I have recently had the pleasure of speaking with with Mark Jordan, a developer of Armada Online as well as the original Armada for the SEGA Dreamcast. Before getting in touch with him, I had never heard of the game, nor had I heard of it’s sequel. This struck me as a bit of a personal failure since I am so gung-ho about retro games and even own a Dreamcast, though there aren’t too many great exclusives for it anymore. Since then, I have been falling deeper and deeper into the pit that is Armada Online.
To say this game is addictive is an understatement. I have been playing this game from morning until night trying to level my Drakkan Outrider. There are 40 levels in this Free to Play alpha title, and the rate of leveling seems to be pretty high at first. I hope to have a max level character in a couple of months, though I have heard users in general chat say that getting to max level can take anywhere from 2 months to 6 years. Personally, I’m whizzing through the game quickly and it won’t take anywhere near 6 years to acquire an end-game, PvP-worthy ship. The incremental leveling system coupled with the low-complexity skill system hits a good spot for character progression, but what really kills me is the high level of difficulty in navigating the Zone Powers in certain areas. More on that later.
There are currently six races available to play. All of the races have a unique flavour to their look and play style, though most upgrades like crew members, skills, and zone powers are available for anyone to use. In this way there are some standard builds for specific zones, but each race ends up playing slightly different roles in a party.
The game-universe is split up into different zones and each has a unique style of play from all of the others. For instance, Delta 3 is a PvE experience where players find it most useful to party up and hunt for either elites, which drop great items and crafting materials, or hoards of smaller aliens, which will net you the highest XP values over time. This very open and freeform monster-killing pewfest is balanced by areas like the Neutral Zone. NZ, as it’s called in-game, is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) in the vein of Defense Of The Ancients or League of Legends. There are also two areas which cater to tower defense fans, one multiplayer zone (read: hard as nails) and one which can be carried out single-player. The Haven (or the beginner’s area) tries to introduce elements of each of these zones in a single 5 minute long mission, which can be repeated and played in different ways depending on how you like to play. With all of these varied experiences within the game, Armada Online is hard not to recommend.
I mentioned zone powers and have subsequently explained some of the zones, but what are zone powers? These are the most complex part of the game and there really needs to be a little more in-game guidance regarding them. Zone Powers are abilities, both active and passive, which you purchase within a zone and expire after a certain amount of time or if you leave the zone. MOBA players will be familiar with temporary powers which disappear when the game is over, and so will be right at home with these. The only issue I have with them is that the prerequisite tree is so convoluted that I end up with little to-do lists as I run around a map trying to figure out which power vendor has which prereq that I need to get the prereq for a certain ultimate Zone Power with which I want to outfit my ship. Speaking to users in-game, I have found that players have gotten used to them and learned where everything is individually, though I can’t help but feel there is a severe lack of tutorial here.
Making up for the lack of tutorials, though, is the open and friendly community. I can’t site a single instance where someone has told me that “ur sux n00b” and only a single instance of trolling in general chat, “Alt+F4 is your friend.” (Did you really think I’d fall for that, QuickStrike?) Most of the players are very friendly and will help you out with advice or getting you to a particular area of Delta 3 so you can level and the like. I can’t say enough about the knowledgeable and cool people I’ve met in the Armada Online universe.
I’m very happy with the way Armada Online has been turning out over the past few years (Neutral Zone went live in 2006.) Let’s give ’em hell, boys!