Publisher: Masthead Studios
Developer: Masthead Studios
System requirements: Windows XP SP2/Vista SP1/Win 7, 2.4 GHz or faster dual-core CPU, 4 GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 9800/ATI X3950 Pro or better graphics card, DirectX 9.0, 20 GB hard-drive space, broadband Internet connection
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
I’m told that, many years ago, there was a saying in the army: Never volunteer for anything. As a member of the Avault Army, this is an adage that I should’ve taken to heart when I put up my hand and said, “I want to review Earthrise.” Bulgarian developer Masthead Studios has taken my favorite sci-fi genre as the setting for this post-apocalyptic MMO and buried it in a sea of drudgery and boredom.
In the far future, a devastating world war on the planet Enterra has given rise to technology that has made the survivors immortal. When someone dies, their spirits are transferred, or “re-vesseled,” into a cloned body and sent to the nearest Resurrection Point. As you enter the world for the first time, you discover that another war has been raging for some time, between the forces of the city of Sal Vitas and a rebel faction known as Noir, which accuses Sal Vitas of stripping the citizens of their civil rights, and of stopping any research that might return the people to normal.
You begin Earthrise in a training area called the Librarium, where you learn how to get around on Enterra. After clearing the weapons tutorials, you teleport out of the Librarium and, from that point on, the world is your oyster. You can go almost anywhere, anytime you want. There are no classes to choose, so you can sculpt your character in any way you see fit. A few minutes outside of the Librarium, you find soldiers from both factions caught in force-field bubbles at a crossroads. After talking with both soldiers, you decide which faction you want to join and follow the appropriate path, where your questing begins.
Masthead has taken some of the things that we know and understand about MMOs and kicked them to the curb. The usual system of leveling a character through the acquisition of experience points has been replaced by the Battle Rank, which is determined by the quality of your gear. You start out with Cadet-level weapons and armor, which barely protects you against the game’s early adversaries. To raise your Battle Rank, you have to earn enough battle points to unlock the skills required to use more effective tech. You gain battle points by killing enemies and completing quests. The skill tree is more like a forest; there are almost 150 items that can be upgraded if you have the battle points to spend. Earthrise offers an amazing level of flexibility in character upgrades, but these upgrades can cost thousands of battle points each, so you can expect to be grinding for a long time if you want a truly powerful warrior. Instead of marking all revealed locations on the full-screen world map, the game allows you to annotate the map to help you find important places. And there’s no death penalty; you drop all of your acquired inventory when you die, but it remains where you left it so you can come back and pick it up after you resurrect.
You know there’s trouble ahead when clicking the Play button on the launch screen triggers the Windows desktop fail sound; the first time I did it, I was frantically looking for an error box somewhere on the screen before I realized that’s what was supposed to happen. As you progress through Enterra, you realize that Masthead has gotten almost everything wrong. The controls are clunky and unnecessarily complicated. You have two methods of movement: Battle Mode and Exploration Mode. The latter works as expected, with WASD used for movement and the left mouse button for camera control. But when you switch to Battle Mode, you have to use the Q and E keys to rotate your character, since LMB is now used to fire your weapons, and while in Battle Mode, you can’t manipulate your surroundings (pick up drops, use consoles, etc). There is no target lock, so you have to hold the reticule on your target and wait for it to turn red before you can attack; fortunately, you have unlimited ammo for all of your weapons. Building up Battle Points is a long, torturous project; it took me hours of blasting rats, bugs, alligators, etc., to earn enough points to unlock more advanced armor, and still several hours more to find a vendor to provide it for me. The tutorials are all poorly designed; they tell you what to do, but not how to do it. You have to read all of the quest descriptions carefully to learn crucial information. The traditional question marks identifying quest givers and locations appear on the minimap, but only if you get very close to them, and some of them don’t disappear after the quests have been completed. There are far too few resurrection points; you have your choice of points to which to return after death, but they’re usually uncomfortably far away from the scene of battle. But worst of all, the teleportation system is practically useless, so you spend almost all of your time running across the countryside. There are plenty of rats and other standard MMO cannon fodder placed along the roads, so you can at least stop along the way to pad your Battle Points, but travel in Earthrise is mostly a long, hard, boring slog. And to top it off, there are graphics glitches everywhere. The /unstuck command is your friend, since that’s the only way to extricate yourself after getting wedged between rocks or escape from a hole with no ladder. Enemies can shoot through structures to injure you, but the same isn’t true when you fire back. You can see the other side of a rock wall if you stand close enough to it. And enemies frequently respawn right next to you after you’ve killed them.
And the biggest crime of all: Masthead is asking you to pay a subscription fee of $14.99 for one month of access ($35.90 for three) for a laggy, tedious game that feels like it’s not finished. Most of Earthrise‘s minor problems wouldn’t hurt so much if the game was free to play, but charging a fee for a game in this condition is highway robbery. I played the game for many hours before I met another human player; maybe word got around.