Why I Play: Global Agenda

Global Agenda screenshot

Among the Massively staff, I'm known as the obsessive competitor who plays every game in a hardcore fashion. It's no surprise that I gravitate toward high-skill, difficult games that test skill instead of the typical MMO grinds. But it should be a bit of a surprise that I don't really like competitive shooters. Shooters take a lot of the elements I really love about competition such as mindgames and positioning and marginalize them in favor of raw aiming and twitch reflexes. I'm fond of saying "You must be this tall to ride this ride" when it comes to shooters that are very twitch-based.

Global Agenda is a different beast than other shooters, though. The competitive shooter market is saturated with class-based shooters whose emphasis is more on teamwork than on aiming, and Global Agenda really takes it to eleven. Aiming is still important, but it's hardly the most important skill in the game, and every class has a way of minimizing the need for aiming skill. In fact, most of the more effective builds in GA don't require aiming. The emphasis in GA is on teamwork, mobility, and good decision-making. Even though it's a shooter, I find it really easy to spend far too much of my time playing it. It's just great fun.

Invisible skills

One of the things that bothers me about many competitive games is the presence of non-obvious skills that you must learn to be effective. One example that's really common in shooters is cooking grenades. More modern shooters simply let you cook a grenade by holding down the fire button, but older-school shooters require you to throw the grenade on the ground and pick it up, then throw it when it's cooked enough.

The actual idea of cooking grenades so that they explode right as they arrive where you want them to is a fairly obvious skill, and building it into the game so that a user can simply hold the fire button is fine. Forcing players to throw the grenade on the ground and pick it back up is what I'd call a non-obvious skill. It's generally not alluded to anywhere in the game itself, and it may not even be clear that you can pick up a grenade when it's on the ground. Try doing that in the original Halo, for instance, and you'll be in for an explosive surprise.

Other non-obvious skills include rocket jumping (although it is pretty blatant in games like Team Fortress 2); it is only a consequence of the game's physics that you're able to get more jump height from a rocket explosion. It is the most unintuitive thing in the world to shoot a rocket at your feet and potentially kill yourself in order to get some extra jump height, and it is a technique that, unlike cooking grenades, would never be done in real life. I hate rocket jumping a lot.

Global Agenda is mostly devoid of non-obvious skills. This is a huge advantage for a beginning player who doesn't want to go through a dozen websites to learn all the little exotic techniques present in a game. If you play a medic, the game explicitly tells you what your abilities do; your BioFeedback beam heals you and your target, and you can use the secondary fire for faster healing. Healing Grenade heals allies over time and cleanses debuffs, and if you're in the radius, it will heal you too. There's nothing strange or ambiguous about it. You know exactly what your abilities do, so you know which ones to select.

There is an exception to this that I don't like: defense. When I first played the game, I did not know what defense did. I assumed that it reduced incoming damage, but I had no idea how much. Is one point of defense worth 1% maximum health? If you're a beginning crafter in GA, you probably assumed the latter, but usually the former is true. What's the difference between physical defense and ranged/AoE/melee defense? Again, the game doesn't tell you, so you have to look at a wiki or forums to find the answer. I don't like this, but it's a minor strike when everything else is easy to understand. It would be nice if you could see your total defense value and how much it reduces damage in a status window.

Global Agenda screenshot

I love mobility

I was sure I would like Global Agenda when I first played the tutorial because one of the first things you do in the tutorial is ledge-grab. Although ledge-grabbing is mostly unnecessary because you have a jetpack, I really like having different mobility options, and a ledge-grab makes you feel as if you can go places that you can't. Although I think it's probably on accident, showing this in the early game gives the player the impression that she can go a lot of places in this game, which turns out to be very true in practice.

Mobility is so important that I've blogged extensively about it and how asymmetric mobility options are incredibly hard to balance. In GA, everyone has a jetpack, and it can take you anywhere. The jetpack is such a critical part of Global Agenda that the entire game is based around people having jetpacks. You can use your jetpack for all sorts of stuff. You can use it in short hops for unpredictable movement on the ground, a term experts call "juking." You can flutter it to travel long distances or hold it down to travel to great heights. If you're being shot at while in the air, you can move fully in three dimensions to avoid getting shot. When an opponent shoots you with his sniper rifle while you're flying, you know that he's either incredibly lucky or incredibly skilled. If it happens again, either you're being predictable or he's really, really good. The jetpack has lots of little nuance, and again, most of it boils down to obvious things you would expect to be able to do with a jetpack. Perhaps boost-hopping on the ground is not obvious for some people, but it seems like an obvious extrapolation of the need to be mobile and the limited energy reserves of a jetpack to me.

One of the things I love the most about the jetpack is that it costs the same energy used for offense. This shared energy resource means that you have to carefully conserve energy when fighting or else you won't have any for escape. Likewise, you also need to conserve energy while traveling to a destination or you won't be able to contribute to the fight when you get there. This economy of resources rewards smart players and punishes reckless ones, all features I love in competitive games. Also, you are not completely helpless even when out of energy, as your off-hand devices are still available and cost no energy, though their cooldowns must also be managed. Melee attacks are also free to use, though you do need energy to engage in melee combat since you will probably need to block or draw your gun or use your jetpack to move around while fighting in close combat.

Global Agenda screenshot

There's more than just PvP, too

Global Agenda has been steadily updated with PvE content since its release. Players can always do cooperative missions with other players by joining a queue and have since the launch of the game. As the game has matured, more and more MMO-style PvE world quests have been added, and when you don't want to bother with three other people, doing them can be a nice change of pace. There's even some rare drops you can farm if that's your thing, although they are not really a big deal for the most part.

PvE is actually a necessary thing in GA; without PvE, players would not generate the important materials needed for crafting. If you're a PvP-exclusive player, you can still buy or trade for these materials from other players using the loot and cash you get from PvPing, but someone does have to gather the mats in the first place. What's especially nice about this is that you can get the high-level mats even if you're a low-level character, and a canny player can sell mats for credits or items far in advance of what he or she will need for the lower-level game. If you never level crafting and you buy your mods and repair kits from other players, you can turn these mats into a reliable credit income for buying whatever items you need.

One of the great things about PvE in Global Agenda is that you can team with anyone. Low-level agents can team with high-level ones to enjoy content without the lower-level characters feeling like they are being boosted. Higher-level characters have some unique abilities and have access to more items, but they aren't dramatically more powerful than lowbier characters, especially when PvE is concerned. By about level 10, a lowbie can contribute meaningfully to any missions or quests he can find, and a high-level character won't automatically make those quests trivial just because she tags along. Above level 30, the difference is even smaller, as you no longer get talents after level 30 and can use most items. There are some exceptions, such as Shatter Bomb Boost, but the majority of class-defining abilities don't require levels over 30 (although slightly better versions do become available later).

Ultimately, if you like shooter-based action and great freedom of movement, you should give Global Agenda a shot. It's free to play, and every minute is a blast. Just avoid reading general city chat.

Global Agenda screenshot

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.