Imperator Online Preview
Article based on visit to Fairfax, interviews with developers, and hands-on demo time.
A couple of years ago, Mythic Entertainment announced that they were working on a second, major, graphical MMORPG to go along with their widely successful Dark Age of Camelot. Imperator Online is that game. Set in a sci-fi world where Rome never fell, the game has clearly evolved since that original announcement, and in early April, Mythic was ready to show off their progress to a throng of game journalists. They promise a polished title that solves many of the problems that have plagued the past few generations of MMORPGs. Time will tell on whether they can deliver, but upon first glance, they seem to be on the right road.
Imperator has been designed as a character-centric game, with an emphasis on personal development. Sound familiar? It should. This is the basis of many single-player-RPGs. Mythic hopes to take that personal approach and apply it to a massive scale. Characters take part in Life Events, which are quests specifically designed not to go kill and get loot, but to advance your character. They define who you are and what you want to be. Through Life Events, you can pursue fame, fortune, heroism, etc. They are the key to preventing you from becoming a faceless peon in a faceless universe.
You are important and the design of the game emphasizes this point. You enter the world as a member of what is tentatively being called the Academy, a form of elite class that exists in Roman society. Members of this elite are chosen at a young age based on a battery of tests. They come from all walks of life and receive the best training. For each player, you enter the world on spring break of your graduating year. You are sent on assignment to the world of Terra Nova, but arrive to find it besieged by Mayans. The goal is to bring you into the action instantly, as you learn the ropes on the battle-torn planet. The entire tutorial area assaults the senses with input. It really looks and feels like you are in the middle of a war. Spaceships buzz overhead, Mayans – the main enemy of Rome – are in full assault, and the limited defenses of the planet are fully engaged. Your goal is to help and from day one, you are actively fighting a war against the main enemy, not rats or bunny rabbits. The entire experience - the only actual game play we were shown and able to try – aims to take you through a rather linear path so that you may learn.
Terra Nova being such a rigidly defined experience, begged the question of how open the game play experience will be. Mythic's answer is not very. Imperator Online is not a sandbox. They want to create a vast, varied game, but they also want to define the player experiences and give them guidance and fun. The goal is not to make a virtual world – or universe as the case may be – but to make a virtual game. Fun is the emphasis and every inch of the world built to maximize fun and purpose. There will be not forests for forest's sake; travel time will be short, quests focused, and even a casual time investment can provide an entertaining experience.
In terms of setting, as previously mentioned, functionality is the focus. You will not find vast rolling hills of mindless mobs. All zones have a purpose. The current estimate, given from super-producer Matt Firor was that the world would be approximately the size of one-hundred Camelot zones at launch. They divided the game-world into five planets, plus the original tutorial planet. They are as follows:
- Terra: Earth. The capital city here is Rome, which promises to be an impressive site, complete with a scale version of the coliseum. There are also going to be areas where the Mayans formerly lived, among other things. Earth is not just Rome; there are other cultures you may recognize on the planet, including an Asian-themed culture.
- Hades Prime: This is a hellish planet, the garbage-dump of Rome. All sorts of adventure can be had here against the planet's aggressive native inhabitants.
- Luna: Described as an open, abandoned, ghost town. It is the earth's moon.
- Others: Mythic was again mum on the final two planets, but would confirm an "ice world" and a "toxic jungle".
Imperator's universe is not seamless and travel time is short. If you want to go somewhere, you hop on a ship (computer controlled), train, or something else and zip right there. They mask loading screens with the visual of transit. In addition, to be clear, there will be no free form space travel in Imperator. Spaceships are simply not in the short-term plans.
Players have the choice of three races to play, a far cry from the numbers in Dark Age of Camelot, but a decision they think will let them do a better and more detailed job on each. The game forces players to be "good" and "Roman". They must join against the Mayans, and being evil is essentially not an option. In the back-story, Romans created three servitor races that over time came to be seen as equals and independent of the Romans. They now walk among them. As a player your choices are:
- Human: This is the stock jack-of-all-trades human race. Customization will be full, and should let you make a character of any real human race.
- Ingenii: No concept art is yet available for these, but they are a highly beautiful, intelligent race. They are an ideal.
- Artificial: Yes, you can play a robot. This race is made in their own image, but clearly not human. They are mechanical.
A fourth race, a strong cat-like race called the Tigris, have been rethought since we were in Fairfax. They are no longer part of the game. Word on possible replacements is not yet available. The three known races should give Imperator a good mix. All will be bi-pedal, upright races. This plays right into the frills of their combat system and animated visual queues.
Class System, Skill System and Progression
Imperator Online has taken a rather unique approach to character progression in terms of mechanics. The game is both level and skill based, with a cap of one-hundred, and fans of Dark Age of Camelot should be familiar with the concept of five base choices that branch out as you advance, in this case at level ten. Each base class has two or three classes that you can choose to evolve into. All information in this section is still under discussion at Mythic and may well change. Originally, I was presented with four base classes, and since the trip that has changed to five. Here is what we know as of today:
- Technical Class: Uses technology to help others in their group.
- Biomed Class: They are the healer/cleric types.
- Ranged Class: The ranged class uses guns and other projectiles to engage enemies from afar.
- Melee Class: The tanks, they uses hand-to-hand weapons.
- Unspecified Other Class: The fifth class was quite hush-hush, but we did learn that it would be based heavily on research into quantum physics and be more akin to a "magic" class. Although, it should be noted, there is no "magic" in Imperator Online.
Beyond this, each one branches into two or three additonal class choices at level ten. These are as follows (again, the names are unconfirmed):
- Technical Class:
- Engineer: This is a form of pet class. Their technological creations help their allies. One example is that you can deploy a generator to help everyone recharge.
- Robotisist: This is a pet and nuking class. They build things like a robot with a turret that will shoot enemies
- Biomed Class:
- The names of the two cleric-type classes that branch off this are unknown. What is known is that one is skewed towards offense and the other defense.
- Ranged Class:
- Sniper: These people wear light armor and are slow-moving, but do high damage. They also have traps and other toys.
- Commando: This is more a hybrid class that has some elements of melee and some of range.
- Grenadier: This is the heavy tank from afar. His description immediately makes me think of the heavy-suit in Tribes. They are largely stationary when in combat.
- Melee Class:
- Skirmisher: These are position melee reliant, fast, black-ops type people. Typically, in combat, you will play this character darting all over the place to inflict maximum damage.
- Shock Trooper: This person does high damage, extended melee attacks and tends to be a little less close than other melee classes. Instead, he is at his best when he is just a bit away from the enemy.
- Protector: The traditional tank. This person has a special shield that blocks extremely well head on. He is your damage-sponge.
- Quantum Theory Class:
- There are no details to be gleaned here yet, save the previously mentioned fact that they will be heavily based in quantum physics research.
The most interesting aspect of their system is how they weave a skill and class system together. Essentially, you need to reach a level to "unlock" a skill. Once unlocked, it is usage-based advancement. This combines the guided and balanced game play of a class system with the logical evolution of a skill system. The entire concept sounds very nice.