Sandstorm Phase 1 Impressions
I’ve been spending a bit of time lately with the newly revamped Global Agenda and like any other of the game’s players can tell you… things have changed. A lot. As previously reported Hi-Rez Studios has been spending the past several months since launch polishing and expanding their game. When it premiered, Global Agenda was a fully-featured competitive shooter with MMO tendencies, but Sandstorm (set to be delivered in several phases) aims to bring the shooter-hybrid closer to a more persistent world feel. But Phase 1 is just the tip of the iceberg, and already it looks as though Global Agenda’s first major update is giving the game a very welcome overhaul.
First thing folks with the capabilities will notice is the addition of DX10 to the client. Little touches that come along with the added graphical oomph from DX are all over the place. Smoke wisps, dust clouds, and lots of other little atmospheric details add greatly to the overall feel of the universe Hi-Rez has created. Sure DX 11 is now out and about, but just like DX9 before it, DX 10 will likely remain the more used version of the API package and GA looks mighty pretty running in DX10. Everything just looks better.
The graphical changes extend to the game’s UI as well. Before Sandstorm, the menus left something to be desired in the way of visual appeal. Now everything has a much more clean and polished look, almost cartoony in a way. Some players have expressed in chat that they’re not quite sure if it meshes with the game’s overall feel, but I for one hope we never go back to the drab old days of black and gray menus. Not every menu has received the overhaul, and just glancing at the differences between the inventory and mission screens will be more than proof enough that the changes were needed.
Speaking of missions, each one now has a difficulty setting ranging from novice to expert. The highest two settings also reward tokens for the game’s new item system. Previously you were rewarded items just for hitting certain levels. Instead you’ve got to save up the tokens you gain through playing the game, or find items through random drops like any traditional MMO. It really adds a missing layer to the game’s MMO feel.
One possible downside of the new token and drop system? The epics are everywhere. It’s an age-old complaint in MMOs. The notion of “welfare epics” has been a hot topic since WoW made it easier and easier for players to get some of the game’s best items and now Global Agenda is taking a page from Blizzard’s book it seems and giving all players more accessible items and gear. Me personally? I couldn’t really care who has what weapons or armor, and it’s clear enough to me that part of the fun of these games is getting the “good stuff.” So while some of the more elite players might frown upon this change, I think it’s a wise choice to make things more accessible. I just worry that they might have overdone it a bit, as epic items seem to be all over the place, downplaying their significance a little too much.
Another way that this gear-oriented change that is bound to create a little controversy is that previously Global Agenda was all about the skill of its players. With the addition of all the new weapons and the importance of gear being added into the title, it seems at first glance that Global Agenda is veering away from its focus on skill-based gameplay. Still, I don’t think players have to worry about GA becoming too much of a gear-grind yet. What the change has done is made itemization far more interesting and added a much needed layer of depth to that part of the game, without adding too much dependence on the items themselves for damage and stats. Of course you can improve your character by getting the better items, but the increases are smaller in scope than those you might find in a traditional MMORPG. In all it just adds a welcome sort of meta-game to Global Agenda.
The chat system is still cumbersome and lacking in the way of customization, for example. AvA Conquest play is still waiting on its “Phase” of Sandstorm, and the Open Zones that many players are looking forward to are a ways off as well. But Phase 1 is definitely feeling like a success thus far. It has people playing again. Though never really lacking in population, it seems like the Domes are filled again and Agencies are in full-swing as well.
In general it seems like Sandstorm could be something of a metaphor for what the developer is trying to pull off. Like a high powered sandblaster, the update is cleaning up and polishing off the game and making it much more attractive on the whole. Okay, that’s a stretch, but my backspace is broken so you’re going to have to just erase that from your memory. Next up Phase 2 which will focus more on the AvA experience, and then a bit further down the road Phase 3 will bring forth the Open Zones which should help to give GA a more worldly feel. It’s worth mentioning that through all these updates, Hi-Rez still hasn’t activated subscriptions and won’t do so until they feel that their game has enough content to justify said payments. Phase 1 of Sandstorm has already added a much needed layer of polish to the game, and if the developer can keep it up with the other two phases they just might find themselves with a product that players are more than willing to clunk down their cash for.