To be or not to be... an MMO
Back in the day, MMOs were tough. They made you bleed; they made you curse at the heavens; they made you crawl through dungeons only to predictably smack you around with unpredictable loot rolls. But then, led by Blizzars’s flagship World of Warcraft, MMOs started becoming increasingly mainstream. Hardcore turned casual, handholding became the norm, and mediocrity, masquerading as “accessibility for the average player,” permeated every facet of MMOs. The very idea of teamwork went out the door, with players able to go through the entire content cycle without ever having to act social, as they could rely on the game to find them companions when absolutely needed. Guns of Icarus Online needs to be praised for requiring teamwork in an MMO title, and its thrilling mid-air combat sequences and grand vistas. It needs to be beaten with the ugly stick for most of the rest.
The developers claim in their own FAQ that they shy away from calling Guns of Icarus Online an MMO, and would like to steer away from boxing it into established genres. But going through the list of planned features and mechanics, MMO is about as apt a categorization as it gets. This leads me to the second major point I want to get across right off of the bat. Guns of Icarus Online is an incomplete game, as evidenced by a lack of single-player (which may have led some weight to the “not an MMO” argument), the laundry list of planned improvements and features for the title, and the lack of polish and attention to some critical aspects. It is playable, and given the right set of circumstances, stupidly enjoyable, but that seems to be more of an exception than the norm.
Guns of Icarus Online 101
The idea is simple. Two to four zeppelin-style, steampunk-inspired airships battle for domination in aerial combat in sprawling vistas. The ships and associated sub-systems can be selected from six basic templates, and piloted by a small crew that falls into three distinct roles. In keeping with MMO tradition, the Captain steers the ship, the ship an extension of his being, thus acting as the veritable tank. The Gunner is damage-focused, pounding enemies with all manner of ordinance, whereas the Engineer is the healer, repairing the ship as it comes under fire from opponents. You can switch to any role at any time, if the situation demands it. However, each role is further specialized by three items that enhance your role’s abilities, so it is generally best to stick to your original role.
UNITY’s engine shines here, and Muse has worked hard to bring to life a world with varied landscapes and lush environments for you to wage war above. While the scenery deserves accolades, it begs the same questions that most multiplayer-only titles pose. For example, what happened to this world? How did aerial combat come about? What is the end goal? Which side is winning or, for that matter, what are the sides. The world of Guns of Icarus Online begs these questions, and is only answered by silence, as not a smidgen of story is offered in the wake of its many aerial fights.
When all else works, combat is visceral and immensely satisfying; true multiplayer that punishes lack of teamwork; gorgeous world.
Laundry list of visual bugs; incomplete; Engineer class needs a lot more love; no tutorial; intimidating at first; lacks polish in some key areas.