I've decided one way to help expand my horizons is to play as many games as possible. I suppose that's not much of an illogical conclusion, but whatever. Recently, I started playing the open beta for a game called WorldShift. It's a very interesting title, it combines typical RTS fare - harvest resources, create an army, use the abilities, win the game - with a touch of MMORPG basics. The game has its equivalent of raids: players team up to defeat computer controled armies, and eventually giant boss creatures.
Successful progress in the "PvE" portion of the game nets the player items or "cards" and "xenoshards." The cards come in a variety of strengths, and just like WoW, everyone wants purples. Initially, these cards are given specific slots for specific purposes - this slot upgrades your main hero, each of these 4 slots are for each of your 4 officers, here's some slots for your regular units. However, the high-level cards may affect more than that sepcific unit; you can gain armor, damage, and hit point bonuses to certain units from other areas. This gives us a pretty large degree of customization, we can sort of choose our strategies early on: We can make Brutes much more powerful, or maybe we want more mana regeneration for spellcasting. I really like the amount of pregame preparation that's available in this game. I think it's a bit unfortunate that the "PvP" element of this game requires the initial "grinding" for items, but I think that's what the intention was for the game anyway.
Now I want to stress that this game is really very interesting in its genre-meshing and original ideas. I've never seen an MMO-RTS tried before, and while the players and their armies don't interact unless they're engaged in a "Deathmatch" (1v1, 2v2, 3v3, etc battle) or "Location" match (the equivalent of a raid or instance), I am in love with the continuity of it all. I like being able to say "Hey, I did really well this game, and I have something to show for it." Cards can be gained in the single player missions, raid-like Location games, and the PvP element as well, all of which have their own ways of letting a player excel and extra bonuses.
However, I can't really see this game maintaing any sort of longevity. As far as an RTS goes, it's very, very light. While there are many possibilities pregame with Cards, once you get into the game itself, it's not a very robust game. There are three relatively distinct races. Each of the races has a main Hero-type unit. He spawns at the start, can be revived if he dies, and has a number of abilities that can be buffed with the aforementioned Cards. In addition to the Hero a player has up to four Officers. You spawn with two of them (of your choosing), and can revive/train up to a total of four. There are four kinds of officers with abilities ranging from healing, stuns, direct damage, and buffs. So far this game looks promising, right? We haven't even gotten to the real units. Unfortunately, there are four real units to be produced. Every race has small light damaging melee units, weak ranged troops, and two larger units which generally fill the roles "DPS" or "Tanking."
I talked before about economy management, and I will soon write a few articles about decision making, expansions, teching, upgrades, and the like - "Macro" choices, if you will. Unfortunately the macromanagement choices in this game are simply "what to make" and "how much." We are presented with the choice of making officers, units, or defensive upgrades for our numerous expansions, but that's about it. The maps are generated randomly, but it seems there are about 7 resource sites to take control of between the players (as far as 1v1 goes), and there is no cost whatsoever for claiming them. They are guarded by neutral monsters which must be killed, but considering you don't even have to construct workers to build, let alone man the expansion, I don't think it's a very risky strategy to expand quickly and often.
It seems the game is intended to be paced very quickly. Resources are easy to obtain and both players should be able to constantly produce units throughout. However the game starts to stagnate when we realize that not only are some units close to useless (Dimensional Chain + Nether Nova = instant death to half of the units a player is capable of producing), but we don't even have that many unit choices to begin with. The game seems to revolve mostly around the usage of the hero and officers as the players are also presented with a 30-unit food cap. While the officers and hero aren't subject to this cap, it limits a player to an army ranging between 30 "tier 1" units, and 5 of their big fourth unit. Confronted with the fact that almost every ability in the game is Area of Effect, we're left with a pretty narrow selection for unit production.
The last point I want to address about this game is longevity. While I hope to write more about longevity of a game in general in a later article, I'll address my concerns with this game here. In a player-vs-player environment, a game should always be changing because one can't faithfully predict their opponent's next move. Additional points like metagame and the evolution of strategies always keeps the game exciting - provided there are enough tools to allow exciting new strategies and metagames. With such a harsh limit on unit production and no real decision making aside from "to attack or "not to attack," I can't help but think the game will come to nothing more than 1. Who has the best items, and 2. Who micros the best.
The PvE aspect to the game can be in the same way that Diablo II is still alive and kicking. A variety of difficult encounters that each require their own strategy exist. Players can choose a variety of army compositions just as a player may choose his own skills and equipment. However, I can't help but feel that down the road, it'll be much less exciting. Once everyone figures out the strategies to use - Kill the eggs to the scorpion doesn't heal himself. Leave the other two bosses alive so you get better loot - there's nothing exciting left in the game. After the thrill of "Hey cool I found this sweet item" passes, there's not much left to the game. The encounters are scripted, and in any non-random PvE battle, there will be a "best" way to do something and the game will get old. This would be fine if it just led up to an exciting PvP part of the game, but sadly I don't think that's the case here. It may be fun in the same sense that single player RPGs are fun, but it's rare to see repeat-completions of a single player game unless the player injects his own rules into it.
So there you have it, maybe this reads more like a review than a critique, but I feel like I tried to stay to a theme of "what works, what doesn't." And I love quoting "every" other "word" I "write."
Edit: I've also recorded and uploaded a Podcast for your further enrichment, should you plan on listening. This link will bring you to a folder that holds this and all future recordings when they're uploaded.