Friday, July 29, 2022

Noah's Heart: First Impressions

Noah's Heart is a brand-new, open world mmorpg, developed and published for Android, iOS and Windows by Archosaur Games, best known (If at all.) for Dragon Raja. It uses Unreal Engine 4 and has server clusters in the EU and North America.

The game launched on mobile only in Europe a couple of weeks ago and globally on all platforms yesterday. It uses a free-to-play payment model and currently ranks #2 in the Free Role Playing category on the Google Play Store and #4 in Role Playing on the Apple Store, with ratings of 4.6/5 on both.

I've played the PC version for a little over three hours, including pre-launch character creation. My character is Level 31and some way into Chapter Two of the main storyline. These are my early impressions: 

It's good. I like it. 

Oh, you want more? Okay. 

It's hella similar to Genshin Impact, for a start. Remember when it came out and everyone went "Wow! That really raises the bar"?  We were right. GI went on to make an absolute fortune and it's clearly the benchmark now for any developer hoping to be taken seriously in the all-platform-F2P-Open World-RPG stakes. That's something we should all celebrate.

That said, Noah's Heart isn't as instantly impressive as Genshin Impact and not only because it didn't come first. The aesthetic, while delightful, is less well-defined and the graphics, while gorgeous, aren't as sharp. 

Whether the world is as deep and fascinating, it's a little too early for me to judge, not least because at Level 31 I've seen barely any of it. The world is, presumably, vast. A tool tip on a loading screen mentioned eight continents and hundreds of islands. So far, all I've seen is some random countryside, a city and the inside of several very small instances.

I'm coming for you, Heidi!

The reason for that is the story, not that it's especially compelling, thrilling or even interesting. It's definitely not. So far, it's very much a by-the-numbers anime mmo plot, involving the usual princes, kings, charming rogues, handsome officers and an unfeasible number of very young women in unsuitable outfits running every which way whenever you turn around.

The dialog is nothing out of the ordinary, either. I've played quite a few imported titles where I got the strong impression the writing would have been laugh-out-loud funny in the original language. I doubt that's the case here although the translation is just shaky enough cast some doubt. 

I ought to make it clear at this point, in case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with my established perspective, that I tend to think of shaky translations as a feature not a bug. The nuances of language exposed that way are endlessly fascinating. 

You don't get out much, do you?

I'd take just about any limping, broken-backed attempt at rendering one culture's demotic take on familiar fantasy tropes into the vernacular of another over the dull, plodding, worthy Heroic Prose of many a game's native English text. Your mileage, as they may or may not say in Seoul, may vary.

By similar inductive reasoning, I also have considerable time for voice actors who give oddly-inflected line readings, which is just as well. I'd rate the voice acting in Noah's Heart as competent at best, pedestrian for the most part and occasionally downright peculiar. 

At one point I was all but convinced one of the NPCs was being voiced by some kind of text-to-speech app, the inflections were so robotic. Then, in the next scene, the same character began speaking with recognizeable and appropriate emotional emphasis. Did the director have a word with him or did someone tweak the settings on the AI? We'll never know.

Ya think?


If the plot isn't anything special and the acting isn't either, why have I done virtually nothing other than follow the storyline for the whole three hours I've been playing? Oh, several reasons...

  1. There's one holy heck of a lot of it.
  2. It's relentless.
  3. Seriously, it never stops.
  4. And its all cut scenes.
  5. So. Many. Cut scenes.

Even so. Surely I could have just ignored it and done my own thing? Well, yes I could. There's nothing to stop you doing that, if you want. Only I didn't want.

Drama! Excitement! Threat! I was there! (Watching)

The fault is entirely my own. I feel quite guilty about it. In former days, I would never have allowed a game to direct me so forcefully. I'd have veered off the intended path and made my own way, ignoring the story altogether if need be. 

In those days, though, there wasn't a single button that played the game for you. In Noah's Heart there is and I love it.

