Monday, November 8, 2021

Will Play For Housing.

It was inevitable that, having announced in public I had no intention of playing it again, I wouldn't be able to go more than a few days without logging into Elyon for another look. In my defence, I did at least have a reason, if not an excuse. 

Somewhere along the way I'd picked up on the fact that Elyon has housing and I hate to miss out on any chance to contrast and compare the housing offer in a new game with those I've already seen. Who knows, the rest of the game might be mediocre but it could still have the best housing ever. Not likely, I know, but not impossible.

Before I logged in to find out for myself I did a smidgeon of research. There wasn't a lot of information to be found but I read a couple of guides. This one explains the basics in plain, straightforward fashion, while the more informative of the two, (although definitely not the more aesthetically pleasing) goes into greater detail on how it all works.

The aspect that particularly intrigued me was the combination of both instanced and open world housing in the same game. The choice between the two has been a contentious one as far back at least as Star Wars Galaxies and quite possibly all the way back to Ultima Online.  

I think this has to be the first time I've ever seen cow parsley in an mmorpg.

Open world housing has two major drawbacks. If you allow people to plonk down their bricks anywhere they like and build whatever they want (SWG, Landmark) there's the ever-present risk of urban blight. Not everyone's an architect. If you restrict home ownership to neighborhoods (FFXIV, Vanguard) you keep everything looking neat and tidy at the expense of splitting your playerbase into homeowners and homeless, thereby fueling discontent and elitism.

Even Vanguard, hard though it may be to believe, now the historical narrative of failure has been written, went through a stage when there weren't enough housing plots to meet demand. New islands had to be created to handle the overspill and to this day Final Fantasy XIV carries its costly, restrictive housing offer as a badge of shame in many players eyes. 

Three hours online or three hours offline?
I guess it's too late to ask that now.

Instanced housing, on the other hand, runs the risk of taking players out of the world into their own private silos. Reading up on Elyon's housing system, it seems the developers have chosen to run the two negatives headlong into each other in the hope of generating a positive. 

They've opted to lean into the elitism of limited availablity open-world housing while simultaneously falling back on the egalitarian principles of instanced accomodation for all. Everyone gets a free, instanced "Common House", which isn't just a minimal single room option but an actual house with grounds that can be decorated and upgraded. "Luxury Houses", dotted around the open world, are in limited supply, cost money both to buy and maintain and are lost if payments are missed.

Naturally, Luxury houses also come with a whole raft of perks and benefits, most of which revolve around crafting and production, two activities that, in Elyon, appear to be tied solidly to property ownership. Common housing provides the same or similar facilities but to an inferior degree.

If I sound vague it's because I have, as yet, no personal experience of either type. Before you can move into your free instanced home you have to reach the dizzying heights of Level 36.

That's really why I logged in today, to do my levels. I didn't think it would take long. One thing I neglected to mention in my first impressions of the tutorial post was the incredible speed at which my character progressed. It took about three-quarters of an hour to get to Level 21, at which point I stopped.

I mistakenly assumed that pace would continue. Okay, I expected it to slow down a bit but I figured if it had taken under an hour to get to twenty it would probably take no more than a couple of hours at most to get thirty-six.

In retrospect that wasn't very smart thinking. I've played enough mmorpgs to know how front-loaded levelling can be. Even so, I found the degree to which progress slowed after I left the official Tutorial a little disconcerting. 

Keep reading. It'll all make sense later.

The whole time I was playing today there was a spirited debate in General chat concerning the difficulty or lack thereof in the game. A new player, who had clearly downloaded and installed the game specifically to have some fun trolling the regulars, provoked a flurry of defensive but quite informative responses as people went into some detail about the Tutorial itself, the unofficial extended tutorial that follows, the "soft" and "hard" level caps and the rate of progress that could be expected.

Based on what I heard, the Tutorial effectively boosts you to Level 20, potentially in about ten minutes if you click through all the story without reading it. After that xp slows down to a more normal level until around Level 38 as you work through what is effectively an extended tutorial covering all of the many sysytems and mechanics in the game.

Real levelling doesn't start until the mid-30s and carries on to the soft cap of fifty. At that point your level stops going up but your character is only just getting started on the myriad of upgrades an improvelments required to render them acceptable for endgame activity.

It's a familiar set-up and I should really have seen it coming. Expecting to get another sixteen levels done in a one-hour GeForce Now session was wildly optimistic.

You know I'm not listening to a word you're saying, right?

That's not to say levelling speed slows to a crawl once you land on Spiketurtle Coast, the open world starting zone. In just under an hour of questing and killing I went from twenty-one to twenty-six. A level every ten minutes or so is hardly slow. It was just too slow to get a house in time to play around with it before I wrote this post.

I could have shelved the whole thing until I actually had some practical experience of how Elyon's housing works but where would be the fun in that? This way I get to stretch the topic into two posts. I'm going to call that a win.

