Sandstorm will be rolling out in several phases, each housing a different chunk of content and polish for Global Agenda, and it's no small patch at that. It's a genuine game-changer, taking out what wasn't working right and putting in a lot more that hopefully will.
As more gear with varying stats drops, the concern of balance -- or imbalance -- arises. What happens when a warrior enters the scene with uber-leet gear and stares down Mr. Newbie, fresh from the farm? While GA does have an "anything goes" type of PvP with AVA, Harris points to their selective matchmaker system: "Matchmaking does a good job at taking a look at win percentage, player skill, and classes, and certainly does the best job it can based on who's online to make it a fair match."
While there used to be stat upgrades you could spread across armor and weapons, Hi-Rez now assigns specific stats to each piece of loot, in addition to their rarity (common, uncommon, rare and epic). There are also crafted mods you can attach to boost stats even further. The quick loot window will stay in place to keep the screen from being cluttered in the midst of a heated match. "This isn't a phase one thing, but we do have the idea of chests that we'll be introducing in instances and open zones to give a physical representation in the world," he teased.
The lack of population -- perceived or real -- is another concern that we approached Harris with, and he speculated that many players might be waiting for Sandstorm to drop. He pointed to comments on forums and blogs as proof, and trusts that Sandstorm will make enough people curious to come back for a second helping of warfare. Harris admits that arena seems to be the least popular playground, and in some of the later phases of Sandstorm they'll be adding motivations for groups and players to branch out more.
We wanted to talk more about Global Agenda's wonderful toys -- specifically, jet packs. How would they work with weapons, especially as you can fire and fly at the same time? The default jetpack you get in the beginning doesn't offer fire-and-flight, but lets you jump with a tap of the spacebar, and sustained flight if you hold the spacebar down. The high-level jetpack is considered to be an off-hand weapon, which lets you use your melee or weapons while you're in flight. Jetpacks consume energy like candy, however, so don't expect to be flying around and shooting indefinitely.
As Global Agenda adapts more standard MMORPG accoutrements, one of the most anticipated additions in Sandstorm will be the inclusion of PvE areas. What can we expect? While it is still in testing, many changes are on deck: multiple quest-givers, more story, more narrative quests, and the newbie desert area will become a 100% PvE zone. This zone will help to make MMO-friendly players feel more at home and get them used to the game mechanics. Consider it your gank-free sanctuary as you get your Global Agenda legs.
On the flip side of 100% PvE zones are war zones, which will boast 32-vs-32 PvP conflict. Right now, each war zone is independent of the others. The greater number of players on these maps will hopefully contribute to a feeling of epic battles, and, as of right now, Harris says that they are not inclined to let teams of more than four join the fray. If the war zones prove successful, they might enlarge AVA to include 32-vs-32 matches, particularly for base raids.
To the delight of many who've demanded it, Harris was pleased to announce that Cyber Cuts -- the premier hair stylist shop in Dome City -- will now open to offer new hairdos and colors.
What is Harris' favorite part of the new patch? "There's a flag that allows players to play PvE as a partial team. You can go into a medium-level PvE map solo or with a friend. It's a small thing, but it changes the feel and causes you to be deliberate and watch the clock carefully."
As Sandstorm moves Global Agenda more in the direction of a MMO, some players find the move disturbing -- and against the core concept GA promoted from the start. It's a prickly issue, but Harris faced it head-on. "I think that for us," he said, "the core of Global Agenda is how the combat blends both stats and twitch, and the team nature of the game. That's what we've worked the longest and hardest to get right, and we feel it's special. I've always thought that was kind of our gem that could shine in multiple settings."
Building off of that core, Harris says they looked at what the community asked for -- and quests came up frequently. While it's hard to make and market a hybrid game, Hi-Rez feels that they're just trying to deliver more bang for the buck. This includes making larger maps, introducing new types of matches, and, yes, elements of MMO questing. However, Harris promised that Global Agenda would not devolve into a rote PvE title, but stay true to its PvP shooter nature.
And, of course, they still have no elves.