Massively on the Go: Orna’s pet-battler is fluffy – but not cheap


Usually here on Massively on the Go, we have a lot of good things to say about Orna: The GPS RPG and its dev team. I recently gushed about how motivating the new guilds update is, especially with the included pedometer play. While I noted most of that was on the beta servers, I also was led to believe that the new Pokemon-esque Guild Trials for the Traveler’s guild were not being monetized. Either I missed it or it was added at launch, as I had looked for it during beta and saw nothing – but now I do. And while there are some differences on the shop appearance and availability, I have some concerns.

Fluff and fortune

Now, as always, I know devs need money. Someone has to pay for the product, so no argument about that here. I also noted since the start that Orna is quite generous about giving out premium items via monster drops, even after its lavish COVID bonuses. As the studio noted, the Traveler’s Guild Trial rewards don’t reward power; it’s just vanity. Paying into the system really doesn’t get you anywhere they say, and the stated philosophy is to sell only items that don’t turn the game into a pay-to-win situation. That’s still largely true.

That being said, the fact that it’s possible to dump endless amounts of money into the system without it affecting progress much is kind of what makes me feel iffy, especially since you’re buying chance items, like Pokemon GO eggs except you’re directly buying the egg/chest instead of the incubator/key. Buying space or customization is one thing, but this is gambling. Worse, it’s a gambling mechanic that’s nearly worthless, which is on a whole different tier of problematic.

Hopefully readers notice I used some carefully chosen qualifiers to describe the “uselessness” of the system. From my experience between launch and this publication, I have gotten one single Proof of Distance while battling through the Trials. Proofs of Distance can be used to buy more Monster Aspects and Gauntlet Keys, which can also be bought for cash (though the game is pretty generous about the latter), as well as Kingdom Orns and Gold, which can be used to bolster guild coffers for wars and raids. So far, the odds are low, but I do think it’s important to note that there are some useful things that can be very slightly easier to buy via in-game currency if you dump enough RL cash into the system.

Admittedly, paying for gamble-fluff certainly feels more responsible than gambling for power. If you’re OK with spending money to become an Orna Pokemon Manifest Master, which can’t even battle against other players, then the new premium purchases might not bother you. I’m just making sure people are well-informed of what to expect from their real-money transactions. It’s giving me early Pokemon Unite monetization vibes, except this is more fluffy and (weirdly) nearly capless by comparison, from what I can tell.

Traveling a difficult path

At launch, guild trials were hard. I think the first few floors are easier now, as my recent runs had only one mob each, down from I believe three before. I’m terrible at taking screenshots, especially with something that’s so expensive game-currency wise to get into (more on that later), but my notes all mention plurals, so it seems a solo mob was rare. Monster difficulty is just the start, though.

Maybe it’s partially since no stats are revealed in the Manifests screen beyond level (which increases if you get doubles or more of a monster), stars (which correspond to tiers), abilities/skills, resistance, and weaknesses. However, that’s all hidden when it comes to the Trials’ team-building screen.

If you haven’t memorized the codex, what’s hidden is not only specific stats but things like whether or not a monster is a boss, which also grants it significantly more health. While it sounds like I was rather lucky to progress in the trials beyond the first floor (which people noted is a struggle), I also was very lucky to have randomly pulled a boss that also had a healing skill. The combination of high HP and healing made things significantly easier.

Battles can be quite long, though. Sometimes, my creatures were deal single-digit damage per turn to monsters with 100+ health, so with turns taking maybe 10 seconds to navigate and play out, a single mob can take several minutes to beat on its own. With many floors having three mobs, if you take two minutes per floor for 12 floors at the start, with no discernable way to leave early without losing the tokens you use as an entry fee, you can really be locked in, reinforcing the feeling that Orna really is best played when you’re stationary. I say this having had the game crash while running in the background before doing errands and not being able to rejoin after a short drive.

It should also be noted that the video above is clearly from a dev build, so it can be a bit misleading now. At Guild Level 3, you’re not going to have level 50 anything, much less any Manifests above tier 3, if that.

Because many of the Aspects are weak, and Aspects are both rare and expensive (five tokens, as opposed to three to enter the Trials), the sale of them via game shop feels very pay-to-win right now. As I noted in my last article, “hatching” your Aspects into Manifests (the non-Pokemon monsters) takes quite a bit, and since you get so few and their currency is rare, it may take you days before you have three, the number required to enter the Trials on top of the token fee. From personal experience it’s not uncommon to lose on that first floor as the above Redditors mentioned.

