[Over at sister 'online worlds' site Worlds In Motion, Mathew Kumar continues to expand the Worlds In Motion Atlas by analyzing PC online games of various kinds - and in this installment, he checks out Ndoors' lush-looking Korean free-to-play SRPG title Atlantica Online.]

2009_01_20_atlantica.jpgName: Atlantica Online

Company: NDOORS

Established: October 2008 (North America)

How it Works: Atlantica Online runs within its own client, and requires the download of a hefty 2.3 gigabytes of data for its installer alone. Navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2009_01_20_atlantic2.jpgOverview: Atlantica Online is a strategy RPG—although players create their own character, they also hire "mercenaries" up to a maximum of eight to take part in turn-based tactical battles.

The game is set in an alternate reality mixing real world locations with fantasy and steampunk, and includes a variety of community features such as the ability to control towns and a player driven economy.

Payment Method: Atlantica Online is free to play, and earns revenue via item sales from the game's cash shop.

Key Features:

- Massively multiplayer turn-based strategy RPG
- Community features such as town control, government systems and guilds
- Player driven economy

Atlantica Online: In-Depth Tour

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Before I get started on my review, first, a warning. Atlantica Online has the worst download experience of any virtual world I've used. Not only are you expected to download 2.2 GB, I had to download it three times before I got a version that didn't include a corrupted "data2.cab"! Considering one of those was downloaded with their official download manager and still didn't work, this was not pleasant.

And then it takes forever to install… Before, of course, requiring a patch.

However, once you've managed to download it, there's a very pleasant surprise in store, because Atlantica Online is simply gorgeous. I normally try and delay making any opinion calls in the Online World Atlas, but I can't help but gush about how attractive the world of Atlantica Online is—and it runs very comfortably in a window, too! In fact, it's probably one of the most attractive MMOs I've ever played. Admittedly, it's quite an unusual, "Asian" look for an MMO, but I was amazed.

In Atlantica Online you create a character—not doing really much more than choosing the weapon they're going to use, and some (very limited) appearance modifications—before being thrown into the world with a quick tutorial.

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The tutorial takes you through essentially what you need to know about the majority of playing the game. Your character has a party of mercenaries—starting with two, but up to eight—that helps them out in battles. As I'd chosen to use a gun (marking my character out as a long range character) I bolstered my ranks with a pair of spearmen and a swordsman to defend the front line (which I naturally cowered behind) during the turn-based battles.

Unusual in comparison to most other MMOs, the turn-based battles featuring parties entirely controlled by the player switch up the dynamic that you'd expect—hordes of monsters wander the game world, largely ignoring the players, and when you enter a battle to other players your avatar stands stock still with a "in battle" icon above their head.

The battles themselves are tactically rich and surprisingly successful—in each turn you have a limited amount of time to make all of your characters attack, cast their magic or use items—before the enemies take their turns. It's easily as enjoyable (as far as I've seen, at least) to any traditional turn-based battle system in any off-the-shelf big-budget Japanese RPG.

Outside of this change, Atlantica Online is a very traditional, Korean styled free-to-play MMORPG. A lot of the game is geared towards use of the cash shop "item mall"—though of course it's perfectly playable without ever going there—and the majority of play is picking up missions from NPCs who usually tell you to kill a set amount of an enemy or collect a set amount of an object (usually, by killing a certain number of enemies).

And like most MMORPGs, the social aspects are largely limited to grouping with other players (they can join you in your turn-based battles, so it can be worthwhile) joining guilds and otherwise chatting with people you pass if you feel the need; though in my time spent playing I've found most players seem to concentrate on running around doing their own thing.

Indeed, perhaps it's a side effect of the turn-based battles, but Atlantica Online does have that feel of a single-player game within a massively multiplayer world. I can't confirm if that's true or not, but I'll let you know in the conclusion!

Atlantica Online: Conclusion

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I like Atlantica Online. I really do. It's got a great engine, probably got the best art I've seen in any game recently—lovingly created and intricate—and the setting, a sort of slightly steampunky alternate Earth calls out for me to be absorbed in it

In fact, I like those aspects so much I desperately want to keep playing it, to be given a reason to keep playing. But sadly, there isn't. Because Atlantica Online falls into the main problem that many MMORPGS fall into. The grind.

Atlantica Online is transparent about it. The first mission you're given is to kill X amount of baddies; the next to kill X amount of baddies to get Y items. Then you do that again. And again, and again.

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If you're paying attention, there's a story to follow along with—in my case, I was collecting samples to solve the problem of why the nearby forest had gone evil (or something)—but it barely matters and is hardly gripping. All you are expected to do in this game is log in, kill enemies, watch numbers go up.

The battles are great, I'll give them that. And watching numbers go up is entertaining, especially when you're modifying and arranging not only your player character but a miniature fighting force which you use in each skirmish. After a while, it's easy to take pride in what you've accomplished.

But it feels empty; sterile. The world isn't very alive—enemies wander about in huge numbers, simply waiting to be killed—and other players mill about, doing their own thing with barely a word spoken.

There are arguments all of the time over the differences between Korean and western design sensibilities, but I can't help but feel that a title like this could be far more successful if the mission design was a little bit more exciting. It's easy to argue that World of Warcraft, for example, offers little more than these fetch quests, but with games like Warhammer Online mixing things up with public quests, is this acceptable any more?

I don't know, but if there's a lesson from Atlantica Online it's that the coders and artists of NDoors (and perhaps Korea) are beyond comparison, and under the helm of a Western-orientated design team they could be unstoppable.

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