Over the past few weeks I have managed to put a good 200 some hours into Atlas, which goes to show that I like the game! However, there are major glaring problems that are keeping me from truly loving and embracing the game. I would like to outline some of those issues and my suggestions as to possible solutions.
1) Alphas:These denizens of the lowest depths of hell have killed countless tames of mine and claimed the lives of nearly every one of my fellow company co-workers. Now, I understand wanting to provide some additional challenge to the game’s natural predators, but having an Alpha wolf, Alpha snake, and their non-alpha counterparts spawn on top of me while trying to chop some wood with an elephant is not a fun gameplay mechanic.
Solution: Location based Alpha spawns. Create specific mini-boss type caves, plains, and forest locations where players can go to test their mettle and fight Alphas of their own volition. Or, as a temporary bandage, limit the number of total alphas that can spawn to one or two per island. Also, have the alphas drop some kind of loot worthy of player’s time investment like a blueprint or upgraded tools/weapons like Ark did.
2) Creature AI: This is a problem that has persisted from Ark. The creature AI feels, frankly, stupid. Now I’m not trying to insult the AI team. What I mean by stupid is the creatures don’t feel viscerally alive. Their idle patterns don’t lend themselves to making the world feel vibrant. Ive never seen a creature in real life walk in circles for hours on end, or conversely, when you do, you take them to the Vet to get checked out and/or put down.
Solution: Creatures that are supposed to be herd like animals should move in herds meandering around in much larger orbits of the islands. When they are hungry, they look for berry bushes or food plants and physically harvest them. Giraffes should be seen munching on the tops of trees, elephants picking berries and eating them, cows and bulls grazing on the local “Fiber” bushes, and Pigs should be rooting around in Dig-able locations for potatoes, carrots, and other such flora. As for the predators that inhabit the islands, I would like to see pack animals use more intelligent teamwork when hunting. A single wolf should not be trying to take on a herd of elephants.Rather, when the pack gets hungry, they stalk their quarry, using the local shrubs and plants to obstruct line of sight to their prey, spread out in flanking formations, target one specific creature and ambush it all at once, startling the rest of the herd making them bolt. As for solitary hunters like the tiger, it would employ similar tactics just not with multiple creatures. Solitary hunters ought to similarly stalk their prey moving slowly through bushes and dense foliage until they are close enough to pounce targeting the “weakest” most damaged creature. When not hungry, these creatures shouldn’t just be mindless killing machines; they need idle behaviors when not threatened or hungry. Wolves should be seen “playing” together nipping at each other, chasing each other around or, depending on the number of males, fighting for dominance. In the case of lions, when idle, male lions should be seen lazing about sun bathing, fighting amongst the males for dominance, dropping their brother into stampedes etc. As for tiger’s non-combat patterns, they should act like cats, finding the highest spot and laying in the sun, maybe even hanging out in the branches of trees sleeping. TL;DR more closely model animal behaviors seen in real life.
3) Ships of the Damned: These look like placeholder enemies and I sincerely hope they are. As these ships are right now, they really only serve as a nuisance. Now don’t get me wrong, when you actually engage these ships and they chase you, the adrenaline starts pumping, panic grips you and the crew and it truly feels great. However, when I’m trying to sail from one remote island of wheat to another obscure island of elephants and I see SOD’s on my journey my reaction isn’t: “Oh god! Man the cannons! Open sails full and prepare to bail water!” It’s: “oh, you again, ok adjust heading to move in the opposite direction as theirs...” having something that just serves to force the player to turn off course for a minute is not a fun and engaging gameplay mechanic.
Solution: First off, I get that this game is trying to go for a magic-y feel so the ships should look kinda spooky and weird. However, I would be ecstatic if the art team designed something that looks less like a floating Zerg carapace and more like an actual ship. Ideally, this ship would be helmed and crewed by actual npc skeletons potentially giving us the option of boarding the enemy ship, disabling it, turning it back from the land of the dead, and/or progressing the story through some kind of dialogue. Anyway, as for the ship’s current place within the game, I would like the ship threats to be more suspenseful. Sometimes the most terrifying and dramatic stories never involve actually seeing or engaging an enemy. Rather, it comes from the suspense of the possibility of an attack. To that effect, I would like to see a system that tracks the number of players traveling through a sector, the frequency of travel, and the most used route. This system would take this data and if it passed a set of criteria would spawn a ship in that sector to patrol across or along the most popular route. If the dev team is dead set on maintaining the use of the current SOD art, I suggest having an SOD spawn around the player/ship at sea when the fog sets in. This shouldn’t be a guaranteed spawn with fog but instead be a random chance. I’m envisioning sailing late at night, the fog slowly rolls in, slow enough that the exhausted crew doesn’t even notice until they are too deep into the fog to turn back; the captain, skeptical of the ships-of-the-damned rumors presses on. Then, from the depths rises this green kelp covered monstrosity hell bent on adding to its ranks of undead; panic ensues and another story fuels the fear of the Ships of the Damned! TL;DR Less monotony, more unpredictability.
