Global Agenda's Sandstorm game update is one of the most hotly anticipated things in MMO gaming this summer. It's a large undertaking for an independent studio to add such sweeping changes and additions to a game that's only been on the market for a few months, and as such Sandstorm is being released in several phases. The first of which 1.3A is making its way to the Test Server now, and it's a doozy. The patch notes can be found here, but for those who don't have the time or patience to go through each little bit, we've written out an overview with a bit of commentary on all that's contained within.
In 1.3A, the big bullet points are a whole new system for acquiring loot and weapons, a new token reward system, over 25 new weapons to further improve and differentiate your character, some changes to the way upgrades and crafting are handled, and of course five all new PvP maps alongside sweeping changes to the UI. Like we said, it's a big patch. And this is just the first part of the overarching Sandstorm update.
One of the first things player will notice is that weapons now have a quality system similar to other games in the MMORPG genre. Obviously Epic and Rare will tend to be more impressive weapons both in stats and looks, but all weapons can be obtained by anyone through several different ways. The standard "Kill Boss, Get Loot" option is there for PvE fans, and winning a Mercenary PvP Mission will also grant a chance for some of the higher quality loot. Additionally players can accrue Mercenary Tokens to purchase the items from the game's shops. And the rarest of rare weapons can be obtained using Conquest Tokens which are obviously obtained through participating in the Conquest mode.
The addition of so many new weapons and ways to obtain them isn't the only change the weapons system is seeing however. Weapons also now degrade through use, and must be repaired to keep the bonuses and stats from their higher quality. When the patch goes live, all current weapons players have will be stripped from them, leaving only their post-tutorial starter set. But it's not like you're missing out, as for every level your character has gained he will be given 1,000 credits (a level 50 character will have 50,000 credits to spend) in order to get re-equipped using the new system.
Additionally the old and somewhat unwieldy system of "Upgrades" has been streamline and simplified with a new "Modifications" system. There are now Armor and Weapon Mods which will improve stats in various ways on whatever item they are applied to. Such mods are craftable by all players, but only subscribers (when subscriptions finally go live) will be able to craft the higher level mods. Trial members and non-subscribers will be limited to crafting only the uncommon types.
Speaking of subscriptions, the coming of Sandstorm is the harbinger of Hi-Rez finally turning on the subscription option. There is no specific time or date given yet for this feature to be turned on, but some of the things that are included in the subscription (or not included if you don't subscribe) are being spelled out. For instance in patch 1.3A Hi-Rez is included the ability to decide how many players enter a PvE mission, enabling a sort of Co-Op PvE that players have been asking for since launch. With this feature subscribers (and only subscribers) will be able to check a box when queuing for a mission that says "Small Team Challenge". This puts you into the mission with whatever current team you have. Want to try a High Security (Hard) mission with just a buddy and yourself? Or what about running through a few missions solo to see how you fare? That functionality makes it way to the game with 1.3A.
Additionally the new token system is ideal for showing the difference between the perks of being a subscriber versus a non-subscriber. All players will earn Conquest and Mercenary tokens through playing the game and completing missions, which can then be used to purchase some of the game's higher level weapons and armor. Each token type has a limit to how many can be earned each day as a way to limit the amount of "token farming" that might take place, and subscribers have a higher limit than non-subscribers. Additionally subscribers will gain 20 Mercenary and 4 Conquest tokens each day even if they don't play, while non-subscribers must play and compete to gain any tokens. Subscribers will be allowed to store up to 200 Conquest Tokens and 400 Mercenary Tokens, while non-subscribers will only be allowed half that.
All this really shows is a way for Hi-Rez to incentivize taking part in the subscription model without taking too much away from the non-subscribing players. It seems very much in-line with their vision of allowing the player to choose how they want to support the game, without punishing them too harshly or creating an unfair competitive environment for those who don't subscribe. Subscriber or not, Hi-Rez wants to make it clear that all players of their game are important, hence why all players regardless of subscription will have access all weapons and armor... it just may prove easier to obtain for the paying folks thanks to that daily token boost. In addition to the token system the Voice Chat system, trial users (and trial users only) may hear the occasional in-game advertisement. Owners of the full game won't hear these ads, and while I may be assuming I expect the ads will be in effort to get the trial users to buy Global Agenda.
New maps have also made their way into the game, with one in particular looking very out of the ordinary and hectic. Blackwater Loch is a vertically built map where players will have to make full and effective use of their jetpacks in order to gain the upperhands. The screens on this article are from that particular addition. They may not be the 64-person Warzone or the Open Zones players are waiting for, but new competitive maps are always a welcome way to breathe fresh life into the game. Besides, 1.3B and C will be along soon enough with massive AvA changes and the MMORPG-esque Open Zones to boot.
One last especially cool feature I found tucked away in this massive update is the "Out-of-Game" voice being hosted by Hi-Rez and Vivox. This will allow you to talk to your Agency in lieu of a dedicated Ventrilo or Teamspeak server, even while you're playing some other game or just browsing the web. Your Agency members can then keep you up to date on the state of AvA, or just entertain you with their cries of woe as they lose their 10th straight mission. Another in a long line of little features that Hi-Rez is adding to make Global Agenda a game that stands on its own two feet with no direct comparison.
If this little overview isn't quite enough to keep you informed on all the changes coming to Global Agenda, be sure to head over to the official site to get the full patch notes and learn how to take part in the Test Server. 1.3A seems like the beginning of a new era for game that's only just begun its life, as Global Agenda begins its metamorphosis into something that looks more and more like a true MMOFPS. We'll keep you posted on all things Sandstorm as the Test Server continues to see patch 1.3 in its many phases.