I have to say I’ve been missing some good space dog-fighting gameplay for quite a while now. I was a huge fan of the old Wing Commander and Freespace series back in the day. And there really just hasn’t been much out there that grabbed me like those did in quite a while now. While at E3 I managed to get some time with Black Prophecy though, and all that may be changing.
Black Prophecy is a twitch-based, real time combat MMO. You’ll start off with a five to six hour long prologue which is pretty much single-player to help you get a feel for the game without throwing you out to the wolves right off the bat. There are two factions in the game, though they really just break down to two different evolutions of humanity. For the most part they’re only separated by different style and appearance of ships, etc. But each side has a couple tactical special moves that the other doesn’t.
There is an extensive character creator in place, though for the time being this will only really affect the 3D image of your character you see on your character window. However they’ve already started work on a stations expansion due out in 2012 which you’ll be able to walk around in stations, etc. Apparently it will be almost like a complete second game attached to the existing game content.
Most of the game play seems to be centered on the clans (guilds) and faction warfare. As a clan you’ll be able to buy sections of space and make it your home. You can build a space station there, which basically acts as your clan hall, and these stations are very flexible and customizable. You’ll be able to make them as big or small as you like. When your clan initiates a mission to secure resource stations from the other faction, they’ll be warned of the action, kinda like back in Dark Age of Camelot when another realm was trying to take one of your keeps in the frontier. This will help facilitate a lot of action and PvP, since you’ll want to prevent the other side from taking your territory, so you’ll rush out and defend it. The whole game seems to be set up with quick, fast-paced action in mind. There’s even a “Quick Play” button on the UI that you can use to instantly jump into an instanced PvP or PvE match at any point.
Black Prophecy uses a skill tree based progression system, letting you build your character however you like. There are three different weapon types to put points into: energy, explosives and mechanical. Each of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Energy weapons for example are great for knocking down shields, but not so great once you get to the armor/hull, so then you’ll want to switch to the explosives. All of the weapons and everything else you add to your ship has a mass value. The more mass you cram into your cruiser, the slower it will naturally go, so you’ll have to balance that out. Do you want to be a really slow juggernaut type of ship, or more of a speedy hit and run type? All items in the game have a number of mod spots on them so you can modify different attributes such as increasing the speed on an engine, or lowering the heat factor on a weapon. And crafted items will have more mod spots and better quality than looted items.
The game is definitely more skill based than item based. A more skillful player will easily be able to beat a better equipped or higher level player. To a certain extent of course, you’re not going to beat someone twenty levels higher than you, but it is enough that it will make finding challenging battles a lot easier. Black Prophecy also fully supports joystick and gamepad control, which should make those folks who aren’t as skillful at flying a little better. And the flying can be a little hairy at times. It is very fast paced, and you have a full collision system to worry about on top of just trying to keep your opponent in front of you instead of behind you. There is also a ‘tactics’ system. On the UI is a bar that fills up as you fire on your enemy, or he fires on you, kinda like an adrenaline system. Once it’s full you’ll be able to perform special tactical maneuvers such as the infamous flip over from Top Gun where he ends up behind the pursuing jet.
While Black Prophecy is primarily about the PvP and faction war, there is a full story behind the game, complete with cut scenes, cinematics and voice-overs. There’s also a novel tie-in coming this summer. The development team is very proud of the story they’ve written and want to make full use of it through the game and continuing the IP through things such as the novel. The team plans to release a standard “fix stuff” patch every week, with a larger patch coming monthly that will have more bug fixes and balance adjustments as well as a little bit of added content. And then every three months you get a really large content addition. It sounds like a very solid, if ambitious, goal in my opinion. Black Prophecy is currently in open beta, so if you’d like to check it out, head over to blackprophecy.gamigo.com.