Sunday, 22 January 2017

First Impressions : Revelation Online

Something no-one seems to mention about MMO blogging is the way it affects both your perception and your choices as you play. There's always a script running the background, prompting you to screenshot this or make a note of that, all with a view to posting about it later.

The upside is that every MMO, even the most generic, uninspiring knock-off becomes more interesting and rewarding than it has any right to be. The downside is that you rarely get to experience the pure, unadulterated immersive feeling of being lost in another reality.

When that does happen, when you forget about recording and reframing what you see and hear, when you lose yourself entirely in the moment and let the ocean of new possibilities sweep you up and away, that's when you know you've found something true, something that will last.

I think the last time that happened to me was in the beta weekends for GW2. In Revelation Online Closed Beta 3... not so much.


Which is not to say I didn't have a good time playing RO for several hours yesterday, or that I wasn't fully involved, intrigued, occupied and amused. All of those things but most of them as a blogger not a player.

Without any exaggeration I could get a week's worth of posts out of just those first two sessions - long, detailed posts, too. Every minute I was playing ideas were sparking off the screen - the similarities, the differences, the little twists and wriggles in the form. Almost nothing failed to remind me of something else. The entire game might as well exist as a primer for discussion of the genre.

I just mention that as context to the First Impressions Bullet Points that follow. And also as a warning. This could go long...


Character Creation

  • Sliders
RO has one of those immensely detailed character creators with sliders for everything from the size of your hands to the slope of your eyebrows. Unfortunately I couldn't find any way to zoom in on my character's face so all that detailing was completely wasted. I picked the stuff I could actually see - height, build, hairstyle - and left the rest at default.

The resulting character was pleasing enough if a tad bland. I wouldn't be happy with it long term but there will be a character wipe for Open Beta so it's a non-issue at the moment. There needs to be an obvious way to get close-ups of your character's face by then, though. I mean, I'm sure there's one now but the problem is that I couldn't find it and I've seen a  lot of  these systems...

  • Races
The other problem, about which nothing will ever be done, is the utter blandness of the "races" you can choose. You can be a human or a child-like human and that's that. Unlike Western MMO players, a significant subset of whom like to play non-human and even - *gasp* - ugly races, the Eastern market apparently demands humans, humans and more humans. RO doesn't even the usual option of "human with cute animal tail and/or fur" or "human with pointy elf ears".

  • Classes

 The game does a bit better when it comes to Classes. There are six - Blademaster, Vanguard, Swordmage, Occultist, Spiritshaper and Gunslinger. There's a decent explanation of what you might expect from each in terms of gameplay and there's also a difficulty rating.

I went with The Spiritshaper (Difficulty Rating 3* out of five, equal easiest with Gunslinger). It had possibly the most confusing description, which I think I may have misunderstood. I was expecting a pet class but although there is a tiny, floating creature that hangs around near your shoulder, that turns out be your "weapon" rather than a traditional pet that tanks for you.


UI and Controls

This is where I give RO a huge thumbs up. The UI is easy to follow and to alter and adjust. Yes, it's busy, with too many pop-ups, but I've seen a lot worse. Most impressively, the developers have chosen to do what I believe all developers should, namely offer a wide choice of controls to suit a wide range of tastes. As a traditional MMO player I strongly - very strongly - prefer traditional MMO controls. I like WASD movement, Hotbars and tab targeting.

As soon as you step out of character creation you're offered a choice - the system I prefer, the traditional Eastern "click to move" or the action MMO option with reticule targeting. I didn't try the latter options so I can't vouch for their implementation but the regular version, called "Keyboard Control" in the game, works perfectly.

Graphics 


This is a hard one. Having played a number of Eastern MMOs over the last few years there's a particular graphic quality I've come to recognize. I don't mean the settings or the environments or the architecture (although all of the usual cliffs, waterfalls, pagodas and flower fields are present as expected) so much as the textures and surfaces.

There's that odd flattening and stretching you never seem to see in Western MMOs, where surfaces close by seem to be almost featureless but scenery far away looks lush and detailed. As usual, screenshots of the game look very much more impressive than the same views seen from within the game itself. I found it somewhat jarring.

