, attacks might not just affect one enemy, but a complete row or column of the enemy formation, or the whole enemy group. And melee attacks can only touch non-flying enemies with no other enemy in front of them. Thus a fight for example against a boss mob often requires you to work your way through the front ranks before you can even touch the boss with all of your characters. Furthermore a battle can have up to three groups per side, so for example you can group with two other players, with each player controlling 9 characters, against 3 mixed groups of 9 monsters, which ends you up with an already rather big battle, and lots of tactical choices to make.
The rest of the game is more conventional, although there are lots of little unique features. But in general you do quests, fight monsters, gain experience points, level up, gear up, craft, join a guild, do arena PvP fights, and engage in a lot of activities which are not totally unlike features in many other games. So combat is the unique selling point of Atlantica Online, with the mercenary system reminding a bit of the Pokemon RPGs: You level up mercenaries, store them, get new ones through quest series, and mix yourself together an army suited for your purposes.
Controlling a whole group, the more tactical combat, and the huge range of other game features make Atlantica Online a complicated game. You will need some time to understand it, and much more time to master it. You also need to understand that the level curve is fundamentally different than the leveling curve of for example World of Warcraft: While in WoW the time to reach the next level is never very long, and everybody rushes to the level cap, where as some people say the "real" game begins, the leveling curve in Atlantica Online is going up exponentially in effort required to advance. Thus every level will take you longer than the previous one, and reaching the level cap is not all that common. Which is fine, because there is no separate end game only accessible to level capped characterts. There are high-level activities likes guilds controlling cities, forming together into nations, and making war between each other, but you can participate in that and contribute long before you reach the level cap. Whether you consider leveling up ever slower a "grind", or a valid alternative to a separate end game, is a personal preference. The advantage of the Atlantica Online system is that reaching the cap in level, or in a crafting skill, really means something, because not everybody gets there easily. The disadvantage is that not everybody gets there easily.
But as that sort of issue only appears much later in the game, while the very different and innovative combat system is something you'll get immediately, and you can play for free at least at the start, there is really no reason not to at least try out Atlantica Online. Unless you are only looking for a game you're certain you'll be playing for years, trying out something different for free is a good deal. I don't think I'll play it for very long, but for some time it certainly is fun. Recommended.
If you want to say hi to me in game, my main character is called Raslebol, and I am on the Thebes server.