Admittedly, I’m also casual. I’ve said many times that I don’t feel Orna works well as a walk-and-play game; it’s best played in spurts while sitting in a new or different area to mix things up. The Traveler’s Guild does take advantage of all my walking, though, and I often make the 10k steps per day goal. I was told by PR that Traveler’s Intuition – an ability that makes special items drop more as you walk – should be triggering Aspects as a prize, and that he obtained many Aspects through natural play, but to this day I think I’ve received only one from the Intuition.

I attempted to buy some Aspects and hit the Trials again after waiting several Guild levels. At Guild level 10, I was going against tier 8 monsters. Nearly all of my aspects are below that. A few of my Monsters were level 2 because I got doubles of them (the first time you get one unlocks them, and each repeat increases its level), but that doesn’t make a big difference. Using a Tier 8 level 1 vs a Tier 4 level 3 is a huge difference, as the Tier 4 was dealing 0 damage against all the enemies I went against. I can’t see level meaning anything for low-tier Manifests, meaning you may want to completely avoid “hatching” until you reach the highest tiers, if not tier 10 itself. It won’t guarantee high-tier Manifests, but at least it gives you a chance at high-tier Manifests, which I hadn’t seen at the lower Traveler’s Guild levels. At Guild level 13, nothing seems as if it’s changed so far.

So on the one hand, it could be that the Trials are endgame content we’re not supposed to be seriously pursuing yet, which is a bummer because I really like the idea. Perhaps Northern Forge Studios expects players to grind out monsters for months, getting armies and multiples so we have a wide variety of leveled-up monsters to tackle the trials with. However, that’s also quite frustrating, as some monsters have very specific weaknesses, such as taking damage only from Arcane spells. That means, as I experienced, your run could be cut extremely short just because you don’t have the right monster – or it died before you even got a turn to attack.

Yes, Trials could really be seen as long-term content, especially since most of the rewards I’ve seen so far (beyond guild currency drops) are, well, utter garbage, like tier 1 materials and Arena Tokens, which I can get easier elsewhere. The Trial tokens you win nearly each victory don’t let you buy anything that gives you a major advantage either. In fact, the tokens gained by walking seem far more valuable to me, so RMTs to purchase monsters almost seem to act as a way to allow you to spend walk tokens on better, more powerful items. So far, paying into the system to collect and battle monsters doesn’t seem to be worth it.

On the other hand, the option is still there. On the lower end of the spectrum, it may be a bit similar to what I said about Pokemon Unite’s monetization at launch. For PU, you could certainly pay for power, and you may pay a lot, but it didn’t necessarily make you hugely stronger than another player despite how very costly it was.

For Orna, thus far, it’s feeling like buying Aspects gives you a huge advantage, but not over other players, whom you don’t currently compete with at all. Even if it did, at best, you get levels, as it doesn’t feel like there’s a small tier list of must-haves to make the content easier. It basically just makes PvE easier, which could make some rare tokens more accessible, but it seem you may have to pay a lot to get to that point.

Buying Aspects allows you to do battling earlier/more efficiently at the least, but via gambling and hoping you get good pulls. But even with those good pulls, the rewards from the monster battling just don’t nearly match the cost of the content you’re now dominating. The same mobs could be farmed on your main character for nearly identical rewards beyond the Proofs of Trials you earn. Yes, that means long battles against something you probably are one-shotting, at least for the first several tiers, depending on your main character’s combat level. That is a bummer too.

At worst, in a sense, it feels like Northern Forge has built a bottomless pit for players to throw their money into. Once players see the pit for what it is, I suppose that could make it easy to embrace or escape, but at the same time, it’s disappointing from a company that’s done a lot in the past to avoid monetization that preys on the ignorant. At best, it’s very fluffy, if unbalanced, single-player-side-content with paid features that can help the keep Orna’s lights on, especially if you’re the type of player who is OK with what are basically cosmetic lootboxes.

My hope is that Northern Forge will continue to tweak the system, not only in terms of monetization but in terms of overall gameplay. The new Traveler’s guild is a nice concept, and I love that I get orns, XP, and free little items through real-life exercise/passive virtual play. I like the idea of Trials, even if it can feel a bit Pokemon-y in the collect-and-battle idea, but instead using the game’s own enemies as your buddies. I’m still motivated to play the base game and walk more, even pay for sprites I like. I’m just not loving the current Trials design or monetization.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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