Global Agenda – Review
Shooters are a rare breed among online mmo games and whenever one of these elusive creatures surfaces to the level of public awareness it is usually met with enthusiasm, high expectations and wishful thinking – disappointment follows shortly after. This is why when we picked up Global Agenda, a 3rd person shooter MMO developed by Hi-Rez Studios and released in February 2010, we were prepared for the worst and expecting the worst. What we actually found was… surprising.
Global Agenda proposes a dystrophic scenario in which Earth recovered from a devastating World War III only to fall under the totalitarianism regime of The Commonwealth. The entire society is under the control of this monstrous military organization and those opposing it are swiftly eliminated or assimilated. A few remaining independent political cells desperately struggle for survival. Unable to match the strength of their enemy they employ guerrilla tactics and use highly trained special mercenaries for devastating surgical strikes deep within enemy territory. During one of these missions you are released from captivity and offered a chance at freedom. The escape from the research facility in which you were held and experimented on functions as a game tutorial which, apart from introducing you to the basics, has the wonderful quality of literally sucking you into the game, of giving a purpose. Soon after the escape you become part of a paramilitary organization called A.R.M. (Allied Revolutionary Militia) and with their help and guidance you are set on a collision course with your previous “owners”, The Commonwealth.
Classes in AG don’t stray too far from the well known archetypes, but they have been envisioned in such a way that previous MMORPG Games experience doesn’t prove as useful as you might expect. There are four classes: Assault (tank), Medic (healer), Recon (dps), Robotics (support/dps). Each comes with three skill trees and enough points to fully develop only one of them – so far nothing surprising or out of the box. The novelty comes from the way the skill trees influence the classes, your encounters and hence your play style. A recon for example can shine in melee combat and also deliver devastating long range attacks with the help of sniper rifles, just don’t expect him to do both at the same time. The class system allows a level of customization that can reshape a character in just a matter of seconds into something almost entirely different than what it used to be. The way you build your character will dramatically influence your gameplay experience so don’t be afraid to play around with the skill trees until you find the recipe that best suits your tastes. Also keep in mind that what works brilliantly in PVE might not be as effective or as easy to apply in PVP, and the other way around.
There is also a tremendous speed difference between PVE encounters and PVP combat, so be prepared to reevaluate your PVE learned lessons when going against other players. There are of course tactics, class synergies and general player skill that you must include in the equation, but most of the difference comes from one single game element: the jetpack. Giving you a considerable speed boost and also allowing you to easily access remote areas, the jetpack is a PVE exploration tool and in the same time probably the most efficient PVP “weapon” the game has to offer. Mastering it allows you to set up efficient ambushes, storm fortified enemy positions or simply get out of harm’s way fast enough. It’s easy to use, highly responsive to commands, it has a power supply that recharges in a matter of seconds and on top of everything else it’s fun. After a few hours in afterburner mode you will not be able to imagine yourself playing a shooter that doesn’t feature a similar gimmick.
But until you can test you piloting skills against other players, you must first learn how to use them in a less aggressive environment: PVE. Since there are no races or factions, the introductive PVE content is the same for everyone: the same starting area, the same quests, the same end result. That wouldn’t be a problem if the whole story chain wasn’t so linear. The quests are so heavily intertwined that failing to complete an assignment will generate a dead end and the entire PVE progression will come to a full stop. To make matters even worse quests will only last you for about twenty levels from a total of fifty available. This is not about quests not giving enough experience points to level or being hard to find, this is about the fact that around level twenty you will have absolutely no new quests to pick up, none whatsoever. From that point on the only source of experience points will be the missions which are instanced PVE dungeons or PVP battlegrounds, both accessible through a UI matchmaking system. Linear, limited and sometimes even a bit tedious, the quest driven content proved to be a decent source of entertainment and combined with random dungeons and mercenary missions it was enough to keep me hooked for hours. When I finally realized it was simply a buffer meant to get me into the level range required for accessing instances, the curve describing my level of interest in the game took a serious plunge.
It doesn’t mean that missions, regardless if the enemy is a dungeon boss or a team of players, are not fun. On the contrary, most of them are a blast to play, nicely designed and quite challenging. And if teaming up with other players is not your idea of quality time, there are also solo missions in which you can test your skills in timed battles against powerful mobs. In general the entire missions system has something of everything and the potential of keeping you entertained for a decent amount of time. However, it is not powerful enough to support the entire game and its MMO effort. Relying only on Missions for experience points you will be forced to spend a lot of time idle in Dome City waiting for the matchmaking system to do its job. Since you can’t queue for more than one Spec-Ops Mission (PVE) at a time or for both Spec-Ops and Mercenary (PVP), waiting times tend to become frustratingly long. Constantly alternating fast paced action with seriously boring downtimes compromises the immersion and leaves you longing for something a tiny bit more meaningful.
This is where AvA comes in. Short for Agency vs. Agency, the name refers to the game’s persistent player driven PVP world. Split into four different areas which can be accessed each day during short time windows, this world features numerous territories called hexes that can be captured by players organized in agencies – Global Agenda’s guilds. Gaining control of one of these hexes allows the construction of facilities that are then used to gather resources, build weapons or provide defenses. As agencies will constantly struggle to capture and control territories that have rare resources or offer a strategic position for a defensive/offensive emplacement, PVP encounters are not in short supply in AvA. With so many people involved and so many agencies struggling to for supremacy in the AvA zones, you would expect everything to feel more… massive. It doesn’t and even though there are several reasons why this happens, the most significant one is related to the way ownership of contested hexes is decided. It’s not the result of battles involving huge armies with hundreds of players, but directly connected to the outcome of ten vs. ten matches (one for every hex) in which strike forces representing the two rival agencies clash together in a PVP instance. Like so many other things in Global Agenda, AvA is a very good idea that just got a bit crumpled in the implementation process and ended up fragmented and instanced.
Global Agenda’s outer wrapping doesn’t leave a lot room for complains, except maybe for the fact that it’s again a barren world, victim of man’s destructive nature and what better way of depicting it than using a wide palette of browns and grays. But apart from some dusty environments the game is quite colorful, polished and generally eye-pleasing. As it is highly important in PVP you will appreciate the fact that classes and skills are easily identifiable through distinct silhouettes, animations and color schemes. The sound package is not as impressive, but it does the job and in a discreet manner complements the rest.
A game that manages to captivate you on such a level that you forget to eat, drink or sleep until your body is on the verge of collapse is a rare event and one to be remembered and looked upon with reverence for many years to come. Global Agenda has all the attributes needed to be included in this “Unforgettable” category. In the first hours of gameplay it is so addictive that it can be easily regarded as some sort of social threat, thus giving a hypothetical social security control organism a full set of reasons for banning the game altogether. There is no need however for such draconic measures as Global Agenda is a master of self-sabotage. Lacking content and diversity and focusing heavily on instances, the game simply does not allow itself to shine and evolve to match its full potential. If that happened we could maybe witness a genre revolution.
By Seth Lex