The year is 2155 and after apocalyptic events, an oppressive government, known as Commonwealth Prime, has arisen, determined to control the planet. Experiments are being carried out on citizens and Agency Zero has broken you out of the lab where you were being processed into a super soldier for the Commonwealth. It is outright warfare as bands of elite agents conduct targeted strikes at the Commonwealth, and with uneasy alliances, vie against other groups for scarce territory and resources outside of the government controlled Mega Cities.
Global Agenda is a massively multiplayer, futuristic third person shooter with feet firmly in both the MMO and the FPS camps, together with a good dose of a strategy game thrown in. The basic game provides instanced PvE or PvP matches and access to Conquest, the ongoing campaign on a massive scale on a persistent world map is via monthly subscription. Conquest features include Agency and Alliance management tools, creation and upgrading of Facilities (Agency housing), a mail system, and a raid system which can involve up to 60 players per side, albeit still played out in team vs team matches.
Players gather in Dome City which contains an arena and administrative stations; that is, the crafting, skill allocation and mail stations, vendors, the auction house and mission terminals. There are four classes in game: Assault, Recon (Reconnaissance), Robotics and Medic. Character development is available via three branching skill trees that players can invest skill points into and each class plays very differently from the other.
The engine allows for some impressive graphics.Intense is the word that comes right after “Fun” when I’m asked to describe Global Agenda. The high intensity combat is impressed upon you straight from the tutorial as you run the only solo mission of the entire game. The mission flows from cut scene to action and back again as you are broken out of a vat of chemical goop during a strike at a Commonwealth lab and escape to Dome City. An oracle-like female voice talks you through the mission as you gain a melee weapon, a jetpack, a ranged weapon, some basic armor, and a class device. All devices draw from a single power pool and jetpacks suck a lot of juice, so I discovered as I plunged to my death off a building while trying to figure out flight controls.
I would have liked to have seen the promise of early game demos that suggested separate tutorials which actually allowed players to test their first class devices come to fruition, but alas, the tutorial is exactly the same for all classes. The Elite Assassin you have to defeat seemed incredibly hard to my Recon and Robotics characters, showing the inherent weakness of those classes in a one on one fight. At the tutorial’s end, you’re in Dome City at level five, with two additional off-hand device slots and the class boost unlocked. Unfortunately, there is no place to test the new devices you’ve unlocked except the Arena, and if you just happen to walk in where gankers are hanging out that day, you’ll find that the Robotics noob hardly lasts long enough for a turret to be deployed.
Once you get a good grip on the game controls — and there are no surprises here — the game is amazingly fun to play. Combat is skill based, uses a real cover system and directional attacks. You can expect to die, and die often. There’s no penalty besides time lost as you respawn and run back to where your teammates are. There’s no auto-attack, no AFKs for potty breaks while waiting for power to recharge, and no head shots – a deliberate decision made by the Hi-Rez team as they consider that a less-than-fun feature of FPS games. It takes a few missions to properly figure out what your devices do and how best to deploy them, as a friend playing Assault did with his mini-gun when teamed up with three Medics in a defense game. Slow to power up and with not the best accuracy, once that thing spun up, the other team could not get past the blanketing hail of bullets.
Each of the classes provides a different play experience and there is immense satisfaction gained from a team that coalesces together from the start of the mission. I played mostly in match-made teams and it was gratifying to see players help each other and provide tips as well as players simply playing their class well, each doing their jobs. “We have Robotics? Good. Go two turrets for the boss. Don’t worry about heal beacons,” was one of the first bits of advice I received in a PvE mission as a Robotics player. In the coordination aspect, the built-in VOIP is invaluable given the pace of the game. “By the way, watch out for the death beams.” Oops… too late if that had to be typed.
In most MMOs, you have to read the game FAQs, guides and forums to best understand the nuances and Global Agenda is no different. Although the device point distribution is obvious if one is paying attention, there are no in-game tool tips that help a player figure out things like, how his devices are unlocked or the auction house, or the crafting, and a new MMO player may feel a bit disenfranchised after the exciting tutorial as he wanders around Dome City trying to figure out what to do next.
