Atlantica Online Media Tour
by Patrick Gann - 11/01/09
This week, I had the chance to celebrate Atlantica Online's one-year anniversary in North America alongside the publisher, Ndoors Interactive (the North American branch of Ndoors, the Korean-based developer and publisher behind the game). Perhaps you've been looking for an MMORPG that offers something different than the usual auto-battle combat systems of many MMORPGs. Or perhaps you just want to try out an MMORPG for the first time. Hopefully you'll find something appealing in this brief, surface-level run-through of Ndoors' in-depth strategy-based MMORPG Atlantica Online.
Before taking the tour, I took thorough notes of the installation and setup of the game. Downloading and installing the 2GB game took little time and was relatively painless. The first time launching the game, of course, came with an inevitable flood of patches, and this process took quite awhile. Fortunately, there don't seem to be any problems with mid-download freezes or glitches in the patching process (the same cannot be said of all MMOs, or even all PC RPGs). Then, I had the always-painful task of doing my own diagnostic tests to see what graphical level of the game my computer could handle. At its best, Atlantica looks just as good as the best of the Free-to-Play MMOs (namely, Guild Wars). The good news for people with low-end computers is that there is a wide range of graphical quality that you can select in the setup, and it's all fairly easy to understand. And even at its lowest graphical settings, Atlantica as a 3D game looks better than some of the popular 2D MMOs out there.
Your Ndoors account acts as one login for all Ndoors Interactive titles. Once logged in, you can create up to three characters per server, on as many servers as you want. Of course, characters cannot transfer servers, but there is a special opportunity for cross-server play (more on that later).
There is a long load time after launching your character into the game itself, but after overcoming this initial load time, things run rather smoothly. There are more load screens for zone changes, but load times are relatively brief.
Once I got acclimated to the game, I began my tour of Atlantica with Ian Keller from Ndoors Interactive. As we trekked through some different environments, Ian told me about the plot and lore behind Atlantica.
Atlantica = Atlantis
Remember the fabled city/continent of Atlantis that disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean? Well, believe it or not, the darn thing went ahead and resurfaced. And with it came the life force / energy that governs everything, "Oriharukon." The return of Atlantis has created a bend in space/time fabric, and as a result, the world that you find in Atlantica Online has a distinct "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" style to it. Except, in this world, even fictional characters from the past can come to life. In your travels, you might run into Napoleon Bonaparte, some ancient Chinese emperor, a deity from any number of religions, or Little Orphan Annie. In other words, the plot sets up an excuse to create some of the most absurd historical fiction out there and gives plenty of room for creative ideas from the staff.
Right now, only certain areas of planet Earth in its newly-formed state can be traveled upon by players. With major content updates comes access to new areas. Ndoors has already planned the release schedule of the regions and continents to be "unlocked" over time, with Atlantis itself being the last planned area of release. The MMO is still young by most standards, so it will be interesting to see what, exactly, is unveiled with each new region.
The only thing that seemed vague to me, in my brief encounter with the game, was what motivated me as a player to gain power, join guilds, and pursue the power of Oriharukon and eventually reach Atlantis. I suppose the player has to be self-motivated. That, or they can be fully engrossed by the game's fantastic combat system.
The character you create and directly control is yours and yours alone, but your hero can also acquire additional AI characters to join his/her party. The combat-size limit for these party members is eight (nine including your own created character). But you can recruit more than that, and soon you will be able to give the "passive" members special tasks (see further down).
When exploring an area, enemies roaming the field act as "markers" for a battle to trigger. In some areas they are passive, and you have to walk up to them to begin battle. In endgame areas, they become aggressive and essentially force you into a combat situation. Once you touch them, your character enters a whole new field. You and your party stand on a 3x3 grid, and the enemy stands on a similar grid (though the grid could be 1x3 or 2x3 depending on how many enemies can fight).
In battle, you trade offensive rounds with the enemy. You get 15 seconds to act, they get 15 seconds to act. You select which characters act, and what skills they will perform. Many skills, offensive and defensive, have row or column-based areas of effect. So you could cast a spell to protect your front row of characters, then have a spear-wielding character do a special attack on the center column of enemies. Your main character typically stands in the center, but the arrangement of the party members is up to you. You could put your main character in any of the nine spots. But, if you (as the main character) die, you lose the battle: so choose wisely!
This system works for PvE battles and PvP battles. Also, if you want assistance from friends, a single encounter can actually go 27 vs. 27 (three 3x3 squares lined up in a row), with one friend and their full party on each side of you against a larger enemy force.
I've seen MMOs that use turn-based and strategy-based battle systems before. It's common to have the encounter system where, after you've entered the battle, players in the field see that you are in combat with an icon, and can request to either assist in battle or simply observe. But in all the games that have had these systems, none has had the lasting appeal on me that this deceptively simple 3x3 grid has. Building an effective party for these battles in different situations, against different enemies, is sure to be a rewarding experience.
