Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Art And Craft : Revelation Online

So, I poked around some more in Revelation Online this morning and I'm more confused than ever. A lot more. To the point where I'm starting to wonder if maybe something closer to a formal tutorial might not be a bad idea after all.

My plan was to try and find out something about crafting and gathering. I noticed one or two nodes while I was auto-running from quest to quest and something at some stage had prompted me to open the crafting window so I knew they both existed but that was the extent of my knowledge.

An hour later it's still the extent of my knowledge. I managed to find a vendor who sold gathering and crafting tools but they all required a level of skill I didn't have. What I couldn't track down was a trainer or a quest that might offer me the opportunity to pick a craft and raise that skill.

Work In Progress

Now, of course, I could have just tabbed out to Dulfy, who has, naturally, a detailed walk-through up already. When we hit Open Beta, assuming I decide to join in, that's exactly what I'll do. Or I could have used the extensive in-game guide...if I could read Mandarin (I'm guessing it's Mandarin...). Or I could click on the little helper icon that auto-tabs to the official website. Any of those.

For now, though, and since this is a Beta Test after all, I thought it might be instructive to try and figure out what was going on just from first principles. After all, how hard could it be?

Too hard for me, that's how hard. First attempt lasted around an hour. I rode my horse around the coastal town where I'd camped for the night in the vague hope there might be a trainer there. There was a "Title Manager", who claimed to be responsible for craft skills and sold the tools but she wouldn't talk to me, so I opened the map and clicked on an icon in the nearest large town.

So you say...

Couldn't find a trainer there, either, but I found the tool vendor again along with a host of other merchants and functionaries. There was also one of those player marketplaces familiar from much older Eastern MMOs, where everyone drops a personal NPC trader in a public square and clutters up the environment. Never liked those.

By this stage I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. I mouseovered all the icons along the bottom of the screen to see if one might be the crafting window, only to find that every one of them popped up a context menu with three-to-five more options.

Urban Blight

At this point I panicked and found myself clicking on the auto-complete for my main questline. Boom! Back on the story train!

A dizzying twenty minutes of clicking, autorunning, cut scenes, very brief scuffles and a truly incredible amount of utterly confusing backstory later and I was back where I started only five levels higher. Time to get a grip.

It's all gone sepia - must be a flashback.

My next bright idea was to open the map and mouse over the icons there. I was hoping to find craft trainers marked but I was out of luck. I did, however, spot the Inventory NPC. Revelation Online starts you out with a decent sized inventory and I'd already received three small extension backpacks for it from questing - two four slots and an eight slot.

Only the first expansion slot was freely available, though. The tooltips on the bags (everything in RO is extensively and helpfully tooltipped) suggested I needed some crafting mats to make the bags useable, which I could either buy or quest for at the Inventory Attendant - or "Banker" as we'd usually call her.

Are you saying I'm Johnny No Mates?

It's a somewhat convoluted way to increase your storage space but at least I could find the relevant NPC, I had the relevant bags and currency and she was willing to give me the quest. Which turned out to be "kill five deer". Why? You tell me. She certainly wasn't going to.

Autorun out of town, button mash five deer down, autorun back. One more bag slotted but I still had one left. So I asked her for another quest and she told me to make a friend. Come again?

Rare action shot!

It's a thing I've noticed in Eastern MMOs. There's usually a point where you have to make friends with a random stranger just to get some quest over with. Well, someone was standing there, minding his own business using the bank right next to me, so I clicked on him and friended him and he accepted and that was that done. Never spoke. I knew we wouldn't.

It completed the quest but it didn't get me the mats I needed to make the bag. I should have looked at the reward before I wasted a good friending. Never mind, I went off exploring the town, the name of which I forget but which is quite large, and somewhere among the scores of merchants, trainers, faction vendors and questgivers I ran across one who sold what I needed.

Pardon me? Is this the pink broccoli forest?

I'd about run out of steam at that point so I went and had lunch, went for a walk, got my hair cut. When I got back I gave looking for a crafting trainer another go. I didn't find one.

I did find a wild west town surrounded by giant mushrooms and populated by fox-racoons. I saw large and small bears operating heavy machinery, sometimes with their noses. I came across a Hot Springs spa resort staffed by fairies and goosestepping underwear models. I went on a long and wonderful night ride under the most spectacular sea of stars. And I took over seventy screenshots.

Backing away slowly.

I still have no idea how to begin gathering or crafting. I don't know how to get a house, moving or stationary. I blanch just looking at my multiple skill tree windows.

I'm also beginning to get the idea, having been turned away by NPC after NPC for not being Level 49, that maybe the entire game up to that level is the Tutorial. It probably needs to be.
The default option here is very much to sit back, left click and watch it all roll by, which makes the whole game seem ludicrously simple. The moment you stop and try to figure where you are and what to do next you realize it is, in fact, ludicrously complicated.

Night rider!

Revelation Online offers a hyperinflated version of what we saw a year ago in  Black Desert. It appears to have at least as many subsystems and mini-games, albeit nothing quite as unfamiliar as those which so confused BDO neophytes for the first few weeks. Both games have a number of odd, idiosyncratic systems and mechanics, all of which you probably will need to learn in detail eventually if you ever want to have any chance of holding your own in what are, in the end, MMOs predicated on player vs player competition.

In Black Desert, you can  (and many players do) postpone learning about any of them by choosing to follow the queasy promptings of the strange, demonic figure that joins you at the very start of the game. I never felt comfortable doing that, largely because of the openly weird suggestions made by the sentient, sibilant inkblot, which was probably the designer's intention.

I hope those are stars not nuclear fallout.

In RO, however, that unsettling doubt is replaced by a pat-on-the-head, doing the right thing feeling that glows warmly inside you as you obediently follow a never-ending series of neutral on-screen prompts. Doing so provides an equally endless dripfeed of dopamine hits as LEVEL UP! flashes across the screen over and over, which makes it a much harder path to step off. Nevertheless, step off you must, if you're going to have any clue what you are doing.

Blade and Soul, the third in this triptych of Eastern imports, also has a number of arcane and counter-intuitive mechanics but takes an entirely different approach. Absolutely everything there is presented in painstaking, sometimes excruciating detail. Quest after quest after quest bangs home the precise process of every system until you feel more as though you're revising for an exam than playing a video game.

Speak for yourself. I liked fox-racoon town better.

Of the three styles I think Black Desert comes out very much the winner. You get to learn just enough before you become overly suspicious of the black demon. Then you want to learn more but at your own pace. At which point it's off to the wiki for some serious research. I get the impression that the people behind BDO knew they were doing something at least somewhat original, whereas the developers of Revelation Online are, probably rightly, confident their core audience has already played many MMOs that work much the same way. (Blade and Soul, on the other hand, is a game by and for control freaks).

What all these MMOs have in common, I think, is an expectation that players will commit. Commit time, effort and energy. They have big, over-complicated mechanics and lots of them and most likely for a reason, that reason being money. I get the impression that life gets a deal less complicated if you don't mind opening your wallet at the cash store.

Is that a fish I see before me?

If you want do it on the cheap you need to be ready to put in the time, not just grinding but reading and learning. If that's something you enjoy then it could be a very good deal indeed.

Or you could just click through the story and watch the scenery go by. It's very pretty scenery.

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