Auto Assault Impressions - Updates on the New Combat and Class Systems

With Auto Assault in the final stretch of development, we get a first-hand look at all the improvements and enhancements that have been made over the past few months.

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NCsoft and developer NetDevil are currently putting the final finishing touches on Auto Assault, the online role-playing game that has more in common with Mad Max than it does with traditional fantasy. In Auto Assault, you'll zip around a postapocalyptic Earth in your own personalized combat vehicle in search for adventure. You'll battle other players and factions as well as a host of other enemies, such as relentless robotic machines, as well as a mysterious alien infestation.

We recently got a good, final look at Auto Assault, and the game has evolved an incredible amount in just the past six months, both visually and in terms of gameplay. While the early versions of the game had you zipping around a lot of empty wasteland, the latest version of the game now has you battling it out in much more interesting environments.

Auto Assault has come a long way in the past six months, and it shows.

NetDevil president Scott Brown told us that the development team divided into "strike teams," and each team was tasked with making sure each environment offered something unique and distinctive in terms of scenery and gameplay. To show this off, we watched as a player tore through a snowclad region of the game (you can purchase and equip snow tires to give you better handling on the snow), only to quickly and seamlessly travel to a warmer, muddier climate. In this mud region, enemies will use mud to their advantage, so they have mud-based weapons that smear you with the stuff to slow you down. Undeterred, though, the player kept driving through and quickly entered a burning forest fire. The entire idea now is that if you have to give directions to a fellow teammate, you now have points of references you can use, rather than just telling them to keep on driving through empty countryside.

There have also been huge improvements in the customization of your personal avatar, as there are now a lot more choices in terms of stuff like equipment and hairstyles. It may seem a bit odd that NetDevil is focusing so much attention on your humanoid representation in the game when you spend so much of Auto Assault driving around in souped-up cars, but Brown said that they learned from their previous game that players don't associate with vehicles, but rather, with characters. Also, since you'll often have more than one car in your garage, the odds that you'll drive the same car throughout the game are almost nonexistent.

Meanwhile, the four character classes in the game have been specialized even more, because there was a sense from beta testers that there weren't enough differences between them. So now, each class has three special abilities that are unique to that class, though you won't always want to use them because there's a cost/benefit ratio to each one. For example, ranger characters can boost their chances of a critical hit, but at the cost of a slower firing rate. Or, commanders can boost the firing rates of all the forces under their command, but at the cost of not being able to fire themselves.

We also got a chance to see some truly high-level content for the first time, basically stuff that you'll want to be level 60 or higher to survive. This included the Tempernet, the computer-controlled race of robots that is slowly assimilating the planet, sort of like the Borg in Star Trek. The Tempernet are enemies of all three of the game's factions, and you'll come across regions of the planet that they've turned into a Tron-like grid. It'll be up to you to battle them in teams, or convoys, in order to pursue certain missions. For example, the Tempernet construct huge cannons to shell towns, so you may be tasked with leading a mission to battle to a gun and destroy it before it's finished. We also saw Ground Zero, the source of the mysterious alien infestation in the game. You won't survive going in there solo, but you'll want to get in there in convoys because you can only recover some truly high-level items in there. Beware, though, because the place is riddled with all sorts of nastiness, including giant alien insects that can carve you apart in seconds.

The game's almost complete, and should launch this spring.

Combat has also evolved quite a bit from the early beta tests of the game. For example, testers were getting a bit frustrated in player-versus-player (PVP) combat. That's because the game uses a combination of both reflexes and role-playing statistics to determine if you hit a target. However, testers would line up a shot and miss, and that would upset them. So now, PVP combat has had most of the role-playing statistics removed from it. However, to balance things out, weapon range and damage have been reduced so you'll have to work for a kill. Meanwhile, those with slower reflexes will like the new power meter in the game that basically controls where most of your vehicle's energy goes. You can dump that power into shields if you're in a tough fight, at the expense of everything else, or you can focus it on the engines if you need more speed to separate from a fight.

All the visual and gameplay changes have had a profound effect on the game, and Auto Assault looks a lot more polished and challenging than before. Everything looks like it's almost good to go, and NetDevil is currently in the final testing and balancing phase. But if all goes according to plan, Auto Assault will launch sometime this spring.

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