Thoughts on the 2nd Alpha Test

The first 7 hour session of the 2nd alpha tests are over. I have to say I was actually really satisfied with what I got to try. I don’t really want to say more than that with regard my overall reaction as I don’t personally want to be responsible for over-hyping the game, so I’ll just go into the meat of this post and start telling you about the various aspects of the game that I liked.

A fair warning, this post is lengthy. As part of the non-disclosure agreement and to be fair to the developers, remember that this is a game that is still heavily in development. So the things you see and the things I talk about in this post don’t necessarily reflect what will be in the game by release. Also all images are (c) SEGA Phantasy Star Online 2 Alpha 2 Test Version. With that said, let’s begin!


Combat

A slightly important feature of the game, seeing as you’re going to be spending most of your time killing things. It definitely feels a lot more fluid than Phantasy Star Universe and there is much more visceral feedback from your attacks than before.

Melee

In PSU, the only attacks worth using were photon arts, which meant ignoring the normal attacks entirely. Normal attacks are now a major part of your damage and can even be weaved between various parts of your photon arts now, allowing you string together long combos. That extra feeling of control over your attacks was pretty neat, however I did find it a bit difficult sometimes to know what attack would be coming next. I’d find myself having to count the current combo in my head to predict the next attack in the chain.

You also now get a visual indicator on your character to pull of Just-Attacks with. When you press an attack button while this red circle is around your character, you will perform a Just Attack. Successfully doing so will make your attack hit harder as a result, which means pacing yourself properly can maximise your damage.

One old aspect of Phantasy Star’s combat that’s persisted since PSO was the 3-hit combo, with a delay before you could attack again. That limit is essentially gone now, as long as you keep hitting that button you’ll keep on attacking.

Incidentally, using the Wired-Lance grapple photon art to leap into the air and kick birds in the face is the greatest thing.

Ranged and Tech

Now, I only played melee. So, sorry ranged and force lovers, I wont be able to give as complete a picture as I can give for melee. However I can share some things you might like to know.

First off, the Just-Attack mechanic that melee users have had since Phantasy Star Universe is now available to both ranged and tech users, with all the same benefits.

Specific to ranged, you no longer need to continuously tap the attack button to fire your weapon. You can now just hold the button down, however doing so will deny you the damage bonus from properly timed attacks.

Nurses, not Forces! Actually I've heard that attack techs are a lot more fun to use this time around. I didn't try them, myself

Block, Stupid!

On a final note regarding the combat, when you get hit it actually feels like it was your fault. May not sound like much but this means that if you die, you were the one who fucked up. You weren’t screwed over by an unfair or rediculously hard mechanic. You can block, you can dash out of the way, heck you could just simply run out of the way. Point is you have plenty of opportunity to prevent damage from enemies and while some attacks might be harder to avoid than others, so far it’s mostly a case of know your enemy. Now, to be fair, this is accurate only to the low level content. We won’t get to see the difficulty curve likely until the game has been released, so a full representative opinion can’t be formed on this for now. So far so good, still.


Latency

Now, yes, it was a stress test, so I know I can’t fairly grade the performance of the servers with regard latency (especially as the server coding isn’t even complete). How the game performs under lag is however an important thing to know. One very good thing is the combat itself is largely client-sided, or at least the more interactive parts are. This includes enemy state-altering attacks such as launches, knockbacks, knockdowns, interrupts etc. The damage calculation is still carried out server-side, so you’ll certainly notice the lag there (as well as with jittery movements of fellow party members). One of the biggest downsides to PSU’s combat was being unable to interrupt attacks if your latency got high so this is a sorely welcome sight.


Environment

On the minimap, the brightness represents the height of the terrain.

It’s actually pretty strange how much interactivity the simple act of being able to jump adds to an environment. Not only that but it seems to have allowed the level designers to get a bit more creative with the layouts of the stages in general. Hills, slopes, ledges, cliffs and even the more decorative geometry make the stages feel leaps and bounds more interactive than the environments we saw in Phantasy Star Universe. The presense of these things also helps to make the stages feel less linear, however they could definitely do with putting fewer dead-ends into their stages.

