Monday, March 14, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Ryzom II

My adventures in Ryzom continue and, not surprisingly, I have spent most of my time in the starting area or what I lovingly refer to as Noob Island.

There is a noticeable learning curve in this game and I experienced some low-level frustration which persisted for the first 9 hours or so of game-play. Most of this was simply due to 'not knowing things’ and that, of course, is complicated by my self-imposed rule against asking for help in-game. There has been no shortage of people offering help, generally, which reflects favorably on the community as a whole, and there is a handy plethora of in-game tools to help you on your way.

In-game services

In-game forums: How handy is that?

I have, as per my rules, avoided reading a lot about the game but I did check out the wiki page for a bit of background and found something quite interesting. In 2006 the game's designers went into receivership and a campaign was mounted by the community to raise money to release the game as free software. That’s a hell of a dedicated fan-base if you ask me. I would expect something similar if, say, Eve Online was failing, but I wonder how many would kick in if RIFT declared they were going bankrupt unless they got a cash-injection?

That story, along with my in-game experience, which make lead me to believe the game has a very tight knit and dedicated group of players. The in-game community does not disappoint, and I have found universal chat to be free of general annoyances overall, with conversations being polite, helpful, and with some light role-play. The game offers a relaxed environment on a few fronts which I am finding...well....relaxing. It doesn’t feel like there is a mad rush to burn through quests, or to level up, or even to move on from the starting area. It's a nice break from other games that offer a hectic rush toward an endgame which usually disappoints. 

Relaxing on a hill while the local wildlife check me out.....In Soviet Ryzom, the mobs come to you!

I have been completing the starter quests which are available from four main sources. These quests do not involve a story-arc per se, but are designed to help you learn the basics about combat, magic, crafting, and resource gathering. Many of them tie together so if you grab a few at once, you can head out and complete them all before returning- a feature I really like (I have mentioned my hatred of travel and quests in general elsewhere ad-naseum). 

These starter quests are what you would expect: kill 10 of those, gather 5 of these, use your magic on this, stick a sword in the ribs of that, etc. I don’t find them as bland as the usual questing fare in MMO’s simply because I am still learning, and enjoying the game-world which I find to be immersive and scenic. There is no in-game music but there is an MP3 player available in-game to listen to whatever you like (very cool). I'll often have nothing on in the background as I like the sounds of the animals, the weather, and the general background noise which adds to the mood and immersion.

It took me the full 9 hours mentioned above to really figure out the resource locating/gathering system. I will admit that I have 'cheated' a bit by using Google searches to find resources. The 'how' I worked out on my own but the 'where' was causing a great deal of frustration so I gave in (damn you Fine Zun Amber!). It really wasn't that difficult to figure out- I was just using the wrong skill, at the wrong time, and usually in the wrong place!

You gain experience in crafting, gathering, combat, and magic separately and choose your skills in those areas as you progress. The early skill for resource locating, for example, only allows for the discovery of low-level resources. You will have to learn resource locating (fine) to find better ones. That single skill won’t be good enough, however, as you will have to combine it with other skills to form useful actions, or stanza's. It is a complex system which is customizable but it is not difficult to figure out. The in-game screens are very visual, and will lead you box-by-box to successfully creating your stanza's (actions).

Prospecting stanza which, when complete, occupies one slot on my action bar and is activated like any other you'll have encountered- via click, or number pad.

 Resources are located by pin-pointing their location with prospecting skills,and then harvesting them with, yes, harvesting (gathering) skills! The actual resource that you end up with depends on the quality of the node, your skill, and factors I'm just beginning to understand. You can increase the quality of a resource as you harvest it, but you can also deplete it prematurely and (though this hasn't happened yet) piss off the locals with your careless disregard for the environment. OMG, what, we have to, like, think about gathering stuff? Yes, a game which challenges more than your odd......

If you've played Eve Online before I am sure you are seeing some parallels here and you're not wrong. This game has a lot of depth, a lot of customization, and a lot to keep you busy. In-game browsers, time-consuming resource gathering, deep crafting, exploration, and a choice in skill development are among a few I have noticed. The obvious differences are that EVE has a pvp (or player) driven economy which really keeps everything else moving forward. I've yet to experience the pvp in Ryzom and may not get the chance. Usually it's the first thing I head for in any game but not so here. To be honest, with the player population as low as it is I'm not sure I could find it even if I went looking. In any case it will take some time to get the necessary skills and equipment in place (just like Eve). I don't think I did any pvp in Eve for the first month or two either.

In addition to harvesting you also take resources off of the animals that you kill (as your loot). I have yet to see anything drop from a kill that wasn’t crafting-related. How odd, the animals carry no weapons, armor, or cash? What the hell (insert sarcastic emote here)? I find it really very nice. If you're not familiar with my usual rants regarding my hatred for certain in-grained aspects of current MMO's, then here are some facts I think you should know:

Fact 1: I dislike gear-centric games.
Fact 2: I like crafting. The deeper the better.
Fact 3: The Earth is round (ish).
Fact 4: Michael Jackson was a pedophile and I'm glad he can't do it again.

Ooooh....was that offside? Did that last one take you by surprise? Or was number 3 more shocking? Either way, all of them are completely true (and don't get me started on O.J.) and:

Fact 5: I'm sometimes a meandering mess of random synaptic firing.

So, once you locate the resources you will still need the skill to harvest them. As you level up your crafting you can purchase upgrades, which are essentially recipes, and improvements or buffs. I can, for instance, make light leggings with a hit point buff by combining skills into a crafting stanza. You then have to have the ingredients necessary to make the item, and different materials will make different types of items. I’m sure there are forum posts which say what to use where, but due to my blackout I am simply chucking stuff together willy-nilly! 

Weapon crafting

Making a spiffy new helmet

It is also refreshing to have crafting materials be varied in type, and useful in various ways. Not all animals will simply yield 'hide' that you then use for all 'leather armor', for instance. There are different types of 'hide' and some animals won't yield the same resource every time. One of the materials I was after was mushrooms (but not the magic ones we discussed last post). These are found (sometimes) on the creatures you saw checking me out (above). You can collect bones, leathers, skins, eye-balls, nails, and a wide variety of other materials for use in armor, weapons, jewelry, and magic amplifiers.

Mama says they was magic arms and they'd take me anywhere. Later, my good friend Lieutenant Dan got himself some magic arms too and we went out and killed us some shrimp mobs. Do you know how many types of shrimp mobs there are?

Just like my Barbie-Dolls, er I mean my G.I. Joe action figures, I can dress them up! Everything was made by me. I could have my own designer label, with my name on everyone's ass. Fashions by Gank. Mmmmmm, Fashalicious.

There are, of course, a lot of online resources which will likely explain all of this a lot better than I can with my limited play experience. I haven't read them and I am trying to focus talking about my experience in the game (and posting some pretty pictures to look at) rather than writing a 'how-to'. In the next installment I will share my thoughts about killing the local fauna and wildlife.

My only major criticism is that even in a virtual world I can't escape from the freaking snow.

Ta Da!

I hate this. I phoned them before logging in and they assured me they weren't going to wear that skirt we all bought on our trip to Paris. How embarrassing.

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