Monday, November 14, 2022

The Never-Ending Advent Calendar That Is Noah's Heart

Back when I began posting about Noah's Heart, right after the global rollout at the end of July, I talked a lot about how little of the game I understood. It wasn't a problem. I enjoyed waking up in the dark and groping my way towards the light. It gave me the chance to learn new things and learning is always fun. 

In one early post I wrote "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 also noted "With luck, Noah's Heart might last me all month." So far it's lasted sixteen weeks and there's no sign of it stopping. You'd think by now I'd be pretty much up to speed with all those systems and mechanics, right?

Yeah, well, I'm not. Not even close. Despite the game's thorough and detailed tutorial and exemplary in-game explanatory notes, even now I feel there's probably more I don't understand than I do. With that in mind, I thought for a moment I might try for the improbable and list the full range of systems, complete with explanatory notes. 

Then I thought about it again and decided I wouldn't. It was a wise choice.

Instead, I thought I'd just skip through the opening screens, the ones I see every day when I log in for the first time, describing the various options that appear before I even get into the game proper, just to give an impression of the levels of complexity and engagement the game demands. That wouldn't take too long, surely?

There's the very first screen that appears after the server connection is established. Looks simple enough, doesn't it? So simple, I've never really looked at it closely before. 

Now that I do, I realise I have no clear idea what either "Current EXP" or "Active EXP" mean.  My character is some way into Level 87, where she's racked up 3074087/4200000 so this must be something different. I'm thinking "Current EXP" is just the generic header for the two items next on the list, Active EXP and Fatigue but honestly I'm not even sure of that.

I do know I get Active Experience points from doing Daily Activities but those, as indicated, are the ones with a maximum value of 200 points per day. I had no idea there was another tally running that capped at 480000 and I have no clue what it could be. 

As for the Today's Activity listings, of which there's just a smallish subset on show (And I have no idea if the selection indicates anything specific.) I make sure to max those daily because they give solid rewards and I need those Activity Points to trigger another set of rewards that fuel the narrative Seasons. It's painless enough; they're mostly things I would be doing anyway.

As you may have spotted, I skipped over Fatigue. Fatigue is a resource that gets mentioned periodically in the game. It's a requirement to do certain things but what those things might be I couldn't tell you without looking it up. 

Whatever they are, it doesn't look like I'm doing them because as the screenshot makes plain, I have Fatigue to spare. Literally. 2715/960, to be exact. How I acquired a surplus or what having more Fatigue than the apparent max implies, once again, I couldn't hope to explain.

We're already getting into deep water and we haven't gotten past the Welcome screen yet! It's a screen I barely glance at most days, anyway. I just click that "Return" arrow in the bottom right, at which point the giant envelope you see above appears in front of me.

This is a relatively recent innovation. It's been around for a few weeks. I think. Actually, now I try and remember, I can't recall exactly when I first saw it. 

I do know what it's supposed to be; it's a letter from Ave. Ave is the one Phantom who seems to have some idea who my character might be (The PC has amnesia because of course they do. It's an mmorpg, isn't it?) Ave is also the Phantom who gives the PC a "Mirror", a piece of arcane tech that looks suspiciously like a mobile phone and which acts as a kind of portal to many of the major mechanics and systems in the game. 

It's what I consider to be an admirably creative, lore-appropriate re-purposing of a function lesser creative teams would happily palm off to the Escape menu. Noah's Heart is very good at that sort of thing.

One of the most endearing aspects of the game for me, for example, and a contributory factor to why I've stuck with it this long, is the way all the Phantoms act like imaginary friends, sending in-game mail and having conversations with my character, both sides of which are fully scripted. It's like your toys came to life - and not in a stabby way. 

Opening Ave's letter reveals

Where to begin? 99Letter means nothing to me. It can't surely be the 99th letter she's sent me, can it? That would be almost as long as I've been playing and I could have sworn I didn't start getting them for several weeks. I could be wrong about that, though. In fact, I probably am.

The date and the weather are straightforward enough. Noah's Heart has a more than averagely complex weather system that includes weather forecasts and some interactive elements, so I guess it's something worth mentioning when you write. I know I always do the same when I email someone but then Mrs Bhagpuss would say I was obsessed with the weather. Does say, actually.

