Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Water, Water, Everywhere: Atlas First Impressions, Part The Third.

Steam claims I have now played Atlas for six hours. It feels a lot longer than that. Probably because I've spent at least as long again writing about it.

Yesterday, once again, as soon as I'd finished recounting my previous day's exploits, I logged back in and knuckled down to getting the hell out of Freeport. Spoiler: this time I succeeded.

The big difference happened in my head. Instead of trying to tear through the minimum requirements at the fastest possible speed I sat back and thought about it. The problem was hides. Hides, skin, fur, fleece, whatever you call the coverings you strip off an animal.

Everything else you need to collect is incredibly easy. Punch a tree, you get wood and thatch. There are trees all over. Wave your hands at bushes or grass, you get fibre. No shortage of bushes and grass. Stones? Pick them up, that's what the beaches are made of. Flint? Punch a rock.

Wait, what? Punch a rock? Is that wise? Come to think of it, punch a tree?

Okay, you have stone, wood and fibre. Make a stone axe. Now you can chop wood by the cord. Make a stone pick. Now you can break rocks and get stone and flint by the ton. And your hands don't bleed.

You still don't have any hide, though, do you? That's because you can't just go up to an animal, wave your hands and have its fur magically fall into your pack. More's the pity. No, you have to punch it dead and no animal is going to stand still for that. They all either run away, a Benny Hill scenario that's not funny even once, or they fight back and mostly they win.

Oddly, my success at killing wildlife seemed to deteriorate as I ostensibly became more powerful. When I started and didn't know any better I won three consecutive fights with two pigs at once, wearing nothing but my underwear, hitting them with my bare hands. As I levelled up and began to make weapons and wear protective clothing, even a single pig got the better of me every time.

I am gradually revising my opinion of the visuals. They are better than I thought.

My problem, then, wasn't collecting resources per se. It was killing animals. In order to get the hides I had to fight. Every time I lost, any materials I'd gathered vanished into the void and I was back to square one.

As I was standing around by the docks, thinking about all this and wondering what to do about it, I noticed that the bay seemed remarkably full of craft. There were rafts, schooners and boats of various designs moored up and down the coast in all directions. Clearly not everyone was fleeing the starter area at the first opportunity - or if they were they were coming back.

Maybe I didn't need to rush so much after all. And what was that on those rafts? Boxes? Didn't I read something about storage that persisted after you died? And hadn't I already spent skill points opening some talent tree relating to furniture?

Ah, yes. Talent trees. I haven't really mentioned them, have I?

Atlas has a very extensive and intriguing progression system based around a multiplicity of talents. It does look fascinating. At the moment I'm pretty much picking things at random since you can respec at no cost. That's how I came to put points into building even though I had nowhere to live.

And how glad am I that I did! I opened my Inventory and browsed the Crafting panel. Yes! I can make storage boxes! A plan began to form...

If I made an axe I'd get hugely improved gains from skinning animals. If I could just kill one animal and skin it with an axe I'd have enough Hides for a raft. If I had a raft I could make a storage box and place it on the raft. If I had a raft with a storage box and I kept it moored at the dock in Freeport I could stash all my stuff before I tried to kill animals and then if I died I would still be in the same zone as my raft and my storage box and I wouldn't have to start from scratch.

Bed, boards and box.

So that's what I did. I very carefully and cautiously hunted down a single, low level pig with no friends. I'd made a spear to increase my damage and with that I managed to kill the pig. Then I skinned it with my axe, took the mats to the man, got my raft and named it and I was off and running.

The box was easy to make. Next I needed a bed so I could respawn on the raft after I travelled to the next zone. The bed needed more hide which meant more animal fights. Since it seemed next to impossible to find single animals near the dock I went exploring along the coast.

Within a few hundred yards the landscape changed completely. Whereas the coast to the left of the docks had been rocky and barren, to the right it was all forest glades and dappled sunlight. Quite gorgeous. And I had it all to myself.

I found a spot where animals wandered aimlessly around in typical MMO fashion. There were some sheep there. Sheep are famously non-aggressive, aren't they? Also they are fat and they run slowly. And what do you get from sheep? Fleece and lots of it.

That solved my Hide problem for the time being. Night was falling and the nagging prompt warned me I was getting cold so I headed back to my raft. I built myself a bed, lit a fire and waited for dawn.

