Shattered Galaxy Review
By Jimmy Goldstein |
If there's one thing that I always wanted to see, it was a massively multiplayer real-time strategy game. I always figured that not only would it provide players a great place to try out various battlefield tactics and get the satisfaction of winning games as a team, but also a great chance to try out overland map Risk-type strategies. You would have leaders in charge of directing troop movements and the direction of battles leaving the tactics up to battlefield commanders. While the age of MMORTSs hasn't really dawned upon us like the MMORPGs have, it looks as though things might be getting started with Nexon's Shattered Galaxy. At first glance this game looks ages behind some of the newer 3D strategy titles, but don't be completely fooled, there's a lot of depth and fun to be had here as long as you can handle playing in a fairly unorganized manner.
Shattered Galaxy isn't just a MMORTS however; it also holds plenty of role playing elements to it to keep you interested. Both this game and Verant's upcoming Sovereign were quick to realize that one of the big draws of playing online in a persistent world is your ability to gain a reputation and advance in a tangible way. Nexon's answer to the problem is fairly creative and tends to follow the background of the gaming world pretty well. You see, it seems that some scientists on Earth were messing with some alien technology that they shouldn't have. During an experiment in teleportation, things went horribly wrong brining both the lab mouse and an extraordinarily large chunk of the Earth surrounding the experiment to a completely different planet. Only 70% of the population that were transported across the galaxy survived the process. Close to everything was destroyed and the human society on this new planet quickly reverted into bandit activity and kill or be killed mentality. New and wonderful alien technology was found and quickly converted into new and wonderful war machines like only humans can do. New and wonderful alien species with the urge to rid themselves of humans also were found fairly soon after the move. Society then started forming factions for protection and to gain control over the planet and war broke out on a full scale. But the humans themselves didn't want to participate in such affairs. There weren't many of them left and with all of the new technology, war machines could be run by players outside the actual battlefield.
Players enter the world as an avatar that not only is the representation of your hero, but also one of your battlefield units. At the beginning of the game, you'll dole out some characteristic points to your hero that will affect the way the game goes for you. They're divided into four categories which will define how many units you can control on the battlefield, your level of technology, and how quickly you'll have access to unit improvements. Whatever way you approach the spread of your points will have a fairly large impact on how things go for you during the course of your stay. There're advantages and disadvantages to each and they seem to have been balanced fairly well.
When not joined in a battle, you'll be in the form of your avatar and will be able to run around any of the territories that belong to your faction. Your main territory will contain a bunch of buildings that hold some important things such as a factory for repair and purchase of units, an upgrade center for specializing your units, a headquarters where political decisions can be voted on, and training grounds.
Before you can go out and fight, you have to purchase units to do you bidding. They come in four separate categories; infantry, mobile, aviation, and organic. Each of these have their different uses and also have been balanced pretty nicely for the most part. Once you purchase new units, you can take a trip to the upgrade center where you can upgrade units into the next evolution of that type of unit, or you can add new weapons, items and armor. This is where some of your attributes come in handy. If you have high clout, you'll have access to some better chassis quicker, if you have good mechanical aptitude your units will be able to carry more weight allowing for more specialized items and better weapons, and if your education is high then you'll have access to more of the advanced weaponry and armor.
Once you've got you're units how you like them, it'll be time to take on some enemies. While you can run your new units through the paces in some newbie non-PVP levels, the main course and interest in the game will come on the battlefields of the overland map. Once you decide to join the conflict, you jump to a map of the planet. This will give you an overview of the various territories and who their owners are. The point of the game is to own the entire planet (seems unlikely anyone will ever actually accomplish this task) and therefore to take territory away from the three other factions on the planet. Once on the overland map, you'll see the positions of friendly and enemy units as well as see where all the current battles are going on. If you see and open battle you'd like to join, it's easy enough to click on the area and watch your avatar travel to that territory. This is actually a pretty nice touch and gives the feeling of tenseness of whether you'll be able to make it to a battle in time to reinforce your faction or not. Your avatar will actually have to walk across the battlefield maps of each of the territories on the way to the battle, so there is a realistic time of travel.
Once you get to the front and the battle commander (the combatant with the highest tactics rating) lets you into the battle, the chaos begins. You'll see your selected troops beam onto the battlefield near the entrance portal from the territory your avatar was approaching from. The number of troops you can command at once is dependent upon your tactics rating, but you'll have a fairly small squad (the most I saw was 10 in a group) to control. In order to win you'll have to coordinate attacks with the other members of your faction participating in the battle. This is of course the main problem with a game like this, because even though there is a battlefield commander, no one really seems to give a crap about commands. More often than not, you'll see troops spread out, running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I did get the chance to play in a couple of very organized battles, which were much more fun. Presumably when people get to know the game better and adopt team-oriented strategies, things will get more organize overall.
In order to capture territory away from enemy forces, you have to set ground troops on small points of contention (POC) for a certain amount of time for them to transfer to your faction's control. There are different numbers of these POCs around the maps and all of them need to be captured in order for the attacking team to win the day. All the defenders need do is hold one of the POCs until the time limit (20 minutes) expires. At the end of a battle all of the losers will be transported back to their main base and the winners will stay in the newly captured territory back in the guise of their avatar. Everyone will get a little recap showing how much experience was gained for each of the units and for your character. Once you've gotten a look at that, you'll probably want to repair your units that gained experience (which you can do even if they were destroyed in battle).
These battles are fairly chaotic, but the unit balance is actually pretty nifty and fights over the POCs can be downright huge and pretty exciting. There are definitely certain units, which are used to counter various attacks and defenses. You never know what sorts of forces will be brought. If and when your own group of units is annihilated, you'll have the option to reinforce or retreat from the battle. If you reinforce, you'll be able to pick a new group to command from your backup units and send them into battle after a time penalty. Even though it's stressful to have to wait like that, it's certainly a welcome addition to gameplay. If reinforcements are due into the battle, all players will also see who's coming and from what faction they are from. Before the reinforcements arrive, they'll be able to see the battle and talk to the people fighting there so they know what types of units are needed to counter enemy defenses and attacks.
The system works pretty darn well when all is said and done and is pretty enjoyable. I always wanted to jump back to the front and win back territory after it was lost or continue to press on after a win. While the game was pretty fun to play for a while, I don't know how long it would keep my attention. There are some little bugs, problems with the political system (which in many players opinions gave the elected council too much power), and what looks to be the promise that you can never really win a conflict. The maps exchange hands so quickly it's amazing.
The graphics aren't going to impress anyone here. They're worse than those in Starcraft, which was released almost 4 years ago, sounds are generic and aren't leaning to the good side of generic. But on the positive side, they do shrink requirements allowing more players in on the action. And while graphics and sound take a back seat to gameplay, they still don't make a good impression and may cause some gamers to leave for prettier pastures in the future.
Nonetheless as the only MMORTS out at the moment, Shattered Galaxy does a commendable job creating the type of large-scale conflict that I've always hoped for. Playing alongside up to 15 players against the same number is a pretty neat thing to be a part of. One of the best things here is that the game is relatively bug-free compared to the 3D MMORPGs that have been crashing all over the place lately. While there are still some problems, they're mostly small and won't dampen your enjoyment of the game too much. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time in the game if you want to gain enough experience to compete with the higher level players.
-- Dan Adams
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