Knowing what happens after you die is one of the greatest philosophical challenges of all time. In Endless Ages, you play as a character in one out of four races, who happens to have ended up in afterlife, heaven, hell, but at least somewhere, that goes by the name of Lia.
The game itself is a mmorpg/fps hybrid where you, like most similar games, kill increasingly devious creatures, gain experience, practice in a number of skills, get plenty of powerful items, and hopefully gain respect from worthless peon newbies.
Before you start the game, you will need to make a character. After naming it, you will choose between for instance, the frog-like amphibious races, which live in tranquility with nature. They are quite small, can evade attacks, hide from dangerous creatures, and even dominate the minds of some of them. If that doesn’t sound great then you could try the human female race, which is very proficient in crafting skills, and the art of magic. The females are intelligent, move very quickly, and are known for their prolonged endurance. Next up is the human male race, which is skilled in engineering, and is quite good at anything related to combat. The male race is pretty good at a lot of things actually, although not exceptionally skilled in specific things. The male race is fairly strong, but make up what they lack in strength with intelligence. You might be thinking, why would the male race need to compensate for a lack in strength? The answer is, in short, the Bloblic race, which at an average height of 12.3 feet, are powerful to say the least. These creatures, which are comparable with barbarians in other games, aren’t the most graceful warriors, but are at least very efficient when things need to be killed. These guys have a natural advantage in melee combat, and can wield larger weapons than for example the human male race, but their size also works against them, because they tend to take a lot of hits. To really get the character right you can also choose between various hair colors, shirt colors and such.
Before you get into the actual game world, you’ll be sent to a tutorial area, where you’ll try some of the basic functions of the game, like moving, blowing up critters, buying items, and operating the bank. Right from that point there are two things that are hard to not notice – namely the graphics and the default controls. Moving around is done by using the E, S, D, F keys, instead of the W, A, S, D standard that most shooters use these days. Interacting with objects is done by pressing F8, which is ludicrously far from the movement keys. Re-configuring the keyboard doesn’t take long, but why they chose a configuration that’s so far from what most people use is beyond me. To me a good first impression can help a lot, so I wish the developers had used ground textures that actually looked realistic, and leaf textures that are more than just large rectangular black things slapped together, but on the other hand - you can’t judge a game by its tutorial, so after running around blasting critters it was time to teleport into the real game-world.
Once there the exploration begins. You have no guide, so you’ll mostly just have to walk up to NPCs, right click them, and hope what they say makes sense. The main building is split into several stories, and starting from the bottom you have the park, where you can bring the person you at least hope is of the opposite sex. In the next you have the general store, where you can purchase melee and ranged weapons, armor, health kits, ammunition, and speak with people about piloting, and using the jetpack. You see, one of the cool features in Endless Ages is its many ways of transportation. You can of course run and walk, but you can also purchase a jetpack and fly for a certain period. Doing this can be a lot faster than running, but you’ll need to get training and better equipment to stay in the air longer. Riding certain creatures is also a possibility, although not as efficient in combat as you would hope, but I digress. Also in the main building is the smithy/armor shop, where you can buy pieces of armor, or get a raw materials and a kit from the smithy, and start making things yourself. The skill system works very much like in Morrowind, so if you whack someone enough with a melee weapon you’ll increase in that skill, while you’ll need to produce a certain number of something to increase in the smithy skill. Next is the tech ops shop, where you can buy raw materials and an engineering kit, and start making things you’ll need for ships and such, or just have as an extra income. The chemlab works in a very similar way, only with different raw materials and finished products, like beer and drinks. And finally, at the top of the building you have a disco/nightclub area of sorts, where you can hang out at the bar, look at dancers, do a bit of dancing yourself, or see The Man about missions. At first you’ll do training missions that involve bringing him a certain number of shells, tails, etc from dead creatures, proving that you’re learning. These training missions are reasonably easy, but at a certain point they get a lot harder. You see, it seems as if there are two kinds of creatures: the easy ones, and the extremely hard ones. The first hours of the game you’ll spend killing creatures that usually just walk or run against you, who are naturally no problem to defeat with a ranged weapon. The weapon balance works fairly well, because melee weapons do a lot more damage than ranged, have no repair or ammunition costs, but will make you take a lot more hits, and the one thing that’s certain is that you’ll die quickly. At the beginning of game you won’t have to worry about looting, but it’s still very annoying to almost instantly be killed by a creature so early in the game. The collision detection is also pretty flaky, because the creatures seem to hit you when physics say otherwise. The best way of hitting a creature with a melee weapon is just to get a close as you can, but some almost require you to attack from behind, so there is a certain level of skill involved in the melee combat.
