E3 2009
The MMOGs of E3

Team Humidor | 19 Jun 2009 22:30
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I might as well come clean: There's probably no genre of videogame less adapted to the harsh, overstimulating conditions of the Los Angeles Convention Center during E3 than the MMOG. Some games are built from the ground up with 10- to 15-minute play sessions in mind; in an MMOG, you could easily spend that amount of time on the Character Creation screen. Even more crucially, an MMOG lives and dies by the strength of its community, an asset that a pre-release E3 demo will be sorely lacking.

That said, MMOGs had a strong presence at this year's convention, and not just of the traditional Orcs & Elves variety. Of course, there's Star Wars: The Old Republic, a title that seems to be growing more ambitious by the day. But after roaming the show floor and sampling the selection, we've come up with another four up-and-comers to watch in the next year or two that you might be a little less familiar with.

Global Agenda:

While MMOG enthusiasts waited patiently for MMOFPS Huxley to emerge from the fog of vaporware, Hi-Rez Studios have been hard at work on Global Agenda. No, it's not the schedule of events for a U.N. General Assembly meeting; it's a massively multiplayer online third-person shooter set in a sci-fi world where rival factions face off against a totalitarian government. It's clear that the developers see this high-tech setting as a major selling point of the title - witness this trailer, where Global Agenda's Recon class faces down a hapless elven mage.

In addition to the Recon - a sort of rogue archetype in the world of Global Agenda - there are three other classes to choose from: Assault, Medic and Robotics. Assault is the default combat class of the bunch who wears the heaviest armor; Medics have access to both healing abilities and powerful damage-over-time toxins; and Robotics specialists can construct turrets and force fields to support their party. I spent a little time with the Assault class in a PvE instance meant for larger groups and had a blast. Immediately, it became clear that Global Agenda is as much a shooter as it is an MMOG - it doesn't take long before you remember to crouch and strafe when you take on an enemy, since staying still usually results in a quick death.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to experience the game's PvP system, which probably would have been far more representative of the actually gameplay than soloing a PvE instance as a max level character. But given the game's reflex-based combat, it will likely be a big draw for FPS players who want to dive into an MMOG - and elven mages who are getting a little tired of juggling fireballs.

- Jordan Deam

APB:

Most MMOGs talk a lot about customization, but APB, from Crackdown developer Realtime Worlds, takes that talk very, very seriously. The level to which you can custom design your character is staggering - this goes way beyond a few hairdos and noserings. They were very careful to restrain alterations with realism. Increase your character's weight and he gets love handles instead of inflating like a balloon. Change skin color doesn't simply dunk your avatar in a bucket of paint, but rather delicately adjusts skin pigment and tone. Scars, hair length, eye color, ear size ... you could spend days just tweaking and re-tweaking your character's appearance.

APB will also include a robust system for creating "symbols," images you can then turn into tattoos, clothing designs or car decals. We're not talking simple stars or words, either, but incredibly intricate designs that would look at home on Ed Hardy T-shirts. Of course, while some players will embrace that freedom to make beautiful and amazing graphics, you just know there's going to be a gang calling themselves the Penis Crew or something. Even more ripe for abuse is the ability to design your own "death tune," a little ditty that players will hear whenever you score a kill. Personally, I'd go with a chiptune version of "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls.

The core concept behind APB is pretty simple: You choose to be either a law-defending Enforcer or a law-breaking Criminal. You'll receive missions from NPCs that are higher up in your particular organization, and be matched up in PvP situations against members of the opposing side. So, a Criminal may get a mission to rob a bank; as he's he committing the crime, an Enforcer will "get the APB" and be matched up with him and try to prevent him from finishing the mission. Cue gunfight!

There wasn't much actual APB gameplay to see yet, but Realtime Worlds has some very unique ideas about new ways to keep its MMOG exciting and vibrant. And, depending on the players, very, very annoying.

- Susan Arendt

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