Previews

Global Agenda E3 2009 Hands-On Preview

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At E3 2009, Ten Ton Hammer sat down next to Global Agenda’s Executive Producer, Todd Harris, to get a hands-on play session with the upcoming persistent world shooter, and we’re happy to report not only that the game is coming along nicely, but that aspects of GA like pacing, social aspects, and itemization have a lot to offer the traditional MMO player.

Character creation was fairly standard, with a few anachronistic choices like lamb chops and a handlebar mustache, but it all adds uniqueness to your character. The opening sequence sees several agents busting in to rescue you from a stasis chamber - what the Commonwealth uses to salt away and straighten out its dissidents. Instead of a smooth extraction, the rescue team was annihilated in an explosion that simultaneously busted me out of the chamber proper. This also explains why your character is feeling a little weak and perplexed at the start of the game, despite being an important part of the resistance.

The tutorial, which came next, was a fairly typical progression from learning movement to tuning in to the basics of combat. Much of this will be familiar to online FPS players, except for the lack of sprint. Todd explained that the jetpack had taken the place of sprinting, and I couldn’t help but feel it was a good trade. Another nice movement touch was mantling obstacles by jumping up to grab a ledge, then jumping again to pull yourself up (which may be necessary when your jet pack is temporarily out of juice and recharging). After tagging a few baddies I was ready to blow out of there, and jumped onto a hovering transport for immediate evac.

I soon found myself in an underground facility used for training by the resistance. It was time to make a class choice, and in true demo fashion I went not with the class I’d want to marry for life, but the coolest looking one. My choices were assault, robotics, recon, or medic - all of which do about what you’d expect save the robotics class, which builds missile turrets and healing stations, sporting mobile robot pets and other gadgets designed to highly annoy the opposing team. I remarked on the robotics guy’s third arm, and Todd noted that having a distinctive silhouette was really important to Hi Rez.

In the end, I went with a recon sniper build, hoping to get my Tom Berenger on. The other recon choice was infiltrator (a built for speed and melee class especially great at moving up your spawn point, a critical function in GA’s timed matches), though you can mix and match abilities to create a more balanced character. Equipment choices are based on a DnD character creation style point-buy system that gives you a pretty wide assortment of weapons and capabilities at the start . GA allows you to trick out your character by, say, picking a powerful sniper rifle as your primary weapon and maybe gimping yourself a bit on melee weapon. You’ll also fill your other equipment slots with a jet pack, stims to restore health, mines, decoys, sticky bombs, grenades, and more. Clothing and armor slots were about what you’d expect, but the enhancements concept was fairly new. At present it’s just a host of open slots where you can equip player-crafted (roll your own from PvE loot or buy at auction) persistent buffs, or implants in terms of the lore.

Hi Rez showed the Skills interface for the first time at E3. This is a classic talent tree that increases the strength of your existing skills and might add a few new ones. After giving myself a healthy boost to marksmanship and stealth abilities, we were off to the domed city in Sonoran Desert via fast transit. Todd explained that the game isn’t really designed for explorers (with apologies to Fallout, not much can really live in a post-nuclear wasteland), and the game is tied together by ways to get you from combat to social areas and back quickly.

Territory control might not be new to MMOs or FPSs, but control on a grand scale by agencies and alliances is fairly unique (the only other example that comes to mind is Perfect World). I saw an early version of the territory control hex map that shows who owns what and what remains to be conquered. You’ll make a territory yours by running missions as an agency and gathering enough resources to build your own domed base and later by capturing the area from other agents. The more territories you have, the faster you’ll gain resources through the facilities your agency builds, and the more territory you can conquer. Or maybe you turtle up and pour those resources into defense.

Assuming all goes as planned, it’s grand strategy meets MMO levels of player organization meets FPS, just like the Total War series fused grand strategy and the RTS. But like any domination game, there’s a tipping point after which it’s only a matter of time before one alliance becomes unstoppable. I asked Todd what Hi Rez was doing to mitigate this or at least make sure that tipping point doesn’t come too soon. This was the leading thing that Hi Rez wanted to get right before going into closed beta, Todd said. As far as a little bit of a balancing factor, different “open” hours are associated with certain territories. A newbie agency might want to go after a zone with fewer open hours and less resources, for example. There is a win condition, and Todd explained that if one agency does dominate, they’ll enter the actual lore, get a host of bonuses, the peasants rejoice at having a new protected area to colonize free of Commonwealth rule, and the fight moves into new areas. In alpha, this usually results in the winning agency having a target on their head on the next go-round.

To gear up for some PvE action next, I went with a better jet pack and mines, hoping to use a common sniper strategy of going vertical to deal death from above while protecting my back with mines. My weapons required no ammo, drawing energy from the same pool as the jetpack. Todd explained that, as an alternative to my strategy, I could deploy a decoy, go stealth, and find myself a good ambush position. I was soloing an instance designed for a group, so naturally I didn’t last too long. The game uses a projectile-based damage system (unlike many online shooters, which only check if the enemy is in your reticule when you click to cause damage) and learning to “lead” enemies when sniping was a fun challenge.

The map had a fair amount of verticality to it; you drop down on new encounters like the final boss and had better be ready. Two mechanics worthy of note: a “rest” mechanic that allows you to heal faster but with less defense, and a time-wide “boost” that comes from killing lots of enemies without getting yourself killed. For recon, this boost allowed me to run faster and see enemies behind walls. And while GA is a skill-based game, you gain experience and level your combat skills by killing enemies and completing missions, not by repetitively using skills. Todd noted that Hi Rez is considering a skill based system for crafting, which only makes sense in the repetitive gristmill that is tradeskills.

We were on the attack in the Metal Arms PvP instance, set in the Himalayas. It was a pretty straightforward capture point-style instance. and enemies were displayed with a faint red outline making them easy to spot. The map was an excellent size for the team sizes; the push and pull of capture-point combat easily rivaled what I’ve experienced in Team Fortress 2, and the ubiquitous jetpacks add a new dimension (pun intended) to standard shooter gameplay.

Bottom line: we played several in-development persistent world shooters at E3 2009, and GA seemed to offer the best mix of originality and pacing for players that reside more on the MMORPG side of the gaming spectrum. Unlike many of today’s shooters, gore and gut-wrenching displays aren’t a part of GA, and this is an MMO you can definitely play without worrying about the "wandering kid" factor.  When I had to run to my next appointment, I certainly wasn’t finished playing. Todd anticipates that Global Agenda will be in closed beta this summer, and after getting a taste of the game, I can barely wait.
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