The various weapons and armor look quite good, and do their purpose most of the times. Most of the ranged weapons can be called railguns, but I suppose that’s the trend in the future. All the weapons have a certain ranged/melee, strength, wisdom, and dexterity requirement, but once you get to for instance ranged attack level 4 you’ll have strength, wisdom and dexterity far above the requirement. Having a lot of dexterity doesn’t affect the damage dealt by the ranged weapon any more than having a lot of strength affects the melee weapons. The economy isn’t very much to brag about either, because killing for instance twenty creatures when you’re level one will get you enough money to buy even the largest weapons they have in the store.
Secondly, when you head to a weapon store in a role-playing game you do expect weapon stats like what damage it does, and maybe some information about how it works in terms of splash-damage etc. You do in fact get no such information (this is however obtainable at the official website, but wouldn’t it make more sense to have it in the game?), so you basically just have to trust that the weapon you’re killing creatures for is better. During my test period the only motivation I had to keep playing the was simply to obtain better armor and weapons, because even with nearly as good items as you could get from the first building you wouldn’t make it on your own outside the protected area, because there a plenty of flying horrors that’ll kill you if they spot you. Additionally, when you respawn and head back to recover the corpse you’re likely to be killed once more by the same flying horror, and at that point it’s very easy to get pissed off at the game. It’s easy to see that the developers want people to work as teams, or clans if you will, but the sad fact is that there just isn’t that many people playing the game. I played the game at very varying times of day and night, and being completely alone in the main area was no rare occurrence.
Exploration can still be a bit fun, if you don’t mind the suicidal nature of it. One of Endless Ages’ really unique features is its appearance, and that’s something you’ll truly experience if you go on a trip. There is a very trippy day/night cycle in the game, sometimes filling your screen with a yellow haze, other times with red, blue, green, and more. The nights are particularly annoying, because they’re basically so dark that running into a creature many times your size is likely to occur when you least expect it. When you do reach the other parts of the somewhat small gameworld, you’ll find the more impressive characters, the bigger explosions, and the nastier creatures. Seeing this is probably motivation enough to keep playing the game, and it seems like those who have been playing the game for some months are very happy with it. Regardless, most of the objects in the game could use more polygons and way better textures, and the creatures should have more fluid animations, and an AI that could to some extent seem realistic. Oh, and while they’re at it, an efficient interface, an in-game map, and less spelling/grammar errors wouldn’t hurt either.
Shape shifting is one of the rather neat things you can do in the game, because for a certain period of time you can transform yourself into a creature and get both its advantages and disadvantages. I can assure you that since you won’t see the name of the player until he or she is close you can scare quite a few newbies using this skill, if that sounds fun to you.
Sound-wise the game is actually a bit odd. The music is, like much of the graphics, rather trippy and odd, but it’s of course better than nothing. The gameworld is split into zones though, so when you enter a certain part of the main building the music might stop, or another track starts. The sound effects are even stranger, because when most people seem to be more or less happy with them they were often not being played at all on my soundcard, which has had no similar problems before. Therefore, on my PC much of the gaming was done in silence, disregarding the faint hum of the fans. There are no options to turn off the sounds or music, but you can always alt-tab out of the game when there is silence and turn on your favorite MP3 player. The excellent dub tunes by Ralph Myerz and the Jack Harren band fit the game nicely, but it’s obviously up to you what you want to play.
Making a successful mmorpg these days is by far no easy task. Avaria Corporation consists of about four people and various outsourced artists etc, which is obviously a very small team compared to Sony and the veterans. Endless Ages’ gameworld appeals to me, but there are just too many faults to overlook. Graphically the game is dated, its gameplay desperately needs more depth and polish, and the number of sounds and music tracks should be bigger. This game has been in development for quite some time now, and veterans in the game say it has evolved very well in that time. I do hope this game improves over time, because it does have its fun moments. The game can be downloaded for free at www.endlessagesportal.com
, where you can get a free five-day trial, which should be enough time to find out if you like it. If you wish to continue after that you get one month free, and then you’ll need to pay a $9.95 monthly recurring fee.