Before you arrive in the game world itself there's a really impressive intro in gorgeous pastel washes and that style continues for the inter-zone screens. If only the whole game looked like that. Most of the cut scenes use gameplay graphics but there are also some very unsettling variations which seem to use treated live action footage or something that at least suggests a form of realism that feels quite alien to the game you've been playing.

All in all a bit of a hotch-potch but generally pretty enough to make a favorable impression.

Gameplay

Where to start? Is there any? Perhaps it's a bit early to judge. After about three hours or so I hit level 21 but I'm not sure I've actually "played" the game yet. I've watched a lot of it being played by my character but I don't feel I had an awful lot to do with anything that happened.

I've played "on rails" Korean MMOs before but RO is on another level entirely. There is a single throughline Main Quest sequence that grabs you by the hand at level 1 and doesn't let you take a breath until you ding 20.


The game gets a huge plus from me for having no tutorial whatsoever - from the moment you begin you're in the full gameworld and every tip and explanation is integrated into the questline. On the other hand it never stops! I can't remember ever playing an MMO that felt so unrelenting, breathless, urgent, even when all I was doing was serving pies or raising a flag.

A lot of that was my fault. RO has the ever-popular Eastern option where you can click on a UI feature and have your character run to the next quest junction. It also pops up a clickable icon in the center of the screen whenever you need to speak with anyone or interact with anything. All of these automated systems work flawlessly, which means that you can play almost the entire game with nothing but the left mouse button. So I did.

Combat

The first twenty levels of Revelation Online features perhaps the least active combat I have ever seen in a mainstream MMO. There were long stretches, during which I leveled up several times, when I didn't have to fight anything at all. When I did it was mostly so the game could explain some mechanic or other - dodging, combos, special attacks - none of which was ever remotely necessary to defeat the incredibly weak opponents I was facing.


Eventually there were a few "proper" fights, including an all-combat instanced dungeon that the game confusingly insisted on calling a "Raid". At first I tried to follow the instructions, build my combos, dodge the red squares and circles, all the usual rigmarole. Then I realized I could just as easily stand still and drum my fingers on keys one to three and not just have the same effect but actually kill things faster!

There were a couple of "bosses" that I did dodge, although whether I needed to or not is another matter. I died once in twenty levels purely because I had misunderstood an instruction. A couple of times the game auto-defeated me so an NPC could leap in to save the day and move the plot forward but other than that nothing slowed me down or threatened me at all.

All of which means that at level 20 I have no more idea how to play my character than I did at the start. Leveling does change pace at 20 and there is now more combat but so far the fights aren't any harder. Presumably there comes a point when you do need to know what all the buttons do but I'm not there yet.



Gear and Progression

Another very big mark in RO's favor, from my perspective at least, is the relatively traditional approach it takes to weapons and armor. I'm almost certain there are some complex upgrading options I haven't been introduced to yet (Dulfy will tell you all about those) but so far it's been a straightforward case of get item, equip item, see item show up on your character.

  • Slots

The paper doll also has a regular number of gear slots - head, chest, hands, legs, feet, various jewellery - familiar from umpteen other MMOs. As for basic stats, there are only five, all with recognizable names and understandable explanations. I felt instinctively that I knew where I was with RO, which is something I never really felt with Blade and Soul or Black Desert, where appearance, stats and items all seemed to drift independently around each other in a rather awkward and unsatisfying gavotte.


There are also Appearance slots that seem to work just like the ones in EQ2. That's how come my character is wearing a cat on her head and comedy spectacles in the screenshot above. Trust me, those weren't even the silliest choices. I was very pleased to get them as quest rewards. That sort of stuff is too often kept for the cash shop. Why shouldn't tightwads look every bit as gormless as spendtrhifts?


  • Skills
 
As for progression there seem to be a lot of skill systems to work on. There are multiple UI windows with lots of tabs and skill trees, not a one of which I even begin to understand yet. From experience it generally takes me weeks of play to get the hang of things like that so they stand outside the scope of a first impressions piece.



