Genre: Space MMORPG
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 9/25/2002
Earth & Beyond is Westwood’s call to such popular online RPGs as EverQuest and Ultima Online. E&B takes place in a world thousands of years in the future, where the vastness of space beckons to be explored and mankind has just begun to grasp what mysteries the depths of the universe holds.
Starting off in the world of E&B you must first pick what race and class you wish to be. All three classes are human, but have strengths and weaknesses. The Terran classes (Tradesman and Enforcer) are the traders and light fighters of the game. Terrans are simply humans who are unaltered and mainly use space as a place to gain a quick buck. With average stats all around, new players should start off as a Terran to get a taste of the game. If you aren’t into those, the Jenquai classes (Explorer and Warrior) are more specialized. The Jenquai as a race are more into the exploration and understanding of the cosmos. Jenquai ships have great speed and a small profile, but have lower stats in every other category. Finally, if you are simply into obliterating everything that stands in your way, the Progen classes (Sentinel and Warrior) should fit the bill. The Progen are a very warlike race and thus have the best offense and defense, however every other stat is at the lowest or very lowest it can be.
Each sub-class has their own set of skills. The Terran Tradesman is the only class who can build any item in the game. Items that are built from scratch rather than bought from an NPC have a higher quality, and thus are more desirable. The Terran Enforcer can hack enemy ship components to bring them offline and can also enrage NPCs to make them focus their attacks on you. The Jenquai Explorer can prospect asteroids and mineral deposits to acquire raw minerals, fold space to teleport to a random location to escape from battle, and can even cloak itself, rendering it invisible. The Jenquai Warrior can cloak and fold space as well but can also summon, which teleports all group members to your location. The Progen Sentinel can power down (Basically playing dead), jumpstart incapacitated players, and can use a gravity links which distorts gravity on the targets object. Finally, the Progen Warrior can use gravity link, shield inversion (Transfers shield damage to the enemy), and self-destruct which temporarily incapacitates you while dealing heavy damage to any nearby enemy.
Once you pick your class you must customize your character. Among the things you can configure are head shape, face style, eye color, clothing, clothing color, hair styles, hair color, height, weight, and name. With so many options in each, no two players will ever look alike. The ship customization is just as diverse, ranging from hull and wing styles, to paints jobs and decals, to the name of the ship and the color of the text it is (The name of you ship actually appears on many places on the vessel, for everyone and anyone to view).
To gain some combat experience in the game, you must seek out a NPC while in space. Combat in the game is rather shallow compared to a conventional space sim. To engage combat, simply target an enemy and toggle your weapons to fire. If you have your weapons set to auto fire they will fire again and again. While combat is visually pleasing it is also boring after a while as combat universally amounts to firing at the enemy and watching your indicators. One cool thing to note about combat is when you hit an enemy, the amount of damage you’ve done to it appears above it and fades away in true RPG fashion. Sadly, the same thing happens about the excitement about combat, fun at first but then fades away.
When not in combat, you may choose to fill you cargo hold with goods and go from station to station making profits and gaining trade experience. The game boasts hundreds of goods, from air scrubbers to citrus fruits, cleaning robots to Shakespearean plays. To purchase and sell goods you must go to and dock inside a space station. Once docked you are free to walk around inside the station, conversing with NPCs, checking the game news, visiting the job computers to get a randomly created job, or buy and sell weapons, ship parts, and goods to the various vendors in the trade areas. The stations themselves are extremely well done, each station has their own style and the various monitors and displays fit the theme. Commercials for hardware vendors will play, complete with sound and even jingles. In the docking bay robots hover around moving goods among the various storage areas. Overall the stations are a great place to visit, even if you have no real reason to do so.
Exploring the game’s huge universe awards you exploration experience in varying amounts. Discovering a hyperspace warp gate or a space station can net you large amounts, while simply finding a nav points will have only small gains. For the classes who have the skill, prospecting will add to your exploration experience as will as analyzing objects in a space station. Once you have explored a large portion of the universe exploration experience becomes extremely hard to come by. Thankfully, the universe takes even the speediest ship hours to cross, and exploring the whole universe would take whole weeks specifically devoted to it.
There is no player versus player combat in the game in the present path (Oct 31st patch). However, it is hardly missed unless you desperately want to do it. The game’s main storyline is almost non-existent but one thing of note is something comparative to an alien invasion. Recently in the game various aliens have been sighted and although they are not hostile they are very powerful. Some of them can be spoken to, which always reply to any questions in strange alphanumeric phrases. These phrases aren’t just jibberish however, as a devoted group of players have actually decoded them and translated them into English. What the developers have in store for the players is unknown, but it is speculation that the reason there is no PvP combat is that war may break out between the aliens and the players. Again, that’s just speculation.
Graphically the game is pleasing but has high system requirements. A 32mb video card is a bare minimum, and if you have one your pretty much limited to 800x600 resolution and 16-bit color if you like to have a playable frame rate. Suggested hardware is at least a 1Ghz processor and a 64mb video card. Requirements aside, the lens flares, lighting, and ships look spectacular. The draw distance is quite large, and I have yet to see any from of pop-up of anything. If good looks could kill, this game would leave a swath of dead in its wake.
The game sounds nearly as good as looks. The games beautiful score perfectly sets the mood for whatever you are doing at the time, whether in combat or walking in a space station. The sound effects can get repetitive but are very well done as well. It is a rare occurrence, but the occasional voice work is done with a high degree of quality.
However, graphics and sounds cannot hold a game on its own. The gameplay, while initially compelling and diverse, gets repetitive and bland after the second week. Hyperspace is the only way to get anywhere quickly and even it takes forever, and since nothing can happen to you while hyperspacing it only adds to the boredom of doing it. Combat is similarly repetitive, and almost becomes a chore.
Overall, the game is a good concept marred by repetition. There are better MMORPGs out there, but if you hunger for one set in space Earth & Beyond will entertain you. At a price of $35 dollars it’s a decent purchase, but the game doesn’t have enough substance to merit purchasing much more than a month of game time. Hopefully the developers will do something to make for a more memorable experience. As it stands now if you hunger for a MMORPG that will captivate you for weeks on end, Earth & Beyond is merely a snack compared to the other products out there.