Atlantica Online: First Look Preview
MMORPG.com Atlantica Online Correspondent Matt Plourde gives us this first look preview of the new strategy-based MMORPG from NDoors.
Strategy RPGs have always held a special place in my heart - Fantasy General on the PC and Shining Force on the SEGA Genesis being the first two games to really capture my attention in this genre. Traditionally a single player affair, these games have carved a niche market for themselves through the years. There have been a few attempts recently to bring the StratRPG to the MMO market, but these games have fallen short (in some significant ways) of their single-player ancestors.
If you are a StratRPG fan, Atlantica Online could be the best tactical online game you've never heard of. Available in the U.S. via NDoors Interactive, Atlantica Online is a free-to-play online game currently in open beta. They hope to get your money through microtransactions at NDoors' website (this feature is yet to be implemented).
After downloading and installing the game, you are presented with a standard MMOG character creation screen. You then select your main weapon from a list of nine choices (axe, sword, gun, staff, etc). Your choice of starting weapon defines what skills and equipment you can use. Choose a cannon (yes, there are cannons!), and you'll typically deal large area damage. Sword-users are tough tanks because they can equip shields. Wield a staff if you prefer to sit back and heal your team. Though Atlantica is not very deep when it comes to main character options, the ability to form and equip a unique team of mercenaries more than makes up for relatively static main characters.
Moving on to appearance options - there are a few faces and hairstyles, but that's pretty much it. Combined with the fact that you can only make a "human" character, the design options are indeed shallow. Expect to look like a typical anime hero in the beginning of the game - just like everybody else.
After character creation, your main character awakens in a dream world (or the afterlife - the backstory is light) and you are sent on some tutorial missions by angels with floaty breasts. My wife assures me that breasts cannot defy gravity without proper support, but what does she know about video game women anyway? We gamers grew up on impossible breasts...
Breasts aside, your first few quests take you through combat, travel, and hiring your first mercenaries (characters who permanently fight alongside your main character). The mercenary system is where Atlantica departs from the ancient MMORPG formula of one main character and real-time battles. In Atlantica, you can eventually control up to eight mercenaries plus your main character in a turn-based battle grid not much unlike Disciples for the PC or the Ogre Battle games.
Travel is the same as any other MMORPG - you move your avatar around a 3D landscape filled with mobs. However, the enemies don't "aggro" like other online games (unless you get really close) - instead, you click on them to initiate a fight. So, you may see an evil fairy floating along a hillside. Click on that fairy and you are transported to an instanced "battle board" with your characters on one side, and the enemy characters on the other side.
And battle is where this game shines.
You have a time limit to perform actions for all your characters, then the enemy performs all actions for their characters, and so on. For a turn-based game, Atlantica moves fast and furious. During your turn, your characters can attack the enemy, drink a potion, move to another spot in your formation, cast a spell (if they have the ability), or perform a special attack (differs for each character type). The controls are setup to allow you to perform any of these actions quickly, which is good considering you face a time limit. If that wasn't enough, you can team-up with up to two other players and the enemies may get reinforcements from other wandering mobs as well - for a maximum rumble of 27 on 27! With the smooth character animations, and colorful special attacks - a large fight is just as fun to watch as control (yes, you can observe other player's battles if you wish!).
To limit players from simply grinding up to 100th level (the current maximum), there is a "Stamina" system in place. Basically, after each battle, you lose 1 stamina point. Once your stamina reaches zero, you cannot initiate a fight. Stamina regenerates one point every ten minutes, and you start with 100.
Another limiting system in the game is Willpower. Once you travel to a location, you are allowed to teleport back to that location to make travel easier - much like Diablo II or Titan Quest on the PC. However, when you teleport, you use up some of your willpower and you must wait for it to regenerate over time. There are more game actions that require willpower (like teaching craft skills to other players), however travel is the most prominent.
The tactical options appear deep. You can hire many different mercenary types and customize them with skills and equipment as you travel the world. Much like Pox Nora (another online strategy game), your decisions on your party composition are just as important as your tactical decisions during combat. Want to try a party of all archers and pelt your enemies into submission? Go ahead!
After the first few quests, you are transported to a "high-fantasy" version of Earth where you select to start in Japan, Korea, or a few other places. There, you meet more women with floaty breasts and take on more quests designed to help you learn all the features of the game. The game is deep, and bravo to the developers for easing you into the pool. My only complaint about this alternate Earth is the size - I walked from South Korea to Beijing in about 2 minutes. Though travel and discovery are not a focus of Atlantica (see: Lord of the Rings Online), I think the game could benefit from a more "open" feel. As it is, players do congregate in certain areas and you may feel like you're on the NY Stock Exchange floor from time to time.
The graphics are on par with current free to play Asian titles, and the smooth animations do an excellent job representing your character's actions and special attacks. Enemies in all the newbie zones appear well animated and are quite gorgeous. I would have preferred to see a tad more enemy diversity in the starter zones, but it's not any worse than other mainstream MMORPG titles. Heck, I don't know why I'm complaining - any game that allows me to slaughter evil unicorns in the newbie area must be doing something right!
In the coming weeks, I'll dive into some of the more advanced game features such as the player economy, crafting, microtransactions, PvP, and guilds.
Though the game is in open beta, the developers have emphatically promised no more character wipes. So, what are you waiting for? Don your helm of tactical acumen and get your strategy on!