While I waited I messed around with the options on the raft, the box and the bed to figure out how they worked and what they could do. I'd made Level 8 while I was preparing my escape and that's the cap for the starter zone. I had most of what I needed to survive the journey (although not, as I was going to find out, everything) so there didn't seem to be any reason to hang around.

This is all the fog I have cleared so far. This is one zone out of maybe a hundred. If you squint you can see my old raft.

I was curious to find out whether my original raft was still where I'd left it. It was still marked on the map. My plan was to sail the new raft to where the old one was and find out. That didn't happen due to circumstances beyond my control. Or at least beyond my ability to plan ahead.

As soon as it got light I unfurled the sails, spun the mast and set off at a fair clip. The raft is easy to steer once you get the hang of it and it seems fast enough until someone on a schooner cruises past you as though you were standing still.

When that happened I got a shock, not because of the relative differences in our speeds, which I expected, but because the guy on the boat yelled at me as he went by. Loudly. In real words that came out of my speakers. I had no idea voice chat was on by default. In the hours I'd been playing not one person had ever said anything out loud.

It was like one of those moments when you're walking along, minding your own business, and some yahoo yells at you out of the window of a speeding car. Exactly like that. Just as annoying. Just as disturbing. Fortunately at the speed he was going he was out of range before I could work out what he was saying. I'm sure it wasn't anything good.

The main reason I'm sure about that, other than his tone, is that I was playing a female character, alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean, wearing nothing but some skimpy underwear and a hankie on my head. I'd not gotten around to crafting any clothes before I left, having lost so many sets already and having gotten used to wandering about in my vest and shorts with no-one paying me the slightest interest.

Somehow I don't think he was yelling "Is there anything I can do to help, Miss?"

The unwanted attention made me aware for the first time almost since I began playing Atlas of how  my character actually looked. As well as the state of undress, my hair had grown out. Yes, really. When I made a quip about it two posts back I was entirely unaware it was a thing that could happen.

I have a number of screenshots now in which my character's hair is different lengths. The buzz cut has grown out and she now has wild curls down to the middle of her back. It also changes color, particularly when it gets wet.

Not only does her hair grow but she's getting older. I've been playing for six hours but my character, who was 20 when I started, is now 22. It tells you your age next to your paper doll. How the passage of two full years squares with the day-night cycle beats me, unless the Atlas planet has a year that lasts about a week. Also, what happens if you've played the same character for 60 hours rather than six? Do they die of old age?

I might have been worrying about that had I not been dying of heatstroke. There's no shade on a raft and I'd lit a fire when I set out because it was too cold. With all the distractions I hadn't noticed the sun was blazing down and I was in mortal danger of burning up.

I doused the fire but it was still way too hot. Luckily, by this stage I'd crossed the zone line and I could see land ahead. It didn't look like the same coastline where I'd made landfall last time but as well as heatstroke I was also now suffering from dehydration. The one thing I'd neglected before setting off was to craft and fill several waterskins.

It looked like it was going to be touch and go whether I'd get to shore before I died. I desperately wanted to get my raft securely anchored first but in the end I was in such a panic I just ran into a wharf, leapt off and swam ashore in search of fresh water.

The red mist descends. Slowly.

Jumping into the sea fixed my overheating issue but you can't drink seawater and survive. I ran around the inshore area looking for a river or a lake or a puddle but there was nothing. I did discover something as I choked to death: it takes a lot longer to die of thirst in Atlas than you'd expect. At one point I'd been on the verge of expiring for so long I was contemplating attacking a bear to get it over with.

Eventually the red mist closed in and I choked my last. This was the moment of truth. Would I find myself banished back to Freeport, in which case I'd be closing down the game for good, or would I be offered the choice of waking up in bed on my raft a few hundred feet away?

It was the bed! Praise be! I hit the respawn button and reappeared on my raft. Still no corpse, mind you. I guess I should have gone to look for it to see if it was still there, waiting to be looted, but I'd put everything of value in my locker anyway and I forgot.

Eeeickythump (great username!) left an extremely helpful comment on the last post that offers a workaround to losing everything when you die. So far I haven't seen so many people roaming about that I'd expect my dropped gear to get picked up by a passing stranger so it seems highly practical.

According to the in-game stats there were 71 people online with me when I logged out last night. Even if that means 71 in the zone I was in rather than the whole server it's hardly the advertised 40,000, is it? I have seen plenty of other players but only in the kind of numbers you see in the average not-too-busy MMO.

