Saturday, September 11, 2021

A field Guide to LBGs: Orna

In the last post of this series for at least a bit I turn to Orna, a game I was extremely excited about when I first heard of it. Orna is a fantasy LBG inspired by 16 bit console RPGs.  A large, or at least visible and enthusiastic, community seems to have sprung up around it.  Message boards are quite active, there is a good wiki, and a lot of you tube videos are already available (though few of them even have 5,000 views).  Of all the GPS based games I have tried so far, Orna perhaps hews closest to being a true MMO-LBG hybrid.


What do you do?  The main thing you do is kill monsters, collect their loot, and level up.  The moment-to-moment gameplay is exactly like an old Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game, save that instead of monsters attacking you randomly as you walk around they appear on your map and you choose the ones you want to fight.  Battles are menu driven and turn based.  Each turn you have the option to attack with your equipped weapon, to use whatever abilities you have memorized, or to consume items such as healing and mana potions.  The number of skills you can have "memorized" is determined by your current class, and you are completely free to mix and match skills from any class you have unlocked.  However, that is not to say any skill works well with any class.  For example, a physical attack ability is going to do terrible damage if your are currently a mage type class with low strength. 

This is what you will spend 90% of your time doing.  The battles play out almost exactly like an old Dragon Quest game.

Mobs drop a ton of loot for you to dig through.  In addition to gold and consumables, perhaps  2/3 of foes drop one or more a pieces of equipment. On a scale of launch era WoW to Diablo, Orna is probably more than half way to Diablo with respect to loot frequency and variety.  You can also go looking for particular kinds of gear by focusing on the right types of foes.  For example, a Mage or a Witch will often drop a magic staff or wand.  Gear can be upgraded by blacksmiths or can have enchantments added to them by alchemists.  However,  new gear drops so quickly that there seems to be little reason to mess around with these upgrade systems, at least at low to mid-levels. No gear appears to be restricted by level or stats, only class.  

At level 1 you start out as one of three classes, a classic fighter type, rogue type or a mage.  The fighter has good defense, the rogue does high martial damage and has middling defense, the mage does extremely high magic damage and has terrible defense.  However, rather quickly you will earn enough of the game's central currency, called "orns"and for which the game is named, to unlock the other two classes you didn't pick.  You can then swap classes at will.  You have an overall level based on the highest level you have been able to achieve in any class. When you change classes or unlock a new one it automatically increases to match.  Different classes aren't so much alternate advancement paths as alternate combat styles and new groups of abilities that you can add to your loadouts. For example, lately I have been spending a lot of time as an Archmage, mainly focusing on nukes but also with a healing ability I learned when I unlocked the the Paladin class.

You start with three classes to pick from, and are able to unlock more classes and specializations as you go up levels.  All classes are at the same level.  For example, if you hit 50 on a mage you will still be 50 when you switch to fighter.  Abilities can be mixed and matched between classes at will.  All of these Paladin specific abilities seen here can be used by other classes, though classes vary a lot in how many skills they can have "memorized." So far I think the most abilities any class I have unlocked can use is maybe six, and some have as few as two or three slots for skills.

Very early on you will be asked to pick one of four elements: lightning, fire, earth, or water.  This will give you a damage bonus with attacks that utilize that element.  However, it also determines your "team."  These four elemental teams work a lot like the three teams in Pokémon Go (i.e., Instinct, Mystic, and Valor).  You can only join a kingdom that matches your element (below), and kingdoms can only declare war on kingdoms of other elements.  

The other big thing you do is collect loot.  Classes vary a lot in the equipment they can use, so I often find myself changing classes just to see if a new sword or pair of shoes I have found is an upgrade for one of my unlocked classes.

In addition to killing random mobs, there are also simple quests like "kill six spiders" or "upgrade six items."  These grant gold, XP and orns when you complete them.  There are story quests, that appear to be mainly a tutorial for game systems, daily quests, weekly quests, and quests that help your kingdom advance.  If that all this sounds pretty complicated, trust me if you have ever played a JRPG it's really not.  The basic gameplay loop is 99% murdering monsters via extremely simple combat and checking to see if a dagger, staff or hat that has been dropped might be an upgrade for the gear you are using on one of your classes. 

The world of Orna, at least on my street.  That shop in the middle of the screen is my entire home village.  When I am near it I get some slight bonuses, and eventually I will be able to expand it by adding more buildings to it. When you claim a village, you get to decide whether the buildings are public or private.  The random monsters, like the slime on the right and the wolfman at the top, I can tap to attack.  