  • Levels

Leveling speed is also hard to judge at this stage. I dinged Level 2 just from walking from spawn to the first NPC and it doesn't really slow down all that much for the first twenty levels. It's very fast indeed - much, much faster than any other triple-A import I've tried, including Blade and Soul. On the other hand, you could, and probably should, look at those twenty levels as an extended tutorial. There was a very noticeable step-change when I dinged 20 so I'm guessing it slows down a lot. Still fast compared to the traditional Western leveling pace though, I'd bet.

Movement and Transport



RO has been compared to Blade and Soul and having played it for a while it's very easy to see why. It looks quite a lot like it and the storyline is not dissimilar but the real clincher is the movement. There's all that jumping and rushing and gliding busywork that I got to be quite comfortable with in B&S, only here it seems perfunctory, bolted on.

I'm guessing that's because, unlike Blade and Soul, RO is an MMO that offers full, free flight (albeit with a stamina mechanic called, amusingly, "Levity"). You get to see yourself in wings in Character Creation and there's a point in the narrative when an NPC lends you his so you can have a bit of a fly about. It feels pretty good, too, although somewhat fiddly in places. At twenty-one my character still doesn't have a pair of wings to call her own, though, so how it feels to fly as a primary action I'm yet to discover.


At one point I acquired a horse, which increases ground speed as you'd expect, but once equipped my character seemed completely capable of deciding when to mount or dismount without my intervention so it became more of a visual representation of a speed buff than something I thought of as My Mount. Mostly, though, I just plodded along at normal speed because once you give yourself up to the auto-run function that's what it does. Boosting run speed or leaping about just tended to disrupt the flow so I didn't bother.

Story and Narrative



Storytelling is supposedly quest-driven but the "quests" are really little more than a means of getting you from one cut-scene to the next. I swear I have never watched so many cut scenes, read so much dialog and absorbed so many minor, pointless, trivial stories in such a concentrated timeframe in any MMO I have ever played. In RO the story literally never stops. On and on and on and on and on like the world's most relentless teen drama, all sibling rivalry, mysterious threats, unexpected reversals, hidden secrets...like every single other Korean MMO I have ever played, only on amphetamines.

  • Cut Scenes

The quality of the story and of the set pieces varies wildly. The scene where the main NPC and (probably) love interest makes his entrance is staggeringly overdone. He literally drops from the sky to a blaring pop-metal soundtrack that's insanely inappropriate and out of context, ending up with his face pressed flat on the floor and his body jacknifed in a supposedly comic pose that just looks ridiculous.

On the other hand, the whole strand featuring your character's short-tempered, somewhat arrogant friend and her diffident boyfriend has a nuance and gravitas I wasn't expecting. I found the cut scene with her on the cliff top surprisingly emotionally affecting, to the point where I won't describe that part of the plot in any detail in case it might spoil things for someone else.

One innovation I can't recall seeing elsewhere is a specific reward for watching cut scenes. If you make it to the end without clicking out you receive "Storyteller Favor" for being a good listener. I got a lot of points for that. No idea what they are for but I like the idea.

  • Translation

In common with most, although  not all, Eastern conversions the quality of the translations is, to put it politely, variable. I've noticed that quite a few imports begin with solid translations that then quicly diffuse and warp as the levels rise and that's exactly what happens here. By the time I'd left the starting village some of the NPCs were barely making sense.


Even at its best this is not one of those genuinely quirky, odd, amusing translations like Digimon Hunter or (according to Syp) Twin Saga. It's mostly bland although it does have the odd spark. As for the audio, there seems to have been little or no revoicing as yet. There isn't all that much speech but everything there is comes in Korean. More awkwardly so do some of the in-game help screens. That'll have to be fixed.

Final Thoughts

Lengthy though this post is it barely scratches the surface of all the things I might have considered or talked about. I found RO fascinating in the way it both closely resembles and significantly diverges from other MMOs I've played. I also feel that although I have a level 21 character currently camped out several zones on from the starting area, I know about as much about the game as I'd normally know by level five without leaving the starter village.

I need to make another character and play through at my pace rather than the hyperactive pace the game dictates if you allow it. I need to go off rails and play the explorer card. I know you can because, briefly, right at the start, I ran out of the village, climbed a cliff and dived into the sea, ending up somewhere seemingly impossible to reach. I couldn't get back other than by hitting the "I'm Stuck" button so the game definitely permits more freedom of action and movement than I've chosen to take advantage of so far.


