Sandstorm Phase 2 Impressions
Global Agenda has been quietly patching away since release, making an already stellar persistent shooter something more than it was likely ever intended to be. Hi-Rez Studios recently made the decision not only to cut the subscription model entirely from their game and instead focus on more of a Guild Wars-esque expansion system, but long before this decision the Georgia-based team’s game was already taking shape as a real hybrid MMORPG/TPS in light of player demands. Just last week the studio released the second phase of their massive Sandstorm update to the live servers, and after spending some time with the new Sonoran Desert open zone and the rest of the upgrades I’m finding my interest in defeating the Commonwealth rising once more. If Sandstorm is the shape of things to come from Hi-Rez Studios, then fans of Global Agenda have a lot to look forward to.
With Global Agenda, it’s almost as though Hi-Rez built a solid endgame mechanic for their MMOTPS and now is working their way back to add in the rest of the pieces. The early criticisms launched at Global Agenda largely relied on the fact that players didn’t feel there was enough game to support the proposed (but never enacted) subscription fees. Oddly enough as even the very idea of the subscription fees drifts away as merely a memory, the game itself is becoming deeper and deeper. Crafting is getting a much needed boost, the item and gear system has been made into something more “MMO-like” without sacrificing the need for player skill, and of course now the title is seeing its first truly Open Zones filled with quests, NPCs, and plenty of back story to read up on.
The biggest addition in Phase 2 is definitely the game’s first open zone: The Sonoran Desert. New players, after completing (or skipping) the tutorial are now presented right nearby the NPC Bancroft, sort of the leading General and father figure to the people of Dome City. He’ll catch you up to speed, and then you’ll be sent off on your first series of missions which take place in the Dome itself. It’s sort of a continuation of the tutorial in that it shows you how to assign skill points while filling you in on your character’s back story (spoiler alert!) and what was done to you at the lab in which your liberators found you. Once you’ve completed these missions you can do the same old song and dance of classic GA by signing up for one of the game’s instanced PvP or PvE matches. However the more interesting path is to head out into the Sonoran Desert and get a taste of what traditional PvE questing is like in an MMOTPS.
The Sonoran Desert is situated right outside of Dome City and will serve as a way to introduce you to some other enemy factions as well as give you some real characters to grow fond of. One thing that was arguably missing from Global Agenda was a sense of connection to the game world. The story-based tutorial was a great set up for a world that could be read about on the game’s website, but there was little more outside of that to connect a player to the fiction. That’s changed now with the release of this first zone. Now you know that you and the other players are part of a many-layered world filled with roving tribes, lunatic Mad Max reminiscent gangs, and of course the omnipresent Commonwealth droids.
The quests themselves are fairly straightforward: kill this, collect that, talk to this person. Nothing new here. But of course Global Agenda has the luxury of a more interactive combat mechanic in its third-person shooting action. After playing through much of the zone with each class, I’m pleased to report that the desert seems well balanced for each and if an average player like me can survive with minimal deaths than there’s likely hope for just about anyone to do the same. The art team has done a fine job in creating a vast and varied desert, which is no easy task really when you’re working with sand and rocks. But it’s the geometry that makes it work, and in one space you’ll find yourself navigating more vertically than horizontally as you use the jetpack to climb and descend a crater where the Commonwealth are employing some sort of technology.
In all the zone works rather well, and though it may be nothing new in terms of what types of mission content you see in other games, that’s not exactly a bad thing. I was one of many who insisted GA needed something like the Sonoran Desert to deserve a subscription, and now we have it… and it costs nothing extra. There are still a few more pieces of the Open Zone puzzle to come too. The Sonoran Desert covers levels 5-15 or so, and another is its way that covered 15-30, and two more for 30-50. By the time all have hit, Global Agenda will have a fully fleshed out 1-50 PvE campaign for players to take part in right alongside the fantastic match-made PvP and repeatable PvE missions. And did I mention you still won’t have to pay a subscription?
Additionally in this patch are the game’s first craftable consumable items. Perhaps as a way to help balance out the play of the Open Zones themselves, consumables are one-use items that can be crafted and traded via the auction house which will give various benefits. There’s an insta-heal which is pretty much a different name for “health potion” that will heal you to full, and is likely going to be a top seller at auction. There’s also a force-field that can be deployed and is similar to the very handy Robotics force-field. Basically they’re great ways to augment your character for a brief time, especially when going it solo out in the Open Zones. Crafting the items is pretty straightforward too. You can get the components either at auction or by “salvaging” items you don’t need from your inventory. I’ve not tinkered with it too much yet, but I found the system straightforward and the components needed seem to be pretty well balanced.
Phase 3 of Sandstorm is only about a month away if what Hi-Rez told me at E3 holds, and when that hits we’ll have even more Open Zones to play with alongside massive PvP warzones. The studio seems intent on making their first and only child as compelling and fleshed out as possible, and at incredible value to their customers. The subscription method initially planned at launch has been scrapped, and yet the game keeps growing at breakneck speed. It’s gone from a very fun, but somewhat shallow shooter at launch just a few months ago, to one of the most intriguing games to watch in the genre. Down the road Hi-Rez plans on retooling the Conquest portion of the game as well, in which competing alliances vie for control of territory. If the way in which they’ve been listening and responding to their customers remains the same, the future is looking bright for Global Agenda. If you’ve yet to try out this young studio’s freshman offering, now might be just the right time to check it out.