First impressions count. Sorry, Ryzom, but it's true. Within the first 15 minutes of play, I'd had one character disappear in the middle of a conversation, breaking the tutorial, encountered animals with names like biguglymonster_2b, and had been assigned a starter quest that involved - no joke - delivering a package to a nearby village, two kilometres away... within five minutes. Not that I got there. I was too busy being beaten up by giant crabs. Also, my head kept disappearing, and I was rubberband-lagging even in the emptiest of areas - which was basically all of them.
MMORPGs are given too much slack. Yes, they're hard to make. We should care why, exactly? That excuse is perfectly valid during beta testing, when a game is officially unfinished, but not when it's out on the shelves.
Here, just for example, are a few features due for introduction after this review of a boxed copy. Quests. Yes, quests. Theme music. What? Does this really sound like the kind of thing that should be appearing after a game hits the shelves? Mounts for the gamemasters? I don't know about you, but I'll sleep more easily when that's nailed.
Ryzom isn't a disaster area by any means - certainly better than many MMORPG launches - but it can't quite shake its premature release feel and lack of players. It plays reasonably fluidly, when not lagging, it looks decent, and the world itself is pleasantly different, offering a mix of sci-fi and organic fantasy, rather than the normal Tolkien rip-off. Even the game mechanics, while recognisable, have been given an original spin. Character customisation is more than picking between Elf, A Different Elf, Dark Elf or Half-Elf. Skills develop according to how much you use them, and classes depend on your abilities rather than a choice at the start. It's an interesting take on the old grind, assuming that you won't have to follow certain paths to remain effective in groups and higher level missions.
On a wider scale, we also have features like the 'Raid' invasion system, capable of sending armies of chitinous monsters rampaging around the gameworld using AI rather than relying on manual designer placement. Then there's a crafting/combat system built around developing individual attacks and skills piece-by-piece, and the much vaunted Living Ecosystem for developing the world rather than leaving everything as stock maps. However, the effect of such things will only become clear after Ryzom gets the time it needs to burn its way into the market.
We'll be keeping an eye on Ryzom in coming months to see if it can come into its own. Jump in now for a game that promises to be an interesting, different take on the world's most staid genre - or hold fire a month or two to see how it lives up to those promises.
The Saga of Ryzom is out now for PC