Tuesday, August 2, 2022

That's A New One On Me: Noah's Heart First Impressions #2

I am itching to play and post about Noah's Heart so much it's ridiculous, particularly since I don't even think the game's all that great. I mean, it's good. I'm definitely not saying it isn't good. It's very good. It's just nowhere near earthshattering or mould-breaking enough to explain or justify the attention I want to give it. 

In that way, it reminds me very much of Chimeraland, which I also felt like playing and posting about obsessively earlier in the year. It shouldn't be all that surprising. There are some very significant similarities between the two games. 

They both feature absolutely vast, open worlds, filled with strange creatures and spectacular landscapes but perhaps more importantly they both have an overwhelming number of systems and mechanics and processes with which to get to grips. A frankly insane number in the case of Noah's Heart.

That's almost certainly the key to it.  Excess. But also explanation. 

Both games managed to grab me at the outset in no small part by means of an extended tutorial process that effectively lasts for the entire leveling curve. At no point that I've reached in either game do the tutorial steps stop coming or the rewards for engaging with them stop flowing. It's addictive.

This Teletubby wannabe explains something early in the game.
What it is, I've already forgotten.

I used to have some fairly fixed views on tutorials in mmorpgs. I regarded them, at best, as a necessary evil. Granted, there's always a need to demonstrate and explain the basics to genuine newcomers and individual games need to elaborate on how they may differ from the conventions of the genre, but my take was always "Who the hell wants to play a pretend version of the game to learn all that? Just let me figure it out for myself in the damn game proper ffs!"

That, though, was in the days when instanced tutorials taking place outside the game itself were in vogue. You'd play through a zone or two, follow a storyline, meet a bunch of NPCs who'd tell you stuff and then BOOM! You were kicked out of the pocket dimension/asteroid/space station/island/underground facility/slave ship/mine (All actual tutorials I have endured.) into the gamespace where you'd spend the rest of your days, never, ever to return.

It seems those days are over and good riddance, I say. Most new mmorpgs I've played in recent times have gone back to the much older type of tutorial, where you start in the same world you're going to level up in and learn everything you need to know, in context, as you get to it. The big difference from the old days seems to be the way the learning process has been integrated not only into the leveling process itself but also into the main plotline. 

Not that long ago it was quite common to hear people questioning the fundemental purpose of levels and the levelling process in a maturing genre, whose central focus always appeared to be the endgame. I think we have an answer to that question, finally. Levelling is the extended tutorial.

Good News! There's Housing! Bad news! You have to get to Level 43 before it unlocks. Worse news! It takes two real-life days after that until you get the key.

It's a change that works especially well for me, since learning new things is perhaps my second-biggest motivation in trying different mmorpgs (After seeing new things, of course.)  The problem is, I still tend to lose interest as the cap approaches. Just because I enjoy learning what to do and how to do it doesn't mean I enjoy practicing it until I can do it in my sleep, so I can go on doing it forever. 

That's just the same problem with mmorpg endgames I've always had, though. At least this way I get to enjoy the part of the game I do like in something recogniseably close to the way I used to experience it fifteen or twenty years ago.

As this series of posts about Noah's Heart develops, I'm sure I'll end up talking about some of its myriad systems in detail but for now I'm barely capable of remembering what they all are. There are so many I'd struggle even to list them, let alone describe them or explain how they work or what they do. I would need to make notes as I played to have any hope at all.

For once, I have done just that, although not for the systems or mechanics as a whole. I started jotting down notes about the ones that struck me as entirely or mostly unfamiliar. I'm not saying everything in the following list is unique to Noah's Heart but it's all stuff I can't recall having seen before.

Why would you run around in here? Do you like bruises?

DMs from NPCs

I've known a few games that used the chat function to send in-character messages to the player but Noah's Heart takes it to a whole new level. It's also a feature that isn't covered by the tutorial, or at least hasn't been yet and my character dinged 45 last night so I'm a fair way up the level ladder. I believe the current cap is 68. (Also a first.)

I was looking at the chat box, for some reason, when I noticed I seemed to have a DM in the Friends tab. Since I'd never spoken to anyone in game and didn't know anyone who was playing, I guessed it would be some kind of RMT or bot message but out of curiosity I checked it anyway.