I've always apreciated mmorpgs with an autoplay function. Who wants to find their own way to anything, amiright? I mean, you guys have satnavs, don't you? The problem with automated questing systems tends to be that they only do half the job. They run you to where you have to be next but then they leave you to do all the work. 

Noah's Heart has possibly the best autoquesting I've seen. I've used it for the whole questline so far and it hasn't made me irritable once. All I do is click on the quest in the onscreen quest tracker and my character trots to the next NPC and opens the dialog window. If there are teleports to take, she takes them. If it's a long way, she summons her horse, jumps on and rides. 

Speaking of horses, whoever came up with those names deserves a raise. Either that or they need to go back on their meds. I'm not sure which.

It's slick, smooth and strangely soothing to watch. Let's be honest, it's fricken' addictive. Given the extreme quantity of cut scenes and the paucity of combat quests, it feels less like playing a game and more like watching a somewhat shambolic anime - from the inside!

Sometimes you even get to "control" the characters within the cut-scenes, something I can't recall ever doing before. There was one part where my character and three of her pals had escaped captivity and were running through a castle courtyard and a button popped up on screen for me to press so each of them in turn could somersault over a barrel or slide under a haywagon. 

It felt like we'd segued into some sort of make-your-own-movie game and, honestly, it worked really well. I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd declined to press the button at the appropriate moment but it never even occcured to me to find out. I was sufficiently invested to want everyone to get away, which I guess means the story's better than I thought it was.

Although who I'm supposed to attack in here escapes me.

Mention of on-screen buttons brings me on to the UI and the control system. It's good, or at least it's good for me. 

In these days of center-screen targeting and action controls, new mmorpgs where you can do everything with the mouse are hard to come by. Noah's Heart is one of those, not because Archosaur has gone full WoW-style for the PC release (Although it does have tab tagetting.) but because all they've really done is kept the mobile controls and mapped them to the keyboard as an option.

There are large circles or icons for all the relevant actions on screen in the lower right corner, where your thumb would go on a tablet or phone. They're all neatly labelled and swap themselves in and out according to context. 

If you play by keyboard you might find the key choices a little weird. I know I've never seen K and J as primary and secondary attack before. They're all remappable, though, and you can just click the on-screen buttons with the mouse pointer if you prefer - which I very much do.

Every instance boss takes a moment to pose for photos just before the fight begins.

As a result, I was not only able to win every fight in every storyline instance so far, I was able to do it while meeting all the requirements for all the bonuses. Such a thing may never have happened before, although it may also be because the fights so far have all been incredibly easy, even the bosses. The bonus criteria specify "No more than two heavy injuries" (Or something like that. It means getting knocked out after losing all your HP, I think.) but so far I've yet to go under about 90% health at any point.

I seem to remember Genshin Impact was also easy at the early stages but that's presumably to boil the frog. Like GI, Noah's Heart is a gacha game, where the company hopes to make a fortune by leading you into a debt spiral of purchases, in this case of "Phantoms", the collectable NPCs who fight alongside you. 

Unlike Genshin Impact, however, so far there's been very little combat at all. The whole "kill ten rats" part of the package seems to be entirely absent. I've barely seen an attackable mob outside of the storyline instances, far less been sent to kill one. Even inside the instances there have only been one or two groups of enemies, easily disposed of, before the boss.

One of the very, very few mobs I've had to kill for a quest.

Presumably things will get harder - much harder - as the game progresses, although I kind of hope not. It's been a charmingly laid-back experience so far and I'm in no hurry for that to end. 

This First Impressions post is going to stop now, though. Not because I don't have anything more to say - I have plenty. Barely scratched the surface! I'm just going to save it all for Blaugust, which starts on Monday. New games always give me a ton of ideas for things to write about so the timing couldn't be better. 

With luck, Noah's Heart might last me all month. I played Genshin Impact longer than that and this feels like a rerun. Or maybe a cover version. And I do love my covers.

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