Earlier this month Netease launched Nostos, an ambitious new platform MMORPG designed to bridge the gap between the flat screen and VR so we plunged in and checked out the result.
Nostos is not the first attempt at bringing huge worlds to the VR market but it is possibly one of the more ambitious to hit the market of late. This eastern entry into the MMO market weaves together a massive open world, built around an animated aesthetic and challenges players to survive as they stride across new worlds. Players jumping into this cross-platform MMO can experience the adventure on the flat screen or in VR as they take the role of a pioneer and try to survive amidst a range of terrain and uncover the mysteries of a world lost.
Undeniably beautiful, Nostos leans on its animated aesthetic. While many MMORPGs, like the recent Kingdom Under Fire 2, make heavy use of the high fantasy trappings, Nostos has a more anime inspiration. Bright colors, almost Ghibli like scenes and a charming style make it very easy on the eye. The opening glimpse of an underwater world is like dipping back into the bold colors of Abzu and the huge glowing structures that tower over the opening horizons are just as beautiful. It’s all very serene, cute, and inviting.
An Opening Of Sorts
Passing through the initial moments of Nostos, you’ll learn that the world which you are about to enter has changed. A once vibrant environment has suffered somewhat and while the backdrops might look beautiful, it is up to you to survive in a world full of danger. This isn’t the post-apocalyptic near-future dystopia like Last Oasis but it definitely falls into the category of survival sandbox. As an open-world title, Nostos tends to try to balance the needs of player freedom with narrative design. The enigmatic main characters that populate Nostos allow players to jump into a range of scenarios and explore the world as more than just the one individual. From the off, it is possible to step from a central hub environment into a series of instanced worlds, all set within a wider character arc. Whether you are an engineer or an explorer you’ll be able to invite your friends and fellow adventurers into each of these instanced environments or just go solo at your own behest. This all means that there are a ton of ways to play Nostos and the ability jump in using a 2D rig means players should be able to get on with the game without being bound to full immersion.
Each world brings a different adventure for players, inhabiting the guise of a lone hunter, or maybe a mechanic set on exploring old technology, the instanced experiences are a mix of open-world explorations, survival mechanics, and a narrative content that provides a massive range of potential scenarios. The lofty target that Nostos seems to be aiming at certainly leaves it with plenty of room to play around in. Especially in VR, the environments that you and your friends can explore are huge. Dazzling stars are draw out across the night sky and the dusty hills that ebb out into the distance are impressive to gaze out on,
With so much to explore, players can ultimately stomp through the grassy knolls on foo but, there are more than a few other possibilities and as the game unfolds. Despite the tendency of traditional MMO players like me to expect a narrative element, Nostos leans heavily on exploration and survival. A brief introduction and low down on the mechanics quickly throws players into each environment with a flexible objective, that seems crafted to lead players into the heart of each world and beyond. As instances progress, players learn to collect and craft in a fairly traditional sandbox style. If you’ve ever played Minecraft, more recent entries like Conan Exiles, or anything in this vein then you’ll understand the systems in place here. What begins as chopping wood with a simple axe, builds into more complex equipment and quickly gives way to technology trees, housing, and even fully-fledged vehicles that scoot across the sand. All of these utilities synchronize nicely with the game’s survival systems, allowing players to build fires to stay warm, build transport, or even make weapons to hunt for food.
Combat is, of course, not just for bringing in the food that each character needs to survive, it helps fend off aggressive animals, NPCs, and other horrors that the new world holds. There are plenty of these and there’s just as much loot as there are predators out in the evening sun. Unfortunately, with some very solid systems in place, Nostos manages to undermine the overall experience with some serious issues.
A Harsh Escape
The problem with the inviting escape to one of these instanced worlds is that it is still utterly unforgiving. Nostos has lofty goals but feels like it isn’t ready to quit fulfill them yet. Initially stepping into beta around September, the game has several problems that make it feel unfinished. Marketed as an open world MMORPG, the title sits far better as a multiplayer survival experience. The game readily throws players in at the deep end from the word go. The mysterious subterranean start does not give way to a definitive narrative or a tutorial. Instead, players are almost abandoned with little rhyme or reason. The attempt to brief players on the game’s control system makes little sense much of the time while engaging in activities like combat with almost no effective preparation means you’ll die repeatedly before you learn how tough enemies are to tackle.
What makes this even more unfortunate is the game’s sporadic responses to these controls. Bounding across the lush green grass, players might find that objects are difficult to wield, or the wrist-based dial system doesn’t always cooperate consistently. Depth measurement is often to blame and presents itself in other unusual ways. I’ve found myself having to reach off into the distance to engage controls that should be easy to activate and even found my character walking off into the stratosphere for no reason at all. Combat is compounded by these strange problems meaning Vr players can swing and miss far too often.
Graphics, similarly, have real issues with scenes dropping out into the darkness, loading screens appearing, and frame rate issues that seem to decimate the game when walking through grass or jumping onboard a vehicle. Nostos should be a magical adventure, and possibly in time, it will be. For now, the entire experience should be treated as a survival adventure and the basic functional issues need to be resolved before heading out for adventure again. Nostos has to get praise for its ambition and if Netease can patch up the problems I’ll be coming back to give it another try. It’s a gorgeous looking endeavor that just breaks down when pressed to actually interact with players. Nostos is out now on Steam for PC and major VR systems. We played this on an Oculus Rift S and will be revisiting it sometime next year to check up on the progress.