I've recently decided to come back and take a look at ATLAS after a very lengthy hiatus from the game. Not being into the "MMO" scene, I elected to go back to Single Player and see what changes have been made - on both the "Ocean" map and the Blackwood map - which was initially designed for smaller servers/Single Player.
What is disappointing to see is that Single Player - a game mode that has been included from the start - appears to have been neglected in favour of "doubling down" on the multiplayer aspect which appears to be going catastrophically wrong, given the rather passionate responses I've been reading through today.
Single Player is useful to people for many reasons.
1 - It allows people to play ATLAS either alone or, though a non-dedicated server (or even a small dedicated server), with a small group of friends and experience the storyline of ATLAS.
2 - It allows people to get a feel for ATLAS without the rampant toxicity multiplayer servers typically devolve into.
3 - It allows people to experiment with and/or design ships and bases that they may decide to employ on a multiplayer server.
For those reasons alone, while it may not be "the focus" of Grapeshot Studios (which to me is seems like Wildcard but by a different name), Single Player should be maintained in the same manner as Multiplayer. The following is my opinion, some suggestion and recommendations which - while I am only one person with one opinion - may spark some more creative flare from a developer or a group that can take this further than I possibly could.
For the most part, given my several hours of reacquainting myself with the systems and mechanics, the "new" map that came with the Trade Winds update so far appears to be a significant improvement over the previous iteration. However there are still areas that require addressing.
1 - Ships of the Damned.
This was one of the major reasons I stopped playing (from a Single Player perspective) ATLAS the first time around. SotD seem to ignore any damage resistance/modifier changes. They also still spawn in the *STARTER* zone. While a fully crewed sloop in multiplayer can probably outrun them (assuming good wind - which, granted I did not have in SP at the time of my encounter), my partially crewed Single Player sloop was sunk in 4 volleys by a Level 28 Brigantine. After searching high and low for a command line or mod to assist with SotD, I ended up disappointed.
I understand that SotD and AotD are embedded into the storyline and the end-game resources so they cannot be removed entirely - however their number and power should be able to be managed by command line/in-game slider.
There should be a map guide (or even a revision of the mechanics surrounding SotD) explaining the likelihood of SotD encounters and their relative power in the zones/regions - similar to what occurs for Wild Pirates - so players can make informed decisions.
My recommendation for handling Ships of the Damned for Single Player and small Multiplayer servers is to either implement a slider (or command lines) that reduces the level, damage and group size of SotDs that spawn in and disable their spawning in the STARTER zone (at least), if not the zones immediately surrounding the STARTER zone, ENTIRELY. This gives the player(s) a bit of breathing room to get themselves established - so that when the player reaches the open ocean in either an AI-crewed (or player-crewed) Brig or Schooner (or something larger, provided they can acquire the resources from the starter zone/immediate zones) they at least have a chance to defend themselves if they're unable to avoid the ship.
I would also recommend, especially for Single Player - but could also work very well in both an Official and Unofficial setting, that SotD only spawn in the regions containing, and immediately surrounding, the Stones of Power locales.
2 - Wild Pirates.
This is not a negative, this is actually a commendation. I actually very much applaud of the addition of these AI pirates from not only a Single Player perspective but also from a PvE and PvP perspective. It gives PvE something to fight against on the sea (aside from SotD) and gives the PvPers something to practice against. From a Single Player perspective it implies that the player is trying to establish their own pirate empire. The map also advises the player on just how powerful the Wild Pirates are in the zones/regions before you enter them - so the player can make an informed decision about entering the zone.
3 - Stupidly high temperatures
An island with an ambient temperature of 63 degrees. That's hotter than Dubai on a hot day. In fact, that's 7 degrees hotter than the highest recorded temperature. And these temperatures kill players trying to level. Not even swimming in the ocean works at these temperatures. Either a global temperature adjustment, or a command line/slider to manage how high (and also low) temperatures get.
