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Skyforge is evolving into an absolutely gorgeous massively multiplayer online role-playing game that could use a hook beyond its shiny pixels.
You have the chance to see that for yourself this weekend: Skyforge just entered open beta, offering players the chance to test out the new free-to-play MMORPG. It has an unusual mix of futuristic and fantastic themes.
So far, it demonstrates a lot of flash and not too much substance. But it’s early yet, and time remains for Obsidian Entertainment and Allods Team to add the final story and balance that would push it into the realm of being addictive.
Science + magic for an unusual twist
Obsidian (the folks behind Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas) heads up the Westernization of Russian developer Allods’ work. They bill Skyforge as sci-fi, but that mostly applies to the settings and the look of abilities your character will use.
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The classes (tanks, healers, ranged and melee damage dealers) will be familiar to players of any fantasy RPG, even if the execution relies more on lasers than mana, and the storyline has some seriously fantastic elements. You’re a god-in-training, an immortal, and the prologue to your story has some distinctly Greek-god-style overtones.
Eye candy for the guys, at least
Character creation includes intensely detailed, Sims-style sliders for nearly every part of your character’s appearance, and character graphics in-game (both in resting areas and in combat) look absolutely beautiful. Your characters move and fight beautifully.
The animation for the mount provided in the Founders Preview, for example, was absolutely gorgeous on my female berserker. She would do a graceful layout-style backflip as the Glider Stormbringer hovercraft would form out of light, then zoom up under her just as she gracefully landed. Nice.
One note on character creation: It feels a little heavy on male player gratification in a game genre where women make up nearly half of the population at this point.
The lack of serious clothing options for female characters made me roll my eyes a bit — guys can opt for a simple suit, for example, while the girls get a gold poured-on minidress and heels. Other than the default berserker outfit for males, you’ll find hardly any beefcake — and yet almost every female costume offered generous expanses of skin. I saw a heavy exosuit and tried it on — only to have my character assume a Barbie-in-the-mirror pose that showed even that heavy-duty suit had heels. Sigh.
The same inequities were present in the body type sliders. I could make my girl more-muscular (or fat, if I wanted), same as the guys. Both sexes offered an option for butt size. But girls literally slap their bare bottoms if you adjust butt height. Guys don’t — because you can’t adjust guys’ butt height. Really?
MMO players are almost evenly split, and while I like making girly (and sexy!) girls for some of my characters, sometimes I want the option of making someone who looks serious, and not in a pin-up Tank Girl sort of way. At the very least, I also want the capability to make a similar variety of buff half-naked guys that are fun to look at, and the game’s seriously limited in that regard.
It’s also worth mentioning that Skyforge has the most extravagant use of jiggle physics I’ve seen almost anywhere, and that “small” on the chest slider is still a healthy C cup. Not being able to go truly flat-chested limits the athletic options for girls, unfortunately, though I can understand the issues there (since you can’t just shrink the things and have it look natural.) I have to admit: They look good. Sadly, you won’t find any “package” options for guys.
Free-to-play, with the usual caveats
I played the Founder’s Preview long enough to rack up about a thousand “prestige points,” Skyforge’s leveling system, and to open up the main ability tree, which allows you to evolve and upgrade your character’s class. I started as a Berserker, but could become a Slayer later, for example.
Characters in Skyforge can swap outfits at any given time (they don’t affect your power), but to change the way your character looks requires Argents, gems that can be bought with credits in-game or real-life cash.
You can swap your character’s class at any time, though you may lose some prestige if you haven’t leveled the other class’ abilities. You can train and test any class you like before making a swap, and earn that class’ basic outfit as a reward for having done so.