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First Impressions: Exteel

Chris Chester

In a business climate where a game like World of Warcraft can sustain a player base of over eight million paying subscribers, everybody wants their game to be an MMO. Call it a trend, call it the flavor of the month, call it whatever you want -- "massively multiplayer online" is a moniker that sells game units. Where we used to assign the term to the strict domain of UO and EQ clones largely dominated by elves of various sorts, all different kinds of games are jumping on the money train, and NCsoft's Exteel is really no exception. It's a game that, up until now, we had assumed would be just another MMO. I can safely say that we were quite wrong.

As of this afternoon, NCsoft has lifted the NDA restricting discussion of the Exteel beta, so we thought we'd give you a run-down of our impressions of the game as it has progressed so far, including a gallery full of screenshot love from the tutorial through our first few battles in the open beta.

Gallery: Exteel Gallery | 25 Photos

Exteel puts you in the boots of a mercenary pilot excelling in the use and abuse of Mechanaughts, giant anime-inspired robots built for the sole purpose of blowing up everything in their path. If you've ever played Virtual On or watched Evangelion, you'll have a pretty good idea of the type of combat you're in for here -- it's very fast paced and intuitive. Indeed, the combat is really the only focus of the game. There's no putzing around, you get a robot from the moment you first load up the game, they explain how to use it, and they let you loose to find your fortune.

The basic gameplay mechanics really couldn't be any simpler. Movement is negotiated using the normal WASD scheme, and you can double-tap a direction to boost if you're packing the right equipment. Using weapons is a simple matter of pointing and clicking just like any other shooter; the only real challenge to negotiate at the most basic level is monitoring your weapons to make sure they don't overheat, in which case you'd be forced to swap them out for another pair until they've cooled off. Swapping weapons draws from your energy bar, which is also used for jumping and boosting. Mon

Of course, because the game also draws heavily from anime, there are tons of different weapon types and load-outs at your disposal. Everything from giant cannons to laser swords and shields can be strapped onto your mech and brought to battle. Aiming is a lot easier to accomplish than in a lot of games by virtue of the lock-on system, so success in multiplayer hinges on intelligent positioning and use of boosting. Most face-offs come down to who gets off the first shots and who can make most efficient use of cover.

What's perhaps most curious of all for those of us who were under the impression that this was just another NCsoft MMO is the fact that it may not actually fall under that label. Exteel has no story and no persistent world, no quests, and no story. Your primary portal to the game is the lobby, where you can access your mechs, buy parts, and view a list of games running at a given time. There are only a handful of gameplay modes, and they are are all far more reminiscent of shooters than they are anything "massive" - the game is largely dominated by people playing Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Survival. There isn't much variety, but what gametypes they have are quite fun.

Still, the game succeeds at its modest charge of being fast, light, graphically-impressive fun. NCsoft is planning to offer the game free of charge, with a cadre of different micropayment options available for new skills, weapons, and visual augmentations. It's a welcome change of pace for those of us who spend most of our time doing fetch quests or rep grinds, and did we mention it's free?

There's still no official release date for Exteel, but the open beta starts today if you want to give a try.

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