One of the main reasons I keep playing Atlantica Online is that the game is constantly surprising me. I really was not expecting much from AO when I downloaded it, and I think those low expectations have actually allowed me to enjoy it a bit more than most games (this overhyping needs a term, like readblogitis or something). Part of that enjoyment is perhaps a return to a more simple, just-grind-xp style of gameplay, which is relaxing in its simplicity, but another part is all of the little things AO does right, things to break up that grind and keep you logged in.
The first thing is the games crafting, and how it relates to the item system itself. In AO, can enchant all of your armor and weapons using two copies of the item itself, along with an enchant stone. Two basic swords can be combined to create one +1 sword, two +1 swords create a +2, and so on up to +10 (which requires 1920 copies of the original item, if my math is correct). Now at first, 1920 copies of a basic sword seems a bit ridiculous, and it is, but that’s what keeps the high enchant weapons both rare and expensive, yet doable for anyone with enough persistence. You don’t need to belong to the uber raid guild if you want the best weapon at a certain level, although you do need to put in the time to make that happen. Another key part to this system is that the power jump when going from +1 to +2 is the same as going from +9 to +10. This allows the more powergamer-types to still progress, but at a much higher cost/gain. Additionally, there is a small chance you can crit and get a +2 rather than a +1 when enchanting. If this happens to a low enchant item, it’s not a big deal, but if you go from a +7 to a +9, that is a HUGE gain. Again, small detail, but one that keeps things interesting while you watch the little enchant bar fill up.
Back to the crafting angle, when you are trying to level up your sword crafting, and the game forces you to create 400 copies of a basic sword before you can advance to a higher type, those 400 copies are worth more than the typical vendor trash most crafting systems create. You can either sell the items outright (and sometimes crafting will create items with a + enchantment already on them, which again helps to spice things up), or you can ‘gamble’ and see if you can get a crit while enchanting the items. All of this of course depends on the price of the item and the enchant stones currently on the auction house. The entire system compliments itself nicely, with the price of crafting materials (of which there are a ton, since crafting one sword can require 8+ different mats, with different quantities of each) effecting the price of a base item, and the price of enchant stones effecting the price of enchanted gear. Almost everything in the game has a ‘base’ price set by the game, but the base is generally much higher than player pricing for common items. I’m sure anyone with enough patience and practice could make a killing playing the economy.
I wish more MMOs would adopt the +enchant system, rather than making every single item unique and special. Does anyone really care when they upgrade from a belt of daggers to a belt of swords, when in the end we upgraded because the latter had two more strength than the former? And how many quest rewards and random drops instantly become vendor trash because we already have the rare spawns uber weapon drop, so the next 10 levels of weapons are worthless to us? How many MMO economies quickly become trash because the game consists of thousands of items, and close to ten are actually worth something?
A working economy relates to my next point, which is the NPC arena. Three times a day, the arena opens for betting, with players being able to pick a winner, who makes it to the final round, and who comes in 1st/2nd. The odds are completely player driven, with a 10% tax taken out whenever you win. The actual arena contestants are 8 named NPCs of various classes, who randomly get assigned different support characters. So in one arena, Alex the archer might get teamed with three swordsman, a spearman, and a shaman, while in the next arena she will be teamed with an all rifle team. All NPCs are level 100 characters with matching skills/gear. Players are aware of each named NPCs strength, and know how each supporting class works, but it’s often difficult to predict how that matching will fare against another NPC opponent. The fights use the in-game AI, which is very questionable, further adding a bit of randomness. A strong team should do well, but if the AI has a brain fart and focuses on a tank, while the weak team focuses on the healers, it could lead to an upset.
The arena fighting itself takes about 30 minutes, and players are able to observe any of the matches they wish, while also being able to chat in a special channel about said match. This gives the whole thing a bit of an ESPN-style running commentary, with each unexpected attack or spell getting instant fan reaction. Placing long-shot bets in the arena can also earn you a hefty payout, as odds can be as favorable as 800/1. The real beauty of the system though is that almost anyone can participate, from a level 20 character betting the minimum to near-max characters wagering fortunes. Watching the high level NPCs is also a great way for newer players to witness more advanced moves and spells (if not always used expertly), and its fun to just watch all of the fireworks from the sideline, rooting for whichever NPC you placed the most money on.
The crafting, economy, and NPC arena are just a few of the more unique features that support Atlantica Online, and breath some fresh air into a game that revolves around bashing 1000s and 1000s of foozles. After winning a nice payout in the arena, or getting a lucky crit on your main characters weapon, entering a dungeon to whack the next 100 ants for a quest somehow does not seem so bad.