What is the world like?  I am not entirely sure what map it's built on, perhaps Open Street Maps.  It shows roads and a few buildings, but not street names much like Pokemon Go.  Near me it assigns some areas to be forests vs open and populates open areas near roads with random buildings.  Whether it includes additional biomes to forest in other regions I have no idea. The buildings I have seen so far are general stores where you can sell loot and buy potions, a pet shop that sells companions that follow you around and help in battle, blacksmiths for upgrading gear, and dungeons (below).  I have read that there are a wide variety of other types of shops, but I have not yet seen any of them.  

I decided to make the one building in my village public.  I get a tiny bit of income from this shop every day when I log.  Whether I would make a crapton of money if someone came by and bought a bunch of stuff, or what exactly another player would see on entering this shop I'm not sure.

Mobs spawn quickly and randomly around any spot in which you are standing.  In fact mobs spawn so quickly that it's  completely impossible to clear out an area, which means you technically don't have to ever walk anywhere to advance.  As you gain levels, the levels of monsters that randomly spawn around you also gradually increase.  Different monsters spawn in forests vs open areas, and at night vs during the day.  This led to some confusion when I first started playing.  I had a "baby's first level 1 quest" to kill five goblins.  I was baffled at first because the entire first week I played I didn't see a single goblin.  However, I had only played at night and it turned out they only spawn during the day.

 Dungeons, called "gauntlets" provide an interesting challenge.  You can only enter one if you have a gauntlet key.  Once you enter you have a few hours to clear every floor.  There are ten floors, each with progressively tougher monsters (one monster per floor) and better loot.  You can first try one when you hit level 50, but you sure as heck won't be able to clear it at that level.  I ran straight to the nearest dungeon when I hit 50.  While I was able to clear more than half of it, the mobs in the bottom few floors were well over level 100.  You start with one gauntlet key.  After that, as near as I can tell the only way to get more keys is to buy them in the item shop, which is a bit frustrating.  However, there are also gauntlets associated with your kingdom you might be able to participate in for free (more on this on "other players").

The main kingdom menu, which is essentially like a guild in a MMO.  Like many more modern MMOs you can work together to level up your guild.  I believe Kingdoms can hold up to 50 players.

Asynchronous interactions.  The main way you alter the world is by building up your starting village.  When you first start playing, you have a chance to choose one village as your home village.  When near it you get a some minor stat bonuses.  Most villages consist of a single random building.  As you progress through the game there are a wide variety of different types of buildings you can add to it.  However I don't yet know a lot about how this works because after playing for two weeks I am up to level 60 and still nowhere near being able to put up any buildings in my village.  I have about half the material I would need for the simplest building.  You do at least get to decide whether everyone can see and use the buildings in your village, or whether only you have access to them.  I believe that in an open village changes to the inventory of NPCs as players buy and sell items are shared with everyone, a bit like how NPC merchants work in Everquest.

One way you can help advance your guild is by helping to clear gauntlets (dungeons).  Members of the guild have a chance to be assigned to take on the opponent on a random floor each day.  So far I have been left out of this system, presumably because I am too low level to handle the fights on most floors.

How do you interact with other players?  The main way is by joining a Kingdom.  Kingdoms are basically guilds of up to 50 players.  Like typical MMO guilds there are ranks, a chat window, and often an optional discord server somewhere.  There are also guild quests and guild gauntlets that you can undertake to help level up your guild.  In guild gauntlets, everyone in the guild has a chance to be assigned a random floor and corresponding monster.  If everyone takes out their monster, all players in a guild gets some kind of reward.  Your guild can also pick fights with other guilds, in which case I believe you will be assigned a random player in the opposing guild to challenge to a duel.  Like the whole town system, this seems to be something that you need to be rather high level (100+ is my guess) to really participate in.  At level 60 I am barely qualified to take on a few of the lowest level gauntlet floors so I haven't yet been assigned one at random.  The low level guild quests I can handle also quickly get snatched up by other players. There seems to be some kind of group raid battles, but that is another system I haven't been able to see much of yet because I am too low level.  

You can also undertake quest for your guild.  This is another system I haven't been able to do much with because the low level quests I could handle all get grabbed by other players pretty quickly.

Is it good exercise?  At first I thought Orna was terrible exercise, and a frustratingly simple game.  There were two random stores and a dungeon near my house.  They stores didn't sell anything I care about apart from potions, and even potions I get from mobs frequently enough that I rarely need to restock.  Since mobs re-spawned quickly and in unlimited numbers in my yard, there seemed to be no reason at all to walk anywhere.  I thought the whole game was sitting in my living room grinding until I got high enough level to add some buildings to my feeble starting village.  Though I was mistaken, you can certainly play that way if you want to.

One major difference from Dragon Quest is that the fights aren't really random.  You tap on a monster that you see on the map, and then get this screen explaining what it is where you decide whether or not to attack.

