I know this post is overlong, but there’s a lot of stuff in here I’ll want to refer to later. Actually, I suspect this entire series is going to be really wordy. Do calibrate your verbosity tolerances and expectations accordingly.
The opening cinematic explains that a group of very unsporting aliens have invaded modern-day Earth. As it turns out, our AK-47’s vs. their photon torpedoes and robotic death machines doesn’t make for much of a fight. Earth is pulverized. The government shows the uncharacteristic ability to plan ahead, and has some sort of wormhole technology for transporting survivors to other worlds. The last humans must start over – a clean slate – to rebuild the human race and kill the bad guys, who are called Bane. We find out out there are other races out there who have been similarly stomped by the Bane, and so we join up with them. Having our asses kicked to the brink of extinction somehow unlocks the telepathy and telekinetic powers we always wish we had, which makes it possible for us to fight back with awesome mind powers and particle effects.
I’ve always thought that once you get to the point where you can build robots, enslaving sentient races has got be be a very inefficient way of getting things done. I’d much rather just program my robots to clean my house than feed and oppress a bunch of rebellious slaves while they clean it for me. That has to be more hassle than just cleaning it myself.
This might not be the most groundbreaking premise ever devised, but I give the game points simply for not being another draught from the Ye Olde Swords and Wizards template. Still, it would be really nice if the Bane had more motivation for invading the Earth than, “We are intergalactic dicks.”
There’s enough new stuff in here to keep this from feeling like the MMO adaptation of Independence Day. The backstory is pretty good, but like all games they seem to be afraid of scaring users away with things like storytelling and depth. The meat of the story is tucked away in manuals and wikis, and the Cliff Notes version we get in-game is just as thin and patronizing as in other MMOs.
Your characters have a first name and a last name, but the last name is common to all of your characters on that server. If you name your first character “Coleslaw McGraw”, then all of your characters are going to have to be members of the McGraw family. It seems like this deprives you of a bit of privacy. I know it’s common for some people to create anonymous alts for when they want to log in for a little “me” time, or join a rival guild, which isn’t possible when all of your alts share a common last name. Choosing a name for all of my future characters, forever, is a bigger commitment than I’m ready for in my first minutes with the game.
The game allows for users to maintain a generous sixteen characters per server, with the limitation that they all have basically the same name.
As with World of Warcraft, you can ask it to suggest a name for you. Also like World of Warcraft, it does so without making sure the name isn’t already taken, which means the “suggest” button is just a useless time-sink for everyone who wasn’t there on launch day.
What the game doesn’t tell you up front is that the first name doesn’t count when coming up with a unique name. What you’re really doing is picking your last name – your real name, the name other people see in chat – and then adding a purely decorative first name. For a while I was trying the same last name with increasingly esoteric and unlikely various first names. The game could have saved me about five minutes of frustration if the stupid dialog had explained what I needed to do or how this worked. Eventually I typed in the equivalent of, “Fhwqzpklm Smith” and the system claimed someone was already using that name, which finally clued me in as to what was going on.
The advantage of a system like this is that you won’t have thousands (or even millions) of names tied up in unused or abandoned alts. Still: One name. Pick well.
Character creation is surprisingly limited. Skin, hair styles, face, height. That’s it. You can’t adjust your physique / build / boob size / handedness / select tattoos / etc. Your face and hair are usually hidden under a helmet, which means that height is the only really distinctive trait you have to work with here. The avatars in the world feel very repetitive and samey. It would be really helpful if you could make muscular people, skinny people, and maybe even barrel-chested guys who could stand to lose a few pounds.
I know computer graphics are tricky and stuff, but have we invented any pixel shaders that can let us make characters with black hair?
(And a gripe about videogames in general: Way too few games handle skin color properly. All too often the nonwhites just look like Europeans who fell asleep in the tanning booth. Tabula Rasa continues this tradition. I gave up trying to create a nonwhite character when I realized it wouldn’t even let me make my hair black. Call me a purist, but I just wasn’t interested in making an African with blue eyes and Auburn hair.)
There are a meager four races in the game. Worse, only the human is available at the start. The game is coy about what you need to do in-game to gain access to the other three. It just says you’ll have to “complete certain quests”, without saying how far into the game those quests are or what you’ll have to do.
You don’t pick a class up front. (Which – as I’ll get into later – is actually a really good idea, but the player doesn’t know that at this point in the process.) So at the start of the game there basically aren’t any interesting choices to make. Male or female. Mid twenties. Pick a haircut and log in. Given the degree to which people will obsess over expressing their individuality in these games, this lack of visual diversity is appalling.
(Interesting note: The voice for the female is clearly the same voice that played 1/3 of all the women in Oblivion. I heard that voice a lot, so it was kind of hard to miss. I also suspect the voice for the male is the voice of the generic male citizens in Half-Life 2, but I can’t be sure with just the couple of samples available.)
Once you probe the naming system in search of a winner and get over the innate blandness of your appearance, the worst is over. The game had been annoying me since the moment I popped in the disc, but once my character was actually standing in the starting area the game began making up for that awkward first impression.
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