Global Agenda is a unique, genre-defying multiplayer action game. Yes, we realize we just called it an "action game" but that's just so you don't think MMORPG and have your eyes get all milky like a zombie's, while your mouth hangs open as your brain shuts down. Global Agenda is an MMO. Sort of. It's a shooter. Sort of. And it's also slightly RPG-ish. Whoops, did we lose you there? Hold on, come back here! Everyone gets a free jetpack!
It's important that we describe the mechanics of GA first, because previews haven't really explained what it is, and rightfully so due to its hybrid nature. Initially, when one looks at the HUD, the impression is MMORPG. There is a hotbar with icons that have long-ish cooldowns, just like spells in WoW. When we saw this, we were worried. However, GA is extremely fast paced, requires actual aiming and shooting, and emphasizes skill and tactics over character levels.
You do gain experience and money (credits), and increase in level, which opens up skill points and new weapons. However, a low level character with an understanding of the game's mechanics can certainly compete in PvP (player vs player) matches. Right from the start, you have the maximum number of equipment slots, and your starting equipment isn't any weaker than the high-level equipment. Note that when we say "equipment" in this game, it applies to all of your weapons, healing devices, turrets, etc. The weapons you unlock at higher levels aren't stronger; they work differently, so higher levels provide more options instead of more power (for the most part).
One area that does affect your power is the skill trees. They work just like those in an MMORPG, but with one very important difference: you can reassign skills anytime you want (outside of combat). So you can't make a mistake in assigning skills, and you're never commited to being one type of character. Since you can also reassign your equipment slots anytime you want, there is a ton of freedom in switching up your playstyle as you see fit.
Above: A lot of Recon-class whiners complain that the sniper rifle sucks. Learn to aim!
For example: our first character was a Recon class. As the name obviously implies, it is a fast, less survivable soldier. The main equipment for a Recon is an automatic rifle, a sniper rifle, a cloaking device, and bombs. At first, we wanted to be an invisible, ambushing ninja, so we focused skills and devices on cloaking, melee attacks, and bombs. We could swap to a sniper at a whim, however, and even create a weird hybrid somewhere in the middle.
All of the above tends to sound very RPGish, so we must emphasize that first and foremost, Global Agenda is a third-person shooter. You don't auto-attack anything – you aim with your rifle, zoom in with a scope, crouch-fire, burst-fire, and strafe to dodge attacks. Every player gets a jetpack right from the start, and every arena is designed for the use of jetpacks.
Above: The Robotics class constructs and repairs turrets and drones with his cool robo-shoulder-arm
At first, these jetpacks seem unwieldy and impractical for combat because they are hotkeyed to number 4 and must be first selected, then activated with a left mouse click, and you can’t use weapons while flying. Yet mastering the jetpack makes the whole game much faster paced. The key is to assign it to a more convenient key (we set it to X), and then get used to swapping to jetpacks and back to weapons quickly. Eventually, it becomes second nature to be firing your rifle, jetpack to a ledge, and then launch again to drop bombs in mid-air. When you’re in a huge group of teammates all jetpacking in unison toward the enemy, it’s an inspiring feeling.
The game also offers three distinct types of play: co-op PvE (four of you fighting against robots), round-based PvP, and a strategic war known as Conquest mode (we'll get into that later).
Okay, enough of the dry mechanics stuff: here's what you want to know. Global Agenda is a fantastic game at its core. There's the problem, though, that getting to that core isn't easy. Initially, the game appears to be very user-friendly, as it offers a really cool tutorial mission that feels way more like a single-player game than your typical MMO. It does a great job of teaching you the most basic mechanics (like the awesome jetpack that everyone gets). However, once you finish the tutorial, it just tosses you into the greater game without remotely enough of what you need to know to avoid frustration.
