Follow along after the cut as we find out about what's new and what's coming, including a nifty iteration on the original title's witnessing system and an interesting player political experiment that evokes comparisons to EVE Online's Council of Stellar Management.
APB's original incarnation had many problems. From a gameplay perspective, one of the most glaring was the fact that vehicles really didn't feel like vehicles. Sports cars and ambulances exhibited similar driving characteristics, and this was one of the gameplay aspects GamersFirst set about augmenting earlier this year.
Now that the the title has progressed to open beta, the changes are readily apparent. Sports cars are nimble, each of them drives a bit differently than the next, and all have a cost/benefit effect on gameplay. Trucks now drive like trucks, meaning they're tipsy, they're powerful, and they don't handle particularly well.
GamersFirst had similar designs for APB Reloaded's weapons and weapon systems. As Connole put it, "We felt like weapons should be lethal."
We consider that mission accomplished, given that some NPCs can now be one-shot (though players take considerably more to bring down). Weapon damage has been upped across the board, the recoil effect has been made more realistic, and weapons (like vehicles) are now grouped into categories that make it easier and more intuitive for players to grok APB's progression system.
Many of the problematic weapon characteristics from the Realtime Worlds build have also been corrected. Pistols no longer have sniper-like ranges, machine guns aren't pinpoint accurate, and so on.
In terms of progression, GamersFirst has steered APB toward the FPS side of the road (as opposed to the RPG side), but it will still feel familiar if you're an MMORPG veteran. The more you use a specific weapon, for example, the more proficient you'll become with it. Ammo spreads will narrow, targeting transitions will be easier, etc. Connole told us that this design focus is imperative for balance, and as it applies to both weapons and vehicles, it provides newbs with a fighting chance even during encounters with veterans (an area in which the original APB struggled mightily).
Now that open beta is here, the watch-word is balance. GamersFirst is using the testing period to both increase APB Reloaded's exposure and iterate on and test out new features, including a matchmaker (with online ladders), deathmatch functionality, and more.
Along the way, the devs have scrapped the original ranking system (which looked at only the last five matches and consequently resulted in arbitrary, anti-competitive meetups). Missions have also been revamped, and returning players will notice that San Paro now boasts three mission contacts per 10 player levels (and one boss).
In short, you'll no longer be overwhelmed with contacts, and said contacts have also had their objectives re-written to be more transparent. Achievements have also been tweaked and brought to the forefront, and as Connole says, "There's no more guesswork."
The most exciting bit of news for the future involves the witnessing mechanic. Though it existed in the earlier version, it basically consisted of a standard kill-the-opposing player opt-in mission if you happened to witness someone of the opposing faction doing a naughty deed.
The new version is much more advanced, to the point that GamersFirst has added levels of importance to certain actions and tied the player's prestige in as a multiplier (which can quadruple rewards in some cases).
In a nutshell, players are still able to opt in to missions that revolve around hunting down, arresting, or killing opposing players, but now these events can also trigger zone-wide PvP raids if certain conditions are met. GamersFirst also reports that beta players have been using the system in unexpected but completely awesome ways, including criminal players using a single group member as bait to lure enforcer players into an ambush and enforcer players coordinating to set up roadblocks and prevent criminal players from reaching mission objectives.
So the witnessing mechanic is leading to emergent gameplay opportunities, and GamersFirst is both aware of it and endorsing it (and has plans to incorporate all of the functionality into the upcoming Turf Wars content patch).
Speaking of Turf Wars, we learned that the system breaks the city map into sections for time-based conflicts. Winning said conflicts results in mission benefits, additional evidence lockers, and money launderers.
Finally, GamersFirst is hoping to get two new districts into the game by launch: the Asylum (a capture-the-flag style area) and a racing district that will feature both circuit and combat-oriented racing (including multi-occupant vehicles featuring a driver and a number of shooters). Launch day is a moving target, according to Connole, and the best that GamersFirst can tell us right now is a late third quarter/early fourth quarter 2011 window.
Free vs. premium
A key question for those looking to check out APB Reloaded hinges on the differences between the free version and the premium version of the game. Happily, the gameplay itself does not change. There's no gating, no velvet ropes, and no level caps for free-to-play residents of San Paro.
GamersFirst has chosen to reward premium stakeholders with advantages including increased XP, increased cash rewards, and more vanity items. It's also worth noting that the game's character, clothing, and symbol creation system (one of the title's strongest features) is accessible to everyone. That said, free players are limited to 20 layers per design (and some of the more elaborate pieces require dozens of graphical layers). Premium players can create up to 100 layers per design.
Switching between free and paid accounts doesn't cost you any of your previous labor, either. If you create a design using a premium account and later switch to a free account, you'll still have access to it (but you won't be able to edit it again until you switch back to a paid account).
Connole says this type of business model rewards players and avoids the dreaded pay-to-win scenarios that many gamers are leery of. "It keeps us honest; it makes us create a game that people want to play and want to be involved in. If we can't create a game that you're interested in playing, we don't deserve your business," he explains.
Toward the end of our interview, we also spoke with GamersFirst's Jon-Enee Merriex, who had some interesting nuggets for us on APB's player council functionality. While the details are still being worked out, we can tell you that the San Paro Player Council will be an elected body of eight players who will choose moderators, have a direct line to GMs around the clock, and will consult on the occasional design decision.
Merriex was excited about the project, likening it to his experiences with live-action roleplay using the Vampire: The Masquerade property wherein players were constantly dabbling in political intrigues and backstabbing one another for fun and profit. Stick with Massively over the next couple of weeks as we bring you more details on the council system as GamersFirst rolls it out!
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!