There are times in the world when seeing something described 'on paper' can lead to a lot of excitement. In 2014, eForb generated interest in its latest title called The Skies, described as a non-traditional MMO where players create their own games through non-linear game play. The Skies was also one of the first riders of the survival game wave. Quickly getting the thumbs up on Steam Greenlight and generating chatter at IndieDb, The Skies seemed ready to claim its niche.
However, by May of 2015, communication about the game largely fell off. The site was (and still isn't) updated with anything close to regularity and it seemed as if the game was dead in the water. Fast forward to December and the first sounds of reawakening cropped up with the out-of-the-blue announcement that the early access version of The Skies would be coming in 2016. Again, silence descended until late February and then again until late March when eForb released a new trailer and revealed that early access would begin "in the end of March - beginning of April". Clearly, we have missed the former, though it appears that things are on track for April.
For those who may not know, The Skies is a post-apocalyptic game set in a literally gritty desert world, at least at the start. According to eForb, the large game world is one that offers players a chance to create the experiences they want and that the economy will be 100% player-based.
There is no question that The Skies is an early access game. It is rough around the edges, laggy at times and buggy to the point of frustration. Yet even in all that, there is a game there that has some potential. Those who loved Fallen Earth may find themselves drawn to The Skies.
The journey begins, as normal, with character creation. At this point, only male models are implemented but there are plans to include females at some point in the future. Creating a character is decent with the typical eye / hair color, tattoos, facial hair, etc. There are additional options to further customize a character with click-and-hold 'sliders' in various places on the 'toon: Cheeks, neck, brows, chest, arms, hands, legs, feet. There is enough available to keep things interesting, but not too much to make it overwhelming. Characters look decent enough, though obvious work needs to be done -- that beard looking like it's glued to the face is a little distracting.
Players literally wake up in the game world and find themselves in the home of an aunt and uncle. This is the tutorial zone and it reveals a few things very quickly. Characters begin with few stats, most notably intelligence that renders them a bit of a blithering idiot when talking to the family. Strong, yes. The next Einstein, not so much -- at least at first. It's worth putting some effort into raising that intelligence as doing so does open up more conversation options.
Motoring through the tutorial, players begin to discover the game world and get the first taste of combat -- also something of an exercise in frustration with the delay between attack and death -- ours or the enemy's. Still, guns feel like guns with a satisfying BOOM and when reloading. The dead can be looted for both money and supplies, though why a dog carries currency is beyond me!
The Skies doesn't explicitly state that it is a survival title, though clearly it is. Players, as mentioned, loot corpses, gather wood and other natural resources, crude oil and the like in order to create and improve gear and weaponry. I was unable to try it out, however, as opening the crafting interface locked up the game.
Graphically, The Skies looks pretty good. Created using the Unity Engine, the earliest locations in the game are dusty enough it almost feels like you need a drink to wash away the grit. Winds blow, tumbleweeds tumble, the sun blazes down on the world. It's not bad on the eyes, though there is a "sameness" to the buildings in the starting city.
Quests, and there are a lot of them, can be picked up from local NPCs, though players can choose how to approach them. All actions are reflected in the reactions of the locals depending on how one proceeds. Players can also form parties, though it's somewhat difficult at this point to find one another on the mini-map, but perhaps that is part of the "no hand holding" thing. Additionally, watch out for friendly fire -- actually a welcome, if unexpected *glares at Catherine Daro*, feature. It's reminiscent of Diablo I and chain lightning deaths of entire parties.
All in all, there is something there in The Skies, though it is easy to be hyper-critical of a game in early access with all its warts and issues. Whether the potential The Skies represents will emerge remains to be seen, both in terms of developer commitment to the project and the whether or not the community can be reengaged. eForb has an uphill battle to fight with rebuilding excitement for a game that is now just another member of the ever-growing survival MMO genre.