MMOs are a strange genre without many of the clearly-defined borders for something that is or isn't a part of the field. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of innovation in the field that's confined strictly to the absolute edges of what could be considered an MMO. Games such as MAG and Global Agenda feature several shooter conventions mixed with several MMO conventions, and it's an interesting formula. Land of Chaos Online is pushing the formula as well, by adding in third-person shooter elements to a Defense of the Ancients-style match format.
The game is on the outer edge of the genre, but it draws much of its gameplay and feel from MMOs, with a strong emphasis on coupled character persistence and more shooter-style elements. We caught up with Achim Kaspers, managing director of Burda:ic, during GDC to talk about what the game would play like and get an idea of what we could expect. More information on this unique game after the cut.
On the one hand, the game plays similar to a shooter in many aspects. There's no targeting function, with the game instead using a free aiming system similar to shooters. It also doesn't allow free character customization or creation -- players choose from a set of pre-defined heroes, with roughly fourteen available for each faction (an initial set is available with further heroes being unlocked). Even more to the point, death allows you the opportunity to switch your hero, giving rise to recollections of Team Fortress 2 in terms of gameplay. All of these elements push the game further in the direction of being a straight-up shooter.
However, the game is targeted more at the MMO audience, and it has several things pushing in that direction. While your character's levels are earned over the course of a match, your available skills, heroes, and items are persistent as gameplay continues. That means that while you may not have a single character leveling up to max and staying there, you have a wider selection of options as gameplay continues. And there is a strong set of item dependency, with items dropping upon successful completion of a match and allowing you to get more of an edge in future battles.
And the mechanics, past targeting, are very tightly mapped upon MMO conventions. There are tanks and healers, damage dealers and classes with strong crowd control aspects. While the game is going to launch with a strong PvP aspect, PvE elements are planned for later incorporation. As Mr. Kasper put it, the game is targeting the MMO demographic, looking for players who want a melding of some shooter elements with several persistent parts of gameplay that define the genre. By his phrasing, the game is more similar to a heavily instanced MMO a la Guild Wars -- "...you go with your team into an MMO instance, you go and have a raid or a PvP battleground."
The game has three modes on launch. Battle Mode is essentially an MMO version of Defense of the Ancients, and is the most MMO-focused mode in the game. It will feature both faction-allied NPCs as well as neutral monsters (known affectionately to most RTS fans as "creeps"), with both usable to level up over the course of the match. Meanwhile, Occupation Mode is focused more on the Domination style of FPS map, or the Eye of the Storm battleground from World of Warcraft. Last but not least, Annihilation Mode is a team deathmatch set in a variety of interactive maps. The mentioned map was the Dragon Nest, which features a dragon's egg in the center. Destroy the egg, and your team has the brief allegiance of a dragon to help lay waste to the other side.
Pushing forward as a free-to-play model, Mr. Kasper also discussed the game's approach to pricing and item shops in some depth. As he put it, the elements that will be going in the shop aren't fully decided, although it is known that it will contain clothing to customize your heroes. He stated that they didn't wish to make a big item shop to start with, "with everything in it and high prices" -- instead, the team tries to determine what the community wants and what a fair price would be. "There is a border we don't want to touch," he said. "You should not be buying success... [and] everything is not working if you say 'this is the item shop and it is staying'."
The game is due to be roughly half-finished this year, with betas beginning before the end of the year and a release schedule looking very close to a simultaneous global drop. With an open approach to item shop pricing, a variety of gameplay modes, and an interesting aesthetic, Land of Chaos Online isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. But even though it's at the edge of the MMO spectrum, it's still something that might be worth getting excited about.