America - Front
America - Back
29th Jun 2021 | 3,832 views
Game: Neo Atlas 1469
One of the gameplay elements I find most satisfying is the complete exploration of the world map. Trying to map the entirety of the space you move around in game, from a complete unknown to a fully recognizable and known area, can take a long time and effort, showing all of the hard work you’ve put into the game. It works whether it’s the main quest of the game or as a sideshow to the main events, and it usually makes you see all of the side content the developers put into the title: scenery, missions, items… Especially with open world games and other RPGs, this has become more and more important over the years, and many series have surfaced with that specific mechanic in mind, like the Etrian Odyssey games. However, it’s been actually quite rare to see many games based on humanity’s own history exploring our world, which is disappointing, since there are so many interesting stories to see about the topic. Neo Atlus 1469 tries to offer something like this, though the end result seems quite different from what I imagined the first time I heard about it.
Neo Atlas 1469 is a strategy/adventure game made by ARDTDINK and published by Arc System Works, released for the PS Vita in 2016, for the Nintendo Switch in 2017 and for PC in 2019. The game puts you in the boots of a Portuguese trader company at the beginning of the Age of Sail, and you are immediately charged with exploring the world and creating profitable trade routes between coastal cities. You recruit admirals to lead your expeditions, fight pirates, find treasures, and so on. The game is seemingly a follow up to an old SNES game, Atlas: The Renaissance Voyager and Neo Atlas II for the PlayStation, which never released outside of Japan, and because I haven’t played them, I can’t really compare them.
The game’s proposition is quite clear from the get-go: keep your company afloat by organizing trades between important cities, use your resources to keep your admirals explore the different events occurring around, and of course, discover new lands. The game gets into its loop really fast, to the point that the game barely changes from when you start to the very end of the game. Which is a good thing, since it’s a nice enough loop, but it’s not very engrossing. The mechanics are rather simplistic, allowing easiness to play from the start, but it can become rather shallow fast, especially in certain areas like combat. However, the very first thing you need to become familiar with is trading which can be fun, especially trying to fill the encyclopedia. Each city produces a base product, which range from not very valuable but with high stocks, to very valuable but with very limited stock. You then choose another city to trade their product in exchange, usually getting a part of the profits. That makes you take into account the travel speed of the routes charted, the city’s population, the restocking of the product, the interest of a city for certain product in comparison to another… There’s also the chance of creating more complex and valuable products, which can be upgraded in turn (for example: Ring + Gold = Golden Ring; Golden Ring + Diamond = Diamond engraved Golden Ring). The more complex the product, the higher the value and the more profits you will get. Considering you need to keep the routes active to produce the more complex products, you will need to use multiple trade routes, and plenty of times you’ll exhaust your stocks, so you will need to cancel many profitable trades because the maintenance fees are higher than the profits of a route without products. This becomes less of a hustle the longer you get into the game and you have very few trade routes, but during the first stages you will have to experiment which trades are profitable and which ones aren’t, especially since you’re limited to European and north African cities to trade with. You need to explore the world to find more cities and rarer products. Crafting new things is fun, but it has some limitations: first of, you need to craft certain items in a very particular order (for example, you can make a diamond engraved golden ring by combining a golden ring with diamonds, but you can’t do it by combining diamond engraved regular ring with gold). That can become quite confusing, since you have the correct formula in your head, but the game won’t allow it, and thus you’ll move on thinking that you’re wrong. The other thing that annoyed me is that certain products are very unintuitive. Mixing coffee with milk gives you coffee milk, which makes sense. Mixing mercury with glass gives you a mirror, which again, makes sense if you know mercury glass is a thing. But how am I to assume that gunpowder plus corn makes popcorn? And how am I to guess that flying pineapple (yes, there’s a flying pineapple) plus carpet gets you flying carpets? Fortunately, this doesn’t happen that often, but it’s still quite annoying, especially if you want to fill the encyclopedia.