4) Weather: Sailing through the stormy seas dodging cyclones was fun for about the first 8 or 10 times it happened. But now we all know that cyclones happen EVERY time it rains which is ridiculous! We also need to discuss the way in which the game communicates incoming weather to the player.
Solution: I suggest a range of weather intensity and the game picks randomly from this range. On the low end of the spectrum you have light drizzle and slightly increased wind speeds, moving up into incrementally more intense rain storms that rock your boat (The higher end of these increments may force the crew to bail water at times to avoid sinking). Once you have passed the reasonable intensity of what we can call a rain storm, the wind begins picking up and starts to swirl. A tornado shouldn’t just instantly spawn, these things take time to build up starting from small dust devils and working its way up to an actual tornado/cyclone. Additionally, Ive never heard of ship homing tornadoes so can we just not have that silly mechanic, it just makes the game feel cartoon-y and I know of a certain other pirate game that tried to go too cartoon-y and fell flat. On the catastrophic upper end of the spectrum it would make for an interesting mechanic to have a massive server-crossing hurricane that could wreak havoc across multiple server squares forcing players to either hide in bunkers or sail the hell out of there. Imagine a mass exodus of players running across servers telling people to prepare for incoming hurricanes! As for communicating weather effects to the player, I DO NOT need the game to tell me its raining I can bloody see that! There is a saying, that the most engaging way to communicate a story is to show, not tell. If you can get the servers to communicate what weather is happening in each grid and have that weather bleed over server boundaries you could leave the weather interpretation entirely in the hands of the players. Weather effects need to build up on the horizon and slowly move across the server square rather than having the weather be server wide. Don’t hand-hold your playerbase, you will run the game aground if you do that.
5) PvP and PvE only Atlas worlds: It’s a pirate game where you can’t do pirating! The idea of having permanently separate worlds of PvP and PvE is flawed. There ought to be a threat of enemy player attacks when at sea, it is a game about human nature and interaction after all. Now, I completely understand not wanting to confront other players sometimes, its for that reason I play on the PvE servers. However, the entire base building portion of the game revolves around taking land, and with so many people playing the game, you are going to have to take that land from somebody. It is my opinion that this game cannot work without at least some player conflict.
Solution: As of now, the servers adjacent to a Freeport are considered “Lawless” meaning you cannot place land claims but can still build on them, this is good but I suggest a merging of PvP and PvE ideologies. What are currently “Lawless” regions would now be PvPvE zones with all the same building freedom of a “Lawless” zone and expanded slightly to encompass a little more land and the option to place a bed on a foundation in lawless regions. An adjusted version of the “Declare War” feature would be implemented. It would work thusly: One company would declare war on another, this would automatically start a countdown to PvP being enabled between the two companies (Attacked party does NOT have to give consent), in that time a ping would be sent to all allied companies of the attacked party and send a delayed alert to all companies on the current island. Declaring war would also allow ANY other company to damage the attacking party. This would ensure that both companies have something to lose and something to gain and introduce a level of risk vs. reward that appears to be lacking in the current version of the game. Declaring war would only be allowed if there is a certain percentage of the total companys’ players online. However, If a percentage of players have been offline for a certain amount of time, the declare war option re-opens. In order to prevent simply popping onto the server every so often to stave off declare war, the percentage of online players must meet a certain threshold of play time proportional to the number of players within the company in order to maintain offline raid protection status. Additionally, to protect small companies from being picked on by massive conglomerates, a certain amount of foundation space must be taken up and/or a certain number of members must exist within a company and/or a certain number of ships must be owned before other companies can declare war against them (Herein referred to as underdog protection). As an additional raid protection measure, an option for the attacked party, called “Broker peace” would become available upon initial war declaration. The “Broker peace” option would require the attacked party to pay in either gold or resources of the attacker’s choice. Upon completed payment of the reparations a long timer would start giving the attacked party complete raid protection for a time. Deep ocean is automatically PvP enabled unless the company under attack is within the underdog protection threshold. Outside of lawless zones, land claims would operate as they currently do in PvP unless the number of claim flags owned by a company is under a certain number (Another aspect of underdog protection). However, under this system the ONLY way to forcibly take a claim flag from another company is to declare war on the company (You can always come to a peaceful resolution if you are diplomatic enough!). Additionally, land claims allow any attacked party to offer up a number of claim flags as reparations in the “Broker peace” option (The more flags you offer, the longer the raid protection timer). While under the effects of the “Broker peace” option the company in question cannot declare war until the raid protection timer has expired. Additionally it should be noted that “Broker peace” should remain an option for the duration of the PvP window. Declare war is automatically terminated when either party has been reduced to within the underdog protection threshold or “Broker peace” has been used. To make sure the option for PvP is open to all players from the get go if they so wish, any underdog protected company can go to war with another underdog protected company with all systems enabled. In underdog PvP, fighting ends when one party surrenders with “Broker peace” or either company is reduced to zero foundations.
Apologies for the Great Wall of text but I’ve come to adore this game and would love to see it grow into something truly special. Thank you for reading this far! If you have any tweaks to my proposals or suggestions of your own please post them. The only way to make the game into something players want is to communicate exactly what we are thinking! Safe travels Pathfinders!