While Global Agenda at first glance looks like a pretty easy game to review, it still puts me in a rather awkward position. It might appear as a simple third person deathmatch shooter, but it isn't just that - it also includes MMO-like aspects, including a persistent world map where player organizations, called agencies, battle for supremacy and rare resources. It has levels, experience points, gear; all the stuff you'd expect to find in a massively multiplayer online game.
It is that part that is giving me a bit of a headache. While the agency I am in is taking part in Conquest, the mode where agencies face off against each other in an ever ongoing battle for world domination, I have yet to reach a level where I can expect to be invited in. Because of this, I am forced to sit on the sidelines while my comrades go to war. I understand why, when meeting a superior foe you don't want the scrub to be holding your back. But for the sake of this review, it becomes problematic. So please, do keep that in mind.
Conquest is problematic to review in another way, since the layer it adds on top of Global Agenda is subscription based, while the rest is free to play as long as you either pay for the digital download or pick up the box. To take part in Conquest, you need to pay a monthly fee, which of course begs the question if Global Agenda is worth it without it. I will try to answer that as much as I can.
If you have ever played Team Fortress 2, Global Agenda will seem like familiar territory at first glance. Player versus player (PvP) battles are fought over a set amount of maps, each with different objectives, and you play as one of four different classes. Assault, armed with heavy weapons; Recon, the stealth class; Medic, the healer class and Robotic, the engineer class who puts up turrets and medical stations. While games like Team Fortress 2 allow you to shift class in the middle of an ongoing fight, in Global Agenda you stick with one at a time - levelling them up individually, just like you'd expect from a MMO. The only thing your characters share is a common name and, if you are the social type, agency.
The maps are usually quick, dirty affairs and demand teamwork to be won effectively. You have your standard capture points on some of them, either all available from the start or unlocked over the course of the game. Then there is a couple of more innovative maps, like Payload where one team have to move a large robotic crate from one end of the map to the other while the opposing team does its best to stop them. There's one map where two robots, one from each team, have to be led a set amount of times to a checkpoint. In another, one team acts as the defenders while the attackers try to grab three different control points before the time runs out.
At this point, there are not that many maps available, but enough of them to keep interest up - getting the same one in a row is quite uncommon. They are also quick enough that I way too often decide for just one more before shutting the game down, which usually ends up with me doing just one more after that... The action is relentless, while the different classes allow a myriad of play styles not only through their individual design but also through what gear you pick or how you spend your unlocked skill points. The only problem that really annoys me are the players that can't help cursing and insulting their team members, just like you'd expect to see in a battleground in World of Warcraft, for example.
Sometimes balance between the different classes can become an issue, even though it's not that obvious in the random matchmaking. Also, if you are unlucky to end up against a pre-made team, don't expect to get very far together with random strangers. Most of the time, studying the different classes will teach you how to deal with them and they all have tricks up their sleeves. Being tricked to move in front of a Robotic's turret is one I keep falling for, and I hate myself for it every time. Every class has access to a jetpack, which not only speeds up travelling from one end of the map to another; it can turn any one on one duel into a mad dash across rooftops.
Global Agenda does not only offer PvP, there's also a PvE (player versus environment) feature where you team up with three others to attack AI controlled opponents to get to a final boss. It's fun, but I have yet to see a part of this mode that makes it interesting enough for me to focus on. The PvE levels become challenging quite fast though, and require a lot of co-ordination to beat. It's an interesting feature, and if Hi-Rez continue to build upon it, it could easily become a major drawing point of the game; almost mimicking Left 4 Dead in the way the AI works and spawns robots for you to fight.
It is in Conquest mode that Hi-Rez are putting their hopes, though. It is also in this mode that you can see where the game will either stand or fall. During set times of the day, different hex-grid maps open up, and it is up to the agencies to conquer or defend these hexes. While I have yet to enter a single Conquest battle, it is interesting to see how the leaders of the agency scramble together teams for attack or defence, and how the available members have to be micro-managed into different teams to keep the attack going while having enough players available when one of our controlled hexes comes under attack. As one of my fellow agency members put it, it calls for both quantity and quality of agency members - you need the numbers to support your campaigns, but you also need members to be good enough to actually make a difference.
While the hex-grid maps are currently controlled by a whole bunch of different agencies and their alliances, almost like you'd see a political map of the universe in EVE Online, it's hard not to wonder what might happen if a single agency outgrows the other to the point where it controls a majority of the maps. Some grids contain rare resources, factories or bases - what will happen if a single entity controls all of them? It is highly hypothetical, of course, but still it bugs me. Also, Conquest is hardcore in many ways and calls not only for people to pay up, it demands that enough members make themselves available every day. If a majority of your agency is offline, there's nothing to stop your enemies from swallowing your territories without any resistance.
Conquest is an interesting experiment, it's a way for Hi-Rez to add a persistent feel to the game which is important for it to survive. But the question is if it enough. While getting new gear and access to resources are good enough for a lot of people, the lack of palpable game changing mechanics makes it hard for me to actually care very much about what my agency is up to. Currently, all players spend their time outside of the maps in a domed city; it's here you queue up for fights, shop for new armor or visit the auction house. The areas your agency control can't be visited, which at least for me puts a damper on things.
Currently, all players have access to Conquest. Since you get 30 days for free when you pick up the game, everyone that decided to get the game when it launched get a slice of the pie. What remains to be seen is if what is currently on offer is enough to keep people paying, if nothing else the Conquest maps will probably be redrawn when those initial 30 days are up. There is also the question about how much free content Hi-Rez plan to add to the core game, or what they even consider the core game.
In the end, Global Agenda is a great indie-MMO. It has great PvP, gear and levels. It is addictive enough to tear my interest away from Team Fortress 2, and PvP-centric MMOs like Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. While Conquest still remains a big question mark, not only for me personally but also for the game's future as a whole, Global Agenda has me hooked for the time being. It might not be the prettiest game in the world, but it runs smoothly on my computer without any framerate drops in important or hectic situations.
Your mileage might vary though, depending on if you find the game interesting enough to warrant a subscription fee or not. At this point in time, I'm not sure that it does. So far, the madness of the random PvP battles and occasional PvE missions are enough to keep me entertained for a long time.