Saturday, June 12, 2021

Movin' Too Fast: PSO2:NG First Impressions Pt. 2.

When I came to look at the screenshots I'd taken for this, the second part of my Phantasy Star Online: New Genesis First Impressions post, I was a little taken aback to find how few there were to choose from. That could have meant one of two things: either I'd found the game so bland or downright unpleasant to look at I hadn't want to take any pictures or I'd been so engaged with what I was doing I hadn't thought to.

It was the second. PSO:NG isn't the most beautiful of games but it's definitely not an eyesore. The textures are a little strange, with that peculiarly scratchy feel that seems to be endemic to a certain kind of generic spaceworld setting but there's no shortage of striking views and spectacular scenery. 

I had plenty of time to appreciate that as I spent an hour or so exploring the hinterlands of the small central city. I was looking for things I could kill to grind a little xp. I'd stalled on the main quest sequence at a stage requiring a specific "Battle Power". That was literally the quest: "Achieve a Battle Power of 830 or greater".

I was already quite close. The obvious way to heave myself over the line seemed to be to level up. If I'd been able to find anything to kill it might have worked, too. Why I couldn't still puzzles me somewhat.

A handy pop-up appears every time you cross a zone line telling you what the new area is called and what Battle Power would be best to take on the challenges you might find there. The area immediately outside the city was flagged for BP 800. It sounded perfect. 

Shopkeep! Service!


It wasn't. All the mobs I could find were either Level 1 or Level 15. Absolutely nothing in between. At level five as I was, the low ones gave me almost no xp while the high ones killed me in a couple of hits. After I'd worked my way all around the city walls with no success I decided on a change of plan.

First I went shopping. I had a stroll around the city, looking at all the mechants. There were quite a few.

PSO2:NG has a penchant for interactions with NPCs for many of its systems and mechanics. Part of the tutorial introduces you to the game's method for upgrading weapons and armor. It's not crafting as such. I believe there is crafting in the game but no friendly NPC has popped up to tell me about it yet. 

The upgrade system involves merging similar items with the one you want to upgrade while using another item as a catalyst. To access the interface you need to go to an NPC. I had a few swords left over from the quest that explained the mechanic but I didn't think I had enough. I found a vendor who sold them and bought some more. While I was browsing I spotted a better sword than the one I was using so I bought that as well.

There was a small crowd at the stall where the NPC who ran the upgrade franchise was standing. I shouldered my way to the front and got to work. The first batch of swords didn't get me quite over the line but I threw in the one I had equipped, which I'd already upgraded for the tutorial. That did the trick.

It sounds fussy but I found it engaging. I don't know if later developments allow you to perform these kinds of operations through the UI but I kind of hope not. Going to a specific location in a city or outpost, be it an NPC or a crafting station, is something that eventually loses its appeal but in the early stages of learning a game I find it works well to create a bond between player and world.

Summer re-runs.

And it's quite a nice world, at least when the DOLLS aren't trying to blow it up. The small central city is a pleasant place to hang out between missions. I love the wall screens that show the opening cinematic from the game itself. That's a very clever touch. I stood and watched the whole thing play. It was a lot better without the music.

Ah, the music. Let's deal with that now the subject's come up. I rarely switch background music off completely in mmorpgs. I often turn it down so it really is in the background, where it ought to be but I still like to know it's there. 

Not so with PSO2:NG. I have heard plenty of worse tunes but few that distracted me as much. After the third or fourth time I found myself unable to concentrate even with the music turned down to a normal level, I turned it all the way down to not much more than a murmur. I doubt I'll be turning it back up.

Getting back to the city, I noticed an appealing bar with outdoor seating and plenty of benches. It's a shame there's no mechanic to let you sit down on any of them but that's something most developers don't see as a priority. 

The ability to sit on chairs is often touted as a sign a game wants to be thought of as roleplay-friendly. PSO2:NG doesn't immediately strike me as a game made with roleplayers in mind. Then again, it does have what feels like some solid lore behind it and the series has been running for a long time, so I'm probably talking through my hat here.

