Closed Beta – The Big Writeup

So the closed beta is long underway now, I think I’ve had enough time to formulate an opinions post. Like last time, will be talking about what I like and what I dislike about the state of the game in the current test.

Now, there are a number of things that remain the same from the 2nd alpha test, so I won’t be talking about them here as a result.

This is a very long post.



Table of Contents:

  1. State of the Beta
  2. Progression
  3. Story
  4. The Matter Board
  5. Client Orders
  6. The Urban Area
  7. Dark Ragne
  8. Mags
  9. Arks Cash
  10. Symbol Art
  11. Bugs and curiosities
  12. The End Of This Long Post
  13. Towards The Future


State of the Beta

At the start of the tests attempting to play during Japanese peak time was an exercise in frustration. Players were greeted by an unplayable, laggy mess of a game. Lag was also a big issue during the 2nd Alpha, but it was many magnitudes worse in this test. Ok you have to consider that there is now a maximum potential of 100,000 simultaneous players, versus the 50,000 or so in the 2nd Alpha. Even still, the lag shouldn’t have been as bad as it was.

Then, 7 days into the test, Sega performed a server maintenance in which they upgraded and reconfigured some hardware. The latency experienced during the JP peak time has all but disappeared, so good job! Hopefully this fix will hold up towards the launch and beyond.
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Progression

One of the biggest changes is how you actually progress through content. In the 2nd Alpha you used to have to run each mission once to unlock the next one along. This time you will need to do a variety of things, including Matter Board objectives and Client Orders. I’ll be talking about both of those things in a separate section.

You can still unlock missions the normal way, but the progression will halt at points and its at these points you need to do the other things needed. As a player from the Alpha this left me a bit confused, as when I arrested the Rappies successfully I was expecting to go toe-to-toe with Rockbears in the Free-Field, but no such luck!

So what do you have to do? Well you need to complete the 3rd Matter Board node, which wants you to talk to an NPC to receive a client order, which wants you to go kill some wolves, which then unlocks Client Ordersin general. Then, after clearing the 4th mission at least once and being beyond a certain level (lv5?) you need to get a client order from another NPC who wants you to do that mission again as well as another mission within a time limit as well as collecting some rare drops. THEN you get to do Free-Field!
You then need to do a client order to unlock the next planet and its first mission, after which you’re back to unlocking them by just running the mission. You’ll hit a similar Client Order requirement when you want to unlock the Caves Free-Field.

Overall, I would say this approach has a danger of overcomplicating progression or stretching the content frustratingly thin, particularly when progression objectives include collecting certain drops from enemies. I can see what they were perhaps attempting to do, maybe they wanted the player to get a bit more involved in the world and plot in order to advance missions. Maybe they were making sure that players could level up with the story? Nothing hugely wrong with that, I guess.

Honestly, the objectives so far haven’t been too bad and can largely be completed passively anyway, given that it’s not unusual that you’re going to be doing multiple runs of a mission. Players who are in a rush are going to feel the squeeze however and PSO2 is going to offer impatient players very little while they’re waiting for quest items to drop.
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Story

The story is presented in a relatively nonlinear fashion, what little of it exists so far. All cutscenes so far are fully voice acted, with the characters fairly well animated, too. The cutscenes in the lobbies and fields themselves (that you can encounter seemingly randomly) actually remind me a bit of how cutscenes used to look in Mass Effect. You know, if Mass Effect were also incredibly anime.
I doubt many interesting things are being said by the characters, but I do admit that I somewhat lament not being able to understand what they’re saying.

I have no idea what Alfin is saying, but I hate him
This small girl remembers who the player is, but the player doesn't remember her. That smirking probably isn't helping ease her frustration.

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The Matter Board

Given to you mysteriously by the mysterious Shion because she’s really freaking mysterious. .

