Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Black Prophecy Closed Beta First Impressions

In late December 2010 an email graced the ElcomeSoft inbox from Gamingo inviting me to the  EU closed beta testing of Black Prophecy... Having played Elite, Frontier, Freespace, Freelancer, the X-series since X:Beyond The Frontier, I have longed for the day where we would see such an MMO to come out and to be a part of the closed beta testing was almost like a dream come true.

Thanks to Virgin Media's traffic management policy I struggled with a hampered connection to download the game and eventually went to bed before the game had downloaded fully. Install was painless but I was slightly dismayed when my install decided to download a multitude of patches, some of reasonable size. Despite this I was still excited to be playing Black Prophecy!!!

After the patching I got myself strapped into my chair, logged on and started up the prologue after making sure my graphics settings were appropriately tuned. The prologue is pretty substantial and rather exciting, taking you through a basic storyline of what has happened in the past and how you have arrived to the events of today. The missions provided in this are fun if a little frustrating at times and pretty immersive without hand-holding completely.

In the meat of the game, the missions are sadly unimpressive. Generic Freelancer-type 'go here, kill this wave, kill that wave, come back home' missions are repeated ad-infinitum without enough differentiation between them. They may have different titles, ships may spawn in a slightly different time order or upon a different scripted event, but essentially they just boil down to the same 'seek and destroy, then go home for payment' methods.

Graphically this game feels impressive and immersive through the art style of the game. As for ships, the Tyi and the Genide ships (two major factions) look rather plain and the players ships are identical so there is no differentiation between player ships other than in stats provided via equipment. Such a shame in a beautiful environment but these are very early days.

Ship stats really heavily affect the way your ship handles and even the nippiest and lightest of 'Interceptor-type' builds will suffer greatly from speed loss and intertia when performing extremely tight turns. The effect is very noticable and if you wonder why you are getting yourself hit or killed a lot, this is usually the reason. However, as a widely known problem, the mouse pointer suffers from a mouse lag which is absolutely horrific and makes the learning curve so much higher right now. Once you get it down, it's still not good by any means but with the amount of feedback in the forums, I'm confident that it will be remedied soon.

There are three catagories of weapon: Mechanical, your Vulcan Cannon/Minigun and Sniper type weapons; Energy, which includes various types of laser and fusion based death; and Explosive which includes items like Missles and Grenade Launchers for some splash damage type-weapons. Unfortunately so far in this closed beta test, we are suffering from overpowered weapon abuse in the form of Seeker Cannons. These Seeker Cannons are weapons on the Mechanical weapons tree which have a slight homing effect to them which partly addresses the ship movement issues in game, so much so that they turn hopeless pilots into potentially deadly ones. Of course once again I'll state 'closed beta' and move on.

Crafting exists. You can find various crafting components and blueprints (recipes) by shooting up things and looting the ship hulls. This all sounds fine and dandy but when you come to produce the item, you're unable to do anything for a significant amount of time, including the simple ability to chat. Then to top it off, your successfully crafted item is most often worse than the NPC items that you find.

Trading? What do you mean by Trading? I'm sorry. If you wanted to be immersed in a universe where you could jump between planets with a cargo of Wotsits (Yes, those cheesy crisp snacks) and sell them to another planet for a small profit until you could buy a bigger ship, then think again. There is no trading mechanic like this in the game. Your in-game money is good for... purchasing things from NPC's and trading with other people.

Sound? Well, I'm never great with describing sound when I'm gaming. I just get into that zone and play along. The sounds are futuristic and sci-fi'y in nature which fit perfectly into a space-based combat game and the music is suitable for the genre.

Servers? Laggy at times and often unreliable, randomly booting people or denying us access. Patches coming regularly and official server maintenance downtime bordering on excessive. All part of the closed beta process.

So far I have experienced a plethora of bugs, all noted on the forums, some wonderful imbalances and a game which is rough around the edges but could be polished up nicely if time and investment is spent on it.

ElcomeSoft Score:  6.0/10 

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