E3: Jumpgate Evolution could make you forget your fantasy MMO

SCI FI Wire got to take a look at Jumpgate Evolution, the upcoming space MMORPG from NetDevil and Codemasters at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last week, and it looked incredible.

The game is still in development, but epic space battles, close dogfights and space stations may be enough to pull gamers away from fantasy MMOs for a while.

We spoke to Scott Brown, president of NetDevil, who gave us all the details and a demo of the game. "It has every feature you'd expect from a standard MMO," he said. "Groups and guilds and quests and looting and crafting. We've got auction houses and mail, ... all the things you'd expect from a typical MMO."

What's different is that when you get into combat with somebody, instead of getting into a dice roll, instead of my attributes versus your attributes, it's actually skill, Brown added, "It's your ability to hit and my ability to dodge," he said. "So it's really more of almost a shooter-style game. And then we take a lot of the elements of popular shooters, like Battlefield, ... where you have all these leader boards and metals, and you have all those kinds of elements in the game as well."

Brown pointed to a poster on the wall, which was chock-full of pictures of metals and rewards and said that these were only some of what you could achieve in the game. "In that vein," he continued, "there are levels, and there is experience, but since there are no sort of dice rolls during the game, levels are more about unlocking things."

There are also factions and missions for different groups that unlock additional spaceships. You can play both player-vs.-player and player-vs.-environment. Brown said that he believes that most players like a combination of both.

Gameplay has two modes, space combat and the station. The station is where all the commerce happens, where you send mail (yup, mail in space), where you meet guilds and check out the auction house for new equipment or upgrades to your shields.

Brown also told us about "power plants," which are the main balancing tool for players. You only have so much power, and it's up to you how you want to use it. "You can buy energy weapons that are high power, but you won't have much power left for your shields or your engines," he said. "If you get a huge engine, you won't have power for anything else." Characters are only a choice of face (there are hundreds to choose from), as you spend all your time in the ships.

You begin the game in one of three homeworlds, where you get the backstory for your group of humans (you cannot play as an alien at this time). There is also the Central Axis, which works as the U.N. of space. There you can decide to hook up with allies against the alien invasion or fight with them.

All of the planets are connected by "jumpgates," which look like giant swirly blue balls and instantly transport you to new locations. Unlike World of Warcraft, you don't have to get to each area yourself before you can use this quick transportation system. You can use all of them from the beginning if you can survive the other ships around them. There are zones appropriate to certain levels, so if you are level 10 and you want to get to a gate in a level 20 area, you probably won't make it. The level cap is 50 at the moment.

Even though this is space, and space is dark, the creators wanted it to be a colorful place, Brown said. We got to see gorgeous suns with swirling fire, green and blue planets, colorful clouds of dust. It certainly didn't hurt that we saw it running on the Alienware gaming system, with the visuals spread across three huge monitors, allowing us to see a much wider swath of space.

You can fight in the close quarters of a station or take part in huge battles out in space. The creators are still fine-tuning the system that identifies the other ships in large fights, and you are definitely going to need that. The space battles are on an incredibly large scale, and another ship may be only a tiny dot before it gets close to you. The game is in "friends and family" testing at the moment. No word on the actual release date, but it should be sometime this year.

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