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Getting Ready for 'Prime' Time

Suzie Ford Posted:
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I recently had the opportunity to visit Pitchblack Studios in Arizona to check out the team, the offices and what was that other thing? Oh yeah, the game that is giving three-faction PvPers a bright ray of hope, Prime: Battle for Dominus.

Pitchblack Studios was co-founded by Warren Weems and John Kenison, lifelong friends with a lifetime of gaming under their collective belt. They have played, according to Kenison, every MMO that's been released. Realizing that there hasn't been a "decent 3-faction MMO" since Dark Age of Camelot, and similarly realizing that no game they created could possibly have fewer than three factions, these two decided to set their own game in motion. Choosing a space-themed setting was as natural as having three factions. "Fantasy has been played out," said Kenison, "and with space? We can go anywhere with it."

Kenison and Weems are the primary writers and planners for the entire project. They have lovingly created the backstory and lore behind Prime: Battle for Dominus. There is no part of the game that these two haven't had their hands in.

After our short chat, we were off on a tour of the offices. Honestly, it's amazing how many people are packed that space! In fact, Weems told me, the team is actually bursting at the seams and the office is at capacity. I had the privilege of peeking over everyone's shoulders and admiring the work they were doing. The entire team had kind words to say and, most importantly, projected an infectious love of the game they are creating. And I'm even talking about the coders too, who have the less-glamorous but decidedly important task of making sure that everything works right from the back end.  These folks love their game.

I was utterly mind-boggled by the concept art posted on the walls everywhere. I was told that the goal is to cover every white space in the office with artwork and screenshots. Weems was reflective saying that he needed to get the team working on getting the latest stuff on the walls and that it had been too long. That's a sure indication of a hard-working team.

At the current time, the game is being tested by over 150 "hardcore" testers who have given the team awesome feedback, according to Weems. The pool of testers is scheduled to grow a lot by December when the other two factions are released into the beta and most features are included as well. Weems said that the team is "aggressive in responding to our community and approaching the game's development in the same way".  Later, co-founder John Kenison echoed that sentiment by saying, "We don't want this (Dominus) to be in the company of people making bottom-end MMOs. The look and feel of Dominus is top end and we're working hard to make that happen."

The game does look good too. I let Weems "drive" Prime: Battle for Dominus so that I could watch the scenery and pay attention to what was happening on screen rather than be scrambling around getting killed by everything. This was definitely the way to go. The graphics are lush and rich-looking, something the team has been committed to as well. In fact, Kenison told me that they are aiming for what is currently considered mid- to top-end machines. This ideal also helped them determine not to develop Dominus for consoles as the graphics and hardware limitations were too confining for what they wanted to do.

Weems ran through character creation for all three factions, Human or one of the two alien factions, Rodon or Salent. There's a good amount of customization for Human and Rodon factions with different body types depending on class chosen. Rodons only feature male characters which later made me wonder how more Rodons are made. But I digress. Salent have fewer choices as they are on a higher evolutionary plane than Humans and Rodons. They tend to have more of that "classic" alien feel to them. You know what I mean: Big head, thin ethereal body sort of 'floaty', if that makes sense. Each race has six classes from which to choose. Each class looks and acts differently than the rough equivalent class in other races which is pretty dang awesome. I chose a Rodon simply due to the brute size and into the game we went.

Again, the environments are lush and well-crafted. Kenison told me that Pitchblack is aiming for mood. "We want you to feel uncertain, to wonder what's around the next corner." We spent time looking over the UI which comes in the form of a PDA. Within the PDA is a mail system. After all, Weems explained, we're in the future with electronic and advanced technologies. Why should players have to go back to quest hub to get mail? It's hard not to love developers who think that way.

Players start off with five basic skills out of the fifteen that will ship with the game. Each class has the ability to heal itself and/or any party in which it is a part further breaking away from traditional MMOs and the Holy Trinity. Rather than traditional skill tree system, Pitchblack has opted for a more "Diablo-esque" way of leveling which gives players more of a chance to individualize their characters.  Leveling skills also adds to a character's base stats. Additionally, the team has opted to make respec'ing one's characters easy. A simple click of a button and you're there. It's possible that the ability to make several different specs for characters will be available such as Rift employs but, for now, it's a one-button process.

All character classes will have access to the Jet Pack skill which, as the name implies, will give players the ability to fly around. This is the only type of flight that Dominus will include, however. The game is strictly terrestrial-based for now. Players will also have the ability for both ranged and melee fighting, ten armor slots and three tech slots.

Crafting skills and classes are awesome too. None is cooler or more unique than the Soldier for Hire crafter that immediately caught my eye. This is the crafting class for folks who hate crafting. "These soldiers serve as protectors to other players. In return, they are paid cash rewards from the grateful government (aka the game, not a player). They are also notorious for doing whatever it takes to get the job done, which explains why many of their weapons are found only on the black market. Never send a puppy to do a wolf's job - run with a Soldier For Hire." Now if that doesn't smack of innovation, nothing does!

Each faction has its own starting location with over five zones included. There will be little or no PvP activity there as players are getting the hang of the game, leveling their characters, etc. That's not to say there won't be any. Bounty hunting is something that Pitchblack has included in Dominus and is something that can be carried out in the earliest levels of the game and beyond. Bounties can be collected within PvP or PvE zones.

PvP action takes place in contested zones and is open world within those areas. Players can rumble with one another and, on the death of an opponent, will be able to loot their collected (and unbanked) resources. Items, gear and currency are not lootable. There is a heavy need for resources within Dominus so losing these items can be devastating to a player and/or guild.

The Guild System is fully featured within Dominus. It's quite simple to find a guild with a search within your character's PDA. Guilds are divided into three types: PvE, RP and PvP. Small guilds are encouraged as well. There is no minimum number of players required in order for a guild to be created. No more whining in chat for more people to sign a charter!  Small guilds won't be overpowered by the mega guilds that will surely crop up. Pitchblack has an Alliance System ready to go as well so that smaller groups can band together against their larger brethren.

There is a lot of excitement among players as the word about Prime: Battle for Dominus gets out. With three faction PvP, contested zones and areas, player bases for an RTS-type experience, a fully featured Guild and Alliance system and much more, lots of people are clamoring for more information.

Here are a few facts that might get your blood pumping even faster:

  • Dominus is NOT vaporware.
  • The game is scheduled to be released in April or May 2012.
  • The game will feature a "low cost" subscription in the vicinity of $10 per month.

Prime: Battle for Dominus is looking very good for a small independent studio. There is no question that it will keep up with the crowd. There is a LOT to like, particularly those who are still looking for DAoC 2. Dominus is looking directly at you and aiming to "make a game that players enjoy", to quote Warren Weems.

Look for more opportunities to get involved in testing Prime: Battle for Dominus as the next weeks and months unfold. In the meantime, players can go HERE and sign up for the testing process as Pitchblack is always looking for more testers.

What is drawing you to Dominus? Let us know in the comments.


Suzie Ford

Suzie is the former Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom