We made it back to Fountain Town—as I was beginning to think of it—without incident, and as soon as Ray logged out Lucy scooped me up in the crook of her arm and headed for a section of town we hadn't visited yet. She and Ray had mostly been frequenting the area around the central fountain, which was where most of the shops were, but now she wended her way through the trees in a swanky-looking area to the north.
"Hmm, wasn't it around—ah, there we go!" My owner talks to herself? My owner talks to herself.
Oh, well, I shouldn't judge. I guess when you think about it, I spent the majority of my time as a professional streamer talking to myself. What was the saying again? Don't throw stones at someone until you've lived in their glass house?
…that couldn't be right. I had the nagging feeling that I might be getting stupider, perhaps due to my newly-acquired bird-brain.
In any case, Lucy was confidently approaching an awning rather tastefully decorated with a beige-and-green leaf motif and tucked in between the trunks of two massive trees. I couldn't see what it was protecting, because a curtain of what appeared to be nut shells hung across the entryway.
We brushed through what was, let's face it, basically a tree-hugger bead curtain to find a small stone dais with an NPC standing next to it. I wasn't sure what this was. It kind of looked like a teleport point, but teleporting hadn't been a thing in BAO back when I was playing. You rode a mount, or you hoofed it yourself. Perhaps the full dive environment wasn't conducive to that, though? Maybe they made the world significantly bigger?
Regardless, its looks were not, in fact, deceiving. Lucy paid the NPC, stepped up on the platform and the world dissolved around us.
It was pretty weird, and super disorienting for me because unlike Lucy, who rematerialized in exactly the same position, I got shifted up into the air and behind her left shoulder instead of remaining in her arms. Ack! Help! I flapped my stubby arms to no avail and plummeted down to land head-first with my little stub legs waving in the air.
It didn't hurt, which I was starting to get used to. Well, didn't hurt anything but my pride. That took a critical hit.
"There you are, Fluff-kins!" exclaimed Lucy. My name wasn't Fluff-kins, diddly it. "You disappeared on me!" She scooped me up, flipped me back over, and tucked me back into the crook of her arm.
Thank goodness I'd been pecking all those gribblins, because I was pretty sure I wouldn't have fit here a couple play sessions ago.
Back through another shell-curtain we went, and straight into a massive dose of nostalgia.
The Sprite-born starting town looked just like I remembered, as if I'd stepped through my computer screen and into an amazingly life-like dream. Players were scattered everywhere, mostly staring off into space or waving their arms around; presumably manipulating their inventories. Great crowds were jostled up around a few of the main quest givers in the square. I briefly wondered how that worked; were their conversations instanced? Why wouldn't they just form a line? Though, right, gamers. Forming a line was for people who weren't the destined heroes of the world.
The town itself was also instantly recognizable to me in a way the South Yorban town Lucy was based out of at the moment was not. Dominating the center of the square was a massive stump. You could have laid down about five Lucy's foot-to-head before you reached the other side of it. In the center of the stump was a piece of…statuary, I supposed, except it was made up of saplings and other plant-life that was growing out of the stump. It depicted a pair of Sprite-born, posed with their wands raised. We couldn't see their fronts from this angle, since we were diagonally behind them, but I knew that their wands would be slowly emitting pollen effects. Judging by the spring-like colors on the trees that surrounded us, probably pink and yellow particle effects.
I could see across the way the hat for one of my favorite merchants above the inevitable crowd of players. Every starting town had a merchant who looked practically identical with a big top-hat. The Sprite-born variant of course had vines and leaves decorating his hat. C'mon, Lucy, let's head over there! "Top up" your potions, for old time's sake?
She wasn't paying any attention to me, though, so my meaningful looks and gestures were wasted. She'd stepped to the side of the teleportation…tent, or whatever you'd call it, and was muttering to herself as she perused a familiar-looking map. Nice, I hadn't seen her open the map before! Although it wasn't that much different from the computer game version, aside from its ever-so-slightly 3D look and the ability to manipulate it with a hand.
"Where was it again? I can never find anything in this town. Ray said it was on the north-east side—oh, there! Okay, Fluff-cakes, let's go!" Never mind, I'd like Fluff-kins back, please.
Lucy made her way around the edge of the town center, turned down one of the four major streets that led to and from the square, and a minute or two later we were entering the primary skill training hall for low-level Sprite-born.
I've always loved the way skills work in Born Again Online. Some people hate them, of course. The way characters can learn almost any skill if they have the required stats (and access to the right trainer), but the stat requirements are not always explicit and can change in complex ways is kind of a "love it or hate it" setup. Like, I knew a guy who couldn't resist railing against the way skill requirements could change depending on your build. "Why does Magic Missile require 50 flicking Intelligence?! It only needed 20 back before I went and learned all these basic melee fighting skills!" Whereas I and a few other serious players I played with semi-regularly loved to try and figure out exactly what the hidden logic was behind the increase, and how we could exploit it.
Like I remember one alt character I built where I spent my whole time running Wata-born quests, even though I was a Jinn-born. Turns out that when a character maxes out their loyalty with the Wata-born they can learn the skill Snake Eyes despite not being Wata-born themselves. At that point it was severely underpowered and no longer contributed to my skill build, of course, but it was a fun experiment.
In any case, learning skills, picking which skills to activate, and combining them in weird and wonderful ways is what BAO is all about, as far as I'm concerned. And here Lucy was, finally entering the place where it all begins: the training hall.
