Earth & Beyond is Westwood Studios’ first entry into the massively multiplayer online industry. Instead of bringing another first-person style game to the table, Westwood Studios has created the first massively multiplayer space simulator mixed with a dash of first-person playability. Does E&B have enough appeal to bring new players to the MMORPG market? Or better yet, the ability to steal players from the current leader of the genre? Let’s find out.
The story that fuels Earth & Beyond goes a little something like this: After a gate that allowed instantaneous space travel to the farthest reaches of the known galaxy was discovered, there was huge war over who would control it. This war revolved around three humanoid races: The Terrans, who are the pure humans and are the economic power house, the Progen, which are cloned humans that have genetically altered themselves to improve upon their war-like tendencies, and the Jenquai, another genetically altered form of humans focusing on intelligence and who wish to improve upon their human’s flaws.
Now that the war is over, and after nearly obliterating each other, all three factions control a portion of the Human Sphere and only paper-thin treaties keep them from plumping back into battle. However this time, a common threat has immerged; an unknown alien race that has been freed from a locked portion of space. An eerie silence has befallen the Human Sphere; none of the races knows what to do now.
After you’ve finished watching the most amazing intro of any MMORPG to date, and you’ve logged in, you will be taken to the character creation screen. Here, you will need to choose which faction / class combination best suits your taste. Will you pick the Terran Tradesman, able to make huge profits off trade runs, a Progen Warrior, the most versatile in combat of the three races, or perhaps a Jenquie Explorer, master of space exploration, an overall well rounded class. There are six professions in all, but either way it’s recommended players do some research on the various fan sites before they decide.
First up is your representative first-person character. This is basically the form you will take on when you land on starbases and have to run around on two legs. Each race will initially start with its own unique models that you can roam through in the customization department. Pick a face, choose a hairstyle and color, as well as skin tone. You can add a facial tattoo and resize it to your liking. The clothes have two color tones, a primary and a secondary, and both colors can be changed to anything you wish. You can also add “equipment” to your character. While this stuff doesn’t actually do anything except look cool, earrings, microphones, glasses, etc. are a very nice touch.
Once you have your “person” made, it’s time to customize your spaceship. Don’t rush through this and make it lame, unless that’s your plan, because the spaceship is where you will spend the majority of your play time. You can pick between three hull types and three wing types, and each has a primary and secondary color that can be changed. You will also get to name your ship anything you want…well, as long as it’s clean. After your ship is done, you get whisked away to pick a name for yourself, as well as which server you will want to play on.
It’s recommended that the first time you enter the game you go through the training mission. This little training scenario will guide you through the basics of movement, combat, equipping your ship, and warping. Spend as much time here getting used to the user interface as you can stand. The better you learn your surroundings, the more streamlined your actions and reactions will be. (Thank you, Captain obvious!)
Gameplay in Earth & Beyond is divided up between flying around in your spaceship and walking around in spaceports and space stations. The zones are quite spacious and you of course have full 360o of flying freedom in which to explore them. All combat will take place while in your spaceship, as will mining for precious ore if you’re a Jenquie Explorer or a Progen Sentinel. Your reason for mining is talked about in the paragraph below this one.
There are several reasons you will want to land at a space station, but only two will be a constant factor. The first is getting new abilities from your various guild leaders. This will happen on occasion but only after you have reached a prerequisite level. The second is buying and trading goods. This feature is available most on the spaceports. The other reasons would be to acquire quests from NPCs, learn more info regarding the storyline of Earth & Beyond, and to interact with other players on a more upfront and personal level.
Buying and trading, as mentioned above, is basically you buying a bunch of items from one space station and then flying a long way and selling them at a different space station that will give you a profit. It’s a cool feature that all classes can benefit from but only the Terran Tradesman will make the most profit doing it. Another reason for docking is that you can only sell your cargo when you land. You can also make your own weapons, engines, reactors, equipable items and ammo. Player-made items will always have better stats than store-bought equipment but there is the chance of failure, so it can also be quite costly depending on the quality of the item you’re trying to make. Items need components and these components can either be made via mined materials or simply bought from the store.
