With the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic not more than a month away, we look to the subset of MMORPGs that are sci-fi. Most of us have seen the “mini-game” that SWTOR is passing off as space combat. However, they can take some serious pointers from Reakktor’s Black Prophecy. While the game is in no way perfect, it leads to a strong model of how we should be thinking of space combat specifically in MMORPGs.
Aesthetics - 9/10
Black Prophecy brings a dark tension filled feel to the universe they craft. The graphics and combat are sharp, dark, and boundless. The massive armada on armada space combat scenes do an excellent job of creating the background dog fights as well as your own. Space stations have the intricacies that we would expect for life-supporting hubs in space. Characters that interact with you have a realistic look feel and sound. It is also important to note that voice-acting is done throughout the game. We don’t see a robust first cut-scene and never hear another person talk again as has been all too common until recent times.
The user interface is simple and elegant. However since there are no add-ons for the game, any real user-customization is lacking. I personally liked the UI, but I would like see more of a way for players to make the game their own and one of the simplest ways to do this is to create add-ons or to tweak the interface.
The place where Black Prophecy fails is that all the combat is done in open space; never bottle necking players into narrow spaces (think piloting through the death star). While this is a choice in game play mechanics, this is mostly an aesthetic choice in what the style of environment is like.
This could be remedied by changing where we do combat. Also, the void of space can get a bit boring at times. There is nothing wrong with flying over the surface of a planet (a la Starfox). I can see this as the next logical step and something to combat the style and gameplay mechanics that are wide open space combat.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Black Prophecy really does do a good job of replicating a lot of the look and feel that Freelancer had. Combat is regular dog-fighting with your ability (and computer) being the only ball and chain on your character. Your ship has the ability to equip itself with specific ship, wings, engines, shields, and weaponry. What this means for the player is that it becomes a fairly linear comparison. Every level you get a choice of allocation of points between things such as tactics,
mechanical, energy, ship, shields, engine, and so forth. It forces the player to boil down their character to force between their play style and their choice of weapon. Now some of these choices are obvious: do you want to fire fast with a Vulcan cannon and just tear into them or do you want to blow them up with explosions? However other options such as how many tactics do you want or do you want better shields or better engines become defining choices.
While you are able to craft various things, crafting without any type of universal economy is limited. Unlike EVE, the game lacks a universal economy and a sense of progression from that economy.
Well Alex, what do you mean by that?
Good question. I mean that there is no way for you to buy things from other players. This includes ships. For a majority of the game you get the choice between two ships. The premise of the game is that there are two factions and eventually through a series of events you must choose between them. Each of these comes with a ship and a change in your options for possible tactics. Tactics are special moves used in combat that allow you to do movement such as an instant turn around, barrel roll, speed burst, as well as many more. The initial prologue introduces players to the various mechanics.
There is a built-in “medal” system which tracks your achievements. While the game is level based, I found it didn’t make a huge difference and low level players could defeat high level players if they were better. While I did enjoy the gameplay, it has one major flaw (which I have mentioned before in my previous article). The Universe is entirely instance based.
There is no sandbox. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept: think of the universe as tons of bubbles where you can instantly travel between the bubbles but never be in the space between them. The result of this is there is absolutely no exploration in the game. Luckily, multiple players from both factions can exist in each instance so we do see some interesting action. However, with the loss of a sandbox comes with the loss of knowledge of what and where things are in the Universe. I would like to see an overhaul on the developers’ part to see a sandbox universe with allowing for faction on faction control for parts of the universe.
Innovation - 9/10
This topic begs the question “what is innovation?” Innovation is implementing an aspect of the game or feature that has never been done before, been done poorly, or a new twist on an old idea. In Black Prophecy’s case, we are looking at innovation that has been done before, but has never had a twist. Namely they are taking the Starfox / Freelancer flier and injecting it with some good old fashion MMORPG. While there are numerous problems with their implementation, it is an innovative step and there is a large portion of the community that would like to see more of this type of game, myself including.
Polish - 7/10
In general Black Prophecy is kink-proof. The systems they put in place work smoothly and without problems. That being said, a lot of the systems need to be brought back to the drawing board. The prologue, while being very good, needs some refinement. They forget to tell you what everything in your interface does (It took me a while to figure out what my concentration points did). There is a large lacking of any group quests or support functionality in ships. The game is definitely a quest-based one, so more group quests please!
Longevity - 4/10
Wait, this isn’t a beta?
Sorry anonymous questioner, it isn’t. The game has a great story to it, for a decently long time. However, it doesn’t take that long before you shift away from the story into quests that don’t seem to follow any central arc. I found the universe at the later stages mostly void of activity. The game also lacks any end game content (even after two expansions). I know, all over the planet puppies are crying. Other than achievements there really isn’t any “investment” we as the player can make. You can acquire more money and try to get more levels, but once you are capped out, there isn’t any super ship or gear that you are aiming for. No carrot at the end of that stick.
Social - 4/10
Sorry Black Prophecy, another failure. When you fail to neither put in end game challenges and a series of group quests throughout the game, how can you expect players to connect? A note to all MMOS: If you fail to challenge players and force them into situations where they need to come together to overcome obstacles, then your game is simply a single player game where you just pass other players. As the Designer, you act as the proverbial dungeon master, challenging your players and bringing them together. The game has a general chat and a clan system. However I found them out of the way and not necessary at all.
Value - 7/10
As a F2P game, we can rejoice. It includes an item mall to enhance your character and fix any blunders you may have done by making poor choices in skill points. In terms of value, you can have a lot of fun and have a blast in this game for nothing but your time. However, without a super passionate community (don’t get me wrong this game does have wikis and community websites for all that are interested) the game won’t add the value that a lot of us hoped without the content that demands challenge and coordination.
So to conclude, Black Prophecy is an interesting take on how flying/space combat can and should happen. However, its lack of content and specifically Endgame creates a short appeal for the modern player. The lack of an economy creates a one-dimensional gameplay experience. I would sincerely like to see this game introduce a universe wide resource system and a multitude of ships and weaponry that required a similar crafting system to many of the modern games. By introducing more group quests we would see a surge in the social atmosphere, and see Black Prophecy be more than the mediocre experience it is now.