Earth & Beyond
If nothing else Westwood does a frustratingly good job at keeping a lid on what it is up to. For four years we've been told Earth And Beyond has been in development and when it announced that an online game was soon to be released, we weren't alone in thinking that it would be an online, persistent-world version of Command & Conquer.
But then it's understandable that Westwood wanted to keep things quiet for a while. Its first online game, C&C: Sole Survivor, was something of a dud, and we can be thankful it never found its way to these shores. In contrast, Earth And Beyond should go some way to erasing that bad memory. As well as being 3D, it marks a step in a new direction for the Vegas-based iiber-coders -space combat, or in the words of the press release, 'a persistent-state galaxy game.' (A bit like EverQuest in space then? - Ed).
Though billed as the first ever online space-based RPG, reading between the lines E&B sounds incredibly similar to a dozen other Elite-inspired online games making their way to our screens, from Jumpgate to X-Online. But whereas the success of Jumpgate is far from assured, the fact that E&B will have Westwood's name on the box surely means that thousands will buy it and in turn, many more people will join this rapidly accelerating bandwagon. With Westwood committed, online games are poised to acquire more mainstream acceptance, if any were needed.
Inquisitive as ever, we wanted to know what features would make us sit up and take a genuine interest. After all, Westwood's name may guarantee sales, but it doesn't assure quality. So we grilled game producer Eric Wang about some specifics, and he managed to lay down a pretty convincing argument as to why we should all be getting excited about this project.
Earth And Beyond will of course feature the usual mix of exploration, interaction, trading and combat. However, rather than making you play as a predefined character, you'll be able to create your own, choosing from three races and three professions, the latter of which will have an impressive nine variants. Each of the three races will excel in a particular field. So, if you're a Terran, you'll have an edge when it comes to trading, while playing as a Progen will boost your combat skills. The final race, the Jenquai, will give you an advantage in the exploration department.
However, there wouldn't be much point to a persistent online universe without quests and experience points. So it's just as well that that E&B will have a unique mission generator, which will assess your ability, race and profession and create a series of missions to best suit you.
If you successfully complete your tasks, you'll be given cash rewards- the game's equivalent of experience points. These allow you to buy upgrades for your ship. As Eric explains: "The ship will grow and change with the character and become a visual representation of how advanced the player is in the game." For the more casual online gamer, it will come as good news that you won't lose any of your ship's hardware when you die. Instead you'll just incur an experience points penalty, which you'll have to work off by completing a certain number of tasks. With literally thousands of planets to explore and with an intuitive mission generator, E&B is looking set to be one of the most open-ended, replayable and accessible online games ever.
But that's not to say there won't be room for storylines. Rather than sticking to one restrictive and predefined script, Westwood is putting in many different ones for you to discover. Eric claims that "Westwood will be continuously adding content - new areas to explore, new storylines to follow." Less hardcore players will be able to keep up with events through news reports, which will be available at every Star Base. It'll certainly be a breath of fresh air to get away from the turgid scenarios (war with aliens, revenge for a slain loved one) adopted by so many (single-player) space combat games.
With an expected release date of winter this year, there's still some time to go before we see the finished product. However, it's already apparent that E&B will not only be entertaining and immersive, but a game that may well open persistent online universe gaming to the masses.
Download Earth & Beyond
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Earth & Beyond Screenshots and Media
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