However, this training hall looked nothing like what I was used to. Back when I was playing BAO on a flat screen, the training hall was a decently large square room divided into four quadrants, each containing a single skill trainer: the ranged attack corner, the melee attack corner, the magic attack corner, and the general Sprite-born trainer who taught what were essentially racial skills.
While the hall was still divided into obviously-themed quadrants—the one just to the right of the door featured lots of bows and arrows, targets, and tapestries with hunting scenes—each quadrant was significantly larger with the bulk of it inset into the floor with risers all the way around kind of like a mini coliseum. On the floors of the insets there were a bunch of different NPC trainers, each tutoring a single player (or just standing around staring into space the way NPCs do). It appeared that unlike the computer game, here skills were actually taught and practiced to some extent. That made sense, when I thought about it. It wasn't like you could just push a button and have something happen anymore; there had to be some other type of trigger, and I hadn't noticed RayBanz yelling skill names, so presumably it wasn't vocal.
Lucy completely ignored the ranged area, loitered for a brief look at the magic attack quadrant in the other corner nearest the door, and then headed for the back. That's the way to do it, girl! Always check the racial skill trainer first, I say!
And wonder of wonders, she did indeed head to the racial skill trainer first! Wow, were we finally achieving some sort of mind meld?
In the time that it took me to congratulate myself on my excellent advice that she actually hadn't been aware of, Lucy looked over the offerings in the interface element offered her by the racial trainer, summarily dismissed them all as "sparkly and boring" and made a beeline for the melee quadrant.
Excuse me?! "Sparkly and boring?!" I mean, okay, fine: so the classic Confusion Spores skill that most people start out with does look a liiiiiiitle bit like pixie dust. A lot like pixie dust. Alright, now that I'm watching folks practicing Confusion Spores down in the training pit, it's pixie dust in all but name. But if you pair it with something like Imposing Presence from over in the Nix-born starting zone, you've got a character who can clear out whole swathes of trash mobs singlehandedly. It's ridiculously useful! Where's our mind meeeeeeld?
I waved my stubby arms in the air, gesticulating wildly back toward the racial trainer, but Lucy kept on her merry way. Diddle it!
We arrived at the melee trainer. This area was practically empty. Sprite-born's main stat was Intellect and their sub Agility, so they tended to attack at range, either with magic or good old-fashioned arrows. There were a few Sprite-born down in the pit training up dagger skills and one out-of-place Yakshi-born swinging a sword around, and that was it. I wondered briefly what the Yakshi-born was doing in the Sprite-born starting town practicing melee attacks. Their starting zone was a fairly significant way south, so they must have had a reason to come all the way to the Sprite-born starting town, but the fact that they were training generic melee skills in a foreign starting town begged the question of what the scribble they thought they were doing.
While I was distracted, Lucy was looking over the initial melee skills. "Excuse me, can I learn Basic Daggers if I don't have any daggers?"
"I am sorry, madam, but that skill requires you to equip a dagger." My, NPCs were so polite!
"What if I use this?" Lucy pulled out her ice wand and held it up.
The NPC looked at the wand, then returned their bland gaze to Lucy. "That is a wand, madam."
"Right, but look! The end is suuuuuuper pointy! I stabbed a goblin in the throat with it, and it totally killed them!" Uh, they're gribblins, Lucy. I was glad we weren't anywhere near the Goblin-born lands. The NPCs there really wouldn't like anyone making that mistake.
"I am sorry, madam. That is a wand." Way to stick to your guns, No-Name NPC dude!
"Hmm, alright, what about this?" Lucy pulled out her starter equipment sword.
"That is a sword madam. Would you like to learn the skill Basic Swordplay?"
"No, I don't really like fighting with a sword. I just want to learn a dagger skill. You're sure I can't learn a dagger skill with this? It's a very small sword."
"I am sorry, madam. That is a sword."
"Nuts. Okay, I guess I won't learn any skills for now." And she waved off the skill listing and walked away.
Wait, what?! You're not going to learn any skills at all?! I mean, you didn't even talk to the magic gal, and I guarantee there's some skills there you can pick up for free, even with your wonky stat assortment!
Cheep cheep cheep! I wiggled as hard as I could and managed to work my way out of Lucy's arms.
"Whoops! Sorry, Fluff-kin!"
Back to Fluff-kin, were we? Whatever, I didn't have time for that! I waddled as fast as I could toward the magic trainer, waving my arms as I went in as close to a "look, over there!" sort of way as I could manage.
"Oh, you're right! I missed one, didn't I? I guess I should probably look, at least. Ray won't be happy if I don't have any skills at all, huh."
Yes! Exactly! I mean, no, I don't give a hoot for what Mr. Duffle-boy thinks, but come on! Playing BAO without skills is like eating an ice cream cone with no ice cream in it!
Lucy scooped me back up and strode toward the magic trainer. Pa-keeng! Yeah, I was definitely getting stat increases for communicating successfully. Weird as that was.
No, focus! No getting side-tracked! I probably wouldn't be able to pressure her into making the right skill choice, but I could at least try. And hey, maybe get a stat increase out of it! Though I wasn't sure how Intellect, which was presumably what I was grinding, would help me long-term.
Lucy approached the magic trainer, a female Sprite-born NPC with an awful lot of beads in her hair. What was with the Sprite-born and beads, anyway?
"Hey, what skills have you got?"
The NPC gave Lucy a once-over. "These are the things I may be able to teach you." She waved her hand, and the interface element that I'd been mostly ignoring up until now flipped open in front of Lucy.
Time to see what we're working with here!