Monday, June 1, 2020

Four Years Later: AQ3D

According to Steam, the last time I played AdventureQuest 3D was back in 2016. It was also the last time I wrote about it here.

That's perhaps surprising, given the highly complimentary things I had to say about the game. It was in beta back then but I was already impressed. I liked the combat animations ("fluid and satisfying") and the UI (slick and extremely easy to use").

The overall feel of the game, particularly the writing, appealed to me: ("The whole game has an off-kilter, meta feel to it, a kind of post-post-modern sub-ironic knowing-yet-innocent stance that reminds me somewhat of Project: Gorgon."). I concluded my First Impressions piece, saying "I enjoyed it" and promising to "play more and write more."

That promise was, technically, kept when I posted about the game again a couple of weeks later. By then I had identified what appeared to be a problem, : "...the extreme dichotomy between what the game looks like it's going to be and what it is. It looks like a cheerful, cartoon-colorful knockabout MMO aimed at a younger-than-average audience. You come to it expecting a light-hearted, unchallenging romp and you get something that plays like EQ circa 1999. Only more so."

Back then, AQ3D had one of the most ferocious xp curves I'd ever encountered at the starting levels of an MMORPG. It took me two hours to get - barely - to level three. The game was also hard. I died many times on that epic journey from character creation to the starting zone.

Still, I was optimistic: "It has a great feel, tons of personality, huge potential... there's nothing very much wrong here that can't be fixed with some tuning, tweaking and a general reality check". My feeling was it needed a little longer in the oven: "The game probably could use at least the rest of the year in Closed Beta".

I think, back in 2016, we hadn't fully acclimatized to online gaming's new normal. I feared for the reviews if the game declared itself ready too soon. Four years later AQ3D is still in Early Access and my concerns that "Once it goes to Open Beta... that verdict could be as harsh on the game-makers as the game itself is on the players." appear hopelessly naive.

AQ3D currently enjoys a 76% "Mostly Positive" rating on Steam from over five thousand reviews. Its recent review rating is even better, 87% "Very Positive" from just under a hundred and fifty satisfied new customers.

I'm not surprised. This isn't the post I meant to write today. I had other plans. I'm writing this because somehow I ended up playing Adventure Quest 3D for much of the day.

I have the game bookmarked and I occasionally take a quick look to see what's new. I clicked on the link this morning, while I was waiting for something else to load, and I happened to see a news item about dungeons getting an auto-level feature, meaning they could be soloed. That sounded interesting and I'd been meaning to take another look at the game for... well, for years.

I dug up my old login details, patched up (it took about a minute and a half - Steam has been dutifully updating everything even though I never play), and logged in my one and only character, a level three warrior.

I clearly remember logging out four years ago in the main hub city, Battleon but the game wasn't having any of that. There's a new tutorial, it seems, vastly improved over the one I nitpicked back in closed beta, and I wasn't going to be allowed to skip it.

The new tutorial is every bit as peculiar as the original but infinitely slicker and far more amusing, featuring a personification of Death that owes no small debt to Terry Pratchett. I thought that was a fine idea, not because it's clever or original, which it profoundly is not, but because if you don't like pop culture references, pastiches and parodies this is very much not the game for you. It's best you see what you're letting yourself in for up front so you can bail if you don't like it.

From then onwards the gameplay is remarkably similar to how I remember it from four years ago, only now everything's on castors. If I had to pick one word it would be "slick".

The flow is just about perfect. So perfect, in fact, that when I thought to tab out and check the time so I could start on this post, I fouind I'd lost nearly two hours of my life. I thought I'd been playing for about ninety minutes. It had actually been three and a half hours. There's never really a moment when things stop. Everything leads into something else but it never feels forced or rushed.

Artix seem to have performed some kind of minor miracle on the xp curve. Looked at objectively it's still fairly slow by modern-day standards. In over three hours of continuous play, during which I was questing, killing and receiving experience non-stop, my character managed to progress from level three to level six.

That's not much in the way of progress but she did do it twice. There are regular levels and then there are class ranks. I started as a Level three character with Rank three in Warrior and ended rated six in both. The xp bars for each start in the middle of the screen and progress outwards to the left and right, which is a trick I've never seen before. I don't know if they fill out equally or at the same rate or from the same source. I was having too much fun to notice.

The thing is, it doesn't feel slow. Not at all. The sense of grind I remember from beta is gone. Time to kill is measured in seconds. A few seconds. Kill quests only ask for five or eight mobs. Mobs that drop quest items drop them every time. There's a quest tracker and a directional pointer so you can get to where you need to be without delay.

Gear rains down, although a lot of it is the same, over and over. I got several upgrades. Everything displays, too, so it's a perpetual fashion show. Crafting options appear early and seem useful. There's a linear storyline quest but also plenty of sidebars. Not just NPCs with problems for you to solve or the inevitable mission board but oddities in the landscape that lead into mini-dungeons or boss fights.

The game looks good. A little hypersaturated but I like that. It's cartoony in a brash way and someone is far, far too fond of the color orange. Nevertheless, Lore (that's the name of the world, because if AQ3D is anything, it's meta) feels like a place, somehow. It probably shouldn't but it does.

Since I spent so much longer playing than I planned this afternoon I'm going to cut this short. A first impressions of first impressions if you like. I can't see any reason why I wouldn't play more given how much fun I had but then I said something similar four years ago and look what happened.

I also said back then "My previous post on [AQ3D] drew fewer page views than just about anything I can remember writing; certainly fewer than any post this year". At the time the only people I'd heard mention the game were Syp and Kaozz. Syp still does post about it very occasionally. No-one else seems to remember it exists.

Anyone else want to admit to having played it? Or want to read about it? Not that I either need affirmation or take requests but it's always interesting to know.


  1. I want to read about it, I was thinking about giving it try for the last few days.
    Knowing you (or at least knowing your blog) I was totally expecting a post about an in-game concert:

    1. I did take a look at it while I was there, just briefly. I might do a post but the live event was a while ago now. It reminded me of the Charr band event in GW2 in that there are activities with character progression mechanics rather than it just being a virtual gig. That would be an interesting comparison although I doubt I'll find time for a post on it.


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