Experiencing Sovereign

Everquest creator sets its sights on its next massively multiplayer battle, and we discover what gamers can expect.

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Last week at GenCon, GameSpot stopped by Sony's booth on the show floor to see its recently announced strategy game, Sovereign. Producer/designer Clint Worley, who originated the idea for the game and has been working on it for a year, was eager to explain the burgeoning strategy game to us.

Sovereign will be a massively multiplayer strategy game, with games that should average four to five weeks of gameplay. Before you even start a game, you create up to six personas per account, and unlike Everquest, you can move these personas between servers. So if you build up a persona on one server, and your friend has another persona on a different server, you will actually be able to play with or against one another by simply moving to a common server. The personas are the classes in the game, with each class bequeathing additional skills upon you for a multiplayer game. The six personas are soldier, diplomat, spy, economist, scientist, and theologian. Their respective special abilities are fairly obvious: The soldier can command better units; the spy has access to spy satellites and other espionage techniques; the economist earns more money; and the theologian can convert more civilians to warriors by demagoguery.

You'll begin a multiplayer game on a randomly generated planet, complete with far-ranging climates and terrain. There will be arctic poles, swamps, hills, mountains, deserts, tundra, plains, and forests. In addition, there will be active day and night cycles and dynamic weather conditions. To start a multiplayer game, there has to be a minimum of four players ready to join, with a current limit of 500 players in a single multiplayer world. The game creator can specify terrain conditions, but each world has to be approved by GMs before gameplay can start.

Each player begins with a single city. Players can improve cities by building additional city districts and unit-producing add-ons, such as docks and factories. Each city tile generates resources, such as tax revenue, population, and food, and also has a morale number associated with it. As in Civilization, the units you build will be supported by the nearest city, meaning you will have to build additional city blocks to simply generate enough taxes and food to support your empire. You'll also need resources to research technologies and conduct espionage.

Spying and diplomacy will be key to Sovereign, and Worley seems to indicate that Sony and Verant will work hard to make sure those are viable avenues of gameplay - as valid as outright combat. Because unit support is tied to the proximity of cities, you'll need to build way stations and support cities near enemy cities or make allies with other players who are close to where you want to stage military operations. You will also benefit from technology exchange through alliances. Allies will be able to chat in private with each other, but spies will be able to eavesdrop on these chats without being detected, thus gleaning important information from these top-secret meetings.

Because the world of each Sovereign game is persistent, even when you log out the game will continue to run. Worley says you have several options: You can shut down all your production, trade, and movement orders and withdraw all your troops to your cities, whereupon they become fortresses with additional defense points. The drawback to this super-defensive posture is that you cease to generate revenue and resources, so you could slowly atrophy if you stay away too long. Another option is to place control of your cities in the hands of your ally, but that would only work if you have a trustworthy friend. A third option is to let the game run on autopilot, which is based on AI and your own preset simple instructions. In all cases, Worley says Sovereign will be able to e-mail or contact you via ICQ to alert you when events such as combat occur. He even says that there might be a possibility that Sovereign will be able to page you if you have a pager, meaning you could get updates on the status of the game world even when you are away from your computer.

Ideally, Worley says, players will continue to play games after their initial five-week sojourn into Sovereign. With each game, a player's persona gains experience, earning new abilities. While the game world isn't the familiar fantasy or sci-fi setting, Worley says he wanted to keep everything instantly recognizable to newcomers, so the modern-day setting was the perfect choice. Everyone knows what a tank or aircraft carrier is. Despite the modern-day setting, which some people might not consider sexy enough, this game could have a lot of potential. Worley says he has even more features he is holding close to his chest, and we'll find out about them at a later date.

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