May 22nd, 2006

Auto Assault

2nd look: Auto Assault MMPORG

I ran out of stuff I felt like testing on the next version of City of Villains, at least until next Tuesday's (tentative) test server update. And because of some of the new stuff that's coming, there's a pretty powerful incentive not to level some of my lower level characters just yet. Which left me with time, and motivation, to take advantage of the current 14-day free trial of one of the other massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games by NCsoft, Auto Assault. I'm glad I did. I'm not sure I'm going to drop City of Heroes/Villains for it, and I'm sure I'm not going to play two MMOs at the same time, but I'm glad I took a second look at it. I think I did it an injustice in my first glance.

You may remember my complaining bitterly about how MMO designers seem obligated to put wizards and other fantasy elements into even the most high-tech of science fiction games. What I said at the time was that it was obvious that the orcs mutants in this game are the wizards, because easily 3/4 of their special abilities are described as magic spells. By the way, I have to fight myself tooth and nail to remember to call them mutants, as the game does. They're green skinned lower tech nature lovers with a murderous hate for (regular) human beings. I keep seeing Warhammer 40K's version of high-tech orcs every time I look at them. They also believe that since the Change, their blood and the blood of other animals contains powerful magic that can supplement the technology they scavenge from the ruins and steal from the other factions. However, the game makes it pretty clear that they are full of crap about why their powers work, and in a way that makes the story a trifle more interesting.

I've gotten a trifle ahead of myself. Some time in our very near future, an alien spacecraft showed up in orbit above the Earth, bombed our cities from orbit, and then flew off without so much as attempting a landing. The reason for this rapidly became clear. The "meteors" they bombed us with weren't kinetic kill weapons; the kinetic damage from orbital bombardment was just a bonus. The real purpose of the meteors was to seed many places on Earth with ... well, it's a hundred years later and scientists still haven't figured out how to classify it. In some ways it acts like a fungus, in some ways it acts like a bacterium, in some ways it acts like self-replicated nanotechnology, and in some ways it's even less comprehensible than that. We call it the Contamination, and almost every plant, animal, and even rock that it touches is changed in some subtle way. Humans who have been infected with the Contamination acquire green skin, glowing eyes, a perceptible boost in strength and durability and stamina, and a faint telepathic sense of every Contaminated organism around them, including other mutants.

Earth's governments, apparently especially the US, augmented regular army soldiers with cybernetic limbs and souped-up immune systems, and sent them out to arrest the mutants, quarantine them in camps until a cure could be found, and then burn the affected areas. The mutants, on the other hand, eventually formed an organized resistance around the leadership of a self-styled prophet, who taught them that the aliens were messengers of God, and that the Contamination was God's way of teaching humans to live more in harmony with nature. And the Contamination was spreading faster than new cyborgs could be produced and trained. And even after the assassination of the mutants' prophet, their armies kept getting bigger and better organized. So so after 50 years of losing a war, one US defense contractor decided, on their own authority, to try something a trifle more drastic. They gathered a couple of thousand of their favorite hand-picked uninfected people into force-field shielded underground bunkers, and then sent the signal to orbital nuclear platforms to nuke every infected city on the planet. Then they waited fifty years, raising a new generation in their shelters. And now they're coming out to clean up and rebuild.

Only it's not so simple, because the nukes weren't nearly thorough enough. There are still uninfected humans, trying to rebuild in the wreckage themselves and forming their own little gangs and miniature empires and city states. The nukes only barely slowed down the Contamination, if at all. What's more, enough cyborgs (biomeks, the game calls them) survived that they've been rebuilding, recruiting (by force if need be) and preparing to continue their war against the mutants this whole time. And now that they see that the company that ordered the nukes be dropped on them has surfaced, they're not too fond of them, either.

You know what this almost feels like to me? Like the long-delayed missing volume(s) of David Gerrold's War Against the Cthorr series. It's not really religion or magic that gives the orcs mutants their telepathic control over nearby plants and animals, it's that the Contamination is incorporating them and the rest of their environment into a kind of loosely organized hive mind. Which makes for a more interesting storyline to be playing around in than I gave them credit for. Which is why I've fiddled around enough (including getting one character up to level 8 in a day and a half or so) to get a feel for where the player characters fit in, and how the game works. More on that tomorrow, probably.