It was one of my Phantoms sending a message to my character. So far, so not that unusual. The rabbit hole opened when I saw the NPC was clearly expecting a reply. I clicked on the relevant spot and the two imaginary characters proceeded to have a lengthy, personal conversation with each other. As the player, my only role seemed to be clicking "send" when each of them was done typing. And yes, it literally did put up the "... is typing..." message so familiar from chat clients like Discord as we went along. I found it disorienting but in a good way.

Boys don't wear bunny ears. Or I missed a click. The latter, I think.

Inner Personality

Remember I commented on the old-school nature of Noah's Heart's gender selection in Character Creation? Premature!

It turns out whatever gender you pick, your character has the opposite gender as their "Inner Personality". There's a separate appearance tab for each of them and you can swap gender at will. Still a way off full representation but it feels like a nod in the right direction.

Not sure what I'm supposed to wear for that.

Weather Reports

All mmorpgs have weather. Some have weather that changes. To my knowledge, only this one has weather reports exactly like you'd get on Weather Underground. Okay, not that detailed. Maybe like your local news station. 

As someone who has not one but two weather apps running at all times and who checks them hourly, I count this as a major innovation for the genre. I wonder if it's one hundred per cent accurate? That would be unrealistic but then there is magic in the world, so maybe not.

Ship and Train Schedules

There's nothing new about public transport in games and it's reasonably common for some NPC to stand around 24/7 just in case anyone needs to know if the boat/train has just left. (Let's not kid ourselves. It's always "just left".) Noah's Heart has actual, printed times, albeit only for the next arrival or departure. I'd be more impressed if it was for the whole day but it's a start.

The Mayor of Ruritania called. He wants his hat back.

 Knocking on Doors

As an innovation, the last one was a bit of a stretch. I think maybe FFXIV has transport timetables. I'm fairly sure I'm on safe ground with this one, though. Have you ever seen your mmorpg character stop and knock on a door before going in? I thought not. I'm damn sure I haven't.

Walking in Houses

No, it's not the Noah's Heart version of EVE Online's controversial Walking in Stations. It's a lot cooler than that! After you've knocked on the door and zoned inside (Because buildings are separate instances.) your character stops running and starts walking. It's so simple and yet so effective in changing the dynamic. 

You can toggle it off in options but why would you? Indoor walking is the default and so it darn well should be! No running in the corridors!

On a related topic, while not an original idea, Noah's Heart also has what may be the one of the best sitting-on-seats mechanics in the genre. You can sit on anything that's meant to be sat on and it always looks natural.

If you look in the dictionary under "Accident waiting to happen", this is the picture you see.

Action Photography

Most newer mmorpgs, particularly the Eastern ones, come with a suite of selfie, postcard and screenshot options. Some I've seen are quite a bit more sophisticated than the ones in Noah's Heart but all the ones I can think of require you to stand still when you pose. 

Noah's Heart allows you to take selfies on the move. It's a great option for action shots of your character on horseback, galloping down a mountainside, which is what I was doing when I discovered it.

I'm sure there are plenty more oddities and idiosyncracies I've yet to find but those will do for now. I've scratched my posting itch; now I'm going to play.

I've got my notebook to hand. I think I'm going to need it.


  1. Okay, I laughed at "The Mayor of Ruritania called. He wants his hat back." I'm not sure whether I'm more amused by pulling out The Prisoner of Zenda reference or that it was just so on the nose it was uncanny.

    1. I'd love to say I actually remembered Ruritania originated in the Prisoner of Zenda but actually I just know it as shorthand for those kinds of places where the officials take themselves ludicrously seriously and dress to make sure everyone knows just how important they are.

  2. I've heard some really shaky things about Noah's Heart, so I'm glad to read your impressions on it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. My overriding impression is that Noah's Heart had come out before Genshin Impact everyone would have been a lot more impressed with it than they probably are. It's slick and polished but GI was and is pretty much state-of-the-art so anything that comes along behind is bound to look a little ricketty in comparison.

      For me, though, the huge difference is that the controls in NH are much, much closer to traditional tab-target mmorpgs than the action controls of GI or indeed Chimeraland, which makes playing it a much more natural fit for me.

  3. I really like that your character has an inner self and outer self - and that the player can swap into either one! I'm nonbinary and use they/them, so the ability to swap from one gender to the other feels like representation to me.


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