MMO Weekly 9/06/09

9 Jun 2009  by   Paul Younger
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Hello there, fellow game-heads, and welcome to this week’s strafing, bunny-hopping, head-shotting edition of MMO Weekly.  In this week’s iteration, we’ll discuss the biggest surprise I found at last week’s E3.  That surprise was a game by Hi-Rez Studios called Global Agenda.

I have to say, right up front, that I’m not in love with the title.  “Global Agenda” sounds like a game about world domination, imperialism, and political conquest.  You know, a build-your-empire game of some kind, maybe an RTS, or a turn-based strategy game. It certainly doesn’t sound like a shooter or an MMO.

But that’s what it is:  both a shooter and an MMO combined.  For the uninitiated, it’s technically called an MMOFPS (that’s what the cool kids call a Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter).  As that jaw-cracking acronym implies, an MMOFPS is a shooter with role-playing elements (levels, skills, equipment drops, etc) added in.  For the record, there have been many wildly successful FPS games, and there have been a number of wildly successful MMOs.  There has never been a successful MMOFPS to date, though many have tried.  Historically, MMOFPS games have ranged from uninspiring to downright terrible.

Global Agenda aims to change all that and, from what I saw last week, they may very well succeed.  

Like every other MMO on the planet, you begin Global Agenda by logging in and creating a character.  There are four character classes to choose from at this stage of the beta.  They are the Assault, Recon, Medic, and Robotic.  Allow me to translate:  Assault = a tank with huge guns, Recon = a sniper/rogue with stealth ability, Medic = a futuristic healer and energy-caster, and Robotic = an engineer that makes turrets and bots.  The characters are all human, but the customisation options are quite good.  Using a number of sliders, you can adjust, very precisely, how far apart your eyes are, and exactly how large your nostrils are.  This means that no two characters will ever be exactly alike.  It also means that, when the game goes live, I’ll be able to make the ugliest human being to ever strap on cybernetic body armor.  (If you know me, you know how much I appreciate the ability to make deeply ugly characters in every single MMO I’ve ever played.  I’m sure it’s some sort of psychiatric disorder, but I simply cannot help it.  For me, a giant orange afro, a nose like a grapefruit, eyes like a dead fish, and a gaping mouth all look lovely together.)    

The game is played on a series of battlegrounds, each with a different objective.  Some games are simple “kill the enemy” type games, but there exist other variants familiar to FPS players.  As players blast each other to smithereens, they gain experience.  They then level up (there are 20 levels in the game) and get talent points, which they can spend to gain new abilities.  I only got to glance at the talent tree for my character, but it was certainly familiar.  The talents either granted new abilities, or improved some of the abilities I already had.  For example, one talent improved the blast radius of my grenades.  Quite useful, and the more points I dumped into it, the bigger that radius got.  Basically, if you play WoW, the talent tree system will be familiar.  
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Of course, Global Agenda wouldn’t be an MMO if it didn’t have gear drops.  At this point, it appears that equipment drops primarily off of NPCs and in instances.  Yes, there’s a PvE game, and it involves clearing instances and downing bosses.  Further, players are given missions, and are rewarded with new gear when they are completed.  Will players be able to gain equipment from PvP?  We didn’t see any of that in the build we played, but it’s still in early beta.  
I mentioned how quests are called ‘missions’ in Global Agenda and, in similar fashion, guilds are called ‘agencies’.  Your character will likely join an agency, and this allows all the standard benefits just like in other MMOs.  One unique variant, making Global Agenda different from other games, involves the hex map.  The world is divided up into hexes, and it’s possible for your agency to control these hexagonal territories.  Control is established by completing missions and gathering resources, eventually allowing your agency to build a domed city.  Of course, other agencies will come gunning for you once you do, but that’s all part of the fun.  

Of course, the most important part of the game is the gameplay itself.  It was this aspect of things that truly made Global Agenda stand out from the crowd.  My character moved well, and his jet pack allowed him to fly for a few precious moments.  This three dimensional aspect of the game really adds a cool factor to the game, and allows players to get up high or down low easily.  

My assault agent had the thickest armor possible, but more importantly, he had a chain gun.  Ah yes, sweet bloody slaughter.  Confident in my power, I fired off round after round of high-tech depleted alloy atomic something-or-other rounds into the walls, the hillside, the ground, and the empty sky with abandon.  It was great fun, even when I got buttered from behind by a stealthed recon agent with a sword.  Upon respawning, I resolved to not be so overconfident, to stick a bit closer to my buddies, and to throw a few grenades, too.  

In a nutshell, Global Agenda plays beautifully.  It was actually hard to walk away from this game.  Please understand, I was at freakin’ E3.  Beautiful, alluring games surrounded me, tempting me with their siren songs.  But the gameplay in Global Agenda was so riveting, it was like an electromagnet, and it wouldn’t let me go to them.  I simply had to play for a few minutes more.  Truth is, I wanted to play for hours, and I haven’t felt this way about a game in a long, long time.   

Will Global Agenda be the first truly successful MMOFPS?  Well, it’s too early to tell for sure.  There are a few danger areas that might cause the game to stumble.  For one, any MMO that only allows players to be humans has traditionally done poorly.  Another potential pitfall is the conquest system (remember Shadowbane, anyone?  Hell, remember Age of Conan, anyone?).  I can honestly say I didn’t even fully understand the whole hex map thing, and the game might hit a snare there if Hi-Rez doesn’t execute this aspect of the game well.  A third potential problem area is the endgame.  Is there an endgame in Global Agenda?  Does an MMOFPS really need an endgame?

All those questions remain to be answered.  I can say, with confidence, that what we saw truly wowed us.  The gameplay is simply excellent, and we wanted to play a lot more of this game.

There was one interesting side note, and I thought you should be aware of it.  While we were at the Global Agenda booth, Rob Pardo and Jeff Kaplan came by to check the game out.  Maybe they were just passing by, saw the game, and dropped in.  I didn’t get that impression.  I got the impression the were there with a purpose.  Considering that 1) there are a ton of rumours that Blizzard is working on an MMOFPS based on the Starcraft universe, and 2) Pardo said some very interesting things about sci-fi MMOs at the 2008 GDC, their presence at the Global Agenda booth really had me intrigued.  But then again, I see conspiracies everywhere.  :)

And that, dear friends, is all for this week.  Join me next week when we explore other parts of the virtual universe, and (most likely) get ganked by a twelve-year-old yet again.  If you can’t wait for next week, you can always catch my scribblings over at WanderingGoblin.com, where I wax philosophical on a daily basis.  But for now, ciao! 

Why not listen to what Jeff had to say on last week’s special E3 podcast

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