The details make the game, why Atlantica Online keeps the grind interesting.

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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20 Responses to The details make the game, why Atlantica Online keeps the grind interesting.

  1. Werit says:

    Wow, those are some neat aspects of the game. Is the game anime like?

  2. syncaine says:

    About as anime as Final Fantasy 9 I would say. It’s not the super obnoxious anime you see in some f2p games, but its definitely asian. Some of the character voice work is rather embarrassing too. “the sky… its… so beautiful” always makes me laugh/cringe when I resurrect my dead shaman. The game does not rely on it’s graphics/sound to sell itself, lets just put it that way. But the gameplay works for what it tries to do.

  3. Tesh says:

    Indeed, the crafting and economy are brilliant parts of AO. As far as I can tell, there are no trash drops. Every loot drop not immediately usable (a weapon, armor or consumable) is an ingredient in a crafting recipe. Everyone can learn every crafting type. It’s a simple concept, but it makes looting much more interesting and psychologically satisfying. Loot has value beyond vendor price. Indeed, you can sell nearly anything to vendors, but they pay so poorly that it’s almost always worth your time to sell stuff on the blind auction. (The vendor buy price of 10 gold does put a value floor on loot, but I have seen the supply/demand function of the market push some common materials below 10 as players try to undercut each other to sell their stuff.)

    I also like the weapon growth scheme. One thing to note: weapons level 5 and higher have durability, and decay with use (repairs require relatively expensive consumables, and there’s no blacksmith), but lower level weapons don’t decay. Keeping a weapon at level 4 is a viable strategy for cheap gamers. (I think armor functions the same way.)

    Initially, I thought the “spinny treasure chests” were dumb. They certainly are a silly bit of game immersion breaking tomfoolery on the surface. That said, since nearly any weapon or armor type can pop out of a given box (boxes are arranged by level range; Sea King boxes carry level 15 gear, Insect boxes carry level 35 gear and so on), in practice, leaving that gear in their “quantum Schroedinger” state in unopened boxes winds up saving considerable inventory space. It’s easier to carry around a stack of 15 Spirit boxes rather than 15 different pieces of gear. (Weapons and armor don’t stack, boxes do.) You can usually wait until town to open the boxes (or to sell them), since you can never be sure what will come out of most boxes. (A few let you choose, but those are much rarer.) The material boxes offer the same choice; pop them open now for materials, losing inventory space, or leave the gift unwrapping for town where you can sell off stuff to make room.

    I still remember one time when I was crafting bows, eight at a time in batches. You can set up a crafting “job” like that, and when you’re done, you’re given a notice that you have the items waiting. It’s nice, since you don’t have to immediately have the inventory space for them, but if you have completed items waiting, you can’t craft more. Anyway, crafting one at a time gives that “critical crafting” chance each time. Crafting in batches gives the critical chance to the whole batch. Typically crafting gives level zero items. I happened to get a very lucky critical with this batch, getting eight level 2 bows. Sometimes the critical jumps two levels, not just one. (Maybe even more? I’ve only seen one and two…) That batch alone saved me a couple hundred thousand gold in materials, and made me very happy.

    Speaking of crafting, players under level 30 “craft” by killing critters. (Winning in combat generates “work” that’s applied to your crafting job.) It’s weird, but interesting, as you don’t have to stop in town and wait by an anvil forever. You just do your regular thing, questing or grinding, and your crafting gets done. At level 30, you can get an item that allows you to “Autocraft”, which is the “sit in one place and hammer something out, go afk for an hour” style that WoW players are used to. You can do it anywhere, though, which is nice.

    I still have a hard time forgiving grind, but AO plays smoothly, the combat is interesting, and the economy is interesting enough that I enjoy the game still. It’s certainly not perfect, but I do wish that other MMOs would take some in-game economy lessons from AO.

  4. syncaine says:

    Players above 30 can continue to fight to get crafting points, which is what I do. A batch of 15 goes much quicker that way. Auto-craft is nice for arena, or free league, or a guild meeting though. Options are a nice thing, and AO gives you plenty.

    The vendors that buy for 10, is that unlimited? I see a ton of stuff listed on the AH below 10, and I figured it was because the game limits the amount you can sell to a vendor. Flowers in particular are always cheap, sometimes even 1g each. Do you have to go back to the starter towns for that vendor, or are they in each town? The whole traveling NPC thing is also neat, as it encourages players to communicate locations and travel around.

