Post-apocalyptic settings are all the rage these days. There is nothing better than a pandemic or assured nuclear destruction to really get our brain boxes into gear. We salivate about the possibilities of scrounging for the last can of processed meat or watching a loved one give birth in an abandoned “slip ‘n’ slide”. Yes, the gaming community is hot for all things human extinction and Xsyon is another such title to give more food for thought about future possibilities.
Developed by relative newcomers Notorious Games, Xsyon: Earth 2012 – The Prelude (to give it its proper title) is a sandbox, build-‘em-up, open world PvPer with lashings of crafting and a hefty side-order of community. Taking apparent influence from likewise genre titles such as (the vastly underrated) A Tale in the Desert, Wurm Online, and even Minecraft – Xsyon can conjure hours of entertainment and tales of survival.
It is not all positives however, while the title certainly has oodles of creativity and unique gaming, it is also mired with indecision and ultimately a lack of what could be termed as actual gameplay. What should be a ground-breaking MMORPG is something that with the right care and attention could be great, but at the moment sadly falls a distance away from the mark.
The world is wiped clean by an unknown maelstrom, the only known survivors are huddled around and about Lake Tahoe; enduring by living off the land and picking up the remains of human civilization that has apparently emulsified into brown piles of plastics, metals, and cloths. This is where you come into it all.
Character creation is common faire, an avatar must be sculpted and the normal array of beards and shaggy hairstyles are on offer – Notorious have even added an age range so the ability to play both old and young hermit are options. After completing an on-screen presence, the next step is picking which abilities to begin with: these can range from logging, hiding, fishing and so on. Basically these starting skills dictate what tools/weapons are in your inventory to begin.
The biggest problem I found with the aforementioned system is that Xsyon is at heart a complex game. A newcomer who simply gets excited at the prospect of selecting a shaggy beard will be stumped at which skills to initially go with. I restarted characters countless times because I was so unsure of which skills to pick, and as the items you receive are so important if you wish to “go it alone” for any length of time, the right tools are essential to the experience.
And this is the worst feature of Xsyon. Aside from searching forums, the game offers no real guidance. There is no hint toward a proper tutorial system or slight helping hand. Those who have not been involved in the online community side of things will simply have no idea how to progress away from wandering the land in search of answers. Most people will find themselves pawing at the opportunity of a “tribe” and help from others, and while this encourages the sense of socialising most online games now sorely miss, it does make the game feel a little too dependent on others.
So after searching far and wide for the type of skills and inventory you desire, it is time to begin your adventure. Choosing from a number of starting locations, players will find themselves thrown out into Lake Tahoe with none of the helpful “!” signs or nudges telling you that you "are all special and about the change the world". Refreshing ‘aint it?.
A lot of gamers will love the non-linear atmosphere to Xsyon, and why not, but for anyone looking for a structured game, Xsyon isn’t going to be your first port of call. Essentially Notorious have taken the mantle of “sandbox” so entirely seriously that players can start to shift and mould the world in any way they see fit, and if this is your type of thing, this is where the real fun starts to begin.
The Virtual Sandbox
Xsyon is all about building and crafting. Everything that exists aside from natural resources are generally crafted by players and this can span from weapons and clothing to buildings and manmade mountains. The world is your oyster to create and let your imagination run rampant, and the tools on offer make this fairly easy to accomplish.
Like any MMORPG, the game centres on certain skills. To build a small tent a player will need proficiency in “architecture” along with certain building materials. To maximise the number of things that can be built within the skill sub-category, players need to engage in that certain activity - so a pretty standard formula of grind. The greatest success of Xsyon is that the amount of skills on offer are not limited by a traditional class system, so you could effectively become a combat fisherman if you felt a divine calling for such a vocation.
The creating aspect of the game is fairly impressive in itself. The aforementioned skills such as “architecture” allow players to place fully persistent objects upon the world and with “terraforming” it is possible to sculpt the land around you: resulting in moats, manmade rivers, and so on.
The building portion of the game is Xsyon's most developed aspect and major draw. Most people playing will spend hours at a time trying to flatten a small patch of tribal land or even creating a small fort in which to house their storage baskets. The only real problem with this is something that comes back time and time again within Xsyon: just what is the point?
As the game is open PvP, there is a certain element of sticking to others for safety, but the game's guild system of tribes is based around the notion that tribal land is exempt from being ganked by other players. While this is a welcome relief, the idea that players are building huge military compounds surrounded by moats is an odd one- they will never be needed or used.
It is apparent that most of the content within Xsyon is mostly unstructured busy work. The creating element is fun, but there is no progression or advancement above and beyond creating buildings and sculpting land. It is a neat idea but at the moment Notorious haven’t got enough content to have wandering traders, mass-tribal warfare or any other little cool game play elements. It seems as though very isn't really a "game" in Xsyon, rather just a nice set of building tools with a post-it note attached marked “potential for greatness”.