We sat down with the folks from Utherous at PAX East to have a first look at their new game. Using the Atavism MMO Creator, Thomas Timothy and his team have created a sandbox where players can build up their towns, siege other towns, or take on the local wildlife and other beings inhabiting the world of Utheria. Paired with Bionic Marine Command Online in a Steam bundle that recently got greenlit, Utherous shows a very strong sense of identity within a full-to-bursting genre.
In the mythology of Utheria, the Utherian empire was ruled by a mad God-Emperor who waged a holy war against all heretics and unbelievers, razing whole countries with his technomancers and eventually nearly destroying the old gods who oversaw all. These gods sacrificed themselves to destroy the Utherian empire and shattered and remade the world. In the centuries that followed the 40-year Red Storm, crystals called God Shards fell from the heavens and would grant their possessors various powers over the land. While the magics and high technology that was a part of Utherin society were lost in the devastation centuries ago, people are once more rediscovering those bits of the past and are looking to once more reclaim the standards of civilization.
In pre-alpha, the game obviously will need a great deal of polish to get it out the door, but the nuggets of potential are already evident, and the basic concepts are solid. Players will gain XP through more traditional means of fighting or otherwise using their skills, but they will also acquire bonus XP while they're logged in. This bonus XP mechanic is intriguing because as it builds up, it can be used to enhance one's character by adding skills and the like. However, if your character dies, you lose all that bonus XP. So, if a player was aiming for a certain bonus XP value to buy a new skill, is just shy of their goal and dies while making that one last kill, well, they have to start building up their bonus XP all over again. It adds an exciting element of risk to the venture. Do you play it safe and do things that give lesser XP or jump in there and take on a bigger challenge in order to get the last XP needed for a specific skill purchase?
The game also has a stress mechanic, where your character acquires stress while out and about and can only recover by spending time at a tavern or the like. Guilds are the way to go, and as guilds increase in size, they can claim larger and larger pieces of land. Their lands are sited using one of the God Shards, and if that crystal dies in the course of gameplay, then that particular guild loses the fight with the other guild besieging them. Guilds also have their own faction, but fighting isn't the only way to play this game. There's a heavy interest in non-fighting activities, and crafting will be a core mechanic. Timothy spoke glowingly of skills whose names haven't been finalized yet but included things like a barber, dancers, artists, painters, and sculptors. Sculptors, for example, will be able to create statues of other players in-game, and I could see an immediate use in the notion of in-game memorials for players who have sadly passed away. Diplomacy is also a valid gameplay mechanic to avoid confrontations or to negotiate treaties.
The gamespace is huge, 4000km by 4000km, but there will be mounts such as horses, wyverns, and silver dragons. Also, Timothy noted that all of the game's measurements will be done in metric. The game will have 24 races for players to choose from. Some were the familiar names such as humans, trolls, and orcs. Others had new names but reminded us of races we've seen in other works, such as the elf-like races whose names all end in '-dine' such as Ardine, the dwarf-like Dvargar, and the Faunmus. While speaking with Thomas Timothy, we discovered how Utherous' artists would create all the races. He said that they all shared the same basic model, it was just deformed into various shapes to create the differences. One of my favorite features to Utherous' chargen was something hardly any other game out there has tried, and that is a gender identity slider. Instead of choosing male or female and customizing from that point forward, a player here can be a bit more fluid in their character's gender identity. Timothy was firm in the notion that he wanted all players to be able to find a character they were comfortable playing that represented something of themselves in the game if they wanted it, and that diversity and representation was very important to their team.
Turning to actual gameplay, we discussed cool major public events, such as perhaps a specific dragon shows up in a certain place and a particular guild or two is there fighting it. Timothy noted that such events are all one-offs, so that if you killed one specific dragon, it was a unique event and no one else would ever be able to kill that dragon or acquire its loot ever again. He said that it didn't make sense to see things respawn repeatedly and let folks simply figure out how to beat it by googling the strategy. The team apparently wants to create unique experiences for players, so that they could tell stories about their specific glory moments that weren't the same as everyone else's and create a better sense of continuity and passage of time.
For players wanting to participate in crafting, resources for those could either be found in the wild or by creating something like a logging camp and letting NPCs do the gathering for you. Guilds can build by either creating buildings by placing various pieces together like jigsaw puzzles, or they can set down prefabs. The advantage to doing it piecemeal is the simple ability to create something unique and precisely how the builder wishes it to be. The advantage to a prefab is that they come with abilities such as crafting, guards, or places to level skills up. Another cool thing one can do in their building zone: use their town hall as a guild bank. So, let's say for example that a guild builds their town hall, and they put an armory in an adjoining room. Players in the guild could place gear in there and then other players can take it, but it adds a far more immersive mechanic for doing so, rather than speaking to an NPC and clicking on a couple of things to get gear from the guild bank.
The Utherous team seems to want their players to regain the social feel of tabletop and gaming with friends. They're also trying to more open and transparent style of development, taking feedback from their initial testers and better incorporating that into the game and showing off their work in progress much earlier than many companies tend to prefer. While they haven't yet decided what AI model they're going to use, they do plan on something that's more intuitive than is the current standard amongst MMOs.
As a game in pre-alpha, it has a long ways to go before it will launch, but there's certainly some diamond hiding in that coal. Thanks to Robert Collins at Utherous for arranging the time for us to come check their game out.