There are also crafting, gathering and housing options that I haven't even found yet, along with some kind of (mandatory?) PvP. Which reminds me...this is an MMO, right? Because so far my experience is almost 100% that of playing a single-player RPG. If you're on the main questline, which I almost always was, the game hides all other players by default. I've barely seen anyone!

I can say with some certainty that Revelation Online is not going be my Next Big MMO. I doubt it will for anyone reading this, unlike Black Desert or even ArcheAge, both of which made a fair fist of drawing people in and holding them for months rather than hours. There is, however, plenty going on that deserves closer attention. It's not a once-and-done flyby either.


I'll probably keep my powder dry for Open Beta if only because progression is likely to be very linear and I doubt it will hold my attention for more than a couple of pass-throughs so I'd prefer to wait for a character that isn't going to be wiped.

It's a step up from Riders of Icarus, on a par with Blade and Soul, and definitely worth a look if you like this sort of thing. If you don't like this sort of thing though I wouldn't bother. It's not going to change your mind.

11 comments:

  1. "If you don't like this sort of thing though I wouldn't bother. It's not going to change your mind."

    Haha, yep, after reading your first impressions, I can't imagine myself making the effort to download this, there wasn't a single thing that made it sound even a little bit appealing. :-)

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    1. I play them so you don't have to!

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    2. I, on the other hand, got into the Chinese Open Beta of this. It was interesting, I went with the Black Scythe Lady class and you get wings at L30. It's a pretty world, well worth exploring, and maybe this release will let me know what the plot actually says :) I don't read a word of Chinese alas.

      Oh, your use of 'RO' as the initialisation keeps reminding me that Ragnarok Online got a mobile remake that's remarkably good (again, I'm in the Chinese Open Beta, but again I can't read anything) :)

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    3. Yes, I was wondering about "RO" as shorthand, too. I didn't think of Ragnarok Online but I have covered Regnum Online (aka Realms Online) here before and might do again and I already used RO for that. Might have to think of something else for Revelation.

      I also need to keep reminding myself that Revelation Online is a Chinese MMO not a Korean one...

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    4. Haha, I must agree with Carson. Have enjoyed reading your detailed overview, so now I know for sure that I don't have to check out this MMO myself. So thanks! :P

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  2. I think you made it sound pretty interesting, despite the drawbacks you found. It doesn't sound quite like anything I've played.
    The storylines sound as if they're aimed at a young audience, teens and maybe manga fans? It helps sometimes to know the intended audience. Then things make more sense.
    The movement sounded much like Black Desert, which I found to be pretty jarring, so I was careful not to trigger it.

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    1. Almost every Korean MMO I've played has the same storyline, pretty much. Your character is always an innocent student or junior in some organization; you always discover you have some secret power; there's always a young mentor and an older mentor, at least one of whom dies; there's always an older brother or sister or frenemy who teases you... it's like they work from a handbook. Black Desert is sort of an exception in that it's a lot looser and weirder but even there some of the tropes are in place. I bet it does reflect a particular type of anime but since I've only ever watched about three in my entire life I wouldn't know...

      I like the storytelling in general but often - mostly - the translation is so poor that whatever subtlety there may be in the original is lost. Either that or the translation is fluid and idiomatically sound but so surreal you suspect someone is having a laugh at the original writer's expense - Digimon Hunter is like that.

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  3. My code didn't work either, sadly I didn't check it straight away so didn't get in as planned this weekend. I'll wait until Open Beta or maybe even launch to try it though.

    It certainly does sound more appealing than I found Blade & Soul, I really disliked the gearing system in B&S. Also the option of WASD movement is great, I'm a bit tired of mouse-look MMOs at the moment, I want my keyboard strafing...

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    1. Yes, I can play mouse-look MMOs perfectly well but it gets so tiring after a while. That's my main objection.

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  4. You already got a cat hat after 20 levels - I may have to reconsider this! =P
    This is a great in-depth overview, I shall share some luv via twitter :)

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    1. Thanks! I think I got the hat at about level 12 - there was a choice of four and I remember one was a rabbit. Look pretty silly with a rabbit on my head, wouldn't I?

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