When a player wants to make a new item, they will need to “analyze” the item first. Using an Analyzing Station with the item they wish to manufacture will break the item down into its basic parts. If this is done successfully then the player will receive a blueprint of the item that never expires.
Whether or not a player is capable of making items depends on the item in question since making various items requires a player to have the correct amount of skill points allocated to the corresponding ability: reactors, engines, beam weapons etc. These skill points are gained by leveling up the three primary skills: Combat, which goes up as you kill things, Exploration, which goes up when you discover new areas, and Trade, which gains experience when you make a profit in trading. Each time you level in one of these three areas, you get a skill point and this skill point can be dumped into the many secondary skills. Be careful though, some skills, after reaching a high level, will require more and more skill points to increase further, and you will find yourself lacking in points. Do some research regarding the various classes and the items they are skilled in making at some of the fan sites before choosing your desired path.
Each class will go through various trials when they reach a level milestone. When a player reaches a milestone, they should return to their guild leader and they will then be assigned a quest that will be unique to their class. Each quest’s difficulty varies the higher you get, but the end reward is always well worth the effort.
Introduced in a recent patch was PvP, player vs. player, combat. The way PvP will be handled currently is with arena-style team combat. Players will sign up and battle each other in arenas.
Grouping with other players is highly recommended. You can have a maximum of six players per group and the experience for Combat, Exploration and Trade is all shared to the amount where it is well worth the effort. Along with sharing XP, all classes have special abilities that will become active when they group with other players and will actually increase when more players of the same class are in the group.
Player guilds are also available in Earth & Beyond. You and nine of your closest buds will have the option of creating a guild that will allow everyone to link up. While in game you can check various bits of information concerning your guild, such as how many guild mates are on, where they are at, how they are contributing to the overall success of the guild via combat points, trade points, research points, etc. There are also various levels of rank available for those guildmates who prove themselves.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics in Earth & Beyond are top notch and do the game justice. From large ships to small ships and gigantic space stations to tiny satellites, all are detailed with fantastic textures. The special effects that accompany the weapons, various skills, and equipment are all very well done and take full advantage of what the Earth & Beyond engine has to offer.
You’re going to want to have a relatively new graphics card and processor to be able to squeeze the last drop of performance out of Earth & Beyond. There are some situations where even having the best hardware won’t save you. When space gets crowded with a lot of space ships flying around and explosions, you’re going to run into slow downs.
The sounds in Earth & Beyond are also well done. The music hits home as being very majestic when warping through space, during combat and even when walking around space stations. The ambient sounds, on the space station for instance, add a nice touch of realism and help the player feel like they are walking around a space station that is alive, and not an empty tin can floating in space.
When you land on a planet to visit a station, you will warp down to the surface and then fly over varying types of terrain, depending on the planet, to get to your desired location. When the game was first launched, the maximum speed to fly on the surface of a planet was very slow, however they have since increased the maximum speed so it’s not as tedious as it was.
I’ve played just about every MMORPG that’s on the market today and even some that aren’t. Earth & Beyond offers a brand new flavor to the MMORPG universe that is both unique and well received. E&B had a very smooth launch, which is rare when it comes to MMORPGs since they’re usually plagued by server crashes, etc. One of the problems Earth & Beyond did have when it launched was the developers didn’t anticipate players reaching the levels of 80+ so quickly. When players found themselves at the higher levels, they also found themselves lacking any sort of high-level content. This dilemma was rectified in a later patch that added plenty of missions, quests, etc. for high-level players.
The other issue I have with Earth & Beyond is the customer support. When the game was launched and as of the publishing of this article, the game masters were given absolutely no power other than breaking up disturbances and “unsticking” players. How a player got stuck I do not know. As far as solving real problems like the fact that my missile quest is still broken, thus not letting me use missiles, they are completely helpless.
Earth & Beyond is definitely a worthy title for veteran MMORPG players as well as those new players that have been waiting for something groundbreaking to show up.