Also, each of those party members has their own inventory, stats, and experience points to level up. The game's level cap started at 80, and moves with content updates by increments of 10 or 20. Currently it's at 130. The higher levels require far more experience from more challenging enemies, than the early levels. Ian Keller described the process to me like this: "The time it takes to level from 1 to 100 is probably the same time it'll take to get from 100 to 120, and then from 120 to 130." Most people logged onto the server I was playing had not yet reached the current level cap. Why? Because there's an experience penalty for death. Though you cannot "de-level," you can drop to 0 experience towards your next level goal (you cannot go "negative experience" either, which is nice).
Content With Content
If there's one thing any good MMORPG, it's having lots of stuff to do. Atlantica has all the usual stuff: guilds to join, crafts to master, events to conquer, high-level equipment to collect. The guild system is particularly interesting. Each guild can hold up to 50 members, who can then compete with other guilds. However, guilds can join together (up to 8 guilds) to form "nations." That's 400 max players in a nation. There are PvP and PvE events available for individual players, small groups, guilds, and nations. And that's when things get really interesting. Each server can be seen as one "super-nation," or entity all its own. Any player can leave the server they're currently on to temporarily play on the "Titan" server. In-game, this is explained by hopping on a boat and traveling to an alternate version of the current world (more of that time/space bending stuff). On the Titan server, your home server counts as your guild or nation of allegiance, and you can compete across servers in PvP events.
It's important to most MMO players that character growth (experience points, skill tree progress, new party members, etc) come from more than the traditional "level grind" from zone to zone. As said earlier, PvE events exist for groups of various sizes, and there are substantial rewards for all of these events. The typical event will involve a multi-floor dungeon with a time limit and your group has to clear all enemies to proceed to the next floor. Determining which friends, with which proficiencies, can take on which enemies, is what ultimately determines success or failure (that, and, level appropriateness factors in of course). Though I did not get an opportunity to go through one of these multi-floor dungeon instances, I suspect these events help to balance the popular PvP content. And, like many fans of traditional single-player RPGs, I prefer cooperative PvE content in MMOs to PvP any day of the week.
The game's HUD and all-around UI, at least for the beginning player, beats the pants off of most MMORPGs I've played. That includes the window-clutter of WoW and most free-to-plays, and the complete lack of mouse-based usefulness in games like FFXI. As the tour was conducted, Ian Keller gave me instructions on what to do and how to do it. But I didn't need instructions, because it was pretty easy to find my way around. Having the option to use mouse or keyboard for primary commands is what makes for a good interface. The game sports a drop-down menu similar to your standard Microsoft Windows program, but of course you can hotkey your way to whatever screen you need once you've learned your way around. In my humble opinion, the user interface for this game helps to make it an easy sell to players who might be new to MMORPGs. Solo exploration through the game's system content and menus proves to be a rewarding experience all its own, if only because it makes sense and is laid out so well. RPG developers East and West, PC and console, MMO and single-player, could all learn some things from Atlantica's user interface.
The only real problem with the interface is that the game's "shopping mall" (that's right, fashion items via micro-transaction, the wave of the future!) does not exist in-game. Clicking the button for that will take you out of the game and into an internet browser window. I was informed that they're currently working on bringing the mall fully in-game.
I mentioned earlier in the article that the graphic processing was impressive, not only at high-end levels, but also that it ran smoothly and didn't look ugly at low-end performance. Recognition belongs to Dong Hwan Kim and the graphics team for Atlantica. Their sense of vision for this heavily-Asian-influenced world, though not at all devoid of other ethnic influences, and a perfect balance of vibrant colors with the darker earth tones, should leave many new players as impressed as I was with the work.
And let's not forget about the music. Though you can toggle the BGM and sound effects to be turned off, I would recommend to any player that they stay on. The orchestral-style score features prominent melodies at times, in place of the usual "atmospheric drone" that you'd get from lesser PC games that don't place high value on the melody, but only on the mood. Taeck Guyn, head of music at Ndoors, and the folks at MULTIMIDI Studio, did a surprisingly good job with the music (at least, what I heard of it). I cannot speak to the quantity, but I can speak to the quality. Most RPG fans will enjoy the tunes.
The Best Is Yet To Come
I think this is the third time I'm saying this: Atlantica is young. It's only been out for one year. And as the game expands, plenty of new content is planned. Of course, there will be more areas, more mercenary heroes to join your party, and new events. They're also adding a new 100 vs. 100 battle system that will take the player into an RTS-style mode of play that sounded uncannily like Advance Wars to me. Nations will be able to war against other nations as well.
Even more exciting, in my opinion, is that they're borrowing one of my favorite concepts from the Suikoden series. Remember your 108 Stars of Destiny hanging out at the base? Some of them were poor in combat but added a useful function to the base. Well in Atlantica, when they add a housing system (for item storage etc), the mercenaries you recruit who aren't in your active party will be able to serve as "butlers" or "maids" in your house and add as-yet-unannounced benefits to your character. Let's hope that works out too.
If you want to give the game a try, set up an account with Ndoors and see what you think. We at RPGFan hope the game only continues to get better in its second year and beyond.