Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ryzom: Wonderful World, Beautiful People

Ooooh, how exciting! Here we are at the first scoring of the first game I have completed for my Sandbox Challenge. The first of the first. It’s a bit long, but I didn’t want to break it up, so here it is.

Ryzom was a last-minute addition to my Sandbox list, and I began knowing absolutely nothing about it. It was recommended by one of my readers and I’m very  glad it was. In the recent Van Hemlock podcast, he talks about his experiences in Ryzom and there are a lot of points he makes that I agree with. We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now on to the review!

Learning curve: 3.5/5

Above average

This category represents the difficulty in learning how to play the game. If it is too difficult, or too easy, it can take away from the enjoyment of play. Ryzom starts all new players in the same zone and provides a series of introductory quests to assist you in acclimatizing to the game mechanics and concepts. They are not mandatory (which is nice considering it’s a sandbox) but will help you to learn the game. You can select quests representing the main groups of skills (crafting, gathering, melee, and magic). You can take multiple quests, or you can leave out the skills you don’t want to upgrade (though all are beneficial in the beginning- crafting points, for example, can be spent on hit point upgrades).

Ryzom’s learning curve lasted approximately nine hours. After that I was comfortable with the UI, and was beginning to understand the fundamental game concepts. By 20 hours I felt I was playing a new game as opposed to learning a new game (if that makes sense). Over all it struck a good balance: not too easy, and not too hard. It provided enough of a challenge to keep you thinking but not so much that it would discourage you.

Online Community: 4.5/5

Outstanding

The people you play with can (and should) have a major impact on your time in an MMO. I found Ryzom’s online community to be helpful, polite, and passionate about the game. They appear to be a mature, tight‑nit bunch who are willing to help newcomers learn and enjoy the
game. A few of the players (and some of the game staff) took note of my blog posts and commented both here, and in‑game.

Overall the Ryzom community is a very nice group to be around. My only criticism is there aren’t enough of them (low player population).


Economy: 3/5 

Average

Ryzom has some very interesting mechanics with regards to the economy. There are a plethora of NPC merchants you can buy, or sell you items to. The interesting feature is that you can choose to sell to the NPC directly, or you can sell on to others simply by choosing that option and deciding what percentage you would like to mark it up by. When it sells (and I did manage to sell an couple items) you automatically get the cash. Change your mind? Any merchant, anywhere, will give you your item back. I really liked this feature as it takes the hassle out of selling items to other players. No more trudging to the auction house‑ it’s all there at your fingertips.

The economy, however, is not a driving factor in the game. Unlike in Eve where the players must make almost everything used in the game, Ryzom has a pretty standard MMO economy. You can buy or sell items to other players, but there are also NPC’s available. It’s not overly special, but it’s not bad either.

Crafting: 5/5

Outstanding

Ryzom’s crafting is the most complex system I have encountered in a game. Resource gathering and crafting are, in fact, two different skills much like mining and production are separate in Eve. You could focus on one, or the other, or both (which is more fun) as your primary focus of game‑play and not be disappointed or lacking for things to do. There is no shortage of items you can create, and use, including clothing, weapons, shields, ammunition, armor, enchantments, jewelry, and the list goes on. I couldn’t possibly list it all here: there’s just that much.

The items look nice (artistically) and the mechanics of crafting are helpful and easy to understand while the concepts behind it are challenging, interesting, and complex. It would take a very long time to learn everything and there is ample opportunity to specialize in both resource gathering, and in the production of items.

Combat 4/5

Above Average

At its core, the combat in Ryzom isn’t very different from any other game on the market. Things have to die, and you must kill them. What sets Ryzom apart is the player-created stanza’s which make up your arsenal. You get to choose how your individual skills come together.

Example: I had two different acid-based attack spells on my bar. One took 4.5 seconds to unleash, cost a lot of stamina, and did a lot of damage. The other took 2 seconds to cast, was cheaper, and did half the damage. I’d start with the big one (while the target was unaware of his impending doom) and then we he was headed toward me I’d use the faster one to avoid being interrupted, and to finish him off.


You are also able to mix and match your skills. You can cast spells while wearing heavy armor but there will be a price in cast time and cost. I enjoyed casting spells while wielding a shield, axe, and helm. It was refreshingly different even if it likely wasn’t optimal.

Magical animations are smooth, colorful, and fun to use. Melee animations are a bit choppy and suffered from a slight delay which didn’t affect game-play but looked a bit off. Monsters would take the damage a second before I’d see my axe hit. Not a major problem, but something I definitely noticed.

Interface: 4/5

Above Average

I think that in today’s market there is no excuse for a game with a bad user interface. It’s absolutely unacceptable, especially when you look at a ‘dated’ game like Ryzom and see that they have done everything so well.

The interface is visually appealing, easy to use, and very customizable. Changes can be made on the play screen without accessing ‘options’ (like in Warhammer, for instance). There are in-game forums, and help guides, and there is a handy MP3 player built in so you can load up your own music and control it without leaving the game.

The only criticisms I could possibly make are that you can’t stack hot bars (though you can have more than one), and the character screen itself is not quite what I hope for (it’s is a bit small). I like a large character screen to view my avatar.

This game was released in 2004, and from now on I will have even less patience with newer games that don’t have a player-friendly, customizable UI (yes, Xsyon I’m talking to you).

Immersion: 4.5/5

Outstanding

Ryzom is incredibly immersive. It is one of the few online games I have played where you really and truly feel like you are in another world. There is no music you’ll be forced to mute in Ryzom: only the sounds of the world (but don’t forget you have access to your MP3 player if you choose) will greet you.

