I’ll state right off the bat, this is my second swing at writing this. My first attempt ended up being a 2000+ word rant about the shortcomings of Earthrise, a relatively new Sci-Fi MMO game. I wrote it late on March 31st and thought about publishing it. However, I had no desire to release it on April Fool’s, so I withheld it with the intention of putting it out there April 2nd. In the meantime, I realized how little it meant to spend so much time kicking a game that’s already down. The result is this post, a quick overview of the parts it got wrong and what it takes to launch something in the ever-increasingly tight MMO space.

Not a bad looking game in places

To start off, let’s list off the good and the bad. First the good:

  • The visuals weren’t bad.
  • The music is not bad either. I had a couple of issues of music cutting off when I hit a different zone, but not a bad thing.
  • Crafting is pretty deep and if the economy gets a chance to develop, might be one of the strongest points in the game.
  • Customer service can craft a friendly email. More on this later.

Not present here: swaths of online gamers

    There were some elements that were just off, like the swaying of the trees which moved not in a way that normal trees sway, but much like how a drunk would sway his arms while being held erect by two friends as they were all moving through a crowd and jostled by weary onlookers. There’s an uneasiness as the trees move and it doesn’t look quite natural. And the sound effects were largely unimpressive, but serviceable.

    But the bad list. Well, here it is:

    • The user interface was clunky and eschewed standard configurations without good reason for doing so. It seemed like this PC only release initially was slated for a console and they forgot to redo the key assignments.
    • MOB behavior is still broken in many ways.
    • Training goes on for too long, covering too much distance to essentially do the same thing four times and then run between stations.
    • Game performance is still sub-par. The game still has near constant hitching, latency issues and other hiccups which make some PvE combat beyond difficult.
    • A story line that already feels stale and pointless.
    • Vast expanses of completely empty area.
    • Long initial loading times.
    • Areas with bad shadows.
    • No battle log to find out which enormously high character just ganked you.
    • Dead population areas.
    • Basically, the server has few players and seems empty. Even global chat is virtually static.

    Early in the game, literally a portal to nowhere

     

    As for the PvP part of this game, the main selling point…well, it can only go so far. I like PvP when it’s done right. I think games like Global Agenda did it right, where even as a low end character, you could still be a positive force on your team even though technically you are out-gunned. EVE Online can get you in a tackling frigate within a couple of hours of playing, a vital part of successful PvP fleet engagements. Earthrise didn’t seem to have anything like that available. Within hours of playing for the first time, I was gunned down by another player as I was shooting rats. No joke. Another time, I was trying to get to one of the two main faction cities when I got ganked and killed in two quick, successive shots. There was nothing I could do and I barely knew where the shots came from or indeed, who killed me at all. At low levels, it’s no fun. There’s barely any skill involved, it being a cheap kill. I won’t say that I haven’t been at the wrong end of some quick kills in other games, but I knew I had at least either a chance or the guy on the other end was pretty skilled. Neither was the case here.

    Although I’ve not seen anything confirming this, there are rumors floating about that Masthead studios released the game under pressure because they needed the money infusion a launch would provide. If true, the players currently there are essentially playing a beta and paying for it. Not cool.

    I have to admit, this area was pretty cool

    Part of me wanted to write this long post just ripping Earthrise a new one because it’s simply not ready. As much as I complained last year that Star Trek Online was a half finished game, Earthrise made STO’s launch look silky smooth. There’s a paucity of good science fiction games, even fewer that are MMO games. There was every reason for me to want Earthrise to succeed. I just don’t see it doing so in it’s current state.

    The problem with Earthrise is that it tried to infuse a MMORPG concept with some first person shooter elements. This was obvious in the first couple days of launch as the first time you used your weapon, you could actually see the hitbox displayed. A game like this might succeed but in a single server environment, you have some incredible technical hurdles, most of which they simply have not been able to solve.

    There are a few things that would make Earthrise succeed. A completely revamped player introduction, more PvE, better storylines (killing x-number of y-mob for z-reward got really, really old), a better handle on the hitching  and latency problems, and lastly, I think a smaller world would do them wonders. Hell, just start to take care of your players and good things start to happen.

    Not really a metaphor. The server was pretty devoid of players.

    Let me relate how they can better serve their players. I started on the first day of launch and got thoroughly discouraged, set the game down for five weeks. Upon relaunching the game, I had to update it. The update got bugged and got caught in a repair loop, essentially forcing me to reboot the computer. Uninstall, reload, repatch. After getting this far, I couldn’t remember the password I had set up five weeks earlier and began my attempt to recover the password. I was able to reset my Earthrise forum password, my Earthrise support account password, but not my actual Earthrise game account  password. No, for that I had to submit a petition and then was informed it might take up to twelve hours for them to respond to the petition. Twelve hours! I can have nearly any password I have reset within minutes, usually automatically. To have to wait so long to have a game password reset smacks of bad service to the players. I understand they may be severely short staffed, but this cannot bode well for the game.

    As a preemptive reply to those die hard supporters of the game who have berated other people with comments like “go back to WoW” and “I guess you’re not used to true sandbox games” and the like, let me say this. I’m not going to run down all the games I have played in my many years of gaming. But MMOs live and die by not just the strength of their user base, but the numbers as well. If Masthead doesn’t at least try to make it easier for new players in the game, this game will die. I get that you want a hardcore PvP game where the rules and ways of doing things are arcane to everyone else not in the know, but if the subs don’t start picking up, Earthrise could go the way of APB, Matrix Online and Tabula Rasa. And then you can hope for the next hard core science fiction world to get developed and pray it doesn’t make the same mistakes Earthrise has so far made.