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Character Creation, Advancement, Backstory and More
Though I consider myself a fairly adventurous person, I’ve never been able to brave the depths of car related games, and I rarely venture outside of my medieval fantasy genre. In fact, the first time I heard of Auto Assault I barely listened to the conversation after hearing the game’s name. What interest would I have in a silly car game?
NCSoft’s Richard Iggo (Auto Assault Product Marketing Manager), Richard Weil (OCR Manager), Steven Snow (Auto Assault Producer), Todd Keister (Auto Assault Assistant Producer) and NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury (Design Director), and Brian Booker (Lead System Designer) proved me wrong first at E3 and again last Friday during the first of four teleconferences. Auto Assault is far from your average game, car related or otherwise.
First off, the back story. About present day for us the first Alien craft began to arrive, their crashes and collisions raining Contamination down on the planet. Because of this Contamination, mutations began to surface among Humankind and the populace erupted into a panic. Conspiracy theorists had a field day; governments flip-flopped their stance on the subject from vehement denial to promises of a cure and back again. Mutants became the scapegoats of society, herded up into camps and shunned from citizenship.
The Humans still had a few more cards up their sleeves. The World Council (a unified world government) had been secretly developing a new technology that would allow Humans to pilot a weapons system specifically designed to combat the Mutants. The military used these mobile vehicular units to form the 1st Biomechanical Raider Battalion and once on the field, these new weapons pushed back the Mutant defenses to the Citadel itself.
This wasn’t enough for the Humans, though. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the world was getting worse, not better, and it was time to take drastic measures. The finest Humans were chosen to go into hiding underground (in a shelter called the Ark) while all the weapons possessed by the unified government would be fired to create an apocalypse on the surface. The Humans would wait a hundred years, and then emerge from their chrysalis to reclaim the land, hopefully now cleansed.
The final desperate attempt of Humankind was a failure. The explosion served only to anger the Evo-Mechanized at being left outside of the Arks. In the following one hundred years the Evo-Mechanized formed their own society, the Biomeks, and though they continued to fight the Mutants out of habit, they now awaited the arrival of the Humans with dark ideas. By the time the Humans reemerged from the Arks the world would be even more chaotic than they had left it.
Now that you know what’s happening in the game, let’s talk about how to get into it. Character creation starts by choosing one of the three playable races: Biomeks, Mutants, or Humans. It’s important to pick your race carefully; not only do appearances differ, but your race affects where you play, who you play with, who you play against, and what classes and skills you can choose. Though every race has a class to fill one of the general MMO archetypes (tanker, support, scout, etc), no one class will be shared between two or more races. You can have more then one character, but you can not be a member of opposing factions on the same server.
For example, take the role of Scout. The Biomeks are the descendants of the Evo-Mechanized and depend on nanotechnology and a militaristic regime to survive and flourish. When trying to infiltrate a base or scout out enemy locations, a Biomek Agent would use nanobots to mirror the light around their vehicles to make themselves invisible. Once they found their enemy, an Agent could easily spread weakness through them via a virus. A Mutant Avenger would use their ability to manipulate the Contamination around them. By exciting the Contamination in the air, an Avenger can hide their vehicle just as effectively as an Agent with their nanobots. Any debuffs that an Avenger had would likely weaken their enemies to Contamination. And lastly, the Human Bounty Hunter would be able to use human shielding and hologram technology to hide their ship, and beams of light to weaken their enemies to energy and light attacks.
Once race and class have been chosen, players can move on to more aesthetic customization, such as naming your character and customizing your avatar. There are eight aspects of your character that can be changed on the creation screen: body choices, hair style, hair color, eye color, helmets, accessories, facial hair, and mouth piece. You will be given different choices depending on which race/class you are, i.e. a Biomek tank would be decked out in armor while a Biomek support unit would have utility backpacks and welding torches. When in a convoy (group) with other players you can see the head and shoulders of your allies’ avatars, hence why most of the customizations pertain to those areas.
When you finally arrive in game, you find yourself in a starter area where you can explore for as long as you want. The folks at NetDevil wanted to make sure that your first experience in the game was not a force-fed tutorial; they realize that different players move at different speeds and plan accordingly. Instead of being forced to perform certain actions at certain times, you are allowed to roam the starter area, blowing stuff up and killing easy targets. As you perform different tasks, the game will explain to you what has just happened and give you an idea of what you could do next. For example, once you have killed a bad guy and they drop loot the game will explain to you what loot is and how to pick it up, but you don’t have to pick it up to continue.
Once done exploring and learning players will be around their 2nd or 3rd level and emerge into their starter town: Damnation Avenue (Biomeks), Proving Grounds (Mutants), or Emergence (Humans). Here you can sell acquired loot, store things in your locker, meet other players, go to the arena, visit the crafting buildings or body shop, or get new missions. You can also access the highway zones, large zones (about 100 km²) from which you can access private instanced zones or other towns via exits.
NetDevil has tried to make character progression and ‘leveling up’ as enjoyable as possible in AutoAssault; their catchphrase, in fact, is “Level while you’re playing instead of playing to level.” The true goal of the game is to just have fun while blowing stuff up! Still, there are rewards for obtaining new levels, such as attribute and skill points.
There are four primary attributes in the game: combat, which affects your chance to hit; technology, which raises your hit points and armor; theory, which increases your power supply; and perception which affects both evasion and critical hit rates. Your attributes are tied to your avatar, not your vehicle, so if you switch vehicles you will keep the same attributes and statistics.
While there are only four primary attributes, there are many, many more skills; the system is created so that even two characters of the same race/class combo are likely to follow different paths. For example, someone specializing in repairs might specialize in single target repairs, area of effect repairs, or summoning a repair bot to do the repairs for them.
Skills are split into two main skill trees: a specialty tree for just your race/class combo and a factional tree that shares some skills between other members of your race. The factional tree can be further split up into three sections, one of which is shared with all of your race and two others that are shared with another class of your race. For example, a Human Commando would share one branch of the second tree with the Human Engineer and another with the Bounty Hunter. This allows classes to diversify and become even more individual.
As you level up you earn points to put into both attributes and skills. Points can be used to purchase more ranks in an attribute or in specific skills which makes your avatar more proficient in those areas, or to purchase new skills. Also, at certain ‘milestone’ levels new branches of your skill tree will open up and you will be able to do class based quests to obtain special items or special vehicles.
Hungry for more? So am I. By the end of the teleconference I found myself eagerly awaiting the game’s release, and I can’t wait for the second conference this upcoming Friday. If nothing else, NetDevil has successfully converted at least one non-believer: I’m ready to drive around and blow stuff up.