  5. Tesh says:

    Aye, sorry, I forgot to mention that the combat crafting can continue. I tend to go that way as well; it feels like I’m getting more out of my time. (Though afk crafting is nice, too. AO doesn’t log me out like some MMOs do… I’ve literally left it on for a few days afk.) I agree, options are beautiful.

    I’ve never noted a limit on the vendor items. I’ve only sold a few hundred things that way, though. I usually don’t bother, unless I’m near a vendor and note that the Common Fur or whatever I have is selling for less than 10 on the AH. As far as I’ve seen, yes, you’ve got to go back to the starting areas for the vendors. It’s a bit annoying, but I can see it as a subtle reminder that selling on the market (to other players, which is important) is more profitable and better for the community.

    I think stuff goes below 10 on the AH because people are lazy. They don’t want to vendor it. Also, there are plenty of people who don’t quite get how markets work. They just undercut reflexively, whether or not it’s the best idea. I’ve made plenty of money waiting for the best time to sell stuff, and a smaller amount vendoring stuff that wouldn’t sell for 11+ on the AH. (Bizarrely, there are also a few people who put things on the AH for higher prices than the GM-set price points. That’s baffling to me.)

    Oh, that’s another thing. Some things are available from “the system” on the AH. Many things are loot-only, but for the items that the GMs can “magick” into the system, there are set prices. (Iron for 100, for example.) This establishes a baseline and makes sure that players can do some basic crafting even if there’s nobody out there looting ingredients. Call it a crafting/economic backstop, as it were. It’s almost always cheaper to buy from other players, but it also means that you won’t get stopped if other players aren’t selling. At least, not with lower level stuff. Exotic materials aren’t sold by GMs. I’m a bit ambivalent about it; I’d prefer going all player-driven (the super social version) or everything with a backdrop (soloable, if expensive, and my personal preference). That would fit with the “options” theme. The economy isn’t perfect, but for what it does, it’s very good, and a leap ahead of most game economies.

    Traveling NPCs are very cool. The communication factor and the “sense of the world” that they foster is great for the game. I remember chasing down an Artilleryman, almost playing a geographic “Marco Polo” game (ironic, I know) as I got tips from other players. It was great fun for the Explorer in me.

  6. Minn says:

    I haven’t tried out AO yet, but a +10 item probably only requires 2^9 = 512 copies of the original item, which is much less demanding than 1920.

    Besides that, from the details you’ve written, it seems that AO has done something right with respect to the +enchant system. I have not been impressed with +enchant systems in previous MMOs I’ve tried, because they singlehandedly distort the game economy to the point of absurdity.

    It seems like what AO has done right is to tweak the crafting system so as to not put immense value on any particular reagent: the ingredients to craft the original item is just as important as the enchant stone. Having the game set a base price for these components plays a big part as well, so that prices don’t simply soar into grands or millions when players become more affluent in the future. Another possible plus (judging from what I read in your entry) is the apparent lack of “failure”: a chance of the upgrade not going through or even destroying the item in the process. It doesn’t just further inflate the price of components, it takes a lot of fun out of the game.

    But my judgement will be reserved until I actually play the game.

  7. Tesh says:

    Minn, I’ve never had an item break on me. From what I can tell, upgrading won’t do that. It’s definitely nice that stuff doesn’t break if you modify it. I’d lose patience quickly with a system that randomly eats my materials.

    • joyful_magic says:

      When you try to enhance weapons with Vulgar (sp?) in Rome your weapon can break! But it is the chance you take to purchase an enhance stone instead of another weapon of equal power such as two plus 6 items to get a plus 7. Vulgar (sp?) accepts one plus 6 item and an enhance stone. You might get a plus 7 back or it may break. Never try this step without 100% will.

      Check out the game, it is a lot of fun. I am currently Level 120 and working on a special upgrade to go to 121.

  8. Bonedead says:

    I’ve discovered recently that I am a huge fan of crafting, so after reading this you better believe that I am a little excited about this game. My SWG runs out in a week or two, so maybe I’ll download this game and give it a whirl. Thanks for the info.

