Sword of the New World’s Multi-Character Control (MCC) system sets it apart from other massively multiplayer online games in a number of ways: firstly, a player must learn how to use his or her characters as a single unit, forgoing solo levelling in order to develop each family member’s individual skill set. This reliance on multiple characters allows for a unique approach to level design resulting in a complex and rewarding gaming experience. The Nocturnal Sonata patch (currently in its third stage) sought to add a whole new dimension to the game with new maps, a handful of unique player characters, and a host of new monsters.
One of the most important aspects of the online game is maintaining game balance, a concept concerned with eliminating overpowered players and opponents, and ensuring that the game is fair and accessible to everybody. The Nocturnal Sonata patch generated a great deal of controversy regarding several changes to the game's mechanics, not the least of which was an increased difficulty level in the low-level areas. It is these issues and their prescribed solutions that I intend to cover in this article:
The ‘Elite Mob’ Dilemma.
Prior to the Nocturnal Sonata patch, elite monsters provided the player with an occasional, but ultimately winnable, situation that rewarded their efforts with additional drops and a handful of extra experience points. These larger, more powerful mobs spawn in much the same way as ordinary opponents, but their increased aggression and hit points were enough to take even the strongest players by surprise. Fortunately, any pioneer worth his salt was unlikely to be swayed from his cause by an elite Box Octopus or Brown Buffalo.
The decision to even out the ratio of standard to elite mobs in the low-level areas (Al Quelt Moreza, Tetra Ruins, and Porto Bello) was met with a degree of concern by the active community. Players who had once breezed through the hordes of Phobitans in the Tetra Ruins found themselves fighting for their lives against gangs of elite monsters. Many players felt that the increased difficulty in these areas was detrimental to the balance of the game as a whole and sought to have the feature removed. For a number of weeks after the release of Nocturnal Sonata, the main forum was inundated with petitions and complaints from disgruntled players unable to survive in their favourite areas. A solution was forthcoming however, as the Sword of the New World development team had already engineered a novel solution to the problem: Ancestral Equipment.
A New Arsenal
Ancestral Equipment, while far from being a new addition to the game, has only recently become available to the entire player base free of charge. Requiring only a supply of ‘polish’ to craft, this new arsenal provides the player with a whole range of sub-elite weaponry and armour with which to defeat their foes. In addition, ancestral equipment can be enchanted at a one hundred percent success rate ensuring that the pioneers of Granado Espada are well equipped for the dangers of the New World.
Polish has become a staple reward for the vast majority of story quests (along with experience cards and menial amounts of Vis) and any player who had completed said quests prior to the release of Nocturnal Sonata was gifted quantities of polish proportional to their progress through the game. These items, when given to the ancestral support soldiers standing on the periphery of the main towns, allow a player to equip their team with spears, shields, rifles, coats and many other items that will resist replacement for up to twenty levels.
Veteran polish (for characters over level 100) are much more difficult to obtain and often require participation in arduous quests that pit the player against dangerous monsters. The ancestral support soldiers waive their generosity when dealing with veterans and will ask for a payment of five Mysterious Powders in order to polish the item in question. Considering that standard veteran equipment is notoriously expensive in Sword of the New World (often running into the tens of millions of Vis), a few premium items is a small price to pay for quality equipment.
To help pioneers contend with the newly-abundant elite mobs, special employment offices were opened up in the city of Reboldoeux and in the Port of Coimbra. The soldiers within these back-street buildings offer pioneers the chance to gain a few experience cards and a handful of small jewels by eradicating large numbers of elite monsters from the Al Quelt Moreza, Tetra and Porto Bello areas. While the rewards on offer are small, a player can gain a great deal of confidence through contending with the more powerful monsters.
In addition, new pioneering memorials have been added to the Joaquin, Toubkal, Bahamar, Ustiur and Katovic regions. These new memorials give high-level and veteran players a chance to gain experience cards for dispatching a few hundred monsters.
The polish items have helped to reduce the likelihood of overpowered characters by ensuring that everybody has access to the same type of equipment, and while many players will still strive to obtain the more expensive elite items it is reassuring to see that a great deal has been done to keep the game’s balance intact.
The release of Nocturnal Sonata continues throughout August and into September 2008.