After spending all of my free time Monday writing up my new player guide, I was happy to be able to log some additional time on Ryzom today. The first thing that greeted me when I logged on was a beautiful sunset, even moreso because the season had changed from spring to summer since I last logged off.
I doubt the difference in colors or flora is very noticeable to those of you who have not (or do not yet) play Ryzom, and to be fair the jungle isn't exactly the best place to view the change of seasons, but that subtlety is the sort of thing that you pick up on as you get involved with the game.
My goal for today was to level my offensive magic skill to 45. This is a milestone for the offensive mage, not just because it means access to the next level of direct damage spells, but also because these spell upgrades mean something that I greatly appreciate, and find lacking in modern games.
I remember playing EverQuest and the sense of awe that came from seeing higher level spellcasters in action. As players reached certain level milestones, their spell casts would gain additional/larger particle effects, so that even when casting the same spell as a level 1 character of the same class, theirs would look far more powerful and impressive.
Few games invest in this detail, choosing only to represent spell upgrades with increased damage. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm personally very bored with my level 80 warlock casting the same shadowbolts he was casting at level 1 (WoW). Its even more disappointing considering that particle systems are not particularly time-consuming or difficult to work with once implemented. I say this with a degree of experience as someone who worked extensively with the particle systems in Neverwinter Nights 2's toolkit, as well as Second Life.
Really, if all I cared about were the numbers, I'd play a pen and paper or MUD. Part of the attraction of MMORPGs is the added visual aspect, and I am very pleased to say that Ryzom embraces this by offering spells which have more and more impressive visuals every few ranks. But I digress...
With my goal in mind, I set out to find a suitable hunt, which at my skill meant the mektoub watering hole. For your viewing pleasure, I've provided a reference of precisely what a pack of grazing mektoubs looks like:
Adorable critters, aren't they?
No, not really. They are more akin to runaway trolleys of death. To be a successful hunter in Ryzom, you need to understand that no two species are alike, even ones of equivalent levels. Not only are there different behaviors in terms of aggressiveness or assists, but there are also differences in health, armor, damage, resistances, and pretty much everything else you can think of. The offset to this is that because experience gains are determined by the amount of damage dealt leading up to a creature's death, those that take longer to kill also award more experience than less sturdy critters. As for Mektoubs? Well, they have a lot of health, they deal a lot of damage, and what else? I'll let you guess. Here's a hint: mektoubs are the mount of choice for the homins of Atys.
This means that they run very fast.
You can see how that might be problematic for a mage.
After suffering a few deaths, I decided that the Mektoubs may not be the best hunt for me, and set out to find a new camp. After wandering for a short while, I came upon a small hovel inhabited by a pack of yubos. Yubos are Ryzom's equivalent to the giant rats of EverQuest or the leets of Anarchy Online. Though like any creature on Atys they cover a wide range of levels, these adorable little scamps are the first creatures new homins will encounter, and boy do they have personality!
Just about every creature in Ryzom has a wide variety of animations to accompany their diverse behaviors. If you happen to notice something coming towards you with an eye icon (which identifies that the creature is targeting you) next to its name, don't run away just yet (unless you know it wants to take a bite out of you!). If it isn't a predator or assisting one of its siblings, chances are its just checking you out. Stand around for awhile and observe it; most creatures will show their curiosity by sniffing you or some other subtle animation. In the case of yubos, it isn't uncommon for one to urinate on your foot before scampering away.
Probably to tell all of his adorable forest friends not to mess with his newly-marked territory.
Perhaps its because of this behavior that I didn't feel quite so guilty as I unleashed a storm of acid spells on every living thing in the immediate vicinity.
A plan which in retrospect may not have been so wise. You see, I wasn't the only thing interested in collecting yubo meat today. I was given my first taste of Ryzom's predator-prey interactions when I realized that I was encroaching on the hunting grounds of some prime javings - javings being nasty aerial creatures that have a habit of disarming your weapons, which in Ryzom means manually re-equipping afterwards.
Although difficult, the javings also proved to be a worthwhile hunt, and I spent the next hour cautiously hunting both yubo and javing, occasionally having to make a quick escape during moments of carelessness, when the javings would ambush me with a re-pop. Despite this challenge, I was able to reach my goal for the day, and it was around this time that I noticed my regional chat tab had a new message.
To my surprise, there was actually another homin inhabiting that area of the jungle! Even more surprising was that he was asking about me. I'm not sure if that was due to having read my blog or guide, or just having seen me on /who, but we got to talking and eventually I was invited to work on my defensive magic by healing this strange new homin.
Returning to Zora, I met up with the first player I would see since leaving the Ruins of Silan:
Ghuiss suggested we make our way to an area of the jungle known as the Void. Not being familiar at all with anything beyond my current region and eager to see new things, I happily agreed to go wherever he wanted and do my duty of pretending I could do meaningful healing with my low ranking spells. With our plan in mind, the two of us set off for our destination.
I would like to say that our journey was one of beautiful vistas and exotic creatures, and to a certain extent it was...but rather than a gorgeous sunset that screamed "adventure", Atys felt it more appropriate to throw a raging storm our way. Not that there's anything wrong with a good storm, in fact Ryzom features some of the most impressive weather I've seen in any game.
Unfortunately the screenshot cannot do justice to just how intense these storms can feel. Not only does the sky become dark and littered with lightning, nor does the rain come in a torrential downpour, but the game has the added element of the wind, which is often left out in rendered storms. Particularly with less sturdy flora like palm trees, the game creates a sense of strong wind by causing leaves to blow violently and tree trunks to bend ominously. Really impressive stuff, and I'm excited to see what winter brings.
