Things are slowly but surely picking up on the sandbox MMOG scene. A couple of years ago, out of all the major games that can be considered successful, only one of them belonged to this sub-genre – EVE Online. (In reality, there was another prominent title, Star Wars Galaxies, but it’s just not the game that it used to be). Looking at the market today, sandbox lovers have a more options to choose from in increasingly diverse universes.
There is Darkfall, a game that is slowly but steadily improving and the devs seem to release meaningful updates fairly regularly. Some claim that it does not fit neatly into the sandbox category, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of doubt and would like to see where Aventurine takes it. There is also Mortal Online, a title that isn’t as successful, but can still boast some truly dedicated fans that are willing to support the game’s vision. We also have the recently launched Perpetuum Online. It’s a sandbox game that allows players to control large mechs and fight for territorial control. If given enough time and attention, it may become a real contender to EVE’s popularity.
Nevertheless, compared to the numerous themepark titles, you can see how sandbox games have been getting the short end of the stick. This is soon bound to change as there are not one, but three new titles waiting to welcome players into their worlds upon release. Let’s take a brief look at each one so that you may decide the one game (if any) that has the most potential.
Dawntide is a new MMOG developed by Working as Intended. The game takes a lot of inspiration from Ultima Online and aims to bring back the feeling of playing that old-school title. Dawntide is currently in the open beta stage and is being actively worked on by the devs and shaped by the passionate player community.
One of the main problems, that have been plaguing most sandbox titles in their infancy, is the fact that end-game content does not offer real alternatives to PvP and crafting. This forces players to stick to these two activities in a world that, by its definition, should not limit them in such ways. In my opinion, being a sandbox MMOG does not excuse the lack of viable playstyles and options. The developers of Dawntide seem to agree with that and have stated that the game aims to not just accommodate all types of players, but to provide sufficient depth and relevance to each of their chosen path.
In its current incarnation, Dawntide suffers from the usual array of problems that come with an indie title. A good amount of features in the game are not at a level that really adds depth to gameplay, quite a few bugs are present and balance needs some serious attention. However, the developers are working hard and there are new patches and fixes coming out every couple of days, literally. And that my friends, is a good thing.
Xsyon is a game that tries to engage players not only through complex features and mechanics, but also a unique setting. The game radically changes the standard view of life after the Apocalypse and paints a world where forgotten technologies clash with primitive religions, cruel gods and the human struggle for survival.
The main focus of the game is on players transforming the world around them in an attempt to regain the lost comforts of civilization. Features like terraforming will allow players to construct roads, raise or lower the terrain and create player cities. Out of other interesting features, the aging system also deserves some attention. Both characters and creatures will age in the game, and animals will even grow in size if they are not hunted soon enough. In addition, Xsyon will feature a skill system where players advance and gain experience through a variety of activities such as crafting and hunting.
Xsyon is currently undergoing beta testing, with a basic (Prelude) version of the game ready to release on March 1st, 2011. There is even a pre-order option available for those who are already sold on the title. Keep in mind that, at this moment, the game is missing a good portion of its stated features and lacks content. Combat is also in need of some serious fine-tuning and there is a general lack of coherence to the game. Most of the in-game features are fine on their own, but there needs to be something putting it all together in to a presentable package. The devs do frequent the forums and respond to player feedback, so perhaps preparations for Prelude will address these issues in some fashion.
The game is set to release on February 4th, 2011. Earthrise promises to put players in a world that is recovering from the devastation brought by the third world war. Unlike the situation in Xsyon, humans have retained their knowledge of technology and have adapted it for the purpose of colonizing a planet called Enterra. Not all is well, however, as the government has been shaped in to an entity that aims to control the vital resources of the new planet and rule its citizens with an iron fist. As a result, various fractions have formed, not only to oppose the existing regime, but to project their own philosophy onto the world around them.
Earthrise boasts a class-free system, where players get to customize their characters using over 100 skills available to them. There is also offline character advancement, as well as a player-driven economy. Combat in the game is similar to Tabula Rasa’s and will combine traditional MMORPG systems with assisted targeting. This is all surrounded by a PvP set-up, where players can choose what faction to join, opt to remain neutral or even become a criminal. A complicated territorial warfare system that will allow guilds to fight for spots that hold rare resources rounds out the major offerings.
The NDA has recently been lifted and the initial player feedback has been mixed. As expected, not all features that were promised will make it into release. While the core mechanics seem to be working as intended, the game suffers from an overall lack of optimization and there is a clear need to polish the existing game systems so that they add to the player experience instead of hindering it. Most players seem optimistic about the game’s future, provided that work on it will continue post-launch. Masthead Studios, the company behind the title, released a detailed road map for the three months after launch. Judging by this information, a solid portion of content will be added after the release and current gameplay elements, such as crafting, will be advanced even further. Lets hope they will be able to stick to the plan.