I've had the good fortune to spend some time with Perpetuum's open beta, and I've come back from the planet of Nia to report on what's shaping up to be a very complex, and possibly very engaging science fiction MMORPG. I've only just scratched the surface of what's available in Perpetuum, but I will say this much right off the bat. If you're looking for a game you can just pick up and play, Perpetuum is not for you. If on the other hand you're looking for a game that you can really sink your teeth into and a game that takes time the learn the ins and outs of, then you might have found what you're looking for.
Perpetuum bears a strong resemblance to EVE Online in many ways. In so much as that it's widely an open sandbox type of experience where players will be competing with each other and opposing corporations for the control of Nia's resources. The gist of the setting is that humans have landed on the alien planet of Nia remotely through the use of robotics, only to find the resource rich planet under the control of hostile robotic life forms. Three mega corporations from Earth figure out a way to take over some of the less complex robotics, and now a four multi-faction war for the control of said resources is underway. That's a very brief recap of the game's lore, and interested parties would do well to read up more on the game's website if they're curious. Like the gameplay itself, it's pretty complex and layered.
Actually getting into the game itself, to the point where you actually have an idea of what's going on, is the biggest hurdle. Luckily there's an in-game help system always on hand to make sure you know what it is you're doing at all times, it just will likely require players to read up on the gameplay, when maybe they're used to logging in, using WASD and pressing hotkeys like a pro from the start. It's gonna take some real work to get into the game and get up to speed with all the little nuances and quirks it's developers have instilled within.
Avatar Creations is a ten-man team with no delusions of grandeur. They won't be charging you to download the client, and their subscription costs is a measly $10 a month for a truly sandbox MMO affair. But let's get to the nitty-gritty. No matter how much a game costs, or how independent the developer is, if it plays like garbage nothing else matters. Thankfully, once you get past the learning experience, Perpetuum has a lot to offer the hardcore gamer.
Let me start by saying this: avatars in Perpetuum are perpetually hideous. But that's okay. Like the current incarnation of EVE you'll only be using them in the chat window and the profile panel. The rest of the game's visuals are actually nicely done, and appropriately "robot-y" in nature. You'll never have any doubts that Nia isn't Earth. But that aside, the actual depth the game goes in character creations is astounding. The look of your character doesn't matter, it's the choices you make for your ethnicity, education, and affiliated mega-corporation that determine what kind of character you'll be raising. The mega-corporation you choose has no bearing on your progression, it serves just more as a back story for your character, and you'll eventually be able to form your own if you want anyway. So just pick one that jives with you, and move along. The mega-corp you pick does give you some boosts to the extensions (we'll talk more about them later) and where you start the game, but other than that it has no bearing on progression.
Then you'll further pad out your back story and starting stats and extensions by choosing where you went to school, your profession, and your regular corporation. Each selection is tied to the three spheres of character progression (military, industry, and logistics), so depending on which you choose will guide what kind of player you're aiming to be. Military is more for combat, industry is for science and crafting, and logistics is more about economics and politics. These also will feed into what kinds of extensions you can get. But what are extensions?
Think of extensions as software that is downloaded into your robotic self, which allows you to do bigger and better things depending on your job and what kind of character you're playing. A primarily military player might go for extensions that offer better targeting systems, while an industrial player would go for mining extensions. You get extension points at a set rate, whether you're logged in or not, much like EVE Online's character progression system. They're also account wide, so you can spend them across any of your characters. No time to log in and grind away on enemies? No worries, as the game will let you earn points for character development while you're away.
There's more I could go into about character creation and development, but really for a "first look" I think you get the point: it's deep as Wonderland's rabbit hole.
Eventually, you'll make your way to the actual game beginning life on Nia in the "starter robot" that everyone gets and from here you'll be tasked with... well, not much. This isn't WoW or EQ. You'll be given a tutorial on how to move, how to combat, and how to mine for resources, and then the rest is up to you to figure out. There is, as stated previously, a massive in-game help system which will explain anything you need to know, and the players are generally very helpful. I hate to keep harping on it, but it's a lot like EVE. People in Perpetuum know the game's systems are daunting and those in the know are happy to help the new.
The controls are standard WASD for movement, but you can use double-clicking to select an area a la an RTS if you'd like. Conversely you can highlight an item from your radar's list and click "approach" and the game will take you to it. The world of Nia, from what little I've seen of it so far, is massive, diverse-looking, and filled with plenty of sentient robots to kill. You can scour the world looking for resources, hunting robots, or whatever you want really, but the meat and potatoes to me seems to be about taking assignments from your mega-corp. Assignments come in a multitude of flavors from simple recon tasks, to combat deployments, and resource harvesting orders. This is the game's way of giving a directed experience for its players without going the "quest hub" route and it works wonderfully. The true intrigue of the game comes (I imagine as I haven't had enough time) when you join a player corporation and get involved with the semantics of strategy and competition... again, much like EVE.
And that's where I'm going to end this little first look, because honestly there's way too much to talk about in less than 1,500 words for this game. Like EVE, Perpetuum is from a foundling studio with a lot of talent for making a game that's squarely aimed at the hardcore players of MMO fandom. It's an incredibly deep and complex experience whose learning curve is going to deflect a lot of people who just don't have the time to invest. But that's not a bad thing. This is the kind of game that a lot of players have been clamoring for. It steps into a market that's dominated by CCP, but like EVE it's starting with a great base and if you're in the mood for a science-fiction game that takes place on land and offers a satisfyingly complex experience, then Perpetuum might be for you. At $9.99 a month with no client to buy, it's worth a try at the very least.