The greeting, "Dear Adventurer" seems oddly impersonal. The game routinely interpolates the player character's name into quest text and NPC dialog and Ave regularly talks to me directly, so you'd think she'd be a bit less formal when she writes.

As far as I can tell, the whole "fortune-telling" bit is pure flavor and I've been largely ignoring it but as I think about it now, I'm wondering if it might actually reflect things I've done in the game recently. Yesterday I did make and place a new piece of furniture in my house. I also acquired the dye I needed to finish making the outfit from the pattern Charlie gave me, which, of course, I immediately set as my new look.

That does seem suspiciously relevant to the two entries flagged "Appropriate", although it's an odd fortune that tells you your past. I'll have to read these more carefully from now on and see if there's a pattern. As for the "Avoid" message, I have absolutely no clue what Ave's talking about. No, really!

Finally, along the bottom are the "Accumulated Rewards", each with a description giving what appears to be a label number. Not the faintest clue what that implies. As for "Today's Attachment", I believe that's the two items you can see overlaying the Starlight Guide at the top of the image; one is 90000 gold, the other... I have no idea what that is.

So much for the letter itself. Down the left of the screen you can see four subsections: Welfare, On Sale, Event and War Order. Each of those opens a menu, the one displayed in the shot being "Welfare". Each of the items in those menus opens another window, which may or may not then offer even more options. I'd go through them all but we'd be here all day.

Instead, I'll give you a count. Twenty-four. Two dozen subsections, branching directly from the initial four. Fortunately, everything that's immediately relevant is highlighted by a red dot. I like the red dots. They mean I don't have to think too hard.

As you can see from the shot, I have three highlighted items listed under Welfare: Noah's Heart Carnival, Treasure Bay and Push Pack. As you can also see, the Midday and Evening benefits listed under Gulf Stream Tea House, each of which provides 50 Fatigue, are both flagged "Not the time yet".  

Even if it were the time, I'd get a message telling me I couldn't use them, because as we've already established, I am about as far from being fatigued as its possible to be. I have never once been able to claim a free welfare meal since the game began. Whether that means I'm doing something right or something wrong I couldn't say.

How about the Noah's Heart Carnival, then? That sounds like it ought to be fun. And it is, in a way, but really it's more a record of fun I've already had. It's a list of some things you can do each day to earn rewards, in addition to the regular dialies and weeklies. I never make any effort to chase these additional targets but I often end up completing most of them anyway just by playing normally.

Then there's Treasure Bay. Treasure Bay is a currency exchange. You can spend one in-game currency, Diamonds, to buy another, Gold. I always have more gold than diamonds so I just take my free gift of 30,000 gold every day and move on.

Lastly, Push Pack; even though it's always highlighted, I never click this one. It refers to something you can do on a mobile device. Noah's Heart is cross-platform so if I had a device that would run it I could log my account in there and claim whatever it is you get. I don't so I can't and I probably wouldn't bother anyway. 

I'll skip over the other three main options. (On Sale,  Event and War Order, in case you'd forgotten.) This is already running long. Just take it on trust they're full of more buttons to click to get free stuff and things to go and do to get even more free stuff.

With all that out of the way, finally we get to the actual game screen, which, as you can see, is yet another nest of icons and red blobs. It's at this point the futility of trying to explain the systems and mechanics of Noah's Heart in a single blog post becomes impossible to ignore.

I did a quick count of the actions available through the various windows and menus that open from the twenty or so icons in the image above. It comes to more than a hundred and fifty. Luckily, most of them don't require much more from me than that I notice the red dot, click on it and click again on whatever it points to.

That's simple enough and, to me at least, entertaining. I like clicking things to get stuff and in Noah's Heart there's rarely a click that doesn't come with a reward of some sort. Where things start to get tricky is in the systems and mechanics that require I make a choice. 

Pretty much everything that affects character progression, team-building and generally playing the game as a game requires both thought and knowledge. It's not a lucky dip where every dip's a win. You can't just blithely click away any more - or I guess you could but you'd come to regret it later.

Maybe another time I'll attempt to explain, to myself as much as anyone else, exactly how some of those systems work. Before I do that, though, I'm going to have to find out. 

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

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