  9. Swift Voyager says:

    Wow, a Kroean FtP MMO with an economy that works like Eve (from your descriptions, it’s nearly identical in all the key points, although there are differences in the smaller points). That would have surprised me as well. I didn’t think anyone was ever going to catch onto the success of the Eve economy, since most MMO’s prefer the shoulder-pad-flation economy.

  10. syncaine says:

    It should actually be 2^10 right, so 1024? 1 and 1 for +1, 2 and 2 for +2, and so on… It’s Friday…

    Yea unlike Lineage and I’m sure other games, there is not a built in chance to fail once you try to enchant past a certain level. However, anything +7 and above does become BoE, while all previous gear you can use and then resell. However, if you enchant that used +7 into a +8, you can either sell it or again use it. Also, at +3 a weapon has a white glow, at +5 a blue, and at +7 a red. The glow does nothing, but looks cool, so more ‘look at me’ points for the elite without effecting gameplay.

    Anyway, I’m not ready yet to say AO economy is like EVE, but I can safely say gold means more in AO than in WAR or WoW. Same goes for crafting, especially how the whole artisan/skill up system works. (basically you get crafting xp when you craft, but you can’t actually gain a point in crafting (100 points is the max) without either paying an NPC or having a player with a higher rating in the skill teach you. The teaching player gets crafting xp, so it helps them as well. The game provides an in-game list of all the artisan crafters for each craft, making it easy to contact them. They usually ask for monster info (another cool system), and everyone benefits… F now I need another post about cool stuff in AO)

  11. Dream Lane says:

    I am primarily a WAR player, but I downloaded AO and played it for a few weeks, and I too was incredibly impressed and surprised at how fun it was to play.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the time to play two MMO’s right now – so I rarely log into AO. It is by far the best free to play MMO I’ve played – and I look forward to playing it again when I have more time on my hands.

  12. Bonedead says:

    Man am I excited or what? I could play this for a while I bet. I played Knight Online a lot and I’m pretty sure that game has to be 5 times worse. How would one go about selling their phat crafted lewtz? I’m assuming you can’t have a house with a vendor (like the good ole days), which leaves that auction house I read aboot ^up there^.

  13. Swift Voyager says:

    Well, it sounds like it’s Eve-like in many ways.

    The better items containing a basic item as an ingredient, plus extra stuff. Being able to use all the loot drops for something other than selling to an NPC vending machine, etc. It keeps all the lower level items viable in the economy and creates a nice neat value pyramid. Then there’s also a control on availability by area since the NPC vendors are back in the starting area, making things happen in the outlying areas that don’t happen in the core areas. That’s what I meant when I compared the Eve economy to AO’s

    The key to Eve is that there’s a carefull balance to the ingredients in terms of availability versus consumption rate. Kinda sounds like they are doing the same thing in AO.

  14. Sightless says:

    Its so nice to see a blogger actualy talk about the mechanics and systems of a game. Not just ‘i like this, its shiny but clearly needs polish/balancing/less noobs…’

    I really appreciate this blog, you don’t post as often as some of the other MMO topicals, but about every word you write is gold.

    PS: If you think your interested in darkfall hit up my email m’kay? =P

  15. Melf_Himself says:

    I like the NPC Arena thing. Guild Wars has something similar called Observer Mode, albeit for games between real people. The matches are recorded so that you can watch them for a few days afterwards to make sure you didn’t miss any of the more exciting games.

    There is also a system where each month you pick which guild you think will be the winners of the world-wide monthly tournament, with more reward the better your predictions matched the final rankings (although it’s not a bet per se, as you have nothing to lose…. although this is probably better for the care-bear types, and seems more legal besides…).

  16. Pingback: A few more Atlantica Online design discussion points. « Hardcore Casual

  17. Kenny says:

    It doesnt stop at +2, crit whilst crafting will go up to +4, and +5

    I had a batch of 15 rings of vitality +4, and a batch of 15 Saviors robe +5.

    The best thing is that everything in the game can be crafted. The only thing that can’t, so far, is some licenses and the summons used by the Beast Tamer, and, er, yea quest items (Obviously)

    Sotheby’s auction doesnt really help until late in the game, since people only auction Phoenix and Gold dragon stuff(Like lvl 100 stuff…)

  18. Anonymous says:

    You probably should not call Atlanica Online AO, since Anarchy Online has been called AO for YEARS, and it will only cause confusion.

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