Playing Earthrise upon its release was like trying to pull your teeth with a claw hammer. The servers crashed, the quests broke, and almost everything else faltered to a whimpering mess. From delayed chat channels, to having to run into the ocean to fix certain bugs, it wasn't a recommendable experience. But I've been thinking: more than six months later has Masthead Studios managed to wrestle their MMO from the clutches of glitches and exploits, and finally delivered on its pre-launch promise? I headed back into the fray to find out.
Ying and Yang
To get all of the formalities out of the way, I can say that yes, Earthrise has gotten a little better, but with reservation. A lot of the game's connection issues have largely disappeared in my own experience; the upshot being that chat problems are now largely solved and players can easily communicate without sending out a message and waiting for the response to crawl back. Whether this is something the developers have looked into, or the simple lack of numbers that the game launched with, is anyone's guess.
With the disappearance of the terrible lag that hindered Earthrise initially, a lot of the mechanics now work better. Combat is a more enjoyable experience, and rarely will mobs teleport back and forth, whilst also suffering from the horrific tethering issues as before. In general, the MMO is easier to engage with but with this comes the obvious caveats.
While the lag has gone, the performance has dipped immensely. Perhaps through connection issues masking some deeper problems, or by suspect patching, Earthrise now performs worse than at launch. Loading times seem to have extended, crashes are a matter of routine, and the graphical engine seems to have skipped over optimization and is now in the midst of dirty protest.
My experiences seemed to be a matter of trading in a smooth connection for some horrible performance: it is as if the two had entered the Highlander End Game. These problems that exist are disappointing but there are signs that Masthead are at least systematically ironing the bugs, glitches, and annoyances, and while this is something that should have been addressed before launch, there is a hope that the developers are doing something about it.
So with system talk out of the way, just how has Earthrise's gameplay progressed? Well sadly, this is where I find the game most lacking. Everything generally works better, but the same old boring, bland world remains. Looking through my original notes, six months previous, I noted that "the game claims to be a sandbox but all I am finding is experience without atmosphere, fantasy, or that spark of magic: just lots of grind". Eight months down the line, I still feel this way.
Earthrise is still about unashamed monster slaughter, whether this is in repeatable quests or crafting. All there is to do is carve a murderous path through the wilderness, gaining action points, and dolling them out into the various skills that the game offers. Within this, there just seems a lack of energy or immersion; it always feels like a hike to the peaks of skill maxing, and Masthead haven't really addressed this issue.
The endless of array of abilities also has its problems. Packed within a 4-tabbed menu are lists upon lists of skills, but no real description or hint to which may compliment others and what would be good for a specific build. Not every MMORPG gamer wants to spend their time blindly stumbling through the envisioning of designers, and a nudge and a wink in the right direction isn't cause for holy crusade against them. Just a few clusters of skills or "if you like X, why not try Y" wouldn't go amiss.
All of this wouldn't be such a big problem if Earthrise wasn't so one dimensional. There needs to be an element of "fluff" or distraction away from the mundane nature of skill grind. The real focus of the game at present is to gain equipment, abilities, and engage with PvP, but lasting that long will be a matter of patience and willpower.
The game world itself lacks any real charm, and the cities are nothing but functional masses that now remain largely desolate. Since launch, the population of the game has nosedived, meaning that not only will Earthrise feel bland, it is also very lonely.
But with all negatives laid out, I still have mixed feelings about Earthrise. It has gotten better, and to say it hasn't would be unfair. When performance issues aren't hampering the experience, the game can be enjoyable to an extent. Masthead Studios are looking to be engaged in a bug hunt for a while yet, but there still remains a spark of appeal somewhere nestled within.
Planned updates of vehicles, improved questing, and hopefully performance, may start to tip Earthrise back into the realm of playability that it belongs in, and I hope so. When it works, when it doesn't lag, crash, or quit on you, there remains a glimmer of hope and promise. It is faint, but hopefully the developers can make Earthrise shine as bright as it should. It is some way off, and not yet recommendable but given a few more months we may be at the point of enjoying the delights of post-apocolyptia.