Updated Thu, Dec 13, 2012 by Shayalyn
Heart broken: Xerin
Ten years ago in 2002, Westwood Studios released an MMO called Earth & Beyond. The studio best known for Command & Conquer made one last gamble before riding off into the sunset and sadly, that gamble didn’t pay off. The last game of this iconic series was one of my most anticipated MMOs ever and the most disappointing, not because it wasn’t fun but because it was too ambitious and lacked meaningful things to do once you’d done it all. Thankfully, it taught me a little about the risk I take each time I get my hopes up, and helped ground me in the reality that is developing MMOs.
Not to sound too hipster, but E&B is probably a game you haven’t heard of, with good reason. It was only live for two years and Electronic Arts wasn’t big on promoting it, especially after announcing its sunset only a year and a half after launch, following the closure and liquidation of Westwood. The problem wasn’t that the game wasn’t fun, nay, combat was exhilarating and the gameplay was like a persistent world Freelancer. The problem was that the game was too ambitious, tried to do too much, became too grindy, and lacked PvP.
Before I start talking too poorly of E&B, I would like to outline that it was, at its core, a fantastic game. In 2002 it had voice acting, quests, a system that gave you three experience bars (you gained levels in exploration, trading, and combat), and absolutely gorgeous graphics for the time. You had your ship, which could fly both in space and on planets alongside an actual character who explored space stations to pick up quests and trade goods.
The issues were that these systems were fundamentally flawed. You started the game with little of the map explored and had to uncover the warp gates yourself, which translated into you having to get a friend to let you follow them automatically for half an hour throughout the game. Speaking of travel, it took forever and was slow, which meant that gaining trading experience was a long, dull, and boring process with little reward. You’d buy low, travel for a long period of time, and sell high only to rinse and repeat with little entertainment value.
Next was combat. Combat was great, but the issue here was that fighting NPCs in a space combat sim only goes so far. Many players wanted the blood of their enemies. After all, there were three factions in the game and Dark Age of Camelot already had three-faction PvP down to a science. Sadly, PvP in the form of harvesting orbs for points didn’t come later and didn’t scratch that open world PvP itch many players had, especially after they ran out of things to do.
I chalk a lot of problems that E&B had to the fact that Westwood was in the midst of layoffs and closing. While they had five years of development time, the technology back then was constantly changing and the game was really beyond its time. It had voice acting, a robust character creator (for the time), actual fun space simulation, and great combat. The issues dogging it were just enough to sour some players and led to a lot of people, including me, getting bored rapidly with little more to do.
If you’re like me, and enjoyed the various games Westwood developed, then keep your eyes open for End of Nations. Many of the employees from Westwood left and formed Petroglyph Games, which is currently developing End of Nations and has made a solid commitment to releasing a rock solid product.