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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Worlds Adrift - Prepare to Be Bored, Dead! - MMOMG


I began writing up this post by detailing my short time in Worlds Adrift back in early July. I fully intended to drop a laundry list of complaints I had with the game, complete with links to forum threads showing how many others were aggravated by the same things. Upon browsing the Worlds Adrift site and forums, I realized that its developer (Bossa Studios) recently addressed a number of issues I had... though others have cropped up in the meantime and some of the larger problems still exist. As usual, I'm getting ahead of myself again - let's get the basics out of the way first!


What is Worlds Adrift?

Worlds Adrift is an open world multiplayer game with an emphasis on exploration. Players are tasked with uncovering the secrets of an ancient civilization, its ruins scatted across dozens of floating sky islands. Armed with a multitool and a grapple gun, you scan the terrain for information and gather resources to construct and pilot air-worthy vessels for reaching additional locations.

Worlds Adrift is a hybrid of survival crafting, sandbox MMORPG and flight/space sim genres, complete with a physics engine that governs everything from discarded debris to aerial combat. Even ship design is robust, with the ability to modify the size and shape of your vessel and allowing for detailed placement of its components, all of which vary in degrees of weight and integrity based on the materials you used to craft them.

Making the most basic ship (which is little more than a raft with a sail) takes nearly no time or effort, but will be painfully slow at best and literally subject to the winds. Learning how to build an efficient (yet sturdy) vessel is vital to progression. Zones are separated by windwalls, which test the mettle of your ship and piloting ability. The higher tiered zones are guarded by more difficult windwalls, forcing you to upgrade and modify your designs to survive the journey through.

Scanning elements of the environment earns you knowledge points, which you can spend on unlocking different ship components. The game also keeps track of the total knowledge a character has gained, unlocking Sky Core upgrades as you reach the requisite amounts (akin to leveling up).

In addition to ship design and piloting, mastering the grapple gun is key to your survival and exploration. Islands often have important features and resources in hard-to-reach areas and the grapple gun is essential to constructing, boarding and leaving your ship.

Worlds Aglitched

Worlds Adrift has an amazing concept, but it's an ambitious undertaking. Getting all this to work correctly is no easy task, and the game has a number of bugs at any given time as a result. While the majority of issues are fairly minor, there have been a few particularly nasty bugs that can quickly sour your game experience. Imagine logging in to see your ship fall from the sky because the game didn't properly load its sky core (the device that allows ships to float). How about spawning or flying into an area that has inexplicably broken physics, causing your ship to become stationary and gathering nodes to become unharvestable?

Perhaps worst of all, the game has had (and according to some, still has) a duplication exploit for a year now. Duping is one of the most destructive exploits for any multiplayer setting, causing imbalance among players and ruining a game's economy even if it exists only momentarily. Jagex had to rollback Old School Runescape for the first time ever back in July of this year due to a gold dupe glitch that lasted a mere 20 minutes. While some of Worlds Adrift's larger game updates also come with server wipes, it wouldn't take much to rebuild a vast hoard with a long-standing duplication glitch present.

All A-Bored

Even if the worst bugs end up permanently squashed, I'm not convinced that Worlds Adrift will have enough content to keep players interested in the long run. The cycle of exploring and scanning each island for knowledge, harvesting resources, upgrading your ship (when necessary) and moving on to the next landmass doesn't seem particularly interesting. I find this incredibly disconcerting since I tend to enjoy the challenge of getting to unusual (and in some cases, forbidden or unintended) areas in open world games. Here it just feels like a chore, likely because you're essentially forced to do it as the game lacks any other type of content (except for PvP, which I'll touch upon in a moment).

Bossa Studios supposedly believes in letting players drive the content, even to the point of releasing a free Island Creator that can upload your designs to the Steam Workshop. While I'm all for player-created structures, each one amounts to nothing more than another island to scan, harvest and potentially admire for its beauty. Player characters have a minor and temporary impact on individual islands, let alone the entire world setting. This wouldn't be an issue if Worlds Adrift had an overarching story and a setting in which you're a lesser participant (as per LotRO, for example), but that's the opposite of what this game is aiming for. In fact, Worlds Adrift is devoid of NPCs entirely, other than a couple animal types which up until a recent update provided nothing more than a mild annoyance under certain circumstances.

If players are supposed to drive the content, why is there so little for them to do, and why don't they have more impact on the game world? How is it that players can construct massive airships complete with turrets, but can't alter or build ground structures in any meaningful way? I can see the line of logic that assumes maneuverable ships are superior to stationary buildings, but there's several tactical advantages to controlling a location of interest (such as access to resources or travel routes for friendlies, while simultaneously denying these to foes). I'd even argue that static structures could be made of sturdier materials to compensate for their lack of maneuverability - the islands themselves are literally giant hunks of rock held aloft (presumably) by the Atlas Stone deposits contained within.

Of course, even if islands could be controlled or modified by players in-game, that alone wouldn't fully address the lack of content issue. As it stands, the endgame for Worlds Adrift seems to be PvP solely for the sake of it, with no additional incentive. While PvP definitely fits the sky pirate theme found here, an added reward system (especially at endgame) would really help to keep gameplay from getting too stale. Perhaps a battle could be fought over points of interest with either a temporary buff for victors or debuff/lockout for their enemies. Maybe victory opens access to an exclusive zone for a short time, which could hold any number of surprises. Some type of long-term system like achievements, ranks or a leaderboard (if implemented correctly) could foster competitive PvP at all stages of play, including endgame.

The alternatives are to add lots of PvE content (which seems to go against Bossa's vision for the game, though they recently merged 5 servers down to 2, one of which is way more PvE-friendly) or leave things roughly as is. The latter has lead to a vast percentage of bored users, most of which have already stopped playing (as evidenced by the game's dwindling active player count on Steam Charts).

Here's to hoping Worlds Adrift can be salvaged from what currently seems like a potential early demise. It has a great setting, beautiful aesthetics and some neat features, but lacks meaningful content and is still experiencing the growing pains of Early Access.

I'm still behind on my blog posts, but I am catching up! Be on the lookout for a handful of Friday games as well as my thoughts on Defiance 2050 and Blade & Soul coming soon!

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