So what actually is it, then? Well the board is a series of nodes with each node having some objective. Completing the objective will unlock access to the adjacent nodes around it, with golden nodes being relevant to the story in some manner. The objectives vary from seeing certain events in missions, collecting items from enemies, completing certain missions as well some other similar bits.
Ultimately its main purpose is supposed to be something to advance the story with, while I suppose making the world feel more involving. It somewhat comes across more as a means to artificially stretch out the content, however.
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Client Orders

Client orders are given to you by the various NPCs wandering about the lobbies. They grant passive objectives just like the Matter Board, so you’ll be expected to collect items, do missions, etc. The difference is that Client Orders are mostly a means to earn experience points, with some quests giving out quite a generous amount (in particular one of Echo’s quests). Some Client Orders are also dailies.

This is Koffie. Her quests unlock new areas, so you'll want to become aquainted with her quite quickly.

You can take on many client orders at once and just complete them as you go, so there’s really no disadvantage to taking every order you see. It’s a passive boost to your levelling, really, plus they do make the lobbies feel a bit more interactive. It’s using old-fashioned MMO approaches, however, such as collecting x of a monster drop where not every monster will drop one (birds that don’t have feathers).

Attempting to rush these quests will probably be a frustrating experience, but given that one of them are really necessary I don’t think they really do the game ay harm. A flimsy justification for them existing, I know, but that’s really the best opinion I can make about them. They’re not really needed, but I don’t mind them being there either.
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The Urban Area

As I guessed, the new urban area was only available during emergency quests. Makes sense, it would be rather alarming if monsters were attacking the colony constantly. When an emergency quest is announced, you have something like 15 minutes before the quest itself begins. The ship’s terminals will update to reflect this, as well as announcement will be scrolled at the top of the screen. The quest itself is time-limited in both availability and when you actually start the quest. The quest is available for 1 hour, and you have 25 minutes to clear any instance of it. Naturally this means that the most efficient thing to do is to just rush straight to the boss, whose entrance you can’t miss seeing as it’s a giant dome set against a sea of rectangular buildings.

The area itself is filled with various static hazards, including cars that will explode a short while after you hit them. These explosions can hurt friend and foe alike and it is possible to kill other players with them. Difficult, but I’ve managed to pull it off once, as well as getting myself killed trying to. Burning wreckage will also deal considerable damage to you if your gear isn’t up to scratch. It also has the chance of lightning storms, but these offer little in the way of danger to players.

The enemies are exclusively Darkers, with one new type of flying darker that will do swift and powerful attacks to unprepared players. However this barely matters as you’ll be rushing by them to fight the boss. Speaking of which:
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Dark Ragne

The new boss of the test, as well as the boss that appears in the opening movie. Not only does it reside in a large stadium in the urban area, it also has a chance of spawning anywhere outside of it too, including on other planets.

The mechanics of the boss are rather straightforward when compared to the Vol Dragon. His main weak point is on an area between his head and main body at the back of its neck. Accessing it while it’s moving about is tricky, but you can bring it into the open by breaking its legs. Deal enough damage to one leg and it will begin to crackle. Hit it some more and eventually it will break, causing Ragne to faint for a short while. Breaking all 4 legs will cause him to faint for an extended period of time.

Its attacks vary from easy to avoid to somewhat tricky. It’ll regularly fire a series of red discs in from of it, which are easily avoided if you watch their patterns. You also avoid them entirely by being at its side. It will also do a short-range area-of-effect ability that will knock you back if you don’t block or get away from it. Ragne will also perform a leg sweep, which looks a lot easier to dodge than it actually is. Dark Ragne also has an absolute ton of HP, at least in the closed beta, so if you’re undergeared or underlevelled or both you’re going to have a rough time defeating it within the time limit.

Being trapped in a webbed cage with one isn't the most pleasent experience..

Overall, another fairly easy boss. I found it a lot easier to get used to than I found Vol Dragon, certainly. Mind the lack of difficulty could well have something to do with how overgeared the player base is at 20 in this test.
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Mags

Yeah I know I’ve lambasted Mags before, disliking the idea that I would forced to have it following my character whether I liked it or not. Having played with them now, I know I was basically making a mountain out of a molehill. Besides, after shoving a few weapons down its throat and watching it grow up and then learn to headbutt my enemies, I’ve kinda grown attached to the little scrapper.
Will say that feeding them is still the same kind of chore as it was in PSO, but if you didn’t mind it back then you’ll be right at home with the way they are in PSO2.

