The gargantuan sales of World Of WarCraft have yet to stop other developers tossing their hat into the Tolkienesque ring of me-too fantasy MMOGs, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that some plucky developer has stepped up to the challenge and gone bow-to-bow with Eve Online – a game which is now one of Iceland’s major exports and supports a playerbase larger than that country’s own population.
NetDevil has astutely realised that the one point on which it can easily distance its games from that major competitor is accessibility. Eve, while commended by a good many other things, is renowned for being staggeringly difficult to get into and for being peopled by those who delight in ruthless, Machiavellian behaviour. It is, to a large extent, part of the attraction – a gameworld which is wholly free of those artificial imagination-cramping restraints that either rap players on the knuckles for misbehaviour or simply preclude it altogether.
Jumpgate goes the more traditional route of drawing a firm line between PVP and PVE areas. Exactly how this will be implemented is still a matter of testing and balancing, including the specifics of what happens if you try and engage players in combat in non-PVP zones. However, what is already established is that PVP zones will allow for a number of gametypes, including capture the flag, and do not constitute a separate mode from the game at large. Instead, these zones are littered throughout the galaxy, such that players will either risk going through them or plot a longer course round them.
Underscoring its more user-friendly bent, Jumpgate also aims to capture the kind of dog-fighting spaceship combat familiar to shooters such as TIE Fighter. It’s instant, intuitive action – potentially involving a huge number of players – and while it makes gameplay more twitch-based, levelling up not only adds the obvious benefits of extra damage to your sizzling volleys of projectiles but also helps them curve neatly towards targeted enemies. This lock-on system is a smart way of bringing together shooter and RPG elements, and is employed to clever effect to even the field between players of different levels; one lower-level raid we are shown sees players swooping in and around a heavily armed space station – but higher-level players will have their ability to automatically target its weak points disabled.
As you’d expect, the game comes vac-packed with some sci-fi hokum about mysterious alien enemies, glowing portals and so forth, furnishing players with a number of well-realised factions from which to choose. Likewise, ship customisation is just as important a part of Jumpgate as avatar design in any other MMOG. Such things are a given in today’s titles – and, assuming it doesn’t err in these basic areas, the prospect of bringing lightning-fast spaceship combat to thousands of players simultaneously may well make it a rising star.