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Quick Update: Sorry for the late notice on this, gang, but Plan Nine has a tendency to give us very short notice on these things. Our publisher is having an End/Beginning of the Year "Scratch & Dent" sale today only (well, yesterday and today). For the very few of you who'll actually be checking the site on New Year's Day, you'll find some great deals on GPF books (including perhaps some copies of Surreptitious Machinations) that may have minor flaws but are otherwise still readable. As far as I know, this only applies to the U.S. Plan Nine, not the Canadian and European affiliates.

Hey, gang. Two news posts in as many weeks... wow, I must be slipping. ;) No, this time I really need to make one for some official business, which I'll go into in a second. First, I'll just remind everyone to check last week's post for some nifty GPF holiday gift ideas (it's not too late!) and for my review of Sega's Pocket Kingdom for the N-Gage. But this week, I've got another game review for you (or at least a preliminary one until I can write a more detailed one later):

Jeff's [Preliminary] Review of Saga of Ryzom: Now before anyone thinks the GPF News site is turning into the "GPF Game Review Site," I'll just say that once again we've been targeted by some ambitious advertisers that want to get more information to you through us. By now, most of you have probably seen the nifty Flash animated ad featuring Fooker that's been running on certain Keenspot sites in the past week. (Note: Clicking the ad in the above link won't work; I'll give you a working link in a bit to the official site.) Yep, Fooker is hawking a new game, and just like last week's Pocket Kingdom review, I've been asked to play the game and review it for you. Of course, I'm still playing it and I haven't progressed that far yet (which is why this is a "preliminary" review), so I'll give you a more exhaustive one later. But I needed to get something up today, so I'll give you my first impressions.

The game in question is Nevrax's Saga of Ryzom. Like Pocket Kingdom, this is another massively multi-player online game, but this is more of the traditional role playing game than PK's combat focus. (Thus, we get the unwieldy acronym MMORPG). As with many MMORPGs these days, you play a single character in a gigantic virtual world, fitting into some niche as a fighter, mage, harvester, or crafter along with thousands of other real life players, building a virtual society in cyberspace. Ryzom is for Windows-based PCs; system requirements can be found at the bottom of the general FAQ.

Now, I'll go ahead and start off by saying I am not a big MMORPG lover. As I mentioned last week, I like playing RPGs (those and first-person shooters are my usual dabblings into gaming, and Neverwinter Nights still tops my list), but I haven't had much success with the MMO part. I received Star Wars: Galaxies as a Christmas present a couple years ago, but I never lasted much beyond the first free month and the first month of paid subscriptions. Perhaps it was Galaxies' early bugs or the lack of interesting missions to start out with, but I'm betting it had more to do with that awkward transition between a long tradition of playing single-player RPGs and making the jump to MMORPGs. With traditional RPGs, I've gotten used to that mission-based mindset of go on quest, complete quest, gain experience, get new stuff to sell or upgrade, level up, lather, rinse, repeat. When you first enter the world of MMORPGs, it's hard to get out of that mindset and look at those other players as real people and not NPCs (non-player characters for the RPG illiterate). I grew up with my RPG as one application and IRC as another, so combining the two has been a bit of a learning curve. But in the equally long tradition of old dogs learning new tricks, it is possible to make that transition, and hopefully this review will be of more help to MMORPG luddites like me than for die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool, Ultima-and-EverCrack-baptized veterans of the MMORPG world. :)

Ryzom is interesting in that it's a blend of fantasy and science fiction that seems to work very well, at least on the surface. Taking place on the distant planet of Atys, four player races collectively called "homins" live and work on this world under the guidance of the great goddess Jena and her disciples (or maybe not disciples, as that's part of the story) called the Karavan and the Kami. After some the homins inadvertently ran into a subterranean insectoid race called the Kitins, the Kitins swarmed to the surface in retaliation. The resulting war between the homins and Kitins decimated the planet until the homins were forced to retreat to far away lands. After untold centuries, the now nomadic homins have begun a long exodus back to the old lands to rebuild their civilization. As one of the returning refugees, you take your place in one of these new fledgling societies and help to reclaim all that has been lost, while trying to keep the peace between the different homin races and the ever-present threat of more Kitin invasions.

Ryzom has a number of features that set it apart from other MMORPGs. The races, for one, are fairly unique and original. Although some borrow from long established RPG conventions (the Matis remind me quite a bit of Tolkien elves), others seem to have a good bit of originality to them (especially the jungle-dwelling Zoraïs). The ecology of the world is also very detailed and organic, and plays an extremely important role in the overall story. (After all, the game does pull part of its name from botany; a rhizome is part of a thick root system, and the Prime Roots is just one part of the massive gaming world.) There is a delicate balance to maintain between the flora and fauna, and unsettling that balance through excessive hunting or harvesting can actually destroy certain resources and bring punishment from the environmentally friendly Kami.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the game, however, is the extremely flexible skill system. Unlike classic AD&D-style classes with set skills and advancement, Ryzom's system is very adaptable. There are four primary skill trees—fighting, magic, harvesting, and crafting—and each skill is further broken down into several focuses. A well-rounded starting refugee may start with limited abilities in three of the four skills, or may start with all three slots in one skill, making them a novice in that field. However, it's entirely possible for an extremely ambitious player to theoretically gain every skill in every part of the tree, making how you advance entirely up to you. For example, my primary character focuses primarily on fighting, then harvesting, but is very slowly learning how to cast magical spells.

One important aspect that the initial training island tries to emphasize, however, is player cooperation, which is very important later on in the world at large. Players are encouraged to form teams and work together to accomplish simple goals (which, I assume, will become more complex goals elsewhere). For example, when progressing through the initial training portions of the magic skill, the "welcomer" (your initial tutor) instructs you to explicitly find another homin and heal them; you cannot progress in this part of her training quest unless you join forces with someone else. This forced cooperation is especially important for us die-hard single-player veterans who spend too much time on our own. (That should be my new credo: "I'm not antisocial; I've just a single-player luddite." ;)

So what about Jeff's opinion? Well, the jury is still out on the final verdict. (This is a preliminary review, after all.) Now that I've progressed beyond the point of dying every time I walk out of town, I'm starting to enjoy myself more. I've certainly gotten farther than I ever did with Galaxies, which says a great deal already. I think Ryzom has a lot of potential, and if you're curious about trying to break into MMORPGs, this might be a good place to give it a try. And with a free 14-day trial, there's not much to lose. I'm going to keep playing and will hopefully give you a more detailed review once I reach the "mainland." Meanwhile, if you happen to run into a Matis named Kithriaahn, don't forget to stop by and say hi. :)

(If you'd like to discuss this review, please use this thread on the forum.)

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