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The Saga of Ryzom

September 12, 2004

As I've surely said before, Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs are addictive. I played Asheron's Call for 6 months some years ago and then decided that it took up too much of my time and quit. I came back to the game twice (once with the same characters, the second starting on a new server) and decided that I would never play an MMORPG again after the second time. The basis for this statement was that they took up too much of my time. Content in AC is updated monthly and new quests always pop up. Unfortunately, they're fairly biased towards the higher levels. In many ways, the point of my playing these games was to a top-player. The higher levels got to have all the fun and effect the storyline and so many other really neat things. If you couldn't do that, what was the point in playing? So I stopped since I never can find enough time to reach those goals.

Sometime in my last attempt to play AC, I realized that the best players devote their entire day to playing a game to be the best and I wasn't ever going to be willing to do that so I had to either be happy with my place as not-the-best or find a game that didn't require you to play 24/7. I still haven't found a game like that but I do think that people are getting closer and closer to those types of games and game mechanics are getting more realistic. This brings me to my real point...

I check the gamespot beta test page every once in a while to see the new MMORPGs that are testing and perhaps try one or two out. Months ago, I checked out an early beta of a game called The Saga of Ryzom. I got there right as they were going in to a period of focus beta from open beta which means that they were going to limit the amount of testers that they had from a previous pool of anyone that could run the game. I didn't get in to the open beta but the game itself looked pretty neat so I signed up for the newsletter. I got a few mails that I didn't read over the past few weeks because I was busy and didn't have time to explore a new game. Recently though, I've had a lot of free time and so I checked it out again. All of September was again open beta until they closed the servers on the 14th and released the game on the 16th (Europe) and 20th (US). I had to try it out for the same reason it caught my eye the first time - it's a game that was very nicely designed, UI and graphic-wise. Many games focus everything on a new system of gameplay and leave UI design and overall look-and-feel to the very end which often results in players being confused when they start the game.

I give the game a little leeway since it's still officially in beta (although it does release in 4 days) but it has it's rough spots. The initial setup of the game is easily the most difficult part of the process. Sure, the installation is easy enough but once you configure and startup the game, the troubles begin. Nevrax, the developers, are using their own open-source engine, NeL. This is the first game it's been used on and so there are the typical array of problems. Most notable are the issues with ATI graphics cards and routers. The ATI issue is a tough one to tackle since many people don't have the most recent drivers for their cards. Supposedly, the most recent ATI drivers work fine though. nVidia cards seem very well supported for this game although it will require a 64mb card just to reach the basic requirements. If you get this far, you might also have network problems. Many people have been having issues with server stalls and those issues tend to be tracked to an improperly configured router (linksys routers are the most common with the problem since they have bugs with UDP traffic if you're not running the most recent firmware). Finally, as with all new games and new game engines, you'll have your share of random errors that prevent the game from running at all and Ryzom has plenty of those. I can only say that I had an issue with these seemingly random errors and it resolved itself. I don't know why or how.

If you're past that ugly stage, you're in for a treat. Not only is this game one of the prettiest games that I've seen (in terms of spell animations, textures, etc) but it's functionality is amazingly fresh in a world where most MMORPGs are carbon copies of eachother. First, I'll impart a short story on you. I was outside a city trying to find somewhere to hunt and I was looking at the map ingame when a large creature came up behind my character and timidly examined me. This may seem really simple to most people but it was quite a shock for me because most games of this style have very specific interaction rules. Monsters are in the landscape and if you get near the easy ones, they won't attack unless attacked and if you get near the hard ones, they'll attack anything on sight. Ryzom improves on this in two ways; first, everything is not a monster. You won't see an enemy that looks like your typical monster until Fight or Magic 15 or so (I'll explain the level system in a moment). You're fighting mostly regular animals until higher levels. Second, the animals have behaviors that feel very natural. You'll see herds of animals that don't attack on sight. Some of them might even be interested enough to come over and check you out before returning to their herd. Others will run around or graze in the grass. A complex skill system is in place over a level system. It's use-based so that you can eventually master all skills but it would take a huge amount of use to do so. You start out with four basic masteries - fight, magic, harvest and craft. After you advance beyond skill 20 in fight, you can choose melee or ranged fight, after skill 50 in one of those two, you choose another path which is more and more specific. Fight and magic are pretty self-explanitory. Crafting takes raw materials and turns them in to items (armor, weapons). The economy is heavily based on crafting since crafted items can be enchanted with different effects and are often better than store-bought items. Store bought items are BORING. There are probably 30 different items in the armor and weapon stores total (per race) and they all have very basic qualities (quality is a number that an items stats are based off) and no magic properties. In the same way, crafters will always be busy because items degrade over time. Combine that with 4 different races where armor and weapons can be interchanged between races without penalty and you have a very interesting item economy.

I'll have a good time playing Ryzom beta for the next two days but as soon as beta's over, it's over for me. The game takes huge steps towards making a world that you can play in and contribute to without devoting your life to it but it's not there quite yet. Similarly, the critter mechanics in the game are well beyond anything I've seen but still have a long way to go. This game is barely on the shelves and I can't wait for the next game by Nevrax.

Nick O'Neill






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