One soldier, one war
Right from the boot screen, MAG gives you a difficult choice during character creation (which is surprisingly simple, as you only choose your soldier's face and voice.) You only have one character slot and you need to choose one of the game's three private armies -- the American based VALOR, the Russian S.V.E.R. (Seryi Volk Executive Response), or the European Raven Industries. While the armies offer no physical benefits outside of their awarded contracts (which we'll get to later) you will be locked into this decision for the rest of the game.
In short, once you make your selection, that's your side of the war. You can only play with other members of your army, and you will always oppose the other two armies. So, if your friend is in S.V.E.R and you're in VALOR, don't expect to be fighting with your pal any time ever. You don't work with him.
For the purposes of this first impressions article (and because the author likes Edgar Allan Poe), we went for the group with the coolest name. Hello Shadow Raven Industries.
Skill trees and beyond
The armory is the first stop we took once in the game, preferring to check our available guns and armor. While you only start out with three guns, you can add items to your loadout (such as different grenades, first aid kits, or repair tools) or customize your armor. Armor customization is a little more deep than character customization, letting you choose your helmet, facial options like sunglasses, and camouflage pattern. Still, if you're looking for intense character customization, this really isn't the game for you.
Skill points gained from leveling up in combat can be spent in the armory in different trees of combat, letting you choose how you want to specialize your character. Each line has 5 total ranks, each filled with about three options a piece. Some of the options can be passive abilities, like being able to hear gunshots from further off, while other options are physical additions, like weapon modifications in the form of scopes and grips or brand new guns or devices for you to toy with. This gives the game a more persistent feeling, as each battle improves your character, win or lose. However, the skill trees are nothing to write home about. There's nothing awesome or amazing here... just more stuff.
The Shadow War: A war so secret, no one notices the large explosions
So, with all of that out of the way, let's talk about the game. MAG has three main game types, each featuring a different number of players per side and a different type of objective. 64 player games involve capturing or defending two satellite dishes and then blowing up (or defending) a third objective should the two satellites fall. 128 player games feature the attacking force attempting to steal prototype APCs from the defender by driving them off of the base to safety. Finally, the monster 256 player map involves the attacking force blowing up the towers of a private army's fuel processing plant before blowing up the plant's main control station. Each game type features its own set of rewards in the form of contracts.