Holding down the Photon Blast button will allow other players and even NPCs to chain with yours. The result is a simultaneous and longer lasting Photon Blast. And yes that is a clone of my character.

Incidentally, the bar above their stats is actually their hunger meter. If it’s over 67% or so, you can’t feed it another item (each item raises the bar around 33%). When your mag performs actions, such as headbutting, shooting and healing, its hunger bar will deplete. It’s possible this could be abused to make Mags hungrier more quickly..
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Arks Cash

Well the beta has let us know which things are definitely rental:

  •  Access to selling items on the player shops
  • Access to trading
  •  My Room Access
  •  Extra Storage

Already gone over this, however. We sadly already knew that PSO2 was a freemium game parading as a free-to-play. What’s new and frankly unsettling is the number of other things that you need Arks Cash for:

  • Getting new talent trees
  • Respeccing Talents
  • Extra Mags
  • Resetting Mags

Yes, resetting your skill trees will cost you money. You better damn well hope that either you don’t pick a build that sounds cool but is ultimately gimp, or ed up picking a tree that gets heavily nerfed down the line. I can not believe that they’re charging money for what amounts to newbie mistakes or even factors that are completely out of a player’s control. But there you have it. Make a mistake? Cough up, chump.

  • Clothes outside of the one you pick at character creation

There are a tiny number of outfits that you can buy with Meseta, only the default outfit + colour you see for each race/class combo on the race selection screen. However, clothing is tradeable on the player market, so you potentially wont ever need to spend cash to get any particular outfit. I expect some colour combinations to be hilariously expensive on some items, however.

The Gachas also drain your AC alarmingly fast, even though each spin costs 10AC and players got 1000AC or so. Players who gamble on them when the game is released may want to seriously keep an eye on the amount of money they’re spending, unless you want me to laugh at you when you turn up the news.

Personally speaking, there’s also something kind of teasing about arks cash items being stuck into various menus. I guess it’s there for the convenience, but for example if you’re defeated at any point the menu that pops up is literally asking you if you want to drop some cash to revive there and then. Related to that, incidentally, it won’t help you in boss arenas as it’s automatic failure if the party is defeated.
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Symbol Art

Symbol art is the evolution of a feature that was popular in PSO, which was then dropped from PSU for no good reason. I was wondering what kinds of pictures people could create with them and was eager to have a go myself. It allows people to create far more intricate pieces of artwork than I imagined possible. Here are some examples of what I made:
And some other people made. I do not know who the creators are, otherwise I would give credit.

Symbol art is a tool that you can use to make potentially impressive pictures with, but it’s far from perfect. For one thing, the colours that you set in the creation window don’t seem to match up at all with the colours on the transmitted symbol. Another problem is arranging symbols into more intricate shapes is fiddly, approaching impossible when the UI can’t seem to decide which of the various anchors you’re trying to click on. This issue could be subsided considerably if they allowed us to zoom in 500% like they do when we’re creating team flags. Aside those faults, I’m really impressed with the toolset they’ve granted us with.
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Bugs and Curiosities

  • Beta testers will have noticed all the 1* weapon drops, despite the weapons clearly having some sort of statistical progression. Don’t really know what’s up with that.
  • The Matter Board had some progression issues for some players, where they’d be left unable to progress any further. Sega is aware of the issue.
  • Some players were able to fall through the camp ship.
  • Beize and Gawonda, two enemies from the 2nd Alpha Test, were nowhere to be found in the beta.
    Update:Beize is in fact in as a random encounter in the Forest, albeit a very rare one. Proof:

    Sorry for not getting a better screenshot. Although you can't see it, as the UI is disabled, Beize does in fact have a health bar now. This is a good change as players had almost no feedback at all that their attacks were actually doing anything to it.
  • A sound glitch during the Dark Ragne fight in his arena seems to randomly cause the background music to become a fair amount louder than usual.
  • A glitch in partner-character AI would cause Ranger characters with a specific photon art to crawl infinitely in one direction.
  • A glitch allows partner characters to be duped, allowing for insanely large parties of AI characters to be formed (who could also allegedly follow you into the lobbies).
  • There is a glitch that’s existed since the character creator was released that allows characters to be in their underwear.

