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Imperator

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Mythic
Developer: Mythic

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PC Preview - 'Imperator'

by Mark Crump on May 11, 2005 @ 1:12 a.m. PDT

"Imperator" is an Alternate Earth game, one set in a future world where Ancient Rome never fell. Small changes at crucial moments in Roman history create an entirely new timeline for Earth, leading to a star-spanning Roman Republica and thousands of years of interstellar Pax Romana. The Republic is home to many planets, each containing wildly different flora, fauna, creatures, culture, and climate. As the game begins, new threats to the Republic have sprung up from beyond its borders, making the galaxy more dangerous and the Republic itself less stable ­ an exhilarating setting for an online gamer. Over the last few decades, many themes of classical Roman history have found their way into modern science fiction and fantasy -- in "Imperator" the architecture, beauty, nobility, and even the savagery of Rome are the heart of the game.

Genre: MMORPG
Publisher: Mythic Entertainment
Developer: Mythic Entertainment
Release Date: September 2006

It would have been easy for Mythic to just crank out a Dark Age of Camelot 2, claim they learned from their mistakes in the first one and turned out a run-of-the-mill sequel — similar to what SOE did with EverQuest 2. Doing so runs the risk of alienating your current player base with the inevitable cries of, "Why don't you just upgrade the current game? I don't want to get a new game!" Well, okay, you get those no matter what. In 2002, Mythic announced their follow-up game, Imperator, would not be a fantasy game, but instead based on science fiction. At the end of April, Mythic held a pre-E3 event at their offices in Fairfax, Virginia, to show off the current progress of Imperator. Since Imperator isn't due out until late 2006, most of this is likely to change — perhaps even as soon as a week from now, when we see the E3 build.

Imperator is based around the premise that the Roman Republic never fell and became the Roman Empire. The Romans expanded into space with colonies on many planets and moons, and the Mayans also became a spacefaring race, but now want to take back the Earth. This conflict forms the backbone of the conflict. Rome is the dominant civilization on Terra, but you'll encounter other civs like the Dragon Empire. The city of Rome is still the capital and will form the center of the player's content. Some of the old city is still around; you'll see the Coliseum with a futuristic monorail in front of it, as an example.

There are four "hub" planets including Terra and Hades Prime, a Mars-influenced planet. Mythic is keeping the themes of the other planets under wraps, but it's a safe bet that one of them will be ice-based. Also, each planet will be graphically different from the other and will definitely sport themes like off-color grass to keep reminding you that it's a science fiction game.

Mythic is working on making a character-centric title, with the idea that every character is special. NPCs will react positively towards you and Organizations — Imperator's factions — will lobby you to join them. These Organizations will have quests for you to do, allowing you to advance in them. Your character will participate in what Mythic calls "Life Events," which are missions devoted to character development. The rewards can be either faction or equipment; for instance doing a Life Event for an Organization may grant you an item specific to that faction.

You will play an Academy Cadet who has just graduated and is heading off on "spring break" (wet toga contests?). Unfortunately, you never make it there and are instead enlisted in helping defend a small base. Right from the get-go, it's apparent that Mythic is holding your hands through at least the early part of the game, and it's likely the bulk of the content will be similarly guided. On the one hand, it alleviates a lot of the "Well, now what do I do?" syndrome that plaques the early levels of MMO games. The flip side, though, is that guiding the player too much can make them lose interest because it feels like they have no choice in the matter.

The character classes use the base/advanced method, and each class has skill packages that can be learned and upgraded. You can choose between a ranged- or melee-damage dealer, a Biomedic, Tech and a fifth class that Mythic hasn't announced yet. At level 10, you will go on a Life Event that chooses your advanced class, and the classes are designed to complement each other as well as be solo-able. There are 100 levels, and you get better at your skills as you use them. Choices you make while you're playing affect your character in terms of skills you can learn, NPC reactions, etc.

You can choose between four races: Humans, the old standard; Artificial Life, a robotic being designed to be as intelligent as Humans; Ingenii, a biologically created race who are tall, thin, and beautiful (great, Barbie in an MMO); and the Tigris, a race created by the Romans to be stronger and hardier than Humans. Details such as the strengths and weaknesses of each one still haven't been disclosed.

Mythic has paid close attention to the "newbie experience," and it looks like they are trying to make it so you'll ease your way into the game, which is something they've gone back and adjusted in Dark Age of Camelot as well. The first part of the game is what they call the "Cadet Phase" and will have the opening cinematic, tutorial and then dump you into the starter area where you'll spend your first 10 levels. We were able to play through some of the starter missions and they ran the usual gamut of "go here and get me this; go kill that bad-guy over there." They felt uninspired and fell into the trap of, just how many people need to go get Dr Smith that item? Here's the caveat that a lot of this is still in development, and these starter missions were most likely just missing that certain "something" that has yet to be developed.

What I did like was that Imperator is using the mission-based system that's all the rage these days, so players can quickly find something to do; thankfully, the EverQuest-esque notion that playing is work is starting to disappear. Mythic is also promising to keep the downtime to a minimum with short travel times, both to other planets and within adventure areas. You will be able to bring up a mission list in every adventure area, so it's easy to find something to do. Also notable is that you won't be killing rats — a common MMO newbie monster — and something Mythic poked fun at themselves about as well. The monsters you fight will look like things that could eat you for breakfast.

There will be PvP in Imperator, although it won't be the end-game like it is in DAoC. One lesson it was nice to see Mythic learn is that the skills you use in PvP are separate from the ones you use in PvE. As a result, that great skill you use to handily defeat a monster won't have a player shouting, "Nerf this, buddy!" This is probably one of the biggest areas they have struggled with in Camelot, and this is a workable solution. There haven't been many details released about how PvP will work, but it's a safe bet there will be some sort of gladiatorial combat.

Imperator is based on the Dark Age of Camelot engine. While DAoC is a three year old game, it's important to remember that the actual engine itself has been upgraded a couple of times. If the developers hadn't told me that it was based on the DAoC engine, I wouldn't have guessed it. Depending on your current hardware setup, you might have to do a small video card upgrade to play the game, as it will require a Shader Model 2.0 card. Such cards can be found for short money, so we aren't talking an EverQuest 2-sized upgrade, either. The graphics are very appealing and set the mood, and although computers we played on weren't exactly state of the art, they handled the game quite well. One of the things that was interesting to see is how they are integrating the classic Roman feel with space themes. Some of the heavy Robotech-type armor has ancient Roman ornamentation, as an example. It's very easy to make this look cheesy, so Mythic is going to have to be very careful here and not go overboard.

There aren't a lot of quality sci-fi based MMOs out there — the two biggies being Star Wars Galaxies and Anarchy Online — so it'll be nice to see a new one. Mythic has done a good job with Dark Age of Camelot, and I'm looking forward to seeing this game as it matures. Right now Mythic's schedule is to go beta in early 2006 and release in September of that year.


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