"It has been 7 years in the making - but that wait is almost over" announces Gamigo executive Patrick Streppel. The lights go down, music blasts from the speakers, and we are introduced to a new vision of the end of the world. To quote the game's tag-line "the apocalypse was just the beginning" welcome to Grimlands.
Drago Entertainment's foray into the world of MMORPG might have taken its time, but the results speak for themselves. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic future, the world is the traditional lurid brown that apparently comes with nuclear detonation. Scattered amongst the remnants of society are shanty town settlements, the usual gamut of radioactive beasts, and a collection of bandits and outlaws all waiting to be pop-marked with bullets.
Played from a third or first-person perspective the titular Grimlands holds questing hubs, scavenging opportunities, and all manner of soon-to-be-murdered foes. Although the graphics wont immediately blow the Rift-dust from your mind, with impressive drawing distances and some inspired world design, you will soon be picking out your perfect home in amongst all of the ruins and rubble.
At its core, this is a hybrid sandbox/questing MMORPG, which will be reminiscent of games such as Darkfall and Fallen Earth. Taking a blank slate of a character, you travel through the wilderness, making your own adventures, whilst having the safety nets of dev-directed missions to direct you through the experience if you so choose.
Like other post-nuclear games, Drago Entertainment takes apparent nods from Ultima Online progression system, albeit without an overarching cap of what can be learnt. This means that specialising in certain areas will be key early on, but with enough time a player could be a jack-of-all-trades badass.
What all this means for the nuts and bolts of the actual gameplay is an invisible dice roll behind every action. Given that firearms form a large portion of the combat experience, there is a balancing act between the pen-and-paper statistics in the background, whilst trying to keep the action as frenetic and frenzied as an actual gun battle.
Largely the developers have managed to pull of what is normally a difficult balancing act into something immediately enjoyable. Rather than shooting fruitlessly at an enemy for multiple times before they hit the floor, combat can be resolved with a few choice hits. It all makes for an experience that stands out from the crowd, and actually proves the mileage that the FPS/RPG genre has.
Unlike other, more static, games on the market, the guys over at Drago Entertainment are also keen to polish their AI system. Rather than battling against the usual lobotomised enemies of other titles, in the Grimlands bandits, and beasts will run for cover, contextually use whatever weapon they happen to have, and will even show marksmanship given a scope and rifle. What all this means is that combat is tight, intelligent, and always entertaining.
Fortunately then, players will enjoy the more violent activities, because Grimlands is looking to focus heavily on PvP aspects. Players will be able to join clans, which in turn can control certain territories as well as towns. Doing this will net whatever group bonuses, and with upgradable buildings, having the post-apocalyptic edge will be all important.
Defending these contested lands will also form a large part of the experience. With a limited amount of townships and conquerable locations, clans with an eye for betterment will besiege those in control, so marshalling a good defence will be key.
Other elements such as duels and arena fights will also be available. The developers have taken that somewhat overlooked path of emphasising the MMO bit of the genre, so joining up with others and engaging your social skills will be key to unlocking a lot of what this adventure has to offer.
But Grimlands won't be exclusively about PvP, and Drago Entertainment have plenty more activities it which to indulge your more survivalist instincts into. Like EVE Online, the game features a fully player-driven economy, with only the most basics of items being catered for by NPCs. What this means is that better inventory will have to be created, or bought from another.
Making items within the game is a relatively easy, and yet complex, tree of materials and resources. Piles of junk will litter the streets, which with a right-click will give you a bulk item which can be recycled into items such as plastics, rubber, or metals. Further this can be used to create components that will be useful in making a new weapon or piece of armour.
Interestingly, scavenge piles will be contextual to its material, so you won't find precious metals in urban settings, instead you might have to seek out abandoned mines and the like for more specialised items.
The crafting itself is attempted through benches. With a vast array of weapons, armour, and items to make, players will never be short of things to equip or sell to others. Like combat, crafting is also skill based, so mastering certain profession such as leatherwork will take time, but will also unlock further recipes and better equipment.
Running alongside this feature is also an extensive modification ability. Once you have created an item, you can also start to change its general make-up, so handguns can receive silencers, better stocks, grips, and triggers, whilst armour has the same options too. Combining this aspect with the more general crafting elements, and you have an enormous amount of customization within Grimlands that would make even Gearbox and its likewise "lands" blush.
And just if you felt like the developer's needed to throw in the kitchen sink along with everything else, there is also the addition of vehicles - which will also be customizable. While in an early stage at this point, the four-wheeled buggies offer an enjoyable way to zoom about the landscape, exploring or simply delivering death via four heavy-set wheels. It's just a shame that the game hasn't licensed the MFP Pursuit Special - but there is time yet.
So has it been 7 years well spent so far? From what has been previewed, it is safe to assume that Drago Entertainment have something good to offer. The action feels tight, and most importantly, fun, while the crafting on offer displays a dazzling amount of customization and creativity. Set for a Q3 release, you have just enough time to dust of your leather jacket, strap on your boots, and develop a taste for dog food: Mad Max you aren't in the physical realm, but in Grimlands - well that just might be possible.