There are day and night cycles with sun rises, and nice, full moons. The season’s change, and the weather can be unpredictable (bloody snow). Nearby animals will notice you and come over to see what you are doing (handy if it happens to be hunting them), and they have migration patterns. You feel like you are a part of something larger and what you do makes a difference.

I didn’t get very far in the game (27 hours) so I can’t comment about the factions and storyline, but the lore (which I just scratched the surface of) seemed interesting and was something I wanted to know more about. Time flew when I was playing, and that’s a good thing! I understand that there is player housing available as well which only adds to the immersion: when you are tied to a place you feel like you are a part of it.

Fun Factor 3.5/5

Above Average

Ryzom is deep‑ there is no doubting that. There is a lot to do, learn, see, and explore. You could invest a lot of time in this game but I have to look beyond all of that and ask: did I have fun?

The answer is yes, but I have to wonder if that fun could be sustained over a longer period of time. My particular play-style lends itself to periods of ‘grinding’ (I hate that word but everyone knows what I mean by it), and I do love the crafting aspect of the game. What I would begin to miss is the opportunity for player vs player combat. It’s no secret I am a huge fan of pvp as it adds excitement, focus, goals, and fun. Ryzom is not a pvp-focused game, and I haven’t explored the pvp that is available.

I would enjoy advancing my skills, crafting items, and exploring the world, but for how long, and should that even matter? Ultimately the lack of a larger player base holds this category (and a few others) back and would eventually have an impact on my fun. Not the fault of the game but a reality none the less.

Setting 4.5/5

Scoring points for originality, and interest, Ryzom is an interesting place. A mix of fantasy, and science fiction, set in a giant tree. That’s right, the world is a giant tree with large branches stretching up into the sky and down into....well, I don’t know, actually. It is a refreshing take on a game-setting in a market dominated by fantasy, science fiction, and apocalyptic worlds.

I can’t help but draw some parallels to the movie Avatar (which I’ve only recently watched). Everything appears to be connected in this world, and even resource collecting can have consequences. Maybe James Cameron plays Ryzom!

The game world is unique, with interesting animals (mobs) to hunt and interact with. The lore, which I didn’t get too into, is there and seems interesting.

Freedom of Expression: 4/5

Above Average

Arguably the most important aspect of a sandbox-style game: are you truly free to pursue your own path?

The answer is yes. There are a wide variety of skills and specializations to pursue and master. The skill-based leveling system is interesting and diverse. You are free to become a magic using madman with a massive axe (as I tried), a trader, explorer, melee master, healer, magician, or whatever combinations of them tickles your fancy.

I wanted to give Ryzom a 5/5 in this category, but I just couldn’t. I am a big fan of the skill-based system which does give you the freedom to choose your path. The problem I can foresee is that at some point you will eventually be forced to use those skills over, and over, to maximize them. This is frequently called ‘grinding’, and if the game mechanics involve you repeating something over, and over again, how much freedom does that truly offer? It may be that I am being overly picky here because overall you aren’t forced into leveling up, but are offered the choice of what to specialize in.

The only option that isn’t available to you is pvp. If you are happy with exploration, crafting, and pve-based game play you probably won’t miss it, but I do, and it’s another reason I couldn’t go 5/5.
 
Ryzom Final Score: 82%

I would dare to say that if Ryzom were released today it would do very, very well. In a market which is saturated with free-to-play garbage and games that are not interesting, immmersive, or fun, and are often buggy and unpolished, it is a shame that Ryzom goes unnoticed. It offers polished play, in a unique setting, free of the constraints of ‘theme-park’ hand-holding and leveling which I see a growing number of players complaining about these days. I read somewhere (sorry I can’t reference you, but I have forgotten where) that one of Ryzom’s major problems is that is launched at the same time as World of Warcraft. Wow (pardon the pun), is that bad luck or what?

Ryzom is a game that I am interested in playing again. Tim stated in the Van Hemlock pod cast that it is a game worth looking at if you are interested in the mechanics of mmo’s, and I agree. It does so many things so very well that it makes me wish more developers would take a look at it and emulate it.

How can games today be released in such shockingly bad states when examples like Ryzom exist? As far as I know the game code itself is now free-ware though the game world in which we play, is commercially managed (I could be wrong- I briefly saw this on the wiki page).

Ryzom’s history as a commercial product is an interesting one, and a case where a dedicated group of players kept a quality game alive when it might have disappeared. Unlike a lot of games I see loyal fans sticking with, Ryzom is a game that stands on its own merits and has set the bar quite high for the remainder of my sandbox challenge.

 It is free to play (skills capped at 125/250 being the only limitation) but worth supporting in my humble opinion. It offers a skill-based leveling system, immersion in an interesting setting, with a deep crafting system, and had a friendly, dedicated player base. It suffers from a lack of both player numbers, and pvp-related activities, and the skill-based gaming system lends itself to a ‘grindy’ play-style which might not suit everyone. 

This ends the first game in my Sandbox Challenge, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My only regret is that I didn’t follow the advice I was given and go to see the desert region. I liked the jungle, don’t get me wrong, but after seeing some screenshots from that area I would have liked to have gone!

I’ve put together a little collage of my own screenshots. The quality is fairly good, but there was some loss due to compression. In-game play is crisper. Full screen + HD for the win!

2 comments:

  1. Okay that settles it if I'm ever without an MMO I will check this one out. Thanks for the great and really in depth review!

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  2. No problem! I really hope this one stays on top and I can come back to it during the last part of my challenge. It has a lot to offer.

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