I also get to make a few observations on Elyon's very low-level gameplay outside the tutorial itself, observations that might have been harsher had it not been for that chat troll and his mean-spirited sniping. Yes, as he was jeering, combat in the twenties is mindless. Yes, there is almost no possibility your character will get into any kind of difficulty, let alone die. I still have no idea what the death and revival mechanics in Elyon might be. I haven't died yet.

And yes, as the troll venomously put it, Elyon at these levels does feel like a walking and talking sim. Just about all I've done in the nearly two hours I've played so far, other than backpedal or circle-strafe while hammering left mouse, is trot from one NPC to another to listen to them talk.

As the higher-level players tried (Some patiently, some angrily, all pointlessly.) to explain to the troll, what do you expect from a tutorial? Do you want to die while you're being taught how the game works? Do you want to struggle before you even know what to do? Is that likely to make anyone want to carry on to see if it gets better?

According to those veterans, the game does become more challenging after the mid-30s and much more so after the soft cap at fifty. Once again, I doubt I'm going to get far enough to to test the truth of those assertions.

This is not my house. I wish it was. I love those windows.

I do want to get my house, though, because I like checking out all the various takes on mmorpg housing. Some of the most unlikely games - Twin Saga leaps immediately to mind - have really interesting houses.

I only need another ten levels. If the current levelling pace remains reasonably consistent I should be able to do it in a couple more sessions. And it's not as if the game is unpleasant to play. Unoriginal, uninspired, uninvolving, sure, but also comfortable, cosy and quite good fun.

There are some interim incentives on the way to home ownership, if I can only figure out what to do with them. So far I've been handed a glider (A wingsuit, technically.) a pet and a mount. None of them came with instructions.

I figured out how to glide but the pet, a cat (A cat character with a cat for a pet...that has potential.) only lasts a few hours and I'm not sure what it does so I don't know when to use it. I haven'y yet worked out how to equip or use the mount, some kind of hoverboard. Maybe there should be some kind of tutorial for the tutorial...

The main story quest trundles unimaginatively on. I was thinking as I played that someone has to write this stuff and someone has to translate it and someone has to do the voices. There are plenty of worse ways to make a living, I guess. It's a funny old world.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't following the plot, all the same. It may be the same plot as half a dozen other mmorpgs I've played but it has the advantage of being linear, comprehensible and rendered in good, clear English, three things you can't say about the narrative in every mmorpg.

If that's the official Quest Clerk uniform I'm tearing up my application.
The quests are perfunctory in the extreme, something that's made even harder to ignore by the employment of NPCs called "Quest Clerks" who act as aggregators for all the other local NPCs when they want something done. Instead of a forest of exclamation marks around each hub you just need to find the one person with a small green square hanging over their head.

At this point you might wonder what the difference would be between the Clerk and a simple noticeboard as seen in countless games, not least New World, which makes extensive use of such things. The answer, I think, is that Quest Clerks offer the same contextual background to every quest that a questgiver would, notionally provided in the form of an actual letter from the NPC in question. Noticeboards generally just give the basic task requirements. Also, the Clerks themselves have an contextual backstory of their own that explains their role.

Once again, someone had to write this stuff. It's a lot of work for a mechanic that I'm sure most players simply click through as fast as humanly possible without reading a single word. Or maybe I'm being too cynical. I mean, I read every quest I took, which was every quest there was. I skim-read them, sure, but I got the gist, at least, and I appreciated that someone had made the effort.

There was no practical need to pay attention to any of it, of course. Pretty much every quest could have been summarised as "There's an army of monsters ten meters past the edge of town. Mow them all down and if they drop anything, run over it." The mobs for the quests have green markers but since they're all crowded together with ones that don't and the ones that did but don't any more because you killed your ten already, there's not much point trying to discriminate. Just kill them all and let the Quest Clerk sort it out.

They even have the classic mission board in the game and they still don't use it!

Not that you have to go back for a hand-in. It all happens in situ as soon as you complete the requirements. There's even an auto-run function that takes you straight to the quest area but since, as I said, the quest area is everywhere that isn't the quest hub I didn't see much point in using it.

All of which makes it sound like a fairly dispiriting experience and I imagine it would be if it went on indefinitely. As I said, however, this is still the tutorial to all intents. I've certainly seen these things done better but I've also seen them done worse. 

Not a ringing endorsement, I realize, and if it weren't for the lure of housing I probably wouldn't be going back. Or maybe I would. Hard to say. It's a change of pace if nothing else. If I had to rate it, I'd say Elyon is solidly at the bottom of the list of new mmorpgs I've played this year, a long way behind New World, Bless Unleashed, Swords of Legends Online and Phantasy Star Online 2. It's still not bad, though.

I'm easily pleased, it seems. Better that than the other way around, I guess.

Next time I write about Elyon it should be to show off my new house. We'll see how long that takes. As for whether it will be the last time I write about the game, place your bets now. There's obviously no point asking me.

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