4 - Blackwood
This map was intended to be the ideal answer for small multiplayer servers and Single Player. After exploring the map and reading comments regarding Blackwood on Steam (I've not read the comments here) it is apparent that the upkeep of the map has been abandoned. Certain trees are missing textures, it's missing certain resources and certain spawns are tricky to find.
At the very least, I would encourage an update to Blackwood to ensure that those who play on the map have access to the same content as the multiplayer game in a much more condensed size. This would also suit smaller multiplayer servers. However I do have an alternate suggestion:
5 - New Map: The New World
A map with the same overall size as Blackwood, but modelled after the real world - much like what the multiplayer ATLAS is doing, but on a more compressed scale.
Players start in the Caribbean freeport and the Americas on the western side of the map - with the expansive "Atlantic Ocean" (containing the Kraken's Maw - and 'Atlantis' in the depths) between them and Europe, Africa (and perhaps even a representation of Asia and Australia, if it would fit) on the eastern side with the polar caps hosting icy zones representing the Arctic and Antarctic regions at the top and bottom of the map. Where possible animals would be assigned to spawn on their respective land masses/biomes (i.e. Lions, Elephants and Giraffes in Africa, Wolves in the Americas and Europe, etc.). The Stones of Power can be spread throughout the world (such as ruins in South America and Africa, hidden away in ruined castles in Europe, etc) which encourages the player (or players) to sail and explore - to tame specific creatures they would need to head to specific biomes (which, with the ability to utilise the new 'tame transporter' ship, can be great to showcase what is possible in ATLAS).
It would also give players several distinct choices on where to live (the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean or Africa - or the north/south pole as they choose).
This map would also include the necessary resources and requirements for end-game content (such as Atlantean ruins), and need to be able to be expanded upon (in terms of catering to future content).
As referenced above regarding SotD, SotD would only spawn in certain regions, though especially in the oceans adjacent to Stones of Power and surrounding the Kraken's Maw - meaning a player or players can go 'hunting' for them with only a very minor chance of them appearing elsewhere - and certainly not as soon as you exit the starter zone.
6 - Gold
This is more specific to Single Player, but more ways to find/earn gold would be a great addition. As Single Players *need* gold to manage the larger, more capable ships - even to use a Sloop to get off the starter island - one could find themselves essentially bottlenecked trying to find enough gold to afford a crew. I have no issue with the cost of AI crew, or their cost of retention, but coming up with the gold to pay for them to begin with was quite challenging. In my playthrough, very few bits of flotsam spawned in the starter area and I found myself having to use a raft (after already buying and prepping the ill-fated Sloop) to head out into the adjacent, more dangerous zone, to look for flotsam - to then head back to the starter area in order to get myself a crew.
In SP, I suppose I am not penalised for staying on the starter island (with the exception of not having access to metal) so this might not be seen as much of an issue, but in a multiplayer setting - you don't necessarily want your players to base out of the starter island: you want them to leave and explore the larger ATLAS world (hence why there is now no metal on the starter islands).
Even if, in SP specifically, one of the vendors in the freeport bought a stack of wood, thatch or stone for 1 gold. It's a lot of work (rates notwithstanding) for little gain but if a player is struggling and they're prepared to put in the effort, they can afford to get off the island with a crewed Sloop, leaving the starter zone behind them (though I would still return myself, especially if I was hosting a non-dedicated session with a friend - or if it was a private server).
Overall, I did find that ATLAS had fewer, less obvious bugs than when I last played - so it has clearly had some TLC applied. During my 5 or so hours getting reacquainted, I had no trouble with the way leveling now works, or the introduction to progression. I can not, obviously, speak to the balance of the wider multiplayer game as I personally would not seek to play ATLAS on such a scale - as I play with a small, close group of friends. From what I've been able to observe and achieve in my time, there is no issue with how things progress (with the exception of SotD and extremely high temps).
If the 6 main points above were to be addressed and/or achieved this would put ATLAS in good stead when it comes out of Early Access. If "v1.0" does not contain methods to address or fix the issues listed above, the game cannot be considered "out of Early Access" when features it has had since EA launch do not function as intended across all game modes.
Thank you for reading.