Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Used MMO, One Previous Owner, Seeks Players : Argo

Massively, which can usually be relied upon for timely notice of new developments across the MMO genre, failed to register the arrival of the resurrected Argo into open beta. How such a momentous event could pass unnoticed beats me. I mean, it's not as though there was anything going on in the MMO world right now.

It would have been handy to have known the open beta was up since my closed beta application was unsuccessful. Well, I say unsuccessful. Hard to tell, really. I can't remember which of my throwaway email addresses I used to apply for it and it's a racing certainty I never checked that inbox again after the first couple of days. Anyway bridge, water, under it.

Registration was simple enough, just an email address required. The download took about 15 minutes. Unpacked, Argo weighs in at just under 5GB, which is pretty hefty for a F2P translation. The new owners, UserGames (did they really think that name through?), require GameGuard, an annoying extra step that my virus checker strongly disapproves of, so that took a while, but eventually there we were at character creation.

Why are you all staring at me like that?

Argo has a lot of classes. Sixteen, or so it's claimed. That might be stretching a point. There are two factions - the militaristic, technological Noblians (makes me think of knobbly knees every time I read it) and the collective of superannuated flower-children with the unpronounceable name, The Floresslah. The classes appear to duplicate for each faction although not exactly. You can only play one faction and I've only tried the Noblians so its hard to be sure just how closely a Handler matches a Tamer or a Bomber a Wizard.

Plenty of choice when it comes to class but none whatsoever when it comes to gender because Argo is one of those irritating MMOs that gender-locks classes. I started off making a Bomber but Bombers have to be boys and I was already mildly miffed that I had to be human so I swapped to Shooter instead. I do like these elegiac, imaginative class names. So much better than boring old Shadow Knights or Bloodmages.

I've always felt that what most MMOs lack is a good Instep slider

Next up character customization, which is a cut above the average for this stripe of MMO, I think. There are about ten or so faces to choose from, the difference between which mostly seems to be scars and tattooos, although some of the men get wispy little beards or mustaches that make them look even more like adolescents than they already do. Eye and hair color are unusual in that the choices are exactly the same and none of them are brown. Or black. Or indeed any natural shade that human hair has ever been. I went for white hair as the only quasi-authentic option. It also had the welcome side effect of making my character look vaguely like an adult.

There are plenty of sliders to get the body shape you'd prefer. It's possible to flaunt a bit of excess poundage, especially on the hips and waist, but obesity's not an option. Fair enough, I guess. There's a war on and you've been drafted so you'd be expected to keep in reasonable shape. You can have arms like twigs if you want though.

Gosh! A whole training area just for li'l ol' me?

Once all that's out of the way it's on to the real business at hand: another seemingly endless tutorial. I remember this from the last time I played Argo. There's a nice introduction where you arrive at the training camp on a hoverbike the size of a tractor and then it's time to get down to the serious business of running about following blue arrows.

There's a guy who pops up in a window to explain the arcane color-coding system Argo uses for quests and a whole lot more important technical information, such as how to open your inventory and what key opens the mini map (It's "M" in case you were wondering). All of this is fully voiced by someone who sounds like a natural English speaker and probably a professional voice actor at that.

Oh, go on then...
They must have spent most of the tutorial budget on him because they clearly didn't have
enough left to hire a professional translator for the multifarious dialog windows. In common with many MMOs, Argo is verbose in the extreme. No quest-giver or trainer wants to let you in on the secret of which particular set of foozles he'd like you to eliminate until you've been formally introduced and each of you has learned something about the others thoughts, beliefs, feelings and way of life. Since I'm almost pathologically incapable of skipping narrative or background lore this tends to slow things down a tad.

Now that's what I call a Crit!
Eventually I extricated myself from the conversation and set out to cull some Pantheras, panthers that have grown an extra vowel. These supposedly deadly cats, which have been hunting the loggers and making life generally impossible, mill around in clumps not ten yards from the camp. Far from being a danger to Noblians going about their workaday routine they seem to be about as threatening as so many oversized kittens but hey, I'm in the army now. I'm just following orders.

Or I would be if I had my rifle equipped. Take the mickey out of tutorials all you like but if the talking head doesn't remind you to open your inventory and equip your weapon what do you do? You bitter vets, you think you know it all. Well you know nothing, Noob!

Take two, with weapon in hand:  down goes the Panthera. Eventually. Only takes half a dozen shots with an assault rifle at point blank range. This Noblian tech is impressing me already. One Panthera down, four to go. It's at this point that I notice the pop up asking me if I'd prefer to have someone do my hunting for me. Probably saw me trying to kill a Panthera by pointing my finger and going "Bang!" and figured I needed any help I could get.

This is where I need a tutorial
This is a development I don't remember at all from my first go round with Argo. It's not just the old auto-run to target feature, either. No, it's something much more sophisticated than that, a fully-configurable macro for automated hunting. You can set all kinds of parameters - when you need to be healed, which items or consumables or abilities you want to use, the skills and combat abilities to employ, the range at which you consider something should be considered a target. You can even specify what kind of items you want to loot and what you'd rather leave on the ground.

I'm not opposed to these systems in principle. I quite like the idea of leaning back eating a
sandwich and watching my character slaughter wildlife  discriminately. Coming after the very first kill, however, I found it a bit intimidating. All those choices. I let the Automatic Hunting run me through my four remaining Pantheras just to see how it went and then I turned it off. Easier to do it myself until I have several hours free to work out the settings.

Just nod and smile
Thus passed my first hour or so back in Argo. By the time I found myself being stalked by another player (one of those really creepy ones who follows you around but never says anything) and decided to call it a wrap and go back to Tyria I was level four and still deep inside the tutorial. At least all the training is in-world. I could just take a sharp right and hack off into the jungle on my own but no, I'm under military discipline. I'll see my training through to the bitter end.

How much time I'll spend in the world of Argo after that I wouldn't like to say. Not all that much I imagine. It did, however, grab me on this return visit in exactly the same way it grabbed me the first time round. The translations may not be perfect but they're endearing. The graphics may be undercooked but there's a real sense of place. The systems may be ridiculously overcomplicated but they're manageable. The controls are natural and comfortable and there's just an amiable, puppylike feel to the entire enterprise that makes being in that world a warm, pleasant experience. When you're not being stalked, at least.

If UserGames can keep a server up I'll keep popping in, much good may it do them. They aren't going to get any money from me and I find it hard to believe they'll get much from anybody else, although there does now appear to be a Cash Shop, which I don't remember from last time. I wouldn't bet on a long, successful second life for Argo but here's hoping.

Now someone bring back NeoSteam.


  1. As pretty as that "Critical" is, anything that requires me to install a rootkit tool like Game Guard is right off my list. Besides, if they are going to include what looks like an automation interface as part of the game, a good chunk of what you would use Game Guard to prevent is right there in the game.

    Color me with a giant, shiny, green, "CONFUSED" over my head.

    1. I can only guess they're operating on the "if you can't beat 'em..." principle. It's not a game where logic plays any great part at the best of times.

  2. Auto hunting eh? Intriguing.

    1. I played a game with auto hunting (Jade Dynasty) but it seemed it only inspired developers to take an easy way when making the quests. They were quite repetitive (compared to other games) and I found myself having the Esper do everything so I didn't have to, even if I usually am not a person to throw hands in the air after finding I have to kill eleven or more rats instead of ten for whatever reason.

      I understand others' approaches may be different but when I find myself wanting a bot to play for me, I wonder whether I want to play at all.


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