The struggle for dominance
Earthrise will be a very PvP-centric title, with open PvP and full looting adding greater risk to combat. How long will players have to loot fallen opponents (or allies)?
Atanasov says, "There will be a time limit. Right now we're planning for 30 seconds, which means that once you die nobody can pick up your inventory for that first 30 seconds. So you have the time to choose whether or not you want your inventory back," at a cost, of course.
A key game mechanic that's central to Earthrise's combat is a player's "battle rating" which is a numerical ranking of how tough you are (as presently skilled/equipped) and conversely how tough your opposition is. Your own battle rating and that of your opponents determines the experience you can gain from defeating them, or how juicy a target you are to them.
Your battle rating is determined by a few factors. The armor and weapons you equip and the abilities you've learned largely dictate battle rating. A target's battle rating will be visible to you and determines how much experience you'll get from taking down a mutant or other opponent.
The battle rating system will also give players flexibility in how quickly they advance. For example, you may be very strong but if you want greater experience gains from taking on weaker opponents you can choose to use weaker gear to match. In effect, you lower your own battle rating but earn more rewards by facing a greater challenge. The battle rating system isn't just a system that determines individual gains, it will also carry over to groups. Atanasov says, "I would say it's very unique in the MMO field. Nobody has tried it so far. I hope it will work well and will bring some new ideas to the future of MMO games."
Strictly for the hardcore?
A question that lingers given how PvP-centric Earthrise is, paired with full looting, is whether this game is strictly for the hardcore PvP-er. It's not, according to Atanasov. He says, "We have provided a lot of options for players who want to feel protected. First, we'll have some secure zones for players who don't want to engage in PvP. We'll also have options to insure your items and get them back."
Some areas on the map will have high security, which Atanasov likens to another prominent sandbox MMO. "Think of them like EVE Online's security," he says. "Where there are different security levels depending on the area you're in. The further you go from civilized locations the less secure the area will be. Generally, in a more secure area if you are attacked by a player it is very likely this player will be killed by guards. But you go to an area with zero security, there is no chance that someone will help you." You can shoot players anywhere *except* within the game's two major cities. Once you venture outside of the ivory tower, you take your chances.
Earthrise also features an in-depth crafting system, where a high degree of customization is possible. The game's crafting skills function similar to the combat-focused skills in that there are categories to choose from, with other options contained within. Those skills allow you to imbue the finished crafting product with certain stats and advantages. Crafting is done via two separate processes -- Design and Manufacturing. The Design process allows a player to add item enhancements to "recipes" which take form through Manufacturing, and can even be used for mass production.
Factor in that all items used in Earthrise are subject to wear and tear, hence continual demand, skilled crafters with some market savvy can establish a name for themselves while reaping profits.
In a nutshell, Earthrise is a post-apocalyptic MMO where players will align with organizations (factions) as guilds clash with one another over finite resources. In some respects Earthrise's sandbox design bears similarities to a terrestrial EVE Online: a player-driven economy; open PvP system; war declarations between guilds; no class limitations; and offline character progression.
But this is where the similarities end. Earthrise is distinguished by a unique approach to MMO design (particularly its skill and tactic dynamic), as well as its aftermath backstory -- one of a world burned out where only the chosen elite remain. Strife engulfs their new utopian world when the shadow government Noir clashes with the Continoma technocratic regime, which holds the key to genetic immortality. Fans of lore in sci-fi games should have a fair amount of material to keep them interested and we're hoping that Masthead Studios has more on the way.
We now have a firm idea about some of the game mechanics of Earthrise as they presently stand in early beta, but what's not apparent yet is how the developers will approach the ideas of freedom and player-politics in the game. This is as integral to the success of a sandbox MMO as the design aspects.
It's far too soon to say what kind of game Earthrise will shape up to be, and some details I've mentioned in this Earthrise preview could change by release. Earthrise is the first MMO developed by Masthead Studios, thus they don't have an established track record we can look at as some potential indicator of what to expect. Regardless, this writer is optimistic about the potential for Earthrise to bring some new dimensions to massively multiplayer online games.
If you're excited by the prospect of piloting mechs in combat, crafting customizable items, or struggling for guild supremacy through siege warfare in an open world that the players control, Earthrise may just be a contender for your gaming time.
We have confirmation that Earthrise will operate on a subscription model, pricing to be determined but is expected to be in line with other subscription titles on the market. A firm release date for the game hasn't been announced yet, but Earthrise is currently in a friends and family beta. Some of those gamers who've signed up for beta testing, however, might want to keep an eye on their inboxes this May.
Massively will be continue to follow Earthrise as it nears release, but for the time being, we leave you with the GDC09 Earthrise demo trailer, best viewed in HD.