PAX South - Hands-On
Perfect World Entertainment already has Star Trek Online in its game portfolio, so it only makes sense that its newest title, Livelock, would boldly go where no PWE title has gone before. It's Perfect World's first non-free-to-play game, so it will face an important question that no PWE game has ever had to address before: Is it worth the price of purchase?
I had the chance to play Livelock and chat with the game's creators at PAX South last week. While it didn't quite make me want to fling money at it immediately, it also impressed me with how well even this early build played and left me intrigued about what's to come.
The game takes place 150 years in the future, after a gamma-ray burst blasted the Earth with a plus-sized dose of lethal radiation. Machines have (mostly) taken over, and it's up to you to take the planet back. One problem: You're a machine, too. Well, mostly. Your body is artificial, but your mind is human and the fusion of the two is referred to as a Capital Intellect. You've got all the combat capabilities of a robotic death machine while retaining your humanity – both the good and the bad parts.
In the case of Hex, the character revealed last week with Livelock's announcement, that manifests itself in the form of a massive ego, the size of which is matched only by Hex's impressive arsenal of weaponry. There will be three characters in all, each filling a trinity-esque role. Hex is DPS, while the other two warriors serve as tank and support characters. That's not a hard-and-fast requirement for groups, though, as all three characters have some versatility. The all-Hex party in my demo session worked just fine, with just one death. I'll let you guess whose it was.
Each character has a selection of six weapons and five abilities, but you can only carry a limited number in your loadout. My Hex weapon loadout was a rapid-fire machine gun, good for close-quarters, run-and-gun combat; a continuous laser beam great for burning down big targets; and missiles for AoE strikes. Weapons overheat if used continuously, so you'll have to cycle through them frequently (or conserve fire, but who wants to do that?). Abilities operate on a cooldown, with my favorite – a wide-ranging, death-dealing nuke from orbit – sadly having an extra-long one. It's like they don't want me to blow everything up!
There are two modes in Livelock: campaign and open. In the lengthy campaign mode, which consists of 20 chapters, you'll learn the story of the world, crafted by New York Times bestselling author Daniel H. Wilson. His titles include How to Survive a Robot Uprising, How to Build a Robot Army, Robopocalypse, and Robogenesis, so Livelock's tale seems to be right up his alley. Open mode is more of a “farming” mode, with a series of possible objectives, including assassination, payload/escort, and survival. Most importantly for keeping the PvE experience fresh, the maps and enemies are procedurally generated.
There are a wide variety of enemies, with different attacks and defenses, and while the basic minions can be mowed down with relative ease, bigger baddies require a little more thought. As he was showing me the basics, Lead Designer Kevin Neibert encountered one with a rotating shield that protected half of him all the time – or was it all of him half the time? No, definitely the first. To take it down, Neibert had to outflank it to shoot it from behind, all the while dodging fire from other enemies.
Enemies you kill drop carbon nanotubes that you can use to upgrade your weapons, and power cores that increase your passive buffs and score multiplier. Your score at the end of a level determines how much XP you gain. Don't worry about outleveling your friends; Livelock level-scales players to the appropriate level of challenge.
So how did I do? Well, according to the score at the end of the level, I took less damage than everyone else, so there's a positive. I also did the least damage and had the fewest kills, by a wide margin. When there are three players, and three players' worth of enemies, on the screen, the action is fast and furious, with mangled metal flying everywhere.
That's not just from the killer robots we're melting into scrap; Livelock has quite the physics engine behind it. We were fighting our way across a big-city bridge, which was naturally clogged with abandoned cars. Every bit of stray gunfire – and there was a lot of it, mostly coming from me – sent a Ford flying or a Volvo vertical, adding to the chaos. At times, it was a little tough to tell friend from foe from flaming wreck. Some kind of soft-targeting or highlighting might help make things a little easier to handle.
In general, Livelock plays like a louder-than-usual ARPG, albeit one with a simpler combat and loot system. Is it worth your $19.99 – or $44.99 for a three-pack for you and two friends when it launches later this year? The story will be a good draw, and the procedurally generated levels should provide a fresh challenge, but the overall simplicity and lack of character options might work against it. It's easy to get into, and probably meant to appeal to a crowd that loves explosions and attitude, but is it something you'll want to play for 50+ hours? For a $20 game, is that even a requirement? Maybe not.
When asked why Livelock wasn't F2P, Neibert told me that the team wanted to “deliver a solid experience” with a single purchase. I think some kind of free demo will still be offered, to overcome that resistance gamers have these days to prying open their wallets, especially on an unknown title. It's a high-quality game and looks and feels great, and I think it'll be worth checking out if it fits your gaming preferences and budget.