As Global Agenda is a fast-paced game, classes have to be instantly recognizable and to achieve that, they have unique silhouettes. However, the down-side to this is that there is no visual representation of your character’s progression. There are plenty of cosmetics in vanity pieces and in the pretty colors you can dye your armor with, but since silhouettes have to be preserved, there is little to showcase a player’s achievements as he progresses through the game.
Where the UI is concerned, there are areas begging for improvement. In the Mission system, players simply join a queue and are assigned to a mission, a map and a team. There’s no filtering of missions and auction house items can’t be sorted by price. Annoying as they are, these do not detract from the fun of the matches themselves, except perhaps for the inability customize the combat UI. You can’t move the team stats from the left top of your screen. If you are playing a Medic, it can be hard to keep track of the life bars of your team mates when you are playing on a wide-screen monitor.
Depending on the mission, teams can be made up of four to ten players but unless you have a pre-formed team, you don’t get a choice in the match-making system which can suck. This however, increases the challenge and forces players to coordinate and strategize quickly before the mission begins, deciding on roles and changing their device allocation before entering the mission.
Combat can be fun and frantic.PvE missions are your dungeon crawls complete with traps and boss-mobs and with a good team can be incredibly easy, but just as you think it’s a cake walk, you ramp up the difficulty and find that the easy to kill robots that just stand there and let you shoot at them, now duck and use cover. The Elites (mini-bosses) are harder and more plentiful, and worse yet, there are Hunters targeting specific classes that actively hunt you down. PvE missions really shine at the higher difficulty levels and the fast pace provides a bigger rush than any dungeon crawl I’ve been on, especially when the Hunter spawns and I know it’s after me.
PvP mission play is more strategic and really showcases the skills of the different classes. I often felt less than useful as a Robotics player in PvE missions until the final boss when I finally had the time to lay down shields and deploy the incredibly powerful turrets. In PvP missions, there are objectives other than rushing through a dungeon, killing everything in sight. The pace does not slow, but unique class strengths shine here. Robotics get to deploy respawn beacons and heal stations, while Recon gets to destroy them.
The meat of the MMO play in Global Agenda is the world conquest game, and this is still in its infancy. As this game develops, it is likely to grow into a Planetside / EVE-like environment where the right Agency is what really makes the game for a player. The AvA map is portioned out into a series of hexes and Alliances can contest and hold as small a territory as a single hex, to large areas consisting of many hexes requiring larger numbers of players to hold. Despite the size of the Agency, contests are decided by team vs team combat, so a large Alliance will not overwhelm a small one by sheer numbers.
Conquest matches turns on the pressure as you have something to lose; territory, crafted vehicles and the respect of your team mates if you screw up. I was frankly petrified as the Agencies that play the AvA game are guys that are on the top of their game and I was there as a guest. Despite the time I had spent in beta, I was a noob compared to these guys, who were veterans of such games as Team Fortress/2, Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty. Me, I’m a finger-waggling elf-girl convert. “Just follow me and keep me healed.” “Sir! Yes, Sir!” That I could do. I didn’t take a single screenshot however.
I was first attracted by the gorgeous graphics and futuristic world, and then drawn in by the fast-paced, skill-based combat. Skill counts, not just your level and gear. Then there’s the strategy. With the wide array of devices available and only 15 points to use, you have to pick the right combination for each mission type. I play MMOs to play with others, not solo and I am greatly encouraged by the number of players that can actually function in a team in Global Agenda. Finally, the jetpack is incredibly cool, as is jetting up close and laying into your opponent with a melee weapon – even as a Medic. Mea Culpa, but it was coup de grace time. Really!
Global Agenda hits the top notes in many areas. The crisp graphics and fast paced, high intensity team-based combat are definitely the game’s strongest points. Both PvP and PvE game play are equally fine and the AI of mobs in high difficulty PvE missions is admirable. However, there are few mission maps available at this time and the inability to filter and select missions is definitely a downer.
An MMO review is a snapshot of where the game is in time as it is constantly evolving. If Hi-Rez can add more missions and improve the UI functions, the likelihood of keeping the more casual player in the long term grows high. As the game stands now, whether you enjoy the game rests upon whether you like the combat systems and if you find an Agency to suite your play style and personality, as it’s all about teamwork and the people you play with.