If you only have one Agenda this year, make it a Global one

The first week of Spring 2010 has thus far been punctuated by miserable failure.  Nevermind that my homework isn’t particularly completed — the first week largely being an orientation week, it wasn’t particularly assigned, either.

No, I’m more concerned that I spent perhaps a quarter of a budget that was intended to last me 5 months on a week.  Some of this was for my books, which is commendable enough.  The rest largely went to eating out (a decidedly lazy habit of mine) and entertainment expenses.

I’ve plenty to entertain me already, and could probably entertain myself regardless, and therefore any entertainment purchase is hard to justify.  However, I like to think that, at least as far as entertainment expenses go, I’ve been frugal:

  • $55 on some Zalman headphones, very well reviewed and probably the cheapest way to get some reasonably good quality 5.1 sound (outside of crafting your own with potentially poor results).
  • ~$45 on a Dungeons and Dragons Online, but on things that will persist forever rather than become inaccessible in after only 3 months of $15/mo subscription payments.
  • ~$60 on Mass Effect 2 which, as far as I’m concerned, is a mandatory gamers’ purchase on a magnitude that may be seen maybe twice in a year.
  • And then there’s ~$45 I spent on Global Agenda, a soon-to-be-released game from Hi-Rez Studios… which is, of course, what I’d like to talk about today.

In Global Agenda, you take on the role of an “agent” in a post-apocalyptic future run by a single mega-corporation following World War III.   Grown in a lab with biological augmentations that make you a highly specialized weapon of a sort, you are freed in a raid performed by other such agents and are released to realize your fate…

… as someone grinding for cash and experience points via performing tons of various “missions” which are basically just 15-minute long first-person-shooter experiences of either 10 on 10 Player versus Player or 4 against the world Player Versus Environment variety.

As repetitive as this sounds, it’s not so bad.   The primary reason being that, unlike so many other games you’ll see out there these days, Global Agenda’s gameplay is quite reasonably satisfying.  It’s also a bit varied in that you can choose whatever you’re in the mood for fairly rapidly.  It’s a very well encapsulated microcosm as any good game should be but few truly are.

Massively Multiplayer?  Probably not.   But excellently featured nonetheless…

The term “massively multiplayer” gets thrown around a lot lately on a genre of games which are rarely truly so very massively mutiplayer anymore.  As I elaborated on to an unhealthy degree in my last entry, there’s a problem when a game becomes overly “instanced” in that the world becomes divided to the point of no longer seeming so very worldly, to the point where I would no longer spend a $15/mo on any such game.

Yet, this practice of instancing has nonetheless caught on because highly instanced games are a whole lot more robust for technical reasons.  So it was perhaps no surprise that, upon encountering two games that would seem to be usurping the throne of 2003 Planetside as “massively multiplayer first person shooters” in Huxley and Global Agenda both heavily employ instancing.

Of course, if either allows me to play without charging me $15/mo, the question of whether or not they’re so very instanced is no longer a factor….

… so instead, I’ll just say that I currently prefer Global Agenda.   Huxley is not without merit, it has a more of a cinematic experience focus and includes a much more robust quest-driven system, but there’s nonetheless quite a few good reasons to prefer Global Agenda:

  • Global Agenda’s matchmaking mechanism is a very slick, one-click experience.  Your click being a choice of PvE or PvP and at which difficulty.  Unless you encounter a string of bad luck, you should be able to easily find a fight within seconds of announcing you are seeking it.  If you’re not a fan of pickup groups, you can also have your teams assembled from the start.
  • Fights are neatly encapsulated in 15 minute segments that should make the casual players very happy, while there’s simultaneously quite a bit of content for the hardcore to enjoy unlocking and consuming.
  • There’s a pretty good level of customization.  This is both cosmetically and functionally.  Your character has several slots of your equipment to upgrade or dye, with an augmentation crafting system.  The skill system does not allow you to take in all skills/equipment at once, so several players of the same (4-class) system may play quite differently.
  • I’ve found that Global Agenda is very well balanced.  In PvE scenarios, the AI-driven opponents are no pushovers and will require teamwork to overcome.   In PvP fights, the classes have important niches and enjoy the type of balance that only months of refinement could have brought about.  Another important point is that levels aren’t everything: you won’t find yourself unable to touch a player simply because they’re 20 levels higher than you.
  • It’s mostly a free-to-play game in that, once you’ve bought the box, you can pretty much advance to the maximum level without paying a dime.   Unless you want to participate in the Agency versus Agency fights or access certain higher level content.  (There’s conflicting information about whether or not Huxley will allow itself to be played for free — the official FAQs say “probably not” while the existence of “Huxley Lite” suggests it will.)

I think that, above all else, it was seeing a screenshot like this which got me to decide this really is worth the investment. It's an actual Risk-like conquest map that 10 on 10 agency-on-agency fights are done over who owns (and reaps the benefits of) actual plots.

To speak briefly in hardcore vernacular, you can think of Global Agenda in much the same way as you would Planetside in that it’s essentially Tribes gone Massively Multiplayer.  Compared to Planetside, the fights are not really massively-multiplayer, but finding a fight is a lot easier, those fights play out a lot cleaner, there’s more achievement mechanisms in play, and actual PvE scenarios.

The bottom line is Global Agenda delivers more fun than you’d typically get for what you pay for it and that’s good enough for me.   It could very well be a sneaker hit, provided enough people hear about it and try it out.   In the end, even for a fellow in an income-limited stage of his life like myself, Global Agenda’s merit was enough to push the game into purchase territory.

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