However I soon discovered that there are other building types in my neighborhood.  For example, near where I set up a shelter in Walking Dead: Our World there is a blacksmith.  It takes him about an hour to upgrade a piece of gear, so once per evening I walk out to him,  pick up something he has been working on for me, and drop off something else.  I tell my wife "Ok, I'm off to pick up my hat" (or whatever) before I head out for the evening.  There are also random bosses on the landscape.  These are worth one or two orders of magnitude more XP than regular mobs, are distributed very sparsely, and take a long time to respawn after you kill them.  It's well worth it to head out and look for bosses instead of being happy with whatever happens to show up in your yard.   

Even if the moment-to-moment gameplay generally is exceedingly simple, the game overall has a ton of depth that I have barely plumbed.  For example, I am not at all sure what summoning a raid boss is about.

All that said, due to the "unlimited spawns anywhere you happen to be,"  there is less reason to walk around in Orna than in the other LGB I've played.  Further, if you want to power level it's a lot more efficient to drive around and look for bosses you can handle than to do it on foot.  Within the entire part of my neighborhood I can get to without crossing highways, there are only four or five boss spawn points, and I have never seen more than two I could actually handle up in one evening.  I can see why so many players like the game, but even after two weeks I am very much on the fence about it.

Initial series Wrap up:

That will probably be my last post in the LBG field guide series for the time being, though there are quite a few more of them on my radar.  If you have a suggestion for which you would like for me to try next, let me know in the comments.  Otherworld Heroes which claims to be an honest-to-goodness LBMMORPG  (!) looks interesting.  However, the game has been out for a more than a year and I haven't heard a thing about it, so I am a bit skeptical.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

A field guide to LBGs: Walking Dead Our World

Walking Dead: Our World was published by Next Games in July 2018. It's one of the more visible LBGs, and is based on the hugely popular AMC TV show and the lesser known comic books.  After a brief surge of popularity when it first came out, interest in WD:OW seemed to wane rapidly.  These days online communities around the game seem pretty dead.  However, according to at least one site it still managed to make $17 million in 2019.  Solidly profitable if not a huge hit.  Next week I will be discussing one final GPS game I have been playing a lot of, the 16 bit RPG inspired Orna.  

Walking Dead: Our World 

What do you do?  The main thing you do is walk around looking for encounters filled with zombies and other NPC opponents to fight.  Fights reward random cards to gain new or upgrade existing equipment, NPC allies or perks.  All of these come in different rarities: gold > purple > blue > gray.  Gold allies and weapons are quite rare and powerful, but difficult to upgrade.  At the other extreme, gray weapons and allies are dead common and quite easy to max out.  There is a real trade-off here. For example, in some weapon categories the best I have is only blue because the purple and gold ones I own haven't been upgraded as much. 

Far and away you spend most of your time fighting zombies in encounters like this one.  Before challenging an encounter you choose a loadout of one weapon and one ally.  Here  I am using a machine gun and chose a tough ally that uses a shotgun.  The only real "oh shit" button you have are grenades, so it's best to use them sparingly.  The red square also show optional upgrades in play. I have given my gun the ability to reload faster after I empty a clip.  My ally has an increased chance to get headshots and also reloads faster than before I upgraded her.

Perks are the abilities of your character, things like how much damage you do with grenades or how many survivors you can shepherd around at once.  They work a little differently from weapons and allies.  Perk rarity doesn't have anything to do with how powerful it is.  Instead, rare perks tend to be rather specialized abilities most players won't care a whole lot lot about. For instance, the rarest perk I have adds 18% to the blast radius of grenades, which is so subtle I am not 100% sure it's doing anything.

Ultimately the primary way you get stronger is upgrading cards.  Rarer weapons and allies are more powerful for their level, but also take more resources to power up.  For example, for the number of tokens that it takes to add one new modifier to this weapon I could max out a gray common weapon.

To upgrade an item you need both cards and coins. For example, to take a gray item from level one to two takes two matching cards and 50 coins, while a gold item costs two matching cards and 7000 coins.  When I first started I would have said the game was much too stingy with coins.  My first week I was even forced to buy a few to upgrade my main weapon (I have $7 invested so far). However an in-game event last week gave me 70,000 coins for free, and I am now having trouble finding enough card matches with the weapons and allies I care about to spend them.  Challenging an encounter takes "energy."  I now have enough now to play for about an hour before I run out, though it was less when I started at level 1. By the time I've gone through my energy I have also hiked a very leisurely mile or more through my neighborhood, so it feels like enough.  Resting for an hour in real time is enough to completely replenish your energy pool.

