Tucked away in the Indie Megabooth area, The Repopulation devs invited players to sit down with a laptop and take part in testing the game's siege mode. I chatted up the developers -- who are head-over-heels enthusiastic about The Repopulation, by the way -- and got my first look at what PvP a sandbox hath wrought.
The latest focus in the alpha test has been the game's unique siege system. Battles raging over the course of three days will determine the fate of certain PvP outposts, and one was going on while we were at PAX. Alpha testers and PAX participants alike jumped into the fray and more often than not got shredded like so much Kraft cheese.
During the eight seconds when I first logged into the siege complex and was shot up by a sprinting opponent, I had a few initial thoughts as someone who hadn't seen a lot of The Repopulation thus far. First, it's pretty easy on the eyes: The character models are well-done and the environment looks quite attractive. I was less enthusiastic about the sterile military/pre-fab structure visuals, however. Second, it doesn't feel as science-fictiony as Counterstrikey. Third, there's a ton of menu options that would require some serious studying to master. The latter is a little difficult when you're on the run from a bullet with your name on it.
With the press of the Q key, you can switch from the default MMO control scheme to The Repopulation's action mode. This basically makes it into a shooter, with mouselook controling the camera and your left and right mouse buttons doing the heavy work of killin'. One thing I thought was particularly clever is that the left mouse button is linked to a customizable skill queue. You can prioritize abilities that you'd like the mouse button to trigger, and the game will activate whichever not-on-cooldown skill is either higher in the queue or linked to a context-sensitive environmental object.
I wasn't a huge fan of the action mode, which can be either third- or first-person. It felt clunky and made it hard to tell from where the bad guys were shooting. Of course, I'll give a little leeway for possible bad PAX connections and all that. Slightly better was the ability to hop into a turret or even a giant battle mech and lay down the hurt on foes.
Throwing up a wall
Siege mode was all well and good if you're a PvPer, but where was the sandbox part of it all? I asked to see a bit of the building process, and the devs complied by dumping some currency into my account so that I could whip up a few blueprints of a wall and lay them down to my heart's content. It worked adequately, although I was disappointed that I couldn't resize these elements. I guess RIFT's dimension system has spoiled me in this regard, but that seemed like a crucial oversight for a sandbox game that's all about crafting and creating. I can see the appeal of adding to the defenses of your town by throwing up more walls or turrets, however.
It's hard not to draw comparisons from The Repopulation to older MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies and Anarchy Online. Not only do all of these titles dwell in the science fiction setting and (at least in the case of SWG) have a sandbox focus, but the UI and font is eerily reminiscent of those games. The lead designer said that he got that comment a lot but wasn't that bothered by it.
The Repopulation's test world may have only a few hundred inhabitants these days, but Above and Beyond is gearing up to expand the alpha over the next few months and move into an even larger beta come the new year. The limited testing of sieges like this could become full-throated conflicts come 2014, and it will be fascinating to see if this PvP system works where so many other MMOs over-promised and under-delivered.
Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!