Finally, Earth and Beyond is a space-based shoot em up that does NOT require you to be a certified pilot to enjoy! To say I am jumping for joy is an understatement. As way of background, I am one of those "flight challenged" gamers that can not get the hang of pushing the joystick forward to go down and backwards to go up. Crashed many a flight by going in the wrong direction at the wrong time before I realized I was just not cut out for flight controls. But throw that out the window as Earth and Beyond has a flight system that even I could master after only a few minutes and have yet to crash into any inanimate objects! That alone earns Westwood Studios kudos from me.
Now this is a preview of Earth and Beyond (scheduled for released this week) and not a review. What I was playing was the unlimited Beta Stress test as Westwood called it. The patches were coming fast and furious and each one served to smooth out a wrinkle or add some neat new feature to make the game more fun to play. Should I be fortunate enough to get a final release version of the game to review I will update this preview into a review. Hmm I think I just confused even myself. Ah well into the preview!
There are three factions to choose form when creating a character in Earth and Beyond – Terrans who are the traders of the game – Progen who are the fighters of the game – Jenquai who are the explorers of the game. I choose the Progen so I could make most use of the new easy to fly space craft with BIG guns!
Your character gets to walk around on bases and talk with various non-player characters (NPCs) such as your training instructors and those that will give you missions or be open for buying and selling goodies. The movement controls took a little while to get used to, but as with most games after an hour or so in the game world you become very good at navigating around and using the interface.
When you start you are guided through your first few mission by the training coordinator for your particular faction. After they are done with, you have the basic information necessary to navigate the game and make the most of your gaming experience.
Advancement in Earth and Beyond has three separate paths, each which progress due to different influences. The combat path is pretty self explanatory. Go kill stuff and you get battle experience. The Progen, which I joined, specialize in battle so I had loads of opportunities to blast stuff into space debris!
The trade path advances as you sell items to NPCs. These can be items looted from destroyed ships or bought at far away bases and transported by you to the base that has the best price for it.
The third path of the explorer advances by discovering new areas or objects. Experience is gained in this path as you enter new areas of space, new to you but not necessarily new to the game world, or visit various bases and objects in the areas for the first time. All three factions can advance along all three experience paths, just some are stronger at one than the other.
For the Progen, the combat path seemed to be the prime one. No surprise there! Your ship and weapons upgrades are hinged on your combat experience level. As you get better at it (and I am assuming the other two work in a similar manner) better equipment, weapons and ships become available for purchase.
Death, the other major concern in multiplayer online games, is not permanent and does not lead to loss of experience or items. Once your shields have been destroyed and your hull breached to the point that your ship can no longer function you get two options set before you. Wait for help to arrive, in the form of another player who can get your ship back in working order again, or get hauled back to the nearest space station for refit and re-supply.
Ok now to the good stuff. Flying your ship is no longer dependent on your flight skills. You want to launch from a base? Get next to your ship and click on it to leave. Want to get to a waypoint (next step along the path you decided to take to your destination), you just have to click on it then hit the hyper jump key and you are off at max speed to the waypoint.
When you get to your destination, you click on it and a set of icons will come up letting you know what you can do at that destination. If the destination is a base you click on the docking icon and your ship will dock there. No longer do you need to fiddle with direction and thruster controls to get into that tiny little docking bay! WooHoo! If the destination is an area where baddies are around, you just have to click on the target of your choice and hit the follow key to have your ship follow the chosen target wherever it goes. Again, a big WooHoo to Westwood!
Now if you want to engage the enemy you need to pay attention to the weapons icons at the bottom of your screen. If you are out of range they will be red, but turn green when you are with range of the particular weapons system you have onboard your ship. The Progen tend to have heavily armored and cumbersome (read this as pathetically slow) ships. Armor and weapons are great but speed and agility are not built into them. What is built into them, though, is a nifty tractor beam system. You target the enemy activate the tractor beam system to slow them down and wait until your weapon icons turn green, then blast them into dust! Very satisfying!
When the enemy is destroyed click on the debris to see if there are any salvageable items from the wreckage.
This game is VERY easy to learn and get familiar with.
As with any online game of this nature, grouping is encouraged and getting into groups with more than one player type (warrior, trader or explorer) has definite advantages. Each group member adds their particular specialty to the others of the group making them more effective and better at gaining the experience needed to advance in the three paths.
Westwoods Studios and Electronis Arts have the makings of a winner here. I can not wait to become involved with the game after formal release to the public.