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The End Of This Very Large Post

I like PSO2. Just as well seeing as I’ve written a blog about it, but so far PSO2 is doing everything I want it to. Yes there are some definite creases in the overall design, some more major than others. The client does seem to have some definite areas where the game could be better optimized, like one particular area of the Caves caused considerable performance drag, as well as opening the options menu in the new urban area. But among the things I love are free-field areas, which have a wonderful chaos about them (particularly in the caves) which I hope continues into future free-fields.

Of course, this game continues to offer little for hardcore gamers. The game is very, very easy, with the only challenge being to learn the attacks of each boss (and you will learn these very quickly). Sure, there’s the chance that the game’s difficulty could increase later on and we’re only playing the introductory levels right now. There still doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anything for people who used to do time-attacks in PSU. The game is just simply far too random for them and there’s been no official hints at a time attack mode of any kind (of course.. in the datamining….).

It is also of course a little worrying how much of the game is permeated by the cash shop and how badly this will impact a player’s experience. Although this is a Beta and thus it’s not really scientifically sound, I played with the intention of not selling items through the player shop or using any premium features. Seemed to work out just fine for me, although I know I’m going to feel it when a friend acquires a rare item that I’m after and he cannot trade it to me. This problem could well become amplified in the higher levels..

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Towards The Future

The beta tests will come to an end on the 30th of April, which means there are less than 48 hours remaining as I finish off this post.

On May 3rd, there will another pair of fan briefings which set out to demonstrate where the game is going. It will include new features, new areas and other new things to come in the future. It’ll be broadcast on NicoNico again, but like last time I’m sure someone will upload it to YouTube if not Sega themselves.

The presentations will start at 13:00 JST and 15:30 JST. The 2nd of these presentations will feature a live demonstration of one of the new fields to come. I’m going to guess it’ll be the desert or mines field myself, but we’ll have to wait and see!
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「画像は『PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2』クローズドβテストにおいて撮影された実機画像です。
開発中のため、正式版とは異なる内容であり、今後改良される可能性があります。」

『PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2』公式サイト

http://pso2.jp/

3 thoughts on “Closed Beta – The Big Writeup”

  1. Your entire post seems to imply that Freemium = Bad MMO. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and they’re largely preferable to pay-to-play ones. Besides, most of the stuff that PSO2 has for real money, you could get in-game with FUN or other methods of obtaining Arks Cash, and it seems like SEGA is being very fair with the cash shop. Some of the things they have there are quite common of MMOs with cash shops. Heck, look at Dungeon and Fighter. It’s one of the most popular freemium games out there and people love it and the cash shop.

    It feels like you’re being a bit paranoid or unfair here with the cash shop. Wait and see; it won’t be that bad.

    1. Well I did talk about FUN points in the follow-up post and it along with the tradeability of most cash shop items does limit my concerns with the cash shop considerably. This post was written before I really got my hands dirty with the FUN gacha.

      My main concern is having to pay for skill tree resets, as essentially that’s charging for newbie errors (or worse, being gimped by rebalances, though we may get free tickets for that) as opposed to a player wanting an extra service of some kind. As far as I know, you can’t obtain a skill tree reset ticket from FUN or sell a ticket, but I may be wrong there. If so then again that worry is deflated somewhat.

      Gonna go on record as well as saying that freemium does not mean bad MMO, even if my post’s wording ended up presenting that message, as that wasn’t the intention. Moreso, I meant to present concerns about how badly the cash shop could affect the game or not. I hope all my concerns turn out to be un-necessary!

      1. Actually, skill resets being available for real money is a very common thing in FTP games, and they likely won’t even be that much of a hit to the wallet. Most games that have rebalances usually either give free resets or heavily discounted ones, and considering this is only the beta, it is very likely that in the main game the skill resets will either be free or available for FUN points. SEGA really does know what they’re doing with this one after all. The cash shop isn’t a pay-to-win one, and thank God for that. Everything should be okay with this one.

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