It's an MMO, it takes place entirely in outer space, and your avatar is your spaceship. There's a lot of trading, a lot of missioning, and PvP if you want it -- possibly even if you don't. Crucially, there's freedom to go your own way and precious little hand-holding. It's clearly inspired by Elite, and there's a fair bit of the X series in there as well.
Nope, I'm not talking about EVE Online but rather Vendetta Online, an indie sandbox MMORPG that actually has more in common with classic space-trading sims than it does with CCP's New Eden.
There's just text. Lots and lots of text. Vendetta Online's early going isn't for the short-attention-span gamer. It expects that you have a bit of time on your hands, and it takes a decent chunk of that time to both get your bearings and to earn your first combat certifications and your subsequent release into the larger galaxy.
But first, a bit of backstory is in order. Vendetta is the brainchild of Guild Software, which is in turn composed of four guys based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The title originally debuted in 2004, but its genesis stretches all the way back to the MMO dark ages circa 1998.
The tiny dev team maintains an active community presence, and it routinely solicits suggestions from the Vendetta playerbase (and implements them, believe it or not). The game also supports user-generated content in the form of the Player Contribution Corps, which is basically a group of veteran community members who write ongoing mission content.
And if that's not enough homebrew indie sandbox cred for you, there's also the fact that Guild maintains Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android versions of the client.
If there's a downside to such a down-home operation, it's that the game lags behind newer titles when it comes to visuals. That's not to say it's butt-ugly, but the poly counts and the animations pale in comparison to EVE, for example. At the risk of going all fanboy, though, I quite enjoyed Vendetta's retro aesthetic. It's somewhat blocky and awash with brighter colors than I expected to find in a hardcore space sim, but for some reason it triggered a Freelancer-style nostalgia trip (or at least, the Freelancer I remember in my mind's eye).
Once your aforementioned newbie chores are done, the game shows its true self. My ugly little starter ship shot out of its mag-contained hangar bay and started slip-sliding its way around one of the game's asteroid belts. Vendetta's controls are deceptively simplistic, and unlike those of the 800-lb. gorilla of spaceship MMOs, they're twitch-based.
Flight assist mode is on by default, and if you're at all familiar with our old friends WASD, you'll do fine (though you may occasionally want to press Q and E to roll). X selects your nearest target, the left mouse button unleashes holy fire from your energy weapons, and F9 will give you some alternate -- and initially nauseating -- camera angles with which to determine just how ugly your little starter ship really is. And, yes, sim fans, there is full joystick support.
When you're ready to take the training wheels off, you can disable flight assist with a key press, and doing so sends you headlong into Vendetta's physics-based flight mode. You can streak across space in one direction, carried by naught but your momentum, while simultaneously swinging your stubby little nose around to fire at an enemy to port.
You can skid to a stop, pivot about, and mash the tab key to call on your turbos, and you'll be locked into that straight-arrow trajectory until you take your finger off the throttle. It's surprisingly fun and unabashedly harried for the first few minutes. Once you get past the lack of bleeding edge graphics, you'll start to enjoy poking the nose of your ship into Vendetta's numerous interstellar nooks and crannies, not to mention the fact that you'll be craving new ships, ship upgrades, and aftermarket parts almost from the get-go.
In all honesty, the game looks and plays like the efforts of a much larger company, and there's a surprising amount of polish compared to many of the indie sandbox MMOs currently on offer.
There is a ton of stuff to see and do in this game, and whether you're fond of fighting the nefarious Hive (Vendetta's version of PvE) or you'd prefer to focus on trading, manufacturing, or PvP combat, it's there for the taking.
I'd love to tell you more about the game's three factions, but I've just scratched the surface. I'd also love to tell you about the ability to crew a starship with several of your mates and how to work with your guild to obtain a player-owned capital ship.
And I'd really love to tell you about endgame, but I'm still a baby at the tail-end of his free trial period. And frankly, I'm a bit overwhelmed (in a good way, mind you). Since we're talking trials, it's worth mentioning that Guild gives you eight hours of unrestricted free time, which you can blow in one session or string out over several weeks. If you're suitably intrigued at the end of it, you'll need to pony up $9.99 per month to continue your adventures.
If you've got gaming ADD, or if you're the type who is too busy to play an actual MMORPG, you will hate Vendetta Online. With a passion. In fact, I doubt you'll even make it out of the tutorial. If you're an explorer at heart, though, and you're willing to give yourself over to a new world rather than rehash yet another exercise in acquisitional efficiency, you might just find a home here.
Maybe I dig Vendetta because I'm old enough to lament the demise of the space-trading sim. Maybe it's because I've always wanted to fall completely in love with EVE but for its neanderthal community for whom schadenfreude is a system requirement. Maybe it's just been that long since I breathed the fresh air that is a rail-free MMO experience underscored by the slow, steady pulse of spaceborne electronica.
In truth, it's probably all of those things, and if you're at a similar point in your MMO-playing life -- and you haven't tried Vendetta yet -- take the trial for a spin. It may surprise you.
Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!