Atlas, out for early access on Steam last November, is from the makers of Ark: Survival Evolved. Much of the game feels familiar to Ark players, from the UI to the crafting system, but there have been significant improvements to skill trees and, I think, environment. Most noticeably though, instead of dinosaurs, you have pirate ships.
I didn’t jump on Atlas the minute it came out, and I don’t regret it. Unlike Ark, which you can host locally on your own private server (or join others’ publically available local servers if you are so inclined, though I only ever wanted to play with people I actually knew), Atlas is a full-on MMO. Meaning that everyone plays together at the same time…making for a great deal of the kind of online contact I in no way desire.
And had I jumped on the game when it came out, there would have been tons of that, it’s true. Now, though, the initial surge has died down, and there can be long stretches of time where I don’t hear from or see anyone. Occasionally I’ll ask global chat a question, and someone might answer, but just as often I’m one of maybe two people in the zone.
That doesn’t mean the game is empty. Far from it. One of the reasons you can’t host Atlas on your own server is that it’s huge. Each zone, on a map gridded with numbers and letters, is the size of one instance of Ark–and when you sail from zone to zone, you are technically transferring from server to server. It’s that big. So for you to host this yourself, you would have to be renting over 100+ servers. Which means that would either be hugely expensive, or you’d have to have an in somewhere with enough unattended high-performance computing to make it doable. Maybe in ten years that’ll be a thing, but now? Good luck.
There are lots of quite valid complaints about the land claiming system in Atlas. Most land, it’s true, is claimed. But some zones are Lawless Regions, where you can’t plant a flag and generally you can build anywhere. The catch is that structures built in these zones decay more swiftly than those built on claimed land — meaning that if you don’t log in for four days, your precious beach house is going to be eaten back up by the jungle.
I am okay with this. I am also okay, to my surprise, with the MMO aspect of the game that I so dreaded. Again, I attribute this to the post-release decline in the crowds. The people playing now (I speak only for PvE; I don’t play PvP and don’t intend to) are people who by and large are like me: in it for the long haul, exploring and building and sailing around. Walking through the cities they’ve built is fascinating. The building system is one of the areas that has improved since Ark, and seeing how different people utilize the landscapes in the various climates is cool.
Additionally, the rare human interaction can bear fruit. After an unfortunate run-in with a Ship of the Damned (one of a fleet of NPC ships manned by the undead that patrol the waters, I paddled ashore to an island in a frustratingly completely-claimed zone. Meaning I couldn’t build a ship or even a raft to leave the island, because you can’t build on land claimed by another group. So I begged around in global chat for awhile to no avail, and logged out dejected, mourning the stranded fate of myself and my NPC crewmate, Angry Charlotte Nine Toes (she came with that name). When I came back, not only did someone hear my plea and come to my rescue, he packed me full of food and sailed me to the nearest lawless region, for no pay or gift whatsoever, and dropped me off on an island where I could build myself a new base and a ship to sail in again. It’s the kind of selfless generosity I haven’t seen since a group of Frenchmen in Sea of Thieves jumped aboard my sinking sloop and helped me bail her out, patch her up and entertain the group of us during the whole process with a rousing jig on the accordion.
There are bugs in Atlas, it’s true, but it’s an Early Release game — of course there are bugs. Do I regret not being there when someone hacked in and and spawned a mass of whales and tanks? Nooooo. No I do not. But now that the worst of the griefers (again, at least in PvE) have grown bored and moved on, I’m quite happy to toodle about the map. The game is so large that it can honestly take you eight hours to traverse just from east to west, and as long as you keep an eye on the screen for ships of the damned it’s a great time to do other things — yoga, knitting, reading, etc. It’s the same kind of soothing as the old PotC (pre-movie) game, where you could choose, instead of bouncing out to map mode to speed along the endless sailing, to stay zoomed in seemingly forever, just you and the waves.
This isn’t why they built Atlas, of course. They want you join big companies (this is the term used for guilds, and yes it’s problematic) and wage war on each other. But, to my relief and delight, you don’t have to. If you have the patience, you can still go it alone, with the occasional encounter with a stranger for info or assistance as a welcome reminder that not all people on the internet are awful.
Not always, anyway.