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Some Assembly Required: Four sandboxes we need right now

Jef Reahard

Hello folks, and welcome back to Some Assembly Required. I've been thinking about sandboxes quite a lot lately, and while this is nothing new, a couple of those I've been thinking about are flying pretty far under the radar.

As much as I've been enjoying The Secret World in recent weeks, it can't quite scratch that open world, free-roaming, full-blown economy experience that I've been missing since the days of Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online. There are a couple of titles in the pipeline that may recapture those experiences, though. Join me after the break and see whether you agree.

The Repopulation dude
The Repopulation
This one looks like it might actually come close to the world-first, game-second mentality that informed SWG and UO.

Let's see, we've got three-faction PvP, a nation- and city-building system that allows players to design and build their own cities, structures, homes, and a ranking system featuring 99 customizable ranks along with unique titles and abilities.

There are branching PvE missions, random one-off missions that encourage wilderness exploration, and the ability to receive missions without returning to a quest-dispenser NPC. Oh yeah, the game is skill-based (i.e., there are no levels), and skills improve with use. There are also crafting, harvesting, and diplomatic skills for your non-combat gameplay needs.

The Repopulation's crafting and harvesting system is definitely not an afterthought; harvesting areas will feature depleting resources, and recipes feature a lot of variation and choices that can lead to higher quality items. The only thing I can really complain about with regard to The Repopulation's economic gameplay is the fact that it will feature an auction house. I'd rather see player-run shops and local markets that allow for supply chains and necessitate travel, but I guess you can't have everything.

Combat looks pretty interesting when you consider that there are distinct action and RPG modes, limb targeting, and most intriguingly, a "generated special abilities system for bosses [that] will force groups or raids to adjust on the fly when fighting bosses rather than simply looking up spoiler information on the internet."

Frontier 1859 GUI
Frontier 1859
Here's one that I've been keeping an eye on for years. With the MMO industry exploding like it has, and dozens of games coming out every month, it's a complete mystery to me why no one has bothered to make a title set in the old west of 19th century America.

Frontier 1859 is probably a pipe dream at this point, but boy what a sweet dream it is. The title's website mentions a family heir system, tunnel mining and river panning, player-crafted goods and services, and a skill system. There's also some verbiage about building and running frontier tribes and towns, plus player-created factions with "values, rewards, punishments, and missions."

Also, six-shooters.

Infinity has been in development since at least 2006 and possibly longer. While features like a vast galaxy, player-driven interstellar commerce and combat, and lush visuals immediately conjure thoughts of EVE Online, Infinity actually blows EVE out of the water (at least on paper).

How does a seamless transition from space to planetary atmospheric flight grab you? What about a procedurally generated persistent universe with hundreds of thousands of star systems and planets that expand outward as player explorers push the boundaries of uncharted space? Oh, you want Newtonian physics and realistic astrophysics, distances, and actual control over your spaceship too?

Yep, that's Infinity, and you can actually see some of this stuff in action thanks to a working tech demo video and an atmospheric flight test video. The catch (and you knew there had to be one) is that Infinity is being developed by a tiny two-man team. It's also made use of community-generated art and design assets that may lead to problems if an actual for-profit game service ever comes out of the project.

That's a long ways off, though, and for now I'll direct you to the latest interview with lead dev Keith Newton over at Play Sci-Fi. Infinity's official site is also worth your time if only to make you dream about what might be if this ambitious project ever makes it to a playable prototype.

ArcheAge ships
What can I say about ArcheAge that I haven't said many times over? Probably a lot once the title finally heads West. Until then, though, I'll have to content myself with drooling over Korean closed beta videos and the promise of what looks to be our next great sandbox.

From crafting and combat to player housing and undersea exploration, ArcheAge is making all other MMOs look positively inferior by comparison. That said, there are major sandbox features still up in the air, chief among them the game's tradeskill implementation and player economy. When I spoke to XL at E3 a few weeks ago, I got a sense that these systems are still very much in flux, and that could be either good or bad.

It's good in that the system I saw in CBT3 last year didn't compare favorably to the deep, complex economic gameplay of titles like SWG and UO. Crafting was basically one-button easy, and loot drops were on par with (and maybe better than) crafted gear at that time. Auction houses were planned, and while this feature doesn't completely rule out the possibility of a player-driven economy, it certainly puts a damper on it.

Despite all these concerns, ArcheAge still has more going for it than almost every other sandbox title currently in development, and waiting grows harder by the month.

Every two weeks, 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!

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