Above: These rookies are about to learn the hard way that this boss has a vicious knockback attack
It doesn't clearly explain that you can reassign skill points and equipment at no penalty. It doesn't make it obvious that buying armor doesn't actually make you stronger (it just looks cool). It basically holds your hand for the first few minutes, and then drops you into the ocean. Everything is either poorly explained, or not explained at all. So unless a new player checks out the forums and reads FAQs or asks other players questions, many may be turned off before they get to the fun.
The other hurdle Global Agenda has to leap is its weird genre niche it's carved out. Since it floats between shooter, RPG, and MMO, people who want a really pure shooter experience might be turned off, and people who want a typical MMORPG where you just grind, and where and level trumps skill, might also be unhappy. It's too bad, because anyone who likes shooters or RPGs, and comes to GA with an open mind, might just have their horizons expanded.
Another aspect that may appeal or annoy is that the game demands teamwork. There is no soloing whatsoever: you can't enter any mission alone (for PvE, missions involve four players). Also, your success is utterly dependent on the competence of your teammates. In PvE missions, the only way to earn money is if your team members die a combined total of less than four times. So all you need is one idiot in your group that dies four times and you get no money for the mission (this happened to us constantly at the Medium difficulty mission level). Luckily, money is mostly superfluous – you don't need it for anything that affects your character's power. You'll also still earn experience in both PvE and PvP regardless of whether your teammates suck.
Above: Alternatively, these guys could flank their opponents and jetpack up to the high ground to even the odds
The upside to the enforced teamwork is that we've never seen randoms play together so well. Medics heal you constantly, Robotics characters protect you with shields, and everyone sticks together. This all works without anyone using voice, and most people don't use it (outside of Conquest), although the game has built-in voice support.
We haven't talked about the Conquest mode yet because it requires a subscription. Everything we've mentioned above doesn't require a subscription. The regular game provides plenty of ways to maintain the fun for quite a while – we're going to keep playing it after this review, which says a lot. We're hoping the non-subscription part of the game gets continuing support, especially with new content, but with the ability to quickly level up all four classes – Assault, Medic, Recon, and Robotics, we won't be bored anytime soon.
Still, for those who want something more, the Conquest mode is available. You have to join an Agency (read: Guild) to take part. While it involves instanced (single round) PvP matches, everything takes places in the greater context of a global war on a hex-based map. The strategy involved is incredibly complex, fulfilling a whole level of play that the regular missions don't touch. Your Agency, when combined with other Agencies, becomes an Alliance, and Alliances battle for control of territory. Facilities can be contructed to harvest resources, protect areas, house your headquarters, and so on. There are even bases that once occupied, provide a shield that cannot be penetrated by conventional means. Your alliance must construct a missile silo within range of these shields and launch a missile to punch through so your team can make a ground assault.
For many players, Conquest will be the main draw of the game, while others will never pay the subscription for it (the mode is free for everyone until March 3, 2010), although the subscription also provides additional character customization options and other perks. Whether the subscription is worth paying will depend on the player and the support the game receives. If overall strategy isn't as appealing as quick PvP and PvE matches, then you won't want to pony up. Some players, though, will probably try Conquest once the regular game begins to feel stale.
Above: While it's good to heal your buddies, don't forget to take out the little repair robot healing the mech
We have to give respect to Hi-Rez Studios for taking a very daring, risky move by creating an action MMO unlike anything we've played before. Sure, it's different because it combines familiar tropes into something unusual, but it feels like a wholly new experience. It has its own artistic vision as well, with a decidely Tron-like style where armor and weapons are hightlighted with primary-colored glowy bits. Its world (future-Earth) has a detailed, interesting history that we hope becomes more than window-dressing and gets developed further.
Global Agenda faces an uphill battle toward success. No one seems to have heard of it, and those who have don't know exactly what it is. It's terribly user unfriendly to get into, and it balances on a weird fence between shooter and RPG. We're having a great time playing it, but we don't know how many will feel the same. Here's hoping that word of mouth and continued support by the developer allow it to blossom into a beacon of skill-based, sci-fi light amongst the vast, dreary ocean of WoW-clone MMOs.
Feb 8, 2010