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Pirate survival MMO Atlas is brutal, buggy – but intriguing too

The early-access pirate survival MMO Atlas promises a life of adventure: navigating islands, catching a wind on your mighty vessel and cresting over waves, fighting monsters and spooky ghost ships at sea, and building your own pirate empire. All of this content is in the game, but don't expect to experience it immediately, if at all.

The bulk of Atlas so far is built towards the mundane preparation and legwork it takes to experience those promised high points. The game has a lot of work done, as the promise of being a pirate seems to be in favor of desperately monitoring your vitamin levels and looking for islands that have yet to be cut and strip mined.

session of Atlas was largely fruitless. At this point in the launch cycle, I can reliably get online, although the game disconnects me every third launch. When I first entered the game, I was provided with tutorial text. The game suggested that I talk to a merchant to buy my first raft, but then I warn that I need to gather a lot of supplies to so and even more reliably survive once I set sail in the world. A block of text continuously hovered in the top left of my screen with a full explanation of combat, but I couldn't find any combat in the freeport's walls – just other confused players wandering around.

General chat was surprisingly polite, but no one could tell me how to buy a raft from the docks. People were more concerned with why they would not be able to put them in a white screen from which they could not escape. "" Yeah, beds are kind of a problem right now, "one user sympathized. I decided not to ask again. The bed problem sounded far worse then my dilemma

 Atlas - the view from a starting point of view reveals dozens of rafts.

My first sight upon reaching the docks in Atlas.
Studio Wildcard / Grapeshot Games

My first session of Atlas fielded almost uncanny, like I was playing one of the fictional games that show up in cable crime procedurally about cyber-hackers and New York cops. It's the mix of the dated graphics, AI or nearby beasts, bad UI – Atlas feels like a game out of time.

After 20 minutes of reading the provided tutorial text, running around the freeport, figuring out how to level up and allocating my initial skills, I finally hopped a fence and started punching cacti to get supplies. It wasn't the smoothest-possible way to join a game, but Atlas borrows enough from other survival games that once you start gathering supplies and figuring the basic systems out, you're likely going to find the path to the next step of progression. It's a little like being fluent in Spanish and trying to navigate to Italian city; things aren't quite what you expect, but there is enough of the same language that you can puzzle things out.

The sea, which looks promising and fun, also seems worlds away. The time comes to find a plot of land to claim and build a shipyard at. We found a company that will invite me, and based on their discord, the attempts to build that country into a settlement with shipyards and civilization are coming along nicely. If that company coordinates the construction of protective walls and mining, I saw that my own map, where everything in sight seemed to have already been claimed.

 Atlas - A player moves a sign reading "Water" into the wilderness.

Wildcard Studios / Grapeshot Games

Furthermore, the game's Reddit paints a picture of what happens to players who manage to set up suddenly or land. Higher-level companies can storm and take your holdings, with weapons like shovels and torches being effectively effective against defenses. Large Chinese companies have worked together to claim massive parts of Atlas 's world, and are strip-mining resources from islands that are not respon- sible enough to provide windows of opportunity for companies in different time zones. Constructing ships in the shipyard is a tricky art; players have sunk time and effort in preparing ships that are immediately dashed upon the friction of stone and dock, leaving them with nothing.

Even the basic survival systems are controversial. Eating is not enough; you must monitor your vitamins, which is an opaque and frustrating task that is such a struggle, players are advised that you just go ahead and the rather than try to wrestle them to some acceptable range. It's not quite the pirate fantasy you envision from a vitamin level; instead of scurvy, players are just starving to death over and over in rebellion against the developers.

Despite my negative impressions of the game so far, I can see that the game does have sea legs. The game is actively patched, and the developers are listening to the community. More importantly, this game is meant to work in a similar fashion to EVE Online with territory constantly shifting. These early days are rough, but the companies working together are just some of the mighty empires they may become. The name of the game may shift from claiming land to renting it. Alliances will form from companies, and the focus may shift from lone players struggling to build their first raft to companies mass-producing ships and sending them to.

Right now, Atlas feels early in every sense of the word. Not only are the mechanics and UI rough, as you might expect from a title in active development, but the community also still lives in a petri dish. There are active cultures brewing and forming, but nothing meaty that I can sink my teeth into. There are no players who find the nature of Atlas and its high-competition, high-connection nature fascinating and intriguing. In the end, I'm glad this title exists, even if it's not for me; I hope to grow during the Early Access period to fulfill the glimmers of promise I've seen so far.

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