I want to follow up on my previous post about Atlantica Online and some of the good things it does, as there are indeed a few more systems I think are worth pointing out. I’m currently level 52 in AO, which means I’m in the heart of the grind, out of newbie land, and have far more options in terms of locations to grind (err, quest, yea, quest). The shocker? The slower pace and increased length of each grind is still not bothering me, and my interest in the game still remains high. I have yet to pay a dollar for it through the RMT shop, but the servers are still up.
One thing AO does well is the game has a very ‘worldly’ feel to it. In addition to the traditional ‘point A to point B’ leveling path, which takes you from the noobie dungeon all the way to the high level stuff, AO gives you incentive to take time off that path and move around a bit. The city of Rome is the mecca of the world, the location of both the free league PvP tournament and the arena NPC tournament. All players are given free teleport access to Rome, making it easy for anyone to reach. This also impacts the immediate area around Rome, as again a quick teleport and some walking gets you where you need to go. The more important NPCs in the game also travel the world, walking from town to town. The games chat channels are often full of people looking for a certain NPC, and it’s not uncommon to go on a little search to hunt one of them down. Towns allow you to teleport (for a small fee) between them, which cuts down on the major walking, but does not fully eliminate it. The need for an NPC can be somewhat random, as mobs may drop something randomly only one traveling NPC accepts. You can opt to ignore the item (usually they have a timer of 24 hours or so), or you can go on a search and get your full reward. The nice thing about this is if you are an explorer type, you can focus more on this aspect, and if you hate travel, you can ignore it. The degree in which you interact with the traveling NPCs and the other ‘worldly’ aspects of AO is up to you.
AO keeps track of which mobs you have gained information about, and this information comes in three levels. The first is ‘basic’, which puts the mob on your list and gives you a small damage increase when facing it. The second is ‘location’, which is self explanatory, but important when you receive a quest to kill 20 of x and you don’t know where x is found. The third and final is ‘item’, which lets you know what the mob can drop, and increase your odds to get the higher value stuff. The method of acquiring this info is simple, kill the mob. In true F2P fashion, you not only have to kill said mob, but perform a bit of genocide, and as far as I know, it’s not a set number but rather somewhat random. But wait, how does the ‘location’ help if you gain that info from killing said mob you ask? Simple, players can share mob info with friends and guild/nation members. It costs the players some Will, a stat that functions like a mana bar that passively regenerates at a reasonable pace, and gives them a point of stamina, a stat that increases xp gain per battle as long as you have it. Will is also connected to teaching a crafting level, teleporting, and eating food to regen hp/mana. A high level or veteran player is likely to have a large collection of mob info, making them a great source of help for newer players. It’s a small touch, but helps foster a mentor/apprentice feeling to the game. (AO has a system in the game that officially supports the mentor/apprentice relationship, but aside from a cash bonus when the player hits 30, I’m not sure what else it does)
So now we have players asking for crafting training, mob info, and NPC locations, along with all the usual MMO chatter of quest help, strats/builds, etc. In stark contrast to WAR, AO almost has TOO much chatter (the crap UI also complicates this, with some seriously questionable design, but remember we are judging it by F2P standards, so it gets a pass), and that chatter is both local and global, region and guild. The world is abuzz with life, which is somewhat odd when you consider that the basis of that ‘life’ in AO is grinding out mob after mob in a somewhat basic fashion. That grind is tolerable, hell even enjoyable, because at all times you have so many little side projects and distractions. While you are indeed killing your 100th ant for a quest, you are also working on crafting, waiting for the Arena, and watching your auction house items sell, all while asking/answering questions about the world. This comes down to one important design decision; AO knows exactly when to stick to its setting as a fantasy world, and when to throw that setting and immersion out and give players modern functionality like IM-style chat. It works, you still get a decent sense of immersion (one could argue even better than WoW or WAR), and at the end of the day you have a fun game. Again, definitely worth the time to download the 2gig+ file.