E3 2010: The Agency blows up in our faces... and it's a good thing

After seeing the new trailer yesterday for SOE's The Agency, we thought nothing could get us more revved up about this upcoming title. We were wrong. DEAD wrong. Ahem. Sorry.

For aspiring Mr. and Ms. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bangs out there, The Agency is promising all of the hot, high-tech spy action that you can handle. Step into the shoes of James Bond, Jason Bourne, Inspector Gadget or Maxwell Smart, grab your favorite weapon, and throw yourself into one of many exciting locales where you and other players will compete for all the secrets and bragging rights.

At E3, Massively got the chance to sit down with The Agency's Senior Producer Josh Hackney and check in on how this title is progressing. Hit the jump to read about specialized roles, PvP and why mindlessly spraying hot lead in all directions is completely passé.
SOE's been fine-tuning The Agency to be on par with other first-person shooters on the market that players already love. This doesn't mean they're losing the RPG layer of the game; on the contrary, the RPG elements define your character, from the clothes you wear to the talents you pick to the gadgets you wield. "You are what you wear," Josh promised.

Today, the team was demonstrating the PvP side of the game. It's certainly not the core of The Agency's content, but SOE wants future players to know that it exists and how it differs from other FPS PvP systems.

Perhaps the most significant element of The Agency's PvP is that you can take whatever you find from the PvE side into your battles with other players, and vice versa. Josh demonstrated a Recon character (Recon is one of the five basic roles to choose from, along with Commander, Assault, Suppressor and Gadgeteer) who had progressed a bit in the PvE side of the game, and was now entering into PvP arenas. Recons have access to small arms, but can -- like this character -- unlock sniper rifles, which are then usable in a PvP environment.

We ran by some characters wearing backpacks, who, as Josh noted, were Commanders. A character's visible gear is not just cosmetic, it appears, but vital to figuring out the roles and abilities of your enemy.

As you level up, you're granted access to more and more types of gear, which is where strategic builds become important. You can only take so many items with you into combat, so finding the right load-out of weapons, gadgets and outfits is vital to your mission's success. Fortunately, you can create multiple load-outs before the fight and can swap between them if one build isn't quite working for you.

Gear is vital for another reason, and that's because it allows you access to your role's iconic ability. Each role has an ability that no other role possesses, and for the Recon it's being able to paint targets. Interestingly enough, when he does this, targets are lit up on both the Recob's radar as well as that of his entire team. As the Recon continues to paint targets, he can build up resources to use a gadget called Oracle Vision, which allows him and his team to see enemies through walls. Not too shabby, and a good reason to become best friends with a Recon player for your squad!

Another great ability to have is the Hotfoot Tactical Insertion Flare, which allows you to teleport directly to one of your teammate's locations. Rapid backup is only a key click away!

We got to observe first-hand one of the Assault PvP modes, in which one team goes on the offense and attempts to capture a certain number of strategic locations, while the other team plays defense and wins if they can effectively deny the attackers. On this map, a Recon is an invaluable defender, holding off attackers with his sniper rifle while teleporting to hot spots when friends are under fire.

SOE wasn't prepared to share all of the PvP modes that will be implemented into The Agency, although Josh did say that team elimination and other expected PvP modes will be present. PvP offers some of the better loot in the game, which should be a powerful incentive to participate.

The Agency has a pretty cool injury system, where downed players aren't automatically killed, but has a chance for revival if a teammate gets to them before the enemy double-taps their noggin. In this case, being able to teleport directly to an injured buddy makes the Recon a literal lifesaver.

There's a lot of balance between the classes, a deliberate system of checks and balances to keep any one role from dominating. One example that Josh gave was that the Commander might be able to fire a grenade launcher into enemies, but one of those enemy roles may have the ability to nullify and disarm grenades when they land, rendering them harmless. In another example, an Assault character can put up a kinetic shield to protect teammates, but that can be disabled by an EMP grenade thrown by another role.

Roles are also designed to be complimentary and encourage teamwork. Picture a group in which one character creates a shield to defend a location, and behind him is a healer keeping the group alive, and behind her is a sniper picking off targets. Very quickly, the power of cooperation and proper team balance becomes apparent.

The Agency wants players to consider strategy just as important as twitch reflexes. A cover system will allow the most sneaky players to hole up in safety until an opportune moment arises. You can even fire blind up and around cover objects if you want to lay down suppressing fire without exposing yourself. Considering that the Recon can use his Oracle Vision to see through objects he might be hiding behind, the possibilities open up for a powerful ambush.

Josh also spun us a bit of the game's lore in regards to one of the factions, O.M.E.N. This faction is comprised of ex-Cold War vets (CIA, KGB) who are hung out to dry, and then band together to get their revenge. One of the ways they've done this is by stealing a submarine and outfitting it with a device that changes the buoyancy of water to sink ships. You learn a lot about the lore of The Agency in the public spaces between missions.

Whether you like PvE or PvP in your FPS, The Agency wants to oblige. Hopefully, players from both schools of gameplay will dip their toes into the other side and find it enjoyable.
This article was originally published on Massively.