Six hours in I have enjoyed Atlas hugely so far but there are several reasons why I believe my interest won't be sustained. I probably have one more post about the game to conclude this series of First Impressions, after which I don't expect to be playing or writing about it for a while. I'm working the rest of this week so that post will probably have to wait until the weekend.

There's something to look forward to...or not.


  1. The fact your hair actually grows is the only thing I've heard about this game that makes it sound appealing. That's awesome.

    1. It took me by surprise when i realised what was happening, I can tell you! Now I need to find out if there's some way to get it cut again. Kind of makes a mockery of the choices in character creation, though.

  2. "Eeeickythump" is a Monty Python reference. I can't place exactly where, but having abused Python in my youth, I know it is in there somewhere. (Though it could be from Ripping Yarns, which was Palin and Jones and, as such, gets mixed in my brain with all things Python.)

    I know some people who have jumped into Atlas and seem to be running hot and cold on it, which leaves me wondering when and if to bother. I'm still plodding around Middle-earth at the moment though, so later is the most likely time frame.

    1. Ecky thump was (probably) coined by The Goodies, sometime associates of the Python crew. They used it as the name of a Northern Martial Art as well as an expression of dismay or surprise or anger or really any emotion at all. Jack White borrowed it and changed it to Icky Thump. I used to say it when I was a youth, now and again. I wouldn't be surprised if Michael palin said it a few times. It would certainly suit his style.

      Atlas is a rum fish. I suspect it might end up being quite good but I think you're very safe to wait a while for that to happen - or not. It is very cheap, though, so it's hardly a big decision. If they took the survival elements out of it I'd be a lot keener than I am. I might need to wait for some private server mods for that.

  3. He (Palin) did, with Graham. From "The All-England Summarise Proust Competition" episode:

    They pass on to the next booth.

    Third Booth: Well I'll go, I'll go to the foot of our stairs. Ee ecky thump. Put wood in 'ole, muther.

    Mr Mann taps him. He removes his earphones.

    Third Booth: (normal) Yes?

    Mr Mann: Ee ecky thump.

    Third Booth: (trying it) Ee ecky thump.

    Mr Mann: Ee ecky thump! (indicates more power)

    Third Booth: Ee ecky thump!

    Mr Mann: Excellent.

    Third Booth: Thank you, sir. (puts earphones on, listens)

    Mr. Mann: It's really a quick method of learning.

    Third Booth: Can you smell gas or is it me?


    -- 7rsly

  4. I gotta say, your first impressions sound like a lot of fun. Except for the survival mechanics it actually reminds me a lot of my first days/weeks of playing Ultima Online almost 19 years ago...which isn't a bad thing at all.

    By the way, I probably would've already given this comment on one of your first two Atlas posts, were my comments not eaten every time when I use my iPad for it (which I mostly do for reading blogs). I don't know if I'm the only one having this issue, but I haven't managed to comment here even once with the tablet, and have subsequently given up to even try it by now.

    1. There was a discussion last year about commenting - probably during Blaugust - and I tried to guage where problems lay, but there didn't seem to be much consensus. Commenting on blogs in general is problematic but once you throw in all the various operatign systems and platforms it's a wonder any comments make it through at all. I have absolutely everything set to the most liberal options Blogger allows so there's nothing more I can do about it, sadly, but I apologize on Google's behalf for the problems you're having.

      It is absolutely the survival mechanics that spoil Atlas for me. Apparently they are Wilcard's favorite thing, though, so I am not expecting much joy there as the game progresses.

    2. No sweat, just wanted to let you know that I'd comment more often if my damn Apple gadget let me. ;-)

      Yeah, I'm not too keen on survival mechanics either.
      That being said, I'm preparing a post about Black Desert just now that touches on the subject and surpsisingly isn't mostly negative.

    3. I’ve gotten away with commenting here via iPad. Using the Chrome browser and a Google account though - which is two Google things linked together and thus “should” work. Not sure if the default Safari app is any good, I suspect not.

      Everything I’ve heard about Atlas is that it’s pirate ARK, with possibly a worse community due to boredom from lack of content. I wonder if you might not get greater enjoyment out of actual ARK on a more limited in player numbers server.

    4. I have wondered about ARK. I never even considered it before. It's dinosaurs, which don't interest me, and it's not genuinely MMO, which also doesn't interest me. No-one ever talks about whether it has much in the way of exploration to offer though, which was the main thing that caught my attention with Atlas - the sheer size of it. I've also thought about trying Conan Exiles but in the end I think, if I ever end up playing any of these survival-MMO hybrids "seriously", it will be New World.


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