Beyond jumping, you can also cut down tall grass, fell trees and get caught in the current of a river.

The weather on Naberius can change on the fly.

The environmental hazards were also a nice touch. On Naberius, if the weather changes to stormy you will now need to watch out for lightning strikes (which give you plenty of warning ). On Amduscia, you have lava pools, fiery vents and falling stalactites to worry about. Something that goes beyond the visuals of the planet to differentiate it, as well as the local fauna, is appreciated. Of course, cross-planet you also have explosive traps and poison wave traps.


Interrupt Events

STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM

The party I ran with ended up with numerous interrupt events. Attack, Duel (although we have yet to see a boss enemy), Arrest, Protect and Destruction. They seem to vary in difficulty and in a 4 man group, protection events can get really hectic. They can get even more intense if you end up with a protection event combined with an attack event spawning some larger enemies!

A "Protection" and "Attack" interrupt event happening at once

Un-named random events were quite nice too , with passing gunships lending some air support by either firing an assault cannon or a barrage of rockets at the enemies you’re fighting. They can also drop support such as healing devices.


Enemies

The enemies seem to be pretty well designed from what I’ve seen. What I appreciate more is they’ve attempted to mix things up with their mechanics this time around. Some enemies will actively (sometimes passively) block your attacks with a shield, which will interrupt your current combo. Others have weak spots which must be exposed in various ways or are constantly accessible either behind the enemy, or having to jump onto the enemy to access it. Basically I just like that you will need to physically interact with your enemies beyond just hitting them with big glowing weapons.

You have to jump onto this enemy's abdomen to deal any significant damage to it

The little details in some of the enemy behaviours were quite fun too, I thought. From the monkeys who would pick up a rock to hurl at you, only to melee you with it instead if you got too close, to the lizardman hunter-types who would block your attacks with their shields and follow up with a shield bash (though I must say, the other two lizardman types have so far been pretty ineffective). Heck the monkeys in the forest area will just be swinging about in the trees, then they hurl themselves down at you when you approach.

You will need to attack around this enemy's large shield, or else it will deflect all your attacks

Final Note

So I said I wouldnt over-hype the game at the start of this long post and I’m not beyond realising the possibility that I’ve done just that. I hope I didn’t imply that this game is flawless or anything silly like that.

Remember as well that with these kinds of games it can take a little while longer to really get to know its faults. It is however, so far, a very enjoyable game for me. If they continue this level of care throughout the rest of the game’s development then we may well be looking at something special here.

Initiating Code “ARREST”

Today has seen a number of videos from today’s test being posted about. Despite there being a new area and boss, however, they’ve all been shot in the forest area so far. A disproportionate number of the videos have also been female humans or newmans. I’m not surprised there aren’t any male newman videos given that no one cares about male newmans, but I am surprised there hasn’t been at least one video with a female cast.

One new thing to come about however is a new interrupt event. So far all we’ve seen is “ATTACK”, today “ARREST” was introduced. Going by the videos, it seems you need to arrest the specified enemies before they get away from you. During the event, the marked enemies will run away rather than attack.

STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM

Course, by “arrest” they really mean beat the shit out of them ’til they submit, so not much different to the real world really. Going by the video I captured these images from, it seems you don’t actually need to ‘arrest’ all of the marked enemies, just enough of them to satisfy this brown-haired girl who’s been appearing in all the interrupt events I’ve seen in these videos.

This girl. Her name is FRICKIT. I don't know really. Resolution is too low and my katakana skills too noob to tell for sure

Well, hopefully, as the day goes by we’ll actually see the new area and boss in action. Would also like to get a good look at a CAST gameplay video, as I’m curious about their jet-boots and role they play in their movement.