Earth and Beyond - Review

To Boldly Go Where Everyone Else Already Is

By: Doug Hill

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 8
   Plot N/A
   Replay Value N/A
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Variable
   Time to Complete




Sometimes you have the most fun in life when you and a bunch of other people get together to do something simple and enjoyable. It's the premise behind all MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs for those who still donít know the term), and Westwoodís first humongous outing is just that, quite enjoyable. Earth and Beyond, which has been in development for several years, is a solid experience with few of the standard weaknesses that MMORPGs face upon their launch.

Upon startup, you create a character, choosing from six different professions that will basically determine how you play the game. The best thing to do is spend a few hours with each profession, enough to go through their basic training, and then continue on with the one that feels like the right fit. The huge difference in the professions not only adds depth to the game, but also makes grouping that much more important, as everyone brings something unique to the table.

Permission to Board?
Permission to Board? 

The battle system in the game is a rather simple mixture of action and RPG elements. There is not much flying around and dodging. The strategies involved mainly consist of how you approach enemies and what skills you have that can push things in your favor. In the end, something blows up, and hopefully it isnít you. Honestly, if you are trying to up your combat levels, it can get rather boring, especially alone. Luckily, there are a few choices in how you gain combat experience.

The area that Earth and Beyond shines the most in is character improvement. The gameís leveling system, made up of combat levels, exploration levels, and trade levels, works incredibly well together, especially with the variety of professions there are. These individual levels also affect certain skills. Unlike other RPGs, in order to raise a specific skill that involves exploration, youíll have to raise your exploration level. You canít just fight to gain abilities that have nothing to do with fighting. The game makes you specialize, creating a diversity in your activities that, while sometimes annoying, is much more entertaining that pure hack and slash games.

Your face is rendered beautifully, but back off.
Your face is rendered beautifully, but back off. 

The gameís interface is laid out well, with only a few minor problems. One, which is unavoidable, is the complexity of running a starship in a PC game. Luckily, most of the commands are shortcuts for stuff you can do with the mouse. It is actually possible to run the entire game with the mouse, except for chatting. However, as the key placement is so comfortable, it is quite easy to use both the keyboard and mouse in conjunction with each other. As this is not an action game, it is not difficult to switch your right hand between keyboard and mouse for different scenarios. The only other drawbacks come when accessing common menus, such as the skills screen and the inventory. The keys are all right beside each other and it is common to hit two or three before getting to the right screen.

The plot of this game is impossible to score. Why? Well, they are just now starting. The roots of the plot are in place and are not presented as a whole. To get all views of what happened in the universe before the game begins, you literally will need to play the game with each profession, which will cover all three racesí history and the histories of each profession, which all tie into the overall story. The in-game plot movement is minimal at this point but will likely to start picking up within the next few months as more and more players get online. Until that time, the storyline is all but nonexistent.

Dionysion Spores make great chili powder.
Dionysion Spores make great chili powder. 

The visuals of this game are also a high point, especially if your PC can handle it. The blackness of space is filled with interesting looking objects, from space monsters to planets to giant alien vessels. The only drawback is that there is still not much variety in the amount of objects to look at, but over time that will be fixed as well. Westwood is constantly pumping out content for this game. The music for the game is light and quite ignorable, which is good because you hear it all the time. A wider variety of tunes would be highly preferential, but until that happens, you might find yourself killing the audio and listening to your favorite MP3s instead.

As far as difficulty goes, the game is as hard for yourself as you make it. If you want to go after stronger monsters at the risk of blowing up and getting an experience debt, do it. If you want to kill a bunch of monsters which give you about half the experience you would get from a normal fight, yet survive unscathed, go right ahead. Youíll level up more slowly but at minimal risk. If you find the right places, no matter what level you are and how powerful you are, you can find some monsters that are perfect for you to fight against.

Stay away from the light!
Stay away from the light! 

There are some other drawbacks to the game. One of the most annoying parts of the game is travel. It will take you awhile to get places in this game. Sometimes you have to fly halfway across the galaxy, and that can take a good twenty to thirty minutes if you donít have someone create a jumpgate to send you closer instantly. If you go to the right areas, you can usually find someone who charges a minimal fee to get you across, so this isnít a huge deal. It is also highly annoying to try and get levels in fields that you are not a specialist in. That is, however, also an integral part of the game. The game makes you invest time in your character.

The big question is whether this is worth the monthly fee of approximately $10-12 a month, depending on what plan you are buying. The pacing in the game can be quite aggravating, but also encourages teamwork which usually makes the game a more entertaining experience in the long run. This game is best if you have friends play with you. Otherwise, find a guild and do stuff with them. There is not enough emphasis on group activities within the game, and that will hopefully be remedied over time. If you can get past these annoyances, there is a good chance you will enjoy the game enough to invest that kind of money in it.

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