Key new game mechanics
Masthead's plan is to provide several updates per month containing new quests, game content, bug fixes and server balance changes. In addition, several new features will be added each month as the developer continues to add mechanics players expect from a sci-fi sandbox environment. First on the schedule is an exploration system that allows players to salvage materials on their travels and use them for crafting. From launch up until the exploration system goes live, crafting materials will temporarily drop as loot instead. This feature is expected to go live at some point in February, giving the team just under a month to develop the feature while dealing with any launch issues the game has.
March will be a bumper month for Earthrise fans, introducing a whole pile of new content and features. The key mechanic being introduced is the opening of siege territories for player conquest. This feature is ready to go, but is being deliberately delayed until March to give people time to build up their characters, form guilds and get used to the game's combat mechanics. Rather than opening siege territories at launch and so dropping players in at the deep end, Masthead is giving guilds an opportunity to prepare for the inevitable land rush. Conquest territories will cover more than half of the Earthrise map, which is sure to make preparation for the upcoming war a top priority for most players.
New content and customisation options
Also scheduled for release in March is a series of new combat skills, tactics and crafting blueprints. Although the game boasts over 250 combat abilities at launch, the development team has recognised the potential to add more once the game goes live and players have a good chance to test out combat. Recognising that the game in its current pre-release state could use some more crafting options, additional blueprints for the customisation of craftable items will be high on the agenda. March will also bring a major graphics engine update, which is aimed at improving players' frame-rates, smoothing out rough spots in client performance and improving the game's shadow effects.
April is sure to be a popular month, with the introduction of personalised, player-crafted vehicles. Players are sure to want to stock up on materials before April hits so they can be among the first to own one of these new vehicles. Following on from that, other features planned for release in 2011 include scattered resource mines patrolled by monsters. Upon killing the monsters and freeing up those mines, the resources contained in them will become available on the market. If Masthead Studios delivers on this development roadmap and continues to release several patches per month with new content, Earthrise is sure to stay on everyone's radar for a long time to come.
[Edit: The Earthrise NDA has been lifted! If you were in the beta, let us know what you think of the game in the comments below.]