Oh, I wish I hadn't mentioned hats. I still haven't found a way to take mine off. I don't believe there is one. I'd re-roll but I'm not convinced this is a game I'll stick with long enough for it to matter. The reason for that is the combat. 

The only combat shot I was able to take and even then it's after the fight.


Not that the combat system is bad. It isn't, not at all. On the contrary, it's very good. Far too good for me. Even in the tutorial, fighting involves all kinds of special moves and extra key presses. When the game's trying to explain elemental weaknesses and specific location targeting at level five you know you're supposed to be taking the fighting seriously.

Combat training in mmorpgs tutorials is usually a formality. Hit this target dummy three times so we know you can tell which mouse button is which. Kill three goblins who probably couldn't beat you in an arm-wrestling contest if you took all of them on at once.

Not so here. I died several times in various combat trials during the tutorial. One instance went so badly I gave up and logged out - not in a fit of pique but because it was the only way I could find to reset the thing and start again. 

I had similar problems with some of the movement training. PSO2:NG is hyper-kinetic. You can run, glide, jump, double-jump, wall-jump... And you have to demonstrate your skills in all of them before the main quest will let you carry on. 

It took me a few tries to get a passing grade. The wall jump I found particularly challenging. It wasn't frustrating, though. It was fun. Part of the reason I spent so long running around the city was because I was experimenting with my movement skills and enjoying the freedom they afford.

There's even a side quest to climb to the top of a very high mountain. I took that and then wished I hadn't, at least for a while. But I persisted and eventually I found myself way up in the clouds with a solid sense of a job well done. It felt more somewhere between the sheer joy of climbing in Genshin Impact and the grim satisfaction of finishing a jumping puzzle in Guild Wars 2.

I've come across exotic movement and kinetic combat in other mmorpgs. The thing about PSO2:NG that makes it different is the way it rams both of them together. It took me a while to figure it out but the reason I couldn't kill some of the DOLLS I was faced with in missions turned out to be because I was naively determined to keep my feet on the ground.

Did they recast the Flash again?


Double-jumping and wall-jumping in combat seems to let you hang in the air for ages and ages. Fighting massive monsters involves using them like a springboard then pummeling them around the head and shoulders like a frenzied hawk. Or it does when I'm playing. Other times you need to be spinning them round and round so you can smack the weak spot in their back or running between their legs to stab them in the foot.

It's fast and furious and a lot of fun but it's also a lot of finger-work. I can handle it for a few minutes but the idea of keeping it up for a session is terrifying. And of course I ought also to be putting combos together and exploiting weaknesses and generally making good use of all my ever-growing bag of tricks.

That's not going to happen. I can barely hold my own with a big DOLL at level six. There's no hope of me being able to play the game at the higher levels, not even the easy solo stuff. Well, probably not. I guess I'll find out as I go along.

If I stick around, that is. I don't imagine I will. Compared to what seems to be expected of me here, other action-oriented games like Black Desert Online or Genshin Impact seem positively restful. 

My overriding first impression of PSO2:NG is that it's a strong, solid, entertaining game. It has excellent combat that I'm sure many people will absolutely love. Neither the graphics nor the story look set to win any awards for originality but the game looks good enough to justify spending long periods staring at it and it has a story that seems to be about as coherent and comprehensible as you'd expect. As an imported game, the translations are excellent and the voice acting (of which there doesn't seem to be all that much) is convincing. The UI is a little idiosyncratic but it works.

All in all I'd give it a solid B+ from the little sliver I've seen. As I said, I don't think it's really my sort of thing and I do have a lot of other mmorpgs to choose from, old and new, so I can't imagine I'll be devoting much time to this one. I'll probably give it a couple more goes then put it quietly away.

Don't let that put anyone else off, though. This is definitely the right game for someone. Just not for me.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know you had ever covered this. I was a huge fan of PSO back in the day. I played in on the Dreamcast, the Gamecube, and the PC. You can still play the PC version, Blue Burst, on a free shard (or at least you could a years ago). It's quite good. When PSo2 came out in Japan I would have been all over it. However, by the time they god around to porting it to the US I was hip deep in a different game, and I have never had a long enough gap in my dance card to make time for it.


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