PSO-World staff member HUnwearl_Meira had the chance to participate in the recent Alpha 2 testing for Phantasy Star Online 2. He has written up a detailed report on the latest Phantasy Star Online 2 build. Be sure to click on the "Read More" link to read his report!
The first two sessions of the second Alpha Test for Phantasy Star Online 2 have come and gone, as I am writing this. Iím not accustomed to waking up in the late afternoon, but I have no regrets concerning the sleep depravation I incurred over the last couple of days. The Alpha testís schedule is well-planned for a Japanese audience, I think-- or at least, the times looked pretty damned reasonable, if theyíd been for a local time zone. California is 17 hours behind Japan, however, which means that a well-placed Friday-evening session in Japan is a late-starting Thursday-night session here. I told myself that I can sleep when Iím dead, and pressed on ahead.
The first impression of the game came early on, long before the servers went live. As soon as the client was installed, naturally I fired it up, knowing I couldnít play. The introduction video started with a HUmar strolling down a futuristic metal hallway (weíll know weíve reached the future when all of our buildings are made of exposed metal-- cartoons and science fiction have made this abundantly clear). His stroll eventually terminated upon his arrival at what initially appears to be a very cold private pool, which he proceeds to jump into with an unnecessarily elaborate leap. He crystallized as he entered the depths, which seems like something to be concerned about, but he clearly expected it. This was the teleporter technology featured in the game.
The HUmar shot down to the planet below, and in a very energetic sequence of running through the woods and fighting monsters, heís very soon joined by a FOnewearl, a HUnewearl and a RAcast. Itís all very exciting, but like any good introduction video, its ultimate fate was to get skipped over, in favor of getting into the game which its meant to hype up.
The short statement to make, is that the game is good. Itís incomplete, and all of the menus may as well have been labeled with squiggly lines for all the Japanese I understand, but the game is good, nevertheless. The game holds tight to the conventions weíve expected from online Phantasy Star titles. Our races include Humans, Newmans and Casts, and our classes are Hunter, Ranger and Force. This time, there are no limitations concerning who can have what class, but then, we all knew this long before this Alpha test came about.
It took a while to figure out how to get down to the planet. I was a little disappointed that one cannot simply port down and start killing things, as we all got used to in the original. You need first, to visit the Quest Counter to accept a quest. With this done, you may then use the warp to get to the vestibule containing the warp pool seen in the introduction video.
Using the original PSO as a reference point, itís very much as though the lobbies have absorbed much of the space and functionality that was once on Pioneer 2ís Hunterís Deck. Shops and quest counters are found in the lobby, in addition to other service desks specific to this game. The vestibule also contains something like a vending machine, as well as a device which functions as some sort of a lightweight quest counter, and a third giving you access to your bank. When your party has collected and youíre ready to grind, you just jump into the pool and youíll be whisked away to your destination.
The most striking thing I noticed, is how energetic the gameplay is, compared to previous games. PSO and PSU were Action RPGs, but they were relatively slow-paced. PSO2 really focuses on the Action part of that genre, not settling for merely being an RPG with real-time, two-dimensional combat. For the first time, we can jump, but also significantly, we can dash as well. Where a Booma from PSO might pop up out of the ground, lazily think, ďWell, I guess I should slap this guy,Ē and groggily shuffle toward you, the monsters in PSO2 will chase you down, and try to out-flank you. In combat, youíll find itís a good idea to keep moving, as a stationary target will be pummeled soundly.
There are no Boomas to be found, but weíve got some kind of wolf to deal with, again. Their behavior isnít unfamiliar, but they wonít circle you, as they once did. Another common foe, is some kind of a giant, four-legged spider, which makes me think of Starcraftís Zerg, or the bugs from Starship Troopers. The new Booma seems to be derived from PSO Episode 2ís Gibbons. Whatever theyíre called, the smaller apes like to jump-kick you from a hand-stand, the larger apes will tear boulders out of the ground to hit you with. Your best defensive tool will be your dash, dive-roll or teleport (depending on whether youíre a Hunter, Ranger or Force, respectively), and I found it interesting to note that if youíre quick, you can shoot a flung rock out of the air.
Overall, PSO2ís gameplay seems like a pretty natural evolution of what weíve seen before. Most of us who played PSO were rather disappointed with PSUís gameplay, despite the inclusion of some pretty neat features in the game. Sega seems to have learned their lessons there (as though PSP2 left us with any doubt in this regard), and I think theyíve improved things. In the past, one class was very much like another, differing chiefly in the type of weapon used. In PSO2, while the fundamentals remain consistent, each class has its own paradigm. The addition of a Third Person Shooter mode makes Rangering rather more satisfying, but Hunters will find fighting in that mode to be rather cumbersome. A Force may also be inclined toward the TPS mode if they use Foie an awful lot, but I suspect that the differing mechanics of each Technique will mean that Forces will be hopping modes with some considerable frequency. The practical result is that each class is almost like a different game, entirely.
I created three characters, who should all be easily recognizable to those whoíve followed my work: Meira, Mota Storm and Crankshaft. The level of customization is as incredible as weíve previously been lead to believe. Iím not satisfied with what I worked out for Meira, though thatís a failing of my own haste to get into the meat and potatoes of the game, rather than a limit of the system. Iím hoping for some more alternatives for costumes as well, as Iíve never really pictured Meira as the kind of girl to run around with both ass cheeks exposed. Crankshaft came out rather good, as creating a character with a perpetually goofy expression turned out to be much easier than I first anticipated. Finally, I was happiest with Mota Storm, as my criteria for him was simplest. He came out big, bulky, and in the colors of Desert camouflage.
The largest character creation issue seems to be in costuming. Thereís a bit more mix-and-match for the Casts, but the fact remains that thereís really only a handful of options. Fortunately, a costume shop exists in the lobby, though the door is shut for the alpha test. This of course, means that we wonít really be able to tell one class from another by uniform, but I imagine that many of us wonít regard that as any sort of a big deal.
Iíll note that Mags are absent from this Alpha test, but theyíve got a spot reserved right in the middle of the main, in-game menu. I look forward to seeing how that feature works out. Weíve been a long time without our floaty companions, and itíll be nice to see them make a return.
It could be that itís just still new and shiny, but Iím pretty satisfied with the game. I think most of us will be. I donít know that PSO2 will usher in a new age where PSO brushes on the popular and the mainstream, as it did ten years ago-- I think that largely relies on how Sega handles its marketing. What I do know, is that thereís a lot of potential for something fantastic, here. Any Phanatic should be able to find something he likes out of this game.
Thatís what I think on the subject. Iíd invite anyone with something to say on the matter to join us in our PSO2 General forum, and speak their mind.