Versus series: MMO Battle Royale

You may recall in my last Versus series post, I said I would be pitting Anarchy Online with both Runescapes and Saga of Ryzom (Now just titled Ryzom) to sort out which one I’d rather pay a membership subscription for. I also said that decision might take a while, but it turns out, finding a winner was easier than I thought. But to draw out the tension, I’ll talk about the losers bracket first.

Anarchy Online ended up with the first easy loss for several reasons. Since I’d left, all of my old accounts were frozen, and some genius decided to get rid of the old tutorial in favor of a hot mess that they called a simplified introduction. The controls were somehow more terrible than I remembered, and the graphics were awful. Early levels were a chore, falling into a pattern of “fight, then sit down to recover health for two minutes.” Then when I finally got to the mainland, I was reminded how pretty much every starting solo and group mission fell into the same loop. Walk for ten minutes dodging high level mobs to reach a “cave.” (The interiors are always filled with hallways and sliding doors that someone installed for reasons unknown.) Fight a collection of enemies and collect an item. It’s boring, it’s ugly, and it controls like a tank. Hard pass, and moving along.

Then we have Runescape Old School, which fares much better despite also having lower quality graphics. Yes, I said in the contest between it and the newer version that it had less to offer, but no matter when I boot it up, I always find something to do, and it’s not always “go over there and fight X monster.” I might be baking a pie, or mining metal to forge new weapons and armor to sell. When I choose to fight, the combat is simple and relaxing. It’s just a lovely zen game where the whole point is “make numbers go up.” So if I did have a larger budget to toss out for subscriptions, I’d still want to get the full paid experience that this old school gem has to offer.

But these days with rising food prices, hiked energy bills, and no raise in ever, Runescape Old School falls to the second and first place games. Which brings me to second place, Runescape. Just like its elder version, this game is brimming with possibilities in every journey, and it boasts lovelier graphics and beefier combat that makes all classes feel more powerful. This incredible buffet of joy would have taken the top spot if I hadn’t gone back to Ryzom to make a new character and see if it still held up after all these years.

Ryzom has a rough start in the tutorial, so let’s not mince words about that. But once you get a feel for the various skills you can level up and wrap your head around the freedom of multi-classing, it really starts to shine even before getting to the mainland. Perhaps you opt to be a prospector with a side hustle as a tailor, or as a weapons crafter. Maybe you decide to become a mage, or a tank. It’s all up to you. In a similar vein, you can choose to follow the quests on the mainland or just wander off to do your own thing. You can earn money either way, and those early levels are real easy to get in every skill set.

But around level twenty, things get harder. You either accept long slow grinds to each new level, or you start taking risks that can get you killed. Even prospecting and foraging for materials can kill you, because you might hit a pocket of gas and get poisoned to death. The game has a penalty where after each death, players have to pay off an XP debt, and the multiplier for that debt only gets higher if you keep dying.

At this point, you may be wondering why this game is the winner if it gets so hard so quickly. The answer is, the community. At some point, you’ll revive from another death, and some high level player will wander over to heal your character and ask how you’re doing. So you tell them what you were working on, and more often than not, they’ll offer to help. If you’re foraging, they might use their high level prospecting skills and knowledge of the best material spots to get you stocked up, and they can use terrain management to keep your dig site from imploding. If you want to fight monsters just above your pay grade, they will follow you and offer healing assistance, and if you still get killed, they will revive you.

Then, at some point, you will need a “trek” to find all the fast travel points to the various races’  starting towns. This involves crossing VERY dangerous terrain where some of the monsters can kill new players just by giving them a stern glare. Again, just hop in the universal chat and ask if anyone is free to escort you, and odds are, you’ll find someone ready to help, or at the very least to schedule a time to do the trip with you.

Heck, there are even players who will craft gear to help you progress, free of charge. Others will offer you cash to buy things like TPs (teleport pacts, the items needed to use the fast travel system.) Still others will donate Cats. (experience catalyzers, which can give double XP to any task and make leveling up easier.) Without a doubt, the players of Ryzom are the most welcoming and helpful community in all of gaming, and their support can make establishing yourself in the game world a lot easier.

Sure, it helps that Ryzom’s asking price for a year of service is only 33 Euros, much cheaper compared to its competitors. But if the game wasn’t fun, being cheap wouldn’t help it out. But it is fun, even going solo, and when that is no longer an option and you need a little help to get to the next tier of talents, it’s the one community where you don’t have to be afraid to ask for help.

I cannot stress that enough. I remember a couple years back getting into an MMO that had already been established for a few years, and I asked how to activate some of my character’s abilities. This was met with a flood of “Go read the wiki” responses, and it quickly discouraged me and sent me packing without a backward glance. Asking a similar question in Ryzom like “What key opens the missions window?” will get a small wave of folks typing a single letter. So it’s that support, combined with the great graphics, great gameplay, and fantastic subscription price that gets Ryzom the win.

One final note, though. Ryzom used to belong to a company, but when they opted to close the service, the fans got it up and running with the company’s permission. This too is a sign of how much love the community has to offer, but it also means that technical support can sometimes be a bit spotty. During my first few days, I had a problem with frequent disconnections, and the moderator couldn’t do much about it. However, another player took my problems on and eventually found a solution. (The issue was due to my internet connection being a 4G wireless modem, and the solution was to create a dedicated port for the game. It sounds complicated, but once the other player walked me through it, everything worked fine.)

That concludes another Versus entry. I actually do have another in mind already, but I’m keeping this one under wraps until it’s ready because the game of choice is…let’s say slightly controversial. Until next time, thanks for reading!