After knowing how the trades work, you need to learn how to use your admirals. Throughout the game, you can get multiple characters that can command small exploratory fleets, and they are in charge of both world exploration and combat. Each admiral has up to four ships to their disposal, and can receive certain boost by equipping items they find throughout the world. The game tries to make you combine the ships to try and balance travel distance, speed, resilience and firepower. However, once you can get three or more admirals, the best strategy is to simply specialize one on firepower, and make the rest focus on exploration by getting fast ships that can make fast trips. Since investigating treasures doesn’t change that much depending on who’s doing the examining (and the ones that do require specific admirals anyway), the most common use for the admirals is exploration. Exploration is by far the best part of the game, having to delve into uncharted waters to try to find new lands, and thus new cities to trade with. The gimmick here is that, the world is somewhat randomized, and it’s not 1:1 to the real world map. Other than a couple of points that for the most part stay the same (for example, on my playthrough Japan was a peninsula, but otherwise was very close) each playthrough can have very distinct geographies. The game also allows you to re-explore certain areas if you don’t like the layout you got, but once you confirm it, it’s there forever, so you must be careful. The randomization element is fun, but you definitively have to be careful with it. Try to get as much coastal spaces as possible, with plenty of sea routes connecting them, because sometimes the game spawns cities in areas where you can’t get to them, and are thus unusable, like in a lake or further inland. You can only trade with coastal cities, so if you see that a body of water is going to become isolated by a stretch of land, re-explore again to try to get the optimal layout. There’s also the chance of actually choosing whether the Earth is round or flat, which can be fun, though from a gameplay perspective, there’s no reason to ever pick flat and lose the chance of circumnavigating the glove.
Fighting pirates, krakens and other monsters is another part of the game, but it’s not particularly interesting. Basically, you find the enemies in the overworld, you send a fleet to fight them, there’s a little animation once the fleet arrives, and they will either be defeated or they’ll drive you back. At the beginning of the game you will need two or three attempts to defeat the pirates (a lot more for krakens), with every run damaging your ships. Repairing your ships is expensive, so choose your fights. Even with the reward you get from discovering and defeating pirates, it’s still a losing proposition, at least until you start unlocking the bigger and more powerful ships. Then it becomes profitable, since they will be able to defeat pirates and monsters easily while taking little damage. Pirates will focus on raiding trade routes, making them unprofitable, while krakens will stop you exploring the world. In general is best to focus only on the enemies that are actively harming your progress, at least until you get ships good enough to start hunting them down for profit. Still, other than sending the ships and repairing them, this has little interactivity, it would have been nice to see something more in depth.
While exploring the world, you will find certain quests and missions to find treasures or items for your admirals. These missions can be fun, and they are quite a lot of them, though again, they are somewhat simplistic. Follow the rumours that point to the correct areas, choose the correct admiral to investigate, maybe bring certain items to the place, and you will pretty much solve every one. I’ve seen comparisons of this to visual novels, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I would certainly say this part feels like a point & click adventure. And considering sometimes you have to scan the whole world for certain treasures and items in places way far from your usual routes, it can become a hustle (imagine finding a small treasure chest in continental Asia). Fortunately, the game gives you items to dowse items on the overworld, but the world is huge. And treasures aren’t limited to land. So yeah, plenty of treasures to search and plenty of places to search them in.
A thing that become more and more bothersome the longer I played the game is that the event notifications usually interrupt whatever you are doing. For example, you are checking for two compatible ports to establish a profitable trade route, when you get a notification of a battle with pirates. The camera will move you to that place, so you have to go back wherever you were, and then you get a notification that an admiral finished an exploration trip, once again moving the camera to that place. The more admirals you have active at the same time, the more and more they will interrupt the flow of the game. I feel there should have been a tab system that just tells you the results of some of these things, particularly the battles, since they are just the same animation every time.
Graphics are ok. The game doesn’t really have anything that need that much graphical power, but the artstyle is neat, and it has many scenes that show the characters going on adventures, or finding new lands and treasures. Music is ok too, though nothing outstanding, especially when it gets interrupted over and over with the admiral notifications. There is one curious thing I noticed, though: the game says that most of the characters you play with are Portuguese, but they constantly say Spanish words. I don’t mind it for those characters who are actually Spanish, but it’s a bit distracting for the rest. I get that, for someone who doesn’t really know either language, Spanish and Portuguese can sound somewhat similar, but at some point the localization team should have noticed it, right?
Overall, Neo Atlas 1469 is a decent title to kill some time. It has a very nice gameplay flow for shorter periods, but it can become stale if played for hours without doing something else at the same time. The big flaw of this game is the lack of deeper mechanics to engross the player more. Maybe some option to explore landmasses as well, with different mechanics particular for those, could have been beneficial to the game. But for shorter sessions, this is quite decent, though you’ll need a lot of time to completely explore the world map, and much, much more to fill the encyclopedia and complete the missions.