The main reason you do encounters is to get random cards for upgrading your weapons, allies and perks (character abilities).  This draw has a lot of strong cards and came from one of the boards I am working together with my team to clear.

If you are a fan of the show or the comics, you will probably quickly acquire at least a blue or purple version of most characters you care about. As you get better gear, better NPC helpers and better perks the strength of encounters you are able to handle goes up.  You have levels, those determine the maximum level of encounter you are able to attempt to clear. There are a lot of different types of encounters, but they all boil down quick fights where you tap your screen to shoot (it's more fun than it sounds like!).  There are one-off encounters to rescue NPCs you can take to a base (below), one-off zombie fights for really feeble loot, fights with humans for better rewards, and multi-stage fights that have the best rewards. The strategy of the game comes primarily in deciding what gear and NPCs to invest your limited resources into, and what bases to invest in.  Solo you can likely keep two out of the four base types going at a time.    

This is what a street near me looks like in game.  As you can see even out here in the boonies it's very well populated compared to Pokémon Go.  Most of the icons are different types of encounters I can try to take on, some with better rewards than others.  The blue crates will give me random supplies (usually energy or grenades).

What is the world like?  The game uses streets and buildings from google maps and adds zombie encounters to those.  If you get within 100 meters of most encounter types you can try to clear them if you are high enough level.  Players can also set up buildings (below) that grant you rewards if you help grow them by rescuing survivors and dropping them off.  In addition to randomly generated encounters, there is an extremely simple story line to play through.  Even out in the boonies, the density of encounters is pretty high.  There are five or six I can reach from my house, and plenty for an hour of play in my neighborhood.
An armory I set up near my house when I first started playing.  Whenever anyone drops off survivors, the base gets powered up a bit and then receives random cards for weapons in return (one card per survivor and base level).  Right now I have six days left to drop off enough survivors to take it up to level eight, or zombies will swarm it and destroy it.  Setting up these bases is one of the main ways you can control what kinds of upgrades you get.  They are completely random from most sources, yielding, an admixture of cards for perks, weapons and allies. Bases only ever grant cards of one of the three types.

Asynchronous interactions:  The primary way you affect the world for other players is setting up bases.  There are four different kinds you can set up, and a higher level base grants a decent chance at strong cards when you drop off rescued individuals.  If there isn't already one near you, it's advisable to build an armory that grants weapon upgrade cards when you first start playing.  Once you drop off enough rescued people for a base to go up one level, it will maintain itself for anywhere from nine days to several weeks depending on level.  However, if you don't level it up again before that timer runs down, eventually zombies will swarm it and destroy it.  Anyone that is playing can drop off NPCs at a base that you set up.  Eventually I will probably have at least two imaginary buildings in my yard for me and other players to use.  If you join a team, you can also work together with other players to clear a board that gives all of you really nice rewards.

The main way you play with others, apart from helping to upgrade random bases, is cooperating to clear boards like this one. It works like bingo, when you clear all the vertical and horizontal rows connected to a bag you can claim it.  The bags on these boards contain quite a bit of loot. Most of the objectives are things like "kill 150 zombies with grenades" that everyone in the entire team contributes to no matter where they are. 

How do you interact with other players?  The main way is by joining a team.  It's a lot like a typical MMO guild with different ranks and a chat channel.  Teams can hold up to 25 players, and getting into an active one is pretty essential to enjoying the game long term.  The main thing you do is work together to clear boards.  There are global rankings where different teams compete to clear boards as quickly as possible. It feels a lot like Conquest in SWTOR. The boards also grant very nice loot to everyone on the team as you clear them.  Each space on the board has a random requirement, like "drop off 70 survivors at an armory."  Everything done by team members contributes to the total.  You can also send up a flare that allows anyone on your team to teleport to your location, anywhere.  If there is a way to group up and fight together directly, I have not figured it out yet.   

I have been playing less than a week, and I already have a lot of characters I recognize from the show.  My wife is also a fan of the comics and says that these portraits resemble both the actors in the show and the comic book character designs.

Is it good exercise?  If you are playing in a place that at least has a few houses nearby, it hits the right balance better than anything I've tried.   Any given encounter you clear takes 30 minutes to respawn, so if you want to spend all your energy for the evening you really do need to get some walking in.  If you are lucky there might be enough to spend a third of your total near your house, you can't just sit in one spot.  However, the density of encounters is also high enough that you don't have to walk too far.  In my neighborhood, I can can play for about 40-50 minutes before I need to let my character rest.  By that time I will have cleared every nearby encounter I can easily handle, so there isn't a strong incentive to spend cash on the game. Walking around your neighborhood hoovering up humans, bringing them back to your base, and watching it grow is really rewarding.