25 July 2011

Review: Global Agenda

I don’t really like MMOs. Or, rather, I'm fine with the concept of MMOs, but in how the turn out in practice doesn't agree with me- of necessity, commercial MMOs appear to be a little on the grindy side, requiring huge time commitments.

If I was to be perfectly honest, it’s not like my habit of watching TV series marathon or binging on a sandbox doesn’t represent a big chunk of time spent, but I guess with an MMO there is the a priori acceptance... Well, that, and you can’t really take a break from an MMO for a couple of months. Not that I take breaks like that from single player games either, though. But you know, it's nice that the option is there.

Steam recently started allowing free-to-play games, and one of those was Global Agenda, so I immediately wanted to try it. Based on a brief glance at the screenshots and quick skim of the info page, I expected some class based team deathmatch (or CTF or whatever) with lots of items. You know, like TF2, except more futuristic, and instead of hats you get new weapons which give you more plusses, and there’s a lot of good ones for free. (Why would I even want that? Wouldn’t that mess up the balance? Who cares? I was just looking for a laugh.)

My enthusiasm lasted 2 days, and I will soon delete it from Steam. I’m mainly deleting it because I realized today that I’m running out of space, but if I had the space I would still have made the decision to not play the game anymore.

The first problem: The game doesn’t use your SteamID. You download, install, open it, and create an account, using your real email address. The obvious stupidity of this aside, why even bother with Steam then, jeez. There’s two reasons to have your game on Steam: Either you want to make it easy for many gamers to hear about and pay you money through a convenient, established digital distribution platform, or you want use Steamworks. Given that this is F2P, it’s not the former, so if it’s not the latter, why bother? Maybe you can buy premium items with your Steam wallet or something.

That hurdle passed, the game itself starts with an intro and a tutorial. The story isn’t anything to write home about, blah blah multinational corporations control everything, some of their super soldier secret agents defected and went underground, cue many small-scale team-based skirmishes. We all know the story in these things is just an excuse for the gameplay. That said, it is quite well executed (especially for a free game), the voice acting or CGI isn’t really dorky or anything like that, and an interesting thing is, it’s… Plausible. It does a nice job of explaining why a global authority doesn’t just crush the tiny rebellion; all the rebels operate covertly! Kind of elegant, really.

The tutorial gets the job done. That may sound like a small compliment, but it really isn’t- so many games have bad tutorials: This one doesn’t explain too much of the obvious, it doesn’t take longer than it needs to, it doesn’t fail to mention crucial things.

The game itself, it’s a bit of a many genres of stat and skill based shooter at once. I was really quite put off when I realized this is an honest to god, wander endlessly around the wilderness and kill Heinous Angerspawn until you gather 20 forked tongues, grind grind grind all day every day mumorpuger. The twist is you play it like an FPS, so you have to aim and maneuver around as opposed to just standing there and mashing skill hotkeys. Admittedly this bit does make it more interesting than WoW and its ilk, combat-wise.

There are 4 classes; they’re basically Fighter, Rogue, Summoner, Healer. I heard ex-medic players complain the damage output sucks. Fighter has a tank tree and DPS tree. Rogue can cloak. Summoner makes little turrets and robot minions.

As I said above, the base game is an open world, there are towns with quest giver NPCs, and various mob spawn areas. But there are special missions, too, which is the more interesting part.

The first is a 4-player dungeon with a boss in the end. The game tries to match you with 3 other guys, and tries to make sure there’s one of every class too, it was a lot of fun and quite dependent on teamwork in my experience. The whole thing was quite fun.

Next, there’s a point capture team-versus-team mode. Not sure how people get assigned to teams since I don’t recall choosing sides anywhere, but yeah. It’s a lot like TF2 point captures, except it’s not just that some people have better weapons, some people are literally way better. One, I think 12-on-12 game I played, there was a 34 level assault on the other team, (you finish the tutorial at around 7-10) and he just plowed through everything we had. He just had too much health, too much damage, too much mana, you get the idea. It was a very hopeless kind of fight whenever he showed up. It’s not utterly un-enjoyable: asymmetric fights can be fun too, sometimes, but seems you’re bound to end up with too-unbalanced-for-fun matches occasionally with this game.

There’s one mission type which is some kind of PvP that low-levels aren’t allowed in. Then there’s the fourth, which looks really interesting: Unless I am mistaken (level gate here too), there’s a map of the world and clans can battle clans in a team-based skirmish to capture territory! It sounded exciting. If I was into this game, this would probably be one of my big reasons why.

I wonder if the special feature icons mean a different scenario?

The combat system has a few interesting quirks: Melee weapons get an enormous damage bonus from behind (50% or something). Both your jetpack and weapon share their energy store. Plus all the special class and item spells. Unfortunately, the controls aren’t perfect (by that I mean they are not as smooth as Team Fortress 2) and the game also lagged for me (bad netcode I think), leading to my character frequently “jumping” around, which made the experience irritating and difficult. So, nice idea, but didn’t work for me but I can see how if you don’t lag and ignore a few goofy combat animations it can be sort of enjoyable.

So how’d I decide to not keep playing? Well, I was on the fence from the beginning, but it was a nice time-killer so I went along, until fairly soon I got a quest to kill this mob. Except I go where the quest marker is, and he ain’t there. There’s like, two other guys looking for him as well, we even hung out a bit and had a chat, helped each other grind mobs and so on. I spent a lot of time looking for that guy. It was a main-looking quest chain too so I couldn’t progress without doing it. Eventually my mounting apathy reached the "whatever" threshold.

Yup. Sorry, devs, I’m essentially quitting your game because of that one bug. On the other hand, it’s kind of critical and you can’t progress at least in one apparently significant plotline because of it. Plus it’s at the very beginning, and if there’s one part of an MMO that should be flawless, it’s the beginning: You should give people time for the game to grow on them, so they can ignore its flaws out of fondness for it later.

I dunno, maybe the bug was fixed the next day. Maybe you can just forget the dude, go to another town and do the quests there like nothing happened. I didn’t try and didn’t care to try. I just… stopped caring.

I would have otherwise kept playing intermittently for a few weeks, I imagine. If I roped in a friend, or made some friends in the game whom I grew very fond of, I could keep playing several months or even more than a year. Being that this is a free-to-play game I have no doubt at high levels you either have to endure insane grind to keep up with spending players, or you just flat out can’t, ever. For that reason I’m quite sure I’d get bored and quit eventually either way.

In conclusion, it’s an MMO, there’s a reasonably decent mix of skill and stats deciding combat outcome. Plusses are, there’s some fun looking missions, it’s reasonably well executed thematically and visually, it’s free and the cash shop doesn’t get in your face too much. Minuses; doesn’t use your steam account, buggy, laggy, doesn't use your Steam account, matchmaker isn’t perfect.

Another plus: You can be Lando Calrissian!

Why bother with this and not some established MMO like WoW or Eve Online? Eh, for one it's free. It adds skill and reflexes into the mix. The mission matchmaking is cool. There appears to be a neat clan-versus-clan battle system. If you like MMOs, I think it's definitely worth a try; it's certainly not yet another soulless clone like so many F2Ps are. If you don't like MMO, you probably don't like it because you can't or won't commit the time, and looks like you need to commit time with this one, so yeah.

Score: 2/5

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