PlaneShift is a very unique game that -could be- great, but as of past 6 years remains, at most, a pre-alpha demo
- OpenSource Software under GPL Licence (i.e. it's completely free in all meanings of the word)
- Portability, available for Windows, MAC and Linux (even the 64-bit versions!)
- Nice and helpful community
- Highly customisable characters (aside from the looks) with ability their own stories and flavours
- Roleplaying, quite unique in the RPG market
- NPC Dialogue system
- Good-looking interface and overall, quality 2d artwork
- No -clearly- visible development in the past couple of years (read more)
- Technically outdated graphics
- Immense lack of content, especially in terms of characters models and animation
- Very poor quality of a good deal of animations or the lack thereof
- Poor project management in terms of roadmaps and priority management
- Overall, a very unappealing game/world for most player-types
Let's take this step by step and split into a couple of major points.
When I first tried PlaneShift, back in 2003 (I think), I was simply amazed by how great it looked. The characters were very well designed, had a very distinct look and style. I think that by saying that the dwarf was one of the best models I've ever seen in a MMO, would not be a lie. You could run around, look around the superbly designed city and the very small, yet interesting Underworld. When I showed it to a friend of mine, he didn't believe me that the game could possibly be free.
We're nearing 2009 and what was once considered beautiful now resembles a relic from the past. While the textures are sharp as ever, the overall presentation simply doesn't cut any more. Game lacks every graphical feature you could think of, save anti-aliasing. The lighting is static, there's no bump-maping (I.e everything that isn't explicitly volumetric is completely flat), the terrain is completely flat, no particle or volumetric effects whatsoever etc, etc, etc. To put it straight: the game looks very, very sterile.
There's also absolutely no excuse for this. Yes, this is OpenSource Software, however so is Cube 2 ("Sauerbratten"). Even though I'm no fan of fast-paced shooters, Cube 2 definitely takes the credit for looking amazing. It supports bumpmaps, blur, reflections, water looking like water, grass and some very nice lighting effects. Since both projects are OSS, there should be no licensing problems whatsoever resulting from taking over elements from Cube and implementing them into PlaneShift. You could say they lack manpower, but according to the man himself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKSYJYV_RGs) they've had over 120 coders over last 5 years. That's much more than many other projects can ever hope for.
Apart from looking poor from the technical standpoint, there are some issues with content and its quality. Let's talk about character looks and customisation. There are two major points here:
1.)There is no customisation. During the character creation you'll be able to select a specific race and gender and... that's it. All male dwarves look identical (equipment excluded). What's even worse is that all female dwarves look exactly the same as male dwarves. During the 7 years of development, the designers still haven't managed to draw 24 models (two for each race). This is definitely not something I expected to see when I came back. I don't know what sort of roadmap these guy got and what their priorities are, but this is really, really lousy. I'd rather have cheap overnight models derived from other models than female "highelves" (not the real name) looking the same as male highelves who are in return looking the same as underwater elves.
2.)The animations are not as good as they could be, to put it mildly. Once again, this is a free project, but is it really that hard to let my characters bend his knees when he's jumping rather than just lifting him half-a-metre above the earth. This applies for pretty much all animations, from combat to running. There are either too few of them or they simply don't look very well. Sadly enough, usually both is the case.
Synopsis: Overall, the game's graphics are outdated or simply not present. You could say that after some time the games simply start looking worse, but then again, EVE Online has revamped its graphics engine a couple of times and so did Runescape.
-- Immersion (in terms of RP)
The immersion, in my opinion the most important aspect of any RPG, is all right. It definitely suffers a lot from the dreadful graphics, however, the friendly and high-on-roleplay community really makes up for it. I think this is actually one of the most unique and most precious advantages the game has, and pretty much every other MMORPG out there lacks. Whether you're playing Runescape, or World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online, most of the time you'd end up playing the game part of the world. You'd gather loot, look at the pretty houses and raise your PvP rank. In very few cases, you'll join a Guild that will support fully fledged role-playing ala MUD (traditional text-based MMORPGs). PlaneShift might very well be the only MMORPG in the market that offers quality, global roleplaying. Maybe this is due to complete lack of everything else, maybe it is because there are only some 500 regular players.
Also, a different aspect that comes to mind is the ability to define your character pre-story. You can select who your parents were, what you did in your childhood, which deity you worship, how you were born and so forth. All of these then influence your starting attributes and abilities. In my opinion, a very nice extra that should be implemented into other games as well.
In any case, if PlaneShift performed better in other areas, it would definitely be my number simply because it has this very special something that makes a roleplaying.
The overall interface is very good looking, though somewhat hard to grasp. I must admit that I completely hate truly hate the control scheme they've used and the way windows react to different movements of the mouse/key combinations, but the overall presentation is decent. Even though I missed a couple of features, like scalable windows and a clear structure, the artist who drew it definitely deserves a pat on the shoulder and a "Job well done!".
A very interesting feature is the ability to actually chat with NPCs. You could, for instance, say "Give me a quest!" and the NPC will gladly reply asking you to get him his breakfast. The chat-with-NPCs system even allows you to make choices and discuss different topics. Very nice implementation that has quite a bit of potential to it.
-- Overall Development
This is the sort of thing where most real players will probably say "You just haven't got a clue how much they've done in these 5 years!" and they would also probably be right, but, from my perspective, there's not much going on.
A game that still declares itself a "technical demo" or "pre-alpha" after 7 years of development is a strange beast overall, but it gets even stranger when you can't draw a bunch of character models for starting races. In the above mentioned YouTube conference, one of the project leads states that they split the development of 3D objects into three group "Items for beginners, monsters for advanced modellers and characters, because people tend to be particularly picky about those, to experts". Well, excuse me for being rude, but do you have any experts at all or do you prefer to keep those spots open for some soft of messiah that will arrive and bless your game with content? The bare basics are missing and they definitely don't seem to be appearing any time soon.
Overall, I don't see much hope in this game. Yes, it has some very interesting ideas, but it's not getting any of them implemented. From a technical standpoint, the game lacks content – bigtime! Unless there will be some significant changes in the way this project is managed, especially the priority management, the game has little to no chance of ever becoming anything close to "ready".