Global Agenda, developed by Hi-Rez Studios, is a game that's been on my radar for awhile. Though it was released back at the beginning of February, it wasn't until recently that I had a chance to sit down and give it a spin. Advertised as a massively-multi-player third person shooter, it blends the ideas of an FPS and an RPG to make its own action-oriented hybrid. The background story is very simple: the year is 2155, and earth is controlled by a tyrannical government known as the Commonwealth. There are pockets of resistance, however, who equip their elite teams (knowns as agencies) with the best gear technology can offer in order to fight the Commonwealth. Your character is one of these elite agents.
Character customization is pretty straightforward, borrowing some well-received techniques from some games, while also introducing some new and interesting ideas. You choose from four classes on character creation: assault, recon, robotics, and medic. All of your characters will share the same name as your name is account-based. Each of the classes have their own unique devices which they can spend their 15 device points on. Every agent, no matter what level, only gets 15 device points which they spend on "in-hand" and "offhand" devices. An in-hand device would be like a sniper rifle or a healing-beam gun while an offhand device might be a mine, a self-centered area heal, or a turret. Each of these devices have four ranks that make them do more damage, heal more, etc, so if you want one of your devices at max level 4, you'll need to spend 4 of your precious device points on it. So not only will you need to pick and choose which devices to take on a given mission, but which devices deserve to get higher ranks than others. You can rearrange your device points any time you're not in a mission, however, so there's no fear of experimenting and seeing what arrangement suites you best. In addition, there are three devices/abilities that don't require any device points at all which you'll have equipped at all times: a melee weapon, a jet-pack, and a boost ability. The jet-pack is used to cover short distances at faster speeds than running and can be used tactically as well. The boost ability is a super ability which can only be used after your morale meter reaches are certain point. As you fight, your morale meter slowly fills until at 100 points (the max) you can use your boost ability. Some examples of boost abilities are a short-term group buff or a dome force field.
Leveling up in Global Agenda has two primary functions: you unlock more devices at certain levels while at other levels you receive skills points which you can distribute over your three skill trees. Everyone has access to the balanced tree and two other trees that are unique to each class. All skills are passive and are geared to help you be more effective in a certain role, or with a certain weapon type. Again, Hi-Rez encourages experimenting and variation here as you can reassign your skill points whenever you're at the skill point distribution area.
The max level is 50, but at this time levels 30-50 are mostly "prestige" levels. You'll have all your devices and skill points unlocked by level 30. Armor is purely cosmetic (something I can definitely appreciate with my extensive Guild Wars background), with the armor shop offering a good amount of armor styles and helmets which you can further customize with a large selection of dyes from the dye shop. As for non-cosmetic equipment progression, there's a crafting system where you can craft armor and weapon upgrades that give you small bonuses which you can put in their appropriate upgrade slots.
As for the gameplay, everything is instanced. You start every kind of mission from Dome City, a non-combat area that contains all the various shops as well as the mission board. To enter a mission, you use the board, or hit hotkey "M,"and queue yourself and/or your team for chosen mission. Each mission has a set number of participants, so you'll be grouped with random players also in queue unless you have a full group. The types of missions in Global Agenda are split into two types of gameplay: PVE and PVP. Since the PVP play is such are large draw for the game, I'll spend a few words on it before I go in-depth to the PVE gameplay (which is the co-op part of the game). There are three different PVP modes: Mercenary, 4v4 Arena, and Conquest. Mercenary mode is 8v8 or 10v10 team-based PVP, divided into five different types of gameplay over several different maps, most types being very reminiscent of types seen in Team Fortress 2 (e.g. Payload is pretty much exactly the same, conceptually). 4v4 Arena simply requires you queue with a full 4-player team and duke it out over a control point to gain the most points. Conquest is the large scale world PVP, offered to monthly subscribers. You must be part of a reasonably large agency and/or alliance to participate in Conquest. You receive credits and XP for all PVP modes.
One pleasant surprise I should note: when I first started playing, there was no level sorting to PVP games, so one would often end up in a Mercenary game with level 50 players against level 5 players, which felt a little unfair at times. In the most recent patch, Hi-Rez implemented a system where in Mercenary mode, players will be matched with other players in their general level range. This definitely made things feel a lot more balanced. Kudos to Hi-Rez for putting this in finally.
So what does the PVE portion of the game have to offer? There are 5 different PVE modes in Global Agenda, which are mostly divided by level: Low Security, Medium Security, High Security, Maximum Security, and Double Agent. These different modes are unlocked with levels (e.g. High Security requires level 12), and after a certain level, certain modes will stop giving you rewards (e.g. Low Security stops giving you rewards after level 9). Low, Medium, High, and Maximum Security modes are pretty much cut of the same cloth, except each sequential one is higher in level requirement, takes longer to do, and offers better rewards. These modes are 4-player co-op modes with the goal being to make your way through the level to take out the boss. After completing the mission, you'll receive XP and (possibly) credits, depending on how well your team preformed. Additionally, there's a "challenge" condition: if you make it all the way through the mission with less than four total deaths on your team, you get extra credits and XP.
Global Agenda is different from other MMOs in the fact that you don't get XP or money until at the end of a mission; killing enemies won't give you XP, for example. Mob kills will, however, net you crafting materials, which are automatically distributed to party members. This is a huge advantage to PVE; while I can't speak for Conquest mode, as I haven't participated in it yet, the other two PVP modes definitely did not net me any crafting materials. I've also heard that the higher level PVE missions drop high level blueprints for upgrade items (you can only buy the lowest rarity of upgrade blueprints from vendors). While PVP appears to be a faster way to get credits in Global Agenda, PVE is definitely the way to go for crafting materials. Double Agent mode has the standard 4-player team, but there are also two other players that will be chosen to fight for the PVE faction the Commonwealth. So this is kind of PVE meets PVP.
Getting back to the PVE missions, there are some pros and cons regarding them. The PVE missions get more challenging and more fun at the higher difficulties. Some maps offer some interesting environmental effects (e.g. lava, or huge compressors that slam down at short intervals, or huge elevator shafts that you must jet-pack down) which provide interesting challenges. Certain mobs and bosses require a good amount of strategy to take down with minimal deaths, so communication between team-mates is definitely important, which definitely has a great co-op feel to it. On a related note, Global Agenda has a great built-in in-game voice chat system. The sound quality is really quite good, so it's easy to communicate with your team members. As for the not so great, after awhile, PVE begins to feel repetitive. There are simply not enough different types of enemies or enough different maps in the map cycle. You'll get used to doing the same ones over and over again. While the combat is definitely fun, doing pretty much the same mission time and time again can get tedious.
I had a great amount of fun playing Global Agenda. The gameplay is fast-paced, the character building system feels comfortably familiar, yet innovative at the same time, and there's a huge amount of teamwork going on at all times. It loses some points, however, on the purely co-operative PVE front. The PVP half of the game is really where Hi-Rez is most concerned, and thus the PVE can sometimes feel a little lackluster. The PVE missions, while interesting enough at first, start to feel repetitive if you do too many in a row. It's a good game with a great amount of potential. Hi-Rez has been adding a great amount to the game in patches (there's actually a big upcoming patch, 1.3, on the horizon), so hopefully we'll see some more variety added to the PVE in the near future. There's a free trial out for the game that sounds as if it's for an unlimited amount of time, but it limits players to level 15 and locks certain features like using the mail system, voice chat, and joining an agency. If you're interested, you could try it out!