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Dana Massey Posted:
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From E3 – Friday May 27th, 2005

Is it really an MMORPG? To be honest, it is hard to say. Tactica Online is really a game in its own category, and while it does have strong MMORPG elements – hence being covered on this site – there are also elements of other genres and styles in this game. Regardless of classification, Tactica Online, which we saw in person for the first time at E3 this year, looks like a very interesting game. It features a rich story, tactical turn based combat that is more like chess than an RPG, and an enthusiastic development team that hopes to blaze their own trail in this industry.

In Tactica Online, you do not have a “character” per se, save in one area. The city of Tier, based loosely on Milan in the 16th century, is a common area where players will interact with a single avatar. Here, like an MMORPG, you run around and find missions, friends and adventure. In this area, there is also a market for buying, selling and trading avatars, full guild functionality and guild housing. However, that is where the similarities to an RPG end. The game features no AI, all enemies are real players, and is heavily mission based. This sounds like a paradox in the MMORPG genre, but it really is not in the case of Tactica Online.

The game gives players mutually exclusive goals in their missions. For example, one hypothetical mission calls on one side to rescue a princess, while another player draws the task of guarding her. The game automatically pairs two players of similar ratings together at roughly the same time and the mission begins. Conflict is not necessary. The winner of the “mission” is the person who completes their task, not who wins any conflict within that mission. Obviously, the winner of any fight is more likely to complete the mission, but this difference in outlook can be an important feature. For example, an entire group could be wiped out save one avatar, who then completes the mission while their opponent has all their men. The opponent loses. It is like chess. It is not about how many pieces you have on the board, it is about who checkmates the other first.

Characters in Tactica Online do not level like MMORPGs. You are free to make and build as many characters as you want. Based on the skills you pump into them, they are assigned a point value. Theoretically, you could make one character with a nearly infinite point value and take him or her into every mission. Luke Carruthers, the driving force behind the game, noted that while this is a legitimate strategy, it is prone to failure. Your character may kill anyone in a single hit, but your opponent will get many turns for each one you do. Each mission not only takes two players of similar skill – the game employs the same rating system as chess – but each one also has an inherent point value. This means that if it is a 500-point mission, you may only take 500 points worth of characters into it. Again, this makes players make tough choices and try to get the most out of their squad, but keeps everyone on a level playing field.

There are six types of characters available for players to create and have in their party. They are ranged, research, melee, hunting, doctrine and lore. Three are rather self-explanatory, but three are probably a bit odd to most readers. Research is based on the following Leonardo da Vinci and uses technology to help their cause, doctrine is loosely based on the Inquisition and Lore is more of a Paladin-type group represented by the Knights Templar.

Another twist on the typical RPG system is that each character, and thus group, has an alignment with one of three factions in the game: Lore, Doctrine or Research. However, unlike an RPG, this is not a decision you make. Instead, it is chosen by the skills you assign to your characters and the composition of your party. Theoretically, your group could be aligned to Lore in one round and Doctrine in another – it depends on who you take into battle. Your faction then dictates what missions you can do and what side you will take in various causes.

This leads us back into the RPG elements of the game. Tactica Online promises an overarching story where the players will determine the outcome. Factions gain in strength based on what the players do. If Lore wins many encounters, then the Lore faction will get stronger. Imaginary Numbers then compensates for this in the on-going story, where they represent this strength. Furthermore, Imaginary Numbers will hold themed tournaments. For example, if the story talked of the siege of Rome, players would go on missions against each other that tied into this story. Eventually, only one squad would be standing and that person would in effect determine whether the siege of Rome was a success or failure. Tactica Online allows players to shape the world in a unique way.

The actual meat of the combat system is what you would expect. It is turn based, with each character in the squad drawing priority. Sometimes a player will get two turns in a row thanks to the draw, sometimes they may have to wait while the other side has a turn or two. There are advantages to going first, and advantages to going last; just as black is not at a disadvantage in chess. There are currently 168 actions available for characters to use. These range from melee attacks to magic spells. The game play will not excite action fans and the combat system is not simply rock/paper/scissors, but more complex. Tactica Online promises to provide a deep, rich, measure game play experience for those people who really want to match their wits – rather than their reflexes or character skills – against other players.

The game is due out in stores later this year and will not have a monthly fee. Every six months, Imaginary Numbers plans an expansion with things like siege engines on the horizon.

As always, we are anxious to hear your thoughts on this article. To facilitate this we've set up a comments thread on our news discussion board.


Dana Massey