It's safe to assume that James Bond isn't a big massively multiplayer online game player. Sure, he has probably dabbled with World of Warcraft on one of those long flights from England to Russia, but we doubt orcs and paladins are really his thing. No, if he were to jump into an MMO, he'd probably wait until The Agency comes out. This MMO shooter from Sony Online Entertainment Seattle looks to provide a new take on the persistent online space by trading medieval fantasy for espionage, gadgets, and cocktails. We recently paid a visit to SOE Seattle's offices to see an updated build of the game in action.
What The Agency boils down to is a combination of two things: the action of a shooter set against the structure and persistence of an MMO game. That means you'll be taking on missions from your faction of choice as though they were guild quests, advancing your character in both stats and unlockable gear, and leaving your mark on the game's persistent world through the use of AI-controlled operatives. But dig a little deeper than that and you've got a dyed-in-the-wool action game running on the Unreal engine--a shooter where a headshot is a headshot no matter what your opponent's stats are.
Your choice of faction plays a large role in the way missions play out in The Agency. The two options for the taking are UNITE, a high-tech agency filled with classy spies, and Paragon, a group of rough-and-tumble mercenaries who go about things a bit more directly than their Bond-themed counterparts. We were shown a brief mission displaying how you'd go about things as a UNITE agent. The goal was to infiltrate a Swiss chateau where a fancy gala was being held. The two SOE staffers playing managed to get in by adorning their fanciest dress to schmooze with guests, then sneak into the back by cleverly distracting a guard. Had they been playing as Paragon, we're told they'd have infiltrated the waiting staff and simply snuck through the back kitchen. One route requires socializing, patience, and the opportunity to sip a nice martini, while the other simply gets the job done. In a nutshell, that's the difference between UNITE and Paragon.
The mission in question led the two SOE staffers through some back rooms, into a meeting with a villain named Dr. Kessler, and out into the front driveway for a big firefight. It looked like pretty standard shooter fare with a good mix of ranged shooting, grenade throwing, and ducking behind cars for cover. But some of the unique features include your ability to rappel down from a high balcony instead of searching for a ladder and switching between first- and third-person views on the fly. After this large fight, the SOE staffers managed to sneak behind the back of the chateau in order to display some of the game's stealth tactics, such as picking locks and sneaking up behind guards for silent takedowns. All along the way, they were gathering intel by photographing various locations in the chateau--a task that isn't critical to succeeding in a mission but that does offer increased rewards come completion time.
After you've spent some time working your way up the ranks of your faction, you'll eventually earn the ability to create your own sub-agency. You'll do this by collecting operatives, which are AI-controlled agents you essentially boss around as though you were M from the Bond films. You'll build them up by having them perform missions of your choosing. These include obvious quests like sending them off to assassinate vital targets, but you can also recruit tech-head operatives who will build specialized gadgets for you. All these operative missions can be performed even while you're not playing, as long as you've got them all queued up and set to go while you're off living your real life. (For example, we were told that crafting especially powerful weaponry could take a week's worth of real-world time.) Down the road, these agents can become valuable trading chips that you can exchange with other agents or simply sell off for straight in-game currency.
The ultimate goal in The Agency is achieving world domination. The SOE reps were a bit coy about how you go about reaching that goal over the long haul, but they did note that the path can be tricky, with opportunities for betrayal readily available--for both you and those you're working with. We'll have more on that sort of longterm character development in the near future, so be sure to stick around for more coverage leading up to the as-yet-undetermined release date on PC and PlayStation 3.