Before settling on our hunt, my companion led me down into the Prime Roots, deep below the bark of Atys. The Prime Roots are, admittedly, something of an obsession for me. Ever since seeing initial screenshots back when I started following the game in 2003, I knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time there. You see, bioluminescence is something of an obsession of mine and well...
Disappointingly we didn't travel any deeper than the entrance, but that is likely for the best, as everything I've been told speaks of the Prime Roots as a highly dangerous region that challenges even the most experienced players. True though that may be, all I see through that cave is a forest of lights amidst infinite darkness, and I want to see more. Some day...some day...
Returning to the surface, we began our hunt. For the most part Ghuiss did all the hard work while I stood back spamming a heal that barely moved his health bar, but I like to pretend I was useful. While I might not have gotten the sense that I was highly contributing, I did get to see something I've been waiting for: one of the advanced elemental spells available to higher skilled offensive magicians. In particular, electricity.
Again this is the sort of thing that must be seen in action to truly appreciate, but ah well...perhaps one of these days I will get around to making clips to accompany my entries?
After some time practicing my skills with healing, my companion and I bid our farewells and he left to turn in for the night. I however still had plans. Having not had the chance to do so earlier, I returned to Zora to train my coveted new spells. Excited to see the improved effects, I began to test them out on the creatures just outside the city gates when it hit me - my magic amplifiers were too low to benefit these spells!
For those who haven't yet read my guide, magic amplifiers are the weapons equipped by mages in Ryzom. While they don't have any damage properties on their own, they help to focus spells by decreasing casting times and improving power. Due to the nuances in crafting, amplifiers come with varying degrees of benefits for the varying types of spells (some amplifiers may have better bonuses for healing magic than they do for nuking).
Needing to find a new pair, I did the first thing I could think of by going back to my knowledge of the game from 2004, and visited the weapons merchant. I was a bit surprised when I found that there were no players selling goods through him, and he was only selling basic quality NPC weapons. Knowing that without effective amplifiers soloing would be out of the question for me, I turned to the Universe channel and asked for anyone available to craft a set. Tyneetryk was quick to respond, and she was soon in Zora with a newly crafted pair of higher quality amplifiers to help me on my way.
I spoke with her for awhile afterwards, learning that the reason for the lack of player sales on vendors was due to the community's attitude towards equipment. According to her, because the only real non-player generated expenses in the game are teleportation pacts, mounts, and other relatively cheap and/or frivolous things, there isn't so much emphasis placed on the trade of currency. Particularly because these expenses can be funded by selling excess goods directly to NPCs. Instead players work to help each other simply for the sake of doing so; although as I understand it there is a degree of guild and faction loyalty later in the game, which is to be expected.
I have to admit this was refreshing to hear, having returned to other older games in the past only to find that the economy had inflated to ridiculous proportions that new players can not hope to accommodate. While it does add a degree of reliance upon socialization and the good will of other players, I feel that this attitude from the community is healthy for the game, and helps to introduce new players to the interdependence that the game revolves around early on. While not being able to obtain a necessary upgrade to use higher abilities so readily may mean the game is less "pick up and go", Ryzom doesn't really seem to be about rushing your way to anything anyway, and so the types of players that the game would retain shouldn't find this to be detrimental.
New amplifiers in (or perhaps over) hand, I returned to the yubos from earlier to put my new skills to the test. As I worked my way towards higher magical proficiency, I noticed the universe channel growing active with questions from newer players. Not wanting to shy from the commitment I've made to help the game grow, I got involved in helping them get situated, and in the process learned that some had already read my guide or blog and been encouraged to pick up the game in doing so.
Thanks to you guys for that. I really mean it, it's encouraging to know that there are people already getting things out of what I'm trying to do. Remember you're always welcome to shoot me a PM or in-game mail if you've got any questions!
The discussions in the universe channel also led me to begin talking with another more experienced player, who ultimately came out to my little hunting camp, intent on teaching me how to more effectively hunt as a magician.
Frivolous was kind enough to teach me about the advanced behaviors of certain creatures on the mainland. In particular she introduced me to the methods used in identifying which plants are safe to attack, versus which will be assisted by friends. This was particularly important as a character attacking from range, as plants are immobile and will often trade their damaging attacks for spells to root you in place. Not only does this mean I take less damage overall, but less interrupts as well, making plants far more efficient targets than fauna.
She also introduced me to what seem to be the primary catalysts for the game's faction war, coincidentally known as catalysts. When activated, catalysts provide double experience gains for skills up to a level matching the quality of the catalyst. Unlike experience buffs that last for a limited duration, catalysts are consumed on each kill depending on the amount of experience gained. This reduces the pressure to grind as fast as possible for the duration of a buff, which is a nice touch.
As I understand it, these catalysts are produced by outposts, which are controlled by guilds loyal to either the Karavan or Kami faction. Outpost control is determined by PvP, and I'm sure I'll come to understand the system in more detail as I experience the game further.
All in all, today was highly productive, and was my first introduction to the veteran community of Ryzom as well as some of the advanced systems of the game. It was great to have my initial concerns of the game being sparsely populated put at ease, and to witness first-hand just how friendly, courteous, and helpful members of the community can be...though I've been told that the Kami/Karavan conflict can be fairly bitter.
My interest in the game only deepens as I get to experience more. Recent releases have all been about presenting a glorified version of the gameplay during the starting levels, only to end up with shallow and redundant gameplay later on. Ryzom is different in that it presents the basics of the game from the very beginning as they are, and only serves to grow deeper and more challenging as characters grow.
This is the first night in half a decade where I truly anticipate the next time I log on to a game.