Fallen Age Preview

We take a look at an early beta of this massively multiplayer game that attempts to combine role-playing with strategy.

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If there's one thing the development team at Netamin doesn't lack, it's confidence. The company is currently holding a program that encourages massively multiplayer role-playing game fans to send in copies of their old games in exchange for a position on the Fallen Age beta. While Netamin still doesn't know what it's going to do with the numerous copies of EverQuest and other similar games, the response from the community has served as an encouraging sign in the development team's efforts to create a unique massively multiplayer experience by combining traditional role-playing game elements with strategy and city building.

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Though currently in an early state, the role-playing mode isn't a huge deviation from what's currently available, but Netamin has already made a few tweaks to the game to ensure a different playing experience, and there are more changes to come. Character creation starts out fairly simple with three classes to choose from: fighter, chaman, and chakra. But these three classes then deviate into numerous subclasses, which include paladins, saints, mentals, and grand champions, just to name a few. You can also select the gender of your character, which can affect how your character performs--a female and male shaman may have different skills that give them advantages in some situations and disadvantages in others. In the current beta build, there aren't many customization features, and the characters running around onscreen all look the same--except for class and gender distinctions--but there are plans to integrate features that will make individual characters become a little more unique. There will be more facial portraits to choose from in the final release as well as different hair color and skin tones, but most importantly, your character will change depending on the type of equipment he or she has on, whether it's armor or weapons.

The action in the role-playing mode is viewed from an isometric perspective with two-dimensional graphics. Engaging in battle is a simple task, as you only need to find a monster, hold down on the mouse button, and watch your character go to work. Fallen Age's role-playing mode has a few different menus that are incredibly helpful for discovering basic information about your own character as well as information on other characters and weapons. There's one menu in particular that lets you manage members in your party: If you want to invite someone into your group you only need to click one button, and the same applies if you want to disband the group. The inventory screen uses the traditional grid where you can only place a certain number of items depending on the amount of grid space you have left. Items from the grid can be dragged over to the silhouette of your character and placed into corresponding areas.

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Learning new spells and skills is equally easy. Throughout the starting town there are special NPCs (nonplayer characters) that can teach you depending on your character's class. The chakras--one of the magic users--can visit Lucy, an NPC that sells spells. However, to learn these abilities you must have an appropriate amount of experience and juno--Fallen Age's currency. If you use experience to buy new abilities, then it will take much longer for your character to level up its inherent skills, which includes basic abilities such as strength and dexterity. But most special skills are very useful and well worth some experience points, especially in the early stages of the game.

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Not Entirely An RPG

Even though the role-playing aspects of Fallen Age are typical of what you might find in other role-playing games, Fallen Age features one mode that changes the basic gameplay and has a tremendous amount of influence on the role-playing part of the game. When your character reaches level 30 in the role-playing mode, you gain access to a piece of land in the colonization mode, which unlike the rest of the game, is presented in full 3D. In this mode, you build structures to properly manage the resources in your land--just as you would do in a real-time strategy game, but it goes far beyond the sheer amount of resources you collect. The colonization mode also has extensive data options where you can monitor the status of your resources as well as their value. For example, if you want to find out the value of lidium, you click on the appropriate menu and track its status through a series of graphs. These menus also let you compare the value of your resources against the value of other resources in the game. This way, you can gauge the amount of money you have to make additional items (such as weapons and armor) that you'll sell to other players. The sheer amount of data in this mode is a little daunting at first since it's such a massive departure from the rest of the game, but after some exploring, the menus and information are easy to deal with. Fans of the Sim City series should have no problem jumping into this mode right away.

Obviously, it really wouldn't make much sense if the colonization mode in Fallen Age and the role-playing mode were so completely different that they didn't interact in any fashion, but thankfully they do. As you travel through the role-playing mode, gaining levels and killing monsters, you will occasionally come across some monster DNA, which then becomes a source for units, transforming the colonization mode into a real-time strategy game. Before you can mass-produce units, you'll need to build laboratories in your city that let you clone as many of the DNA samples that you want. But your units still aren't ready to fight. To complete the process of amassing an army, barracks must be built to give your units various battle skills, which vary depending on the type of monster involved. These units can serve as defense, or as an invasion force, to move into another colony and deprive it of its resources, strengthening your position of power on the server.

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If you don't even want to bother with building units or taking over enemy colonies, then you don't have to. In fact, you can use the colonization mode to build a warehouse and a bank to store additional items and money that you can't store in your personal inventory. But for those who prefer a slightly more aggressive approach, the colonization mode gives you the opportunity not only to expand your colony economically through harvesting resources and manufacturing equipment but also physically by launching your armies into enemy colonies.

Final Thoughts

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Fallen Age executes a few things really well. The role-playing mode may seem a little too standard at first, but there are many little tweaks that can radically change the type of experience you have. One example is the player vs. player--Netamin has not only addressed the issue of player vs. player, but they've somewhat embraced it. At any point in the game, you can issue a challenge to another character. If that character accepts the challenge, the two characters are transported to an area of the town that becomes a small arena in which neither character can escape. The two characters battle it out until one of them dies. The victor receives special deathmatch points as well as a place on the player-vs.-player ladder, which anyone in the game can view at any time. So if you want to challenge someone, but you're unsure of that person's skill level, you can simply check the ladder.

Nonconsensual player-vs.-player matches--otherwise known as player killing-- is dealt with in a unique fashion. If one player is reported to have killed other players at least three times, his or her name turns red and is designated as a player killer. If the designated player killer dies, he or she has to spend 30 minutes of game time in a jail and, during that time, will not be able to speak with other players. Fallen Age's honor-points system also factors in as well. When one character kills another without an official challenge, that character's honor points drop, and the further the points drop, the stronger the possibility that the culprit's colony will be struck by some natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood. Moreover, it also becomes much more expensive to upgrade armor or weapons. This take on the player-killing situation is unique, and if it doesn't work well, Netamin plans to take appropriate steps to fix the problem.

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As interesting as the role-playing aspects of Fallen Age are, the colonization mode--especially how it interacts with the rest of the game--is definitely the most intriguing, because you can use it in any number of different ways: You can just build a bank or a warehouse and just use your colony as an overgrown storage facility; you can take a much more economic approach and simply build factories, schools, housing, or other structures to increase your colony's ability to produce armor or weapons that you can sell to other players; you can even take the aggressive approach and build a massive army with the sole purpose of conquering enemy colonies to eventually become emperor of the server.

In its current beta form, Fallen Age certainly has potential, but parts of the game still need some attention. There are a few visual glitches in the role-playing mode, like a weird stuttering scrolling effect when moving across the terrain. And although most of the spell animations look great, they occasionally look out of place when combined with some character animations. Also, the colonization mode looks solid with no serious visual problems, but it looks a little dated with very few modern effects visible. Fallen Age is due out this year.

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