In 2004 the MMORPG genre saw a revolution; a golden year of hope and glory; conventions were redefined and adventures started afresh in lands unexplored and wild. In this orgy of online role-playing newness two figures cut a strong impression, sadly neither were the game of topic; EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft fought for our attention and all those in their bloody path perished to obscurity. Six years on we catch up with the woefully ignored Ryzom to examine the game in its current state.
Due to numerous reasons, Ryzom has had somewhat of troubled life span. Throughout its six years it has seen several houses of ownership, a name change and also a prolonged closure. In short, Ryzom is like child of divorce; neglected but tragically full of dreams and aspirations of a better time. Naturally when it comes to taking a second glance at this game, one cannot help but feel a little apprehensive. While the Blizzards and SOEs of this world may not be celebrated and popular in their ethics, there is something in their hugeness that creates a feeling of safety and warmth; while playing Ryzom you can't help but feel that the shaky fabric of the game world may slip away forever at any moment. The games turbulent history can only inspire a sense of uncertainty in any loyalties you may impact on it and while it is stable for now you cannot lose that resounding feeling that you may just be wasting your time on a game that could slip into silent death at any point.
Surprisingly with these concerns stated, Ryzom is a game so charming and unique that it becomes impossible not to enjoy and with great sandbox game play it is one of those oh-so-rare hidden gems of the MMORPG genre. Of course Ryzom has its faults and the low population only projects the worries stated previously, however if you can ignore this, Ryzom is one to try, now to dive even deeper.
Old Beauty, Phwoar
Of course as this game is of an older generation it would be unfair to simply dismiss the game on the grounds of outdated visuals, but Ryzom still packs a little graphical flare and beauty for a game of six years. Ryzom has a unique charm that is again presented through the visuals and the game world of Atys is a joy to behold at times as landscapes change from desert to tropical with great beauty and color. The art direction verges on flawless as the game becomes unlike anything you have played before, the world flows effortlessly from one temperate to another and it really can leave the player in a state of awe at the time and care obviously gone into crafting such a playing terrain. As the game is of a certain age it is ultimately pleasantly surprising to find such visual appeal and truly disconcerting when compared to the somewhat lackluster imagination of some of the newer games on the market.
Alas with every compliment must come a criticism and while the environmental detail of Ryzom is great, the character design is regretfully dull. Players are given the choice of four races and while they are adequate- the races are simply boring and inferior to the landscape in which they exist. Character models too look wooden and while this is a sign of the game;s age, you can't help but crave a little something extra. Overall the graphical experience of Ryzom is somewhat of a mixed bag but honestly I can say the game has aged gracefully with one or two exceptions.
Plumbing The Depths
Ryzom is ultimately a sandbox style affair with almost no linearity and with as much creative freedom afforded to a player this side of Eve Online. Ryzom takes a very unique approach to its class and level system in the way that there really aren't definitive classes as such and levels are achieved in specific skills- of which there are hundreds to choose from, ranging from archery to flame magic. To the freeform player, Ryzom is a very exciting prospect as the game allows you to mix and match might and magic and crafting in any which way you see fit. Ryzom's approach to leveling is a little different to anything you may have played before; the mindless slaughter of beasts to achieve experience is accompanied by a rather creative method of allocating said experience to whichever skill was used to emerge victorious. It is simple and yet rather ingenious in its madness, the mindless grind is replaced by a form of micromanagement and in effect, an illusion of choice. To further this individual trend, when a character progresses so far within a certain skill level, they are awarded with points which can be spent on a number of different skills which adds another layer of choice as well as character progression.
The game's approach to the level system is perhaps both its greatest achievement and greatest flaw in that it really offers a truly pure non linear game but also leaves you inevitably and ironically directionless. Being able to advance in any direction at any point is a great idea and works for the most part but at times you can't help but feel that certain skill progression is a little worthless in that everyone can do it and there will be no real individuality. Ultimately the results of Ryzom's level system simply refer back to preordained roles of Tank, Healer and Support and while it is nice to be able to play around the class as you see fit, there seems little point as only a certain specific character progression model is wanted and desirable to the player.