Review by bloodwulfe
"Every single MMORPG so far takes place on foot. Earth and Beyond does not."
Tired of traveling from point to point on foot? Sick of paying hundreds of gold for a five second horse back ride across the countryside? What about those annoying portals with special effects that take an hour to load on your graphics card? Try something different... pilot your own spacecraft and choose your own destiny!
Yeah, so it sounds a bit corny. That's what’s so unique about Earth & Beyond. Sure, a lot of other MMORPGs let you create a character with different skin colors and clothes, but Earth & Beyond is more then that. You get to customize not only the appearance of yourself but your very own spacecraft, custom tailored to your specifications. You can change practically everything about it. Wrong hull design? Retrofit it! Wings look outdated? Change 'em! Cockpit uncomfortable? Grab a pillow! You can even customize the paint job on your craft, from the primary to secondary colors or the four major areas on your ship: wings, hull, profession, and engine. If that isn't enough customization for you, choose from hundreds of different decals and paint them on your ship. No two ships in the entire galaxy will look alike. As you progress further in the universe of Earth & Beyond you also receive hull upgrades. Not only do these increase your hull strength, but they also give your ship a brand spankin' new look!
This is one of the more appealing aspects of the game. Each of the different classes has a very unique ship design. The Prospector, for example, is a parasite-like design in the effect it siphons resources from asteroids. It doesn’t look very impressive, but it can pack a wallop in combat. That’s what’s so great! You can never, ever underestimate your opponent lest it cost you your life.
While the hull design is a nice effect, it is hardly the main focus of the game. The combat in Earth & Beyond is pretty straightforward. However, it has a lot of strategy involved in it. At first it appears to be a point, click, and wait system, but this is incorrect. As your character progresses throughout the universe he or she will gain new abilities and skills, both defensive and offensive. Not only does this add a major aspect to combat, you’ll be shocked to realize certain skills are no long effective.
Let me explain. Throughout your carrier as a pilot you will have to learn to manage your skills and change tactics on the fly. For example, you might pilot a ship equipped with a cloaking generator. This trick may fool enemies, but you might encounter a more advanced species that can compensate for your cloaking field. It might have a device that allows it to detect cloaked ships for example, and this would render your cloak pretty much useless. Once you whip out the heavy offensive skill, vanquish your opponent, and get past that roadblock you’ll notice other species of enemies are once again fooled by your cloak. You can’t relay on your very first strategy your whole life! Things change. Skills change. New devices are constantly being invented. You need to change with them or spend hours trying to recover all your lost experience.
After the initial glow of Earth & Beyond fades, you might find yourself a little bored. For the first few hours the game is fantastic in every respect! Having npc characters with voices really adds an element to the game, and if you’re a fan of solo play you won’t feel alone. Receiving quests from a space station commander’s real voice is far better then scrolling through pages of text. That isn’t to say the text isn’t there. Every npc will have a text box with their dialogue, but the more important ones will have voice work to accompany it.
Later, however, flying around in the same craft can becomes tedious. You can’t change the paint scheme of your ship mid-game, so if you created a dull design early on you’re pretty much stuck with it. Equipping different weapons and device components doesn’t change your look either, and even hull upgrades don’t seem to do beyond rescaling your ship to increase the size. If you’ve played other MMORPGS, this might be depressing to you. Take Dark Age of Camelot for example. You could put on a suit of armor, grab a fine longsword, and strap a cloak on, and all of this would be reflecting in your avatar. You could even dye leathers to your specifications. If you’re a fan of customization, Earth and Beyond will appeal to you at the start but may upset you later on.
Prospecting for ores and rare minerals can also feel like work more then enjoyment after a short while. Its understandable that mining ores and cutting lumber shouldn’t be all fun, but when this is your only source of tradeskill income it can be a little upsetting. The skills are very well-balanced and have some pretty effects, but when you only have a handful of them per class it can feel a but rudimentary and outdated when compared to other MMORPGs with a huge range of magic spells.
Combat also lacks a serious edge: player versus player. Westwood has mentioned they may have plans of implementing it in the future, but as of now where is no pvp support.
“Incorporating a PVP [player vs. player] element in the game is a challenge we know we'll have to address. We might make some sectors of the game universe strictly PVP for those who want to test their skills and progress their careers by space dog fighting.”
-Brett Sperry, Westwood's cofounder and chief creative office.
Earth and Beyond isn’t a bad game. Heck, it can be darn right fun at times. If you can find a solid group of people to team up with and tackle the universe you’re set, but as a solo player you may find Earth and Beyond a bit less appealing. The main concept behind the game is teamwork.
To me, however, I don’t feel it adds anything revolutionary to the genera beyond the aspect of owning a spaceship and traveling the universe. Your options are pretty limited with such a small selection of skills, and warping around from point to point can become pretty repetitive even with the most powerful engine in the galaxy. Still, being able to go into a third person view of your character instead of your spaceship is pretty cool. Something about shooting down badass aliens from inside your cockpit just adds a certain flare to the game. You might enjoy it, you might not. But hey, its from Westwood, and they’re a pretty dependable company.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/02/02, Updated 10/03/02
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