While attending the SOE
open house event last night after all the ION 08
panels were finished, we got the chance to sit down with The Agency's
lead designer Hal Milton. He talked about the game at length, which of course meant our ears and eyes were firmly directed in his direction.
The first thing we feel is important to mention before getting into some new juicy details, is the recent news about downloadable content for the spy-fueled action MMO. You see there's been some confusion and in speaking to Hal he expressed his desire to clear things up. Players will in fact be able to purchase things with their hard earned money in The Agency
, however, these items will not be weapons or equipment. To be clear: From what Hal told us, nothing that gives one player an instant leg-up over another
will be for sale.
With that out of the way, lets get on to the new information.
We all expect a lot of action from The Agency
, but you'd be wrong for expecting only action. In fact a lot of gameplay in The Agency has to do with being a spy, thus stealth comes into play. Players will be able to don an alias, which is basically a disguise of sorts. Think of it as social stealth -- they blend in with the public by wearing fitting attire. Why would an agent want to do this in the first place? Glad you asked. It's usually because they're trying to sneak into someplace and get to some sensitive information or maybe even a particular person who happens to be heavily guarded.
When posing as their alias, agents (that's you) have a separate hit point bar. So if you're standing around looking quite out of place and someone -- maybe a security guard -- sees you, then you'll start to lose Alias HP. What you do is use certain actions available to you in order to blend in. So order yourself up a martini and take a few sips, or pretend you're checking out that amazing piece of art hanging on the wall.
What's really cool is that all abilities in the game are contextually nested menus that pop up whenever you go to interact with something, be it a player in need of a rez or that martini glass. This helps keep the UI very clean looking while still allowing a player lots of different and useful skills.
If you've been following The Agency
at all, then you know there are two factions: Unite and ParaGON. The former being bond-inspired with suits and high-tech gadgetry while the latter is more of the rough-n-tumble types who still have tech, but throw in some duct tape and super glue. Choosing one of the two factions is the one and only big choice a player makes in the game. All your faction determines is your visual theme and storyline, but the stories of both Unite and ParaGON eventually come together anyhow. We're curious to see what kinds of replayability comes from this setup.
PvP and PvE are both equally important to SOE with The Agency
, so both sides of the coin are getting love. For the PvP fans the game will have a "PvP Anytime" feature that will allow players to drop into that experience whenever they want. Hal points out that many FPS players learn the intricacies of a game through PvP first. Don't worry if you're not into the PvP element, as it's a completely opt-in experience. SOE doesn't want players to be griefed, as that's a single-sided type of fun that only promotes more bad behavior.
The twitch players are definitely rewarded in this game as well, but there are classes plenty of ways for non-twitch players to do well in The Agency
. Some classes can lay down turrets, which are very accurate and quite deadly. Then there are the healing classes, which are always in-demand with most MMOs. Stealth being one of the three main class types (Combat, Stealth and Support) means plenty of players can get their kicks through using operatives to set traps and catch opponents unawares.
Speaking of operatives, they're probably the coolest little extra feature in The Agency
so far. These are NPC characters that have their own archetypes, level up and developer positive and negative traits. Operatives will also develop relationships with each other, some good and some bad. So there's an extra story element that players can pay attention to if they want, but it's entirely non-mandatory stuff.
When you stop and think about it, Operatives are kind of like a card collecting game that's tied directly into the game. Right now there are about 450 Operative cards in the game ranging from lowbie stuff to high level cards. At max level players can expect to be able to hold a maximum amount of somewhere between 50-100 cards.
It's also worth mentioning that, yes, the low-level cards are being considered as item-for-money content. The reason is simply because operative cards aren't useful until a player actually makes use of them and levels them up in the first place. Being able to buy them would only allow players to pick the base card they want right away instead of playing the game to get the cards -- or at least that's our understanding of it. So it really seems like a small thing in the context of what Operatives actually are to players.