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E3 2010: Hands-On Impressions

William Murphy Posted:
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The silence was officially broken last week when Lance Robertson came out on Jumpgate Evolution’s official forums.  For nearly a year the offices of NetDevil have been quiet and with good reason, for what you may remember of JGE before the dead spell is long gone.  What’s come out on the other end is a game focused and poised to deliver truly massive space battles on the backdrop of a three-faction war for the fate of humanity.  It’s about faction pride, hi-speed dogfights, and dynamic PvE and PvP content on an epic scale… oh, and the instancing is a thing of the past.  I had a chance to sit down with the developers at this year’s E3 and get some hands-on time with the game’s newbie experience.  I came away impressed and reinvigorated with hope for a title I wasn’t sure would see the light of day. 

The developers were keen to tell us that Jumpgate is about showing the story, not telling it.  In other words, they want players to feel like they’ve participated in Pearl Harbor rather than just heard about it from the history books.  Right from the very start, players will feel like a somebody in their chosen faction.  In other MMOs you tend to begin your heroic journey whacking away at rats, but in Jumpgate this whole trend is sidestepped by making players a part of a larger army with the enemies being the members of the other factions. 

The natural progression of the game will begin with players being shown the ropes of gameplay, flight mechanics, and the combat.  The early missions and PvE content will lay out the story and help you become familiar with the lore and show you why you should be loyal to your chosen nation and filled with hatred for the other two.  And then as you move along further up the ladder, you’ll be gently ushered out into the game’s expansive PvP system… the battle to control the universe. 

There are three factions players will choose from: Solrain (a sort of corporate entity that’s all about money and efficiency), Quantar (reminiscent of the Klingons in that they’re about glory and tradition), and Octavious (think Roman Empire in space and you’ve pretty much got it).  For the purposes of E3, Octavious was the featured nation playable at the booth.  By now you’ve probably watched the trailer, and that literally is how the game begins upon creation of your Octavious pilot. When those manufactured ships make their way out of dock and into space, that’s when you’ll take control of the stick and begin your military career in the aid of the Octavian Empire. 

The developers then took us through a sort of ongoing scenario where the Octavious are invading a Solrain outpost called Night’s Crossing.  The entire area around this conflict is PvE-driven, and plays very much like one large and involved public quest (NetDevil refers to these areas as Event Sectors).  The whole game is divided in many different sectors, somewhat like EVE Online in a sense, and it’s important to note like I said before that the previous iteration’s reliance on instancing is a thing of the past.  It’s all open space and divided into sector’s these days. 

Large and incredibly detailed with different set pieces and a multitude of lighting effects, it’s plain to see that space is not boring in JGE.  The sectors can support hundreds of both players and AI-controlled ships, and that’s exactly the goal of a place like Knight’s Crossing.  Like a public quest, but on a much larger and complex scale, there is a list of objectives that must be met to progress the events and as you do you’ll find yourself moving about doing anything from taking out turret defense systems or destroying innocent bystanders in housing bays of an enemy space station.  It’s all in the name of national pride though, so don’t feel too remorseful when you’re first asked to slaughter escape pods by the dozen.

The developers were sure to mention that these systems can and will be used in a PvP fashion as well, where each nation will have its own sense of objectives with the winners being granted the spoils from success in the way of unlocking more content in that specific sector for a time.  In the title’s endgame PvP content, the competitive nature of these objectives can lend themselves very well towards giving real weight and purpose to the sector-capture mechanics. 

We watched for a while more while one of the developers continued to progress through Knight’s Crossing many different objectives, but the real fun began when I got to sit down behind the controls for myself.  I got to sit down with the newbie experience of the Octavious nation and start taking orders as a member of the Regiment: the Emperor’s personal guard.  It’s worth noting right here that we didn’t get too in depth with the skills and spells form of character progression that’s in place for Jumpgate Evolution.  More than anything we got to see how the revamped mission content works, how the combat plays out, and if it all comes together to make an exciting experience that hearkens back to the days of Wing Commander and Elite. 

I’m pleased to say that my brief time with the title did just that and more.

The first thing players will notice is just how smooth and effortless flying feels in JGE.  There are several different setups players can choose from, including the traditional joystick method, but we stuck with the mouse and keyboard for our preview.  Thrusters are handled with the W and S keys, for former increasing speed and the latter reducing it.  A and D will allow you to pan laterally left and right, while Q and E engage your ship in a barrel roll.  The mouse reticule doubles as your crosshairs, and the further away from the nose of your ship you drag it the sharper you’ll turn or move in that direction.  There’s also a cockpit view in place, but I like to see my pretty ship while I fight, so I stuck with the third-person view.

Combat is very much akin to classic games like Wing Commander, as opposed to what a traditional MMO might have in store.  Meaning it’s all about your ability to lead your target and track your enemy with the reticule.  This isn’t a highlight and forget it experience, and I’m not exactly known in the gaming community for my shooting ability, but I still found the controls easy to pick up and get used to after just a little time in the pilot seat.  JGE does some truly helpful things with the targeting system, putting brackets around nearby bogies and when your guns are in range you’ll see a red icon appear over the enemy which will also serve as your lead on the target.  If they’re moving in one direction and you’ve got to lead the ship with your fire, this little red icon will show you exactly where you should be aiming to make contact.

I did my fair share of missions and spent some time hanging out an Octavian docking bay where you can check up on your stats, switch out your ship and its gear, get new quests and all manner of other secondary features that you would expect in a game of this nature.  The whole UI for this portion was very work in progress I was told, but essentially the docking bays will work as a sort of “rest and relaxation” part of the game.  Life in a war-torn universe can be very intense and the docking bays will be your chance to just breathe and decompress between dogfights.

In all, I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what NetDevil has in store for JGE.  The game’s undergone some amazing transformations since we last saw it.  The overall look is the same, but the focus is clear: NetDevil wants you to pick a side, declare your allegiance, and take the fight to the other bastards who might stands in your way.  The whole game is built around the sense that these three nations are at war for the control of space.  There’s a heavy endgame focus on PvP, but there’s also plenty of PvE to go around as well and it all ties into the greater focus on intergalactic war.  It’s sort like what would happen if Wing Commander and Dark Age of Camelot had a baby, to be perfectly honest.  Jumpgate Evolution is back, folks.  It’s alive and kicking and the future of the title looks bright indeed.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.