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by Nexon

Shattered Galaxy would be, in my opinion, the hope for the RTS genre. Having been a fan of this type of game for a long time, I have become disillusioned with the monotony of them. It seemed every game just tended to follow the same formula for success: build all the necessary buildings in order to have access to the newest units and use them in order to beat out the other team. There was no need for strategy, tactics, or even a brain. Just place your buildings next to the most plentiful resources and churn out enough units to beat the other guy.

capital2-01.jpg (7475 bytes)Shattered Galaxy decided to go in a completely different direction – all the focus of the game centers on the actual warfare and the methodology used in adapting to the actions of the enemy. Battles begin to resemble the final minutes of many of my Starcraft experiences when I engage in the final rush on an enemy stronghold. It would often devolve into a mob where I couldn’t even tell which units were mine. That was what I lived for – a screen so full of missiles, guns, explosions and carnage that I would just sit back and watch. What makes this mess so much more enjoyable is the knowledge that there are hundreds of other people all over the world who are helping to create the same mass destruction as me.

The premise of the story is simple: A small group of humans have been thrown across the galaxy as a result of investigating an alien artifact found on the Earth. This small band of humans have separated into factions in an effort to control the meager resources found in the new solar system in which they find themselves. There don’t seem to be significant ideological differences between the various factions, so the idea of a plot driven storyline does not exist here.

capital3-01.jpg (8001 bytes)But who cares? Especially when dealing with a MMORTS like this, the idea of the narrative is not created by a progression of events or stories, but rather by the actions of the players online at any given moment. For example, the battlefields are simulated territories across the face of the planet. The number of territories a faction controls at any given moment determines the influence, power, and resources of that particular faction. As players from various factions log on and log off, the balance of power is tenuous at best. I have seen control of a single territory change more than 10 times in an hour. Factions wax and wane so quickly, there is never a sense of complacency or boredom when online.

When a new player logs onto the system, they are allowed to select a faction to join. As was said before, there do not appear to be any significant ideological differences or technological advantages to joining one faction over another (which might be something that could change in the future). Once a faction is joined, the player is left to decide how to progress. SG uses a hero system to allow for character development and growth. Players are allowed to distribute attribute points in to Tactics (unit control), Clout (political influence and access to new unit types), Education (access to new technologies), and Mechanical Aptitude (access to faster unit alterations and developments). This instills a human aspect to the battle; however, heroes do not fight directly in the battle. Rather, they control small units (normally 6, though more can be controlled based on the Tactics level of the individual player) that will participate in a larger battle to control a specific territory. Skill points can be gained by participating in battles and gaining experience based on the types of units you use. Specializations on specific types of units often results in rapid levelling up, but can also result in lopsided units that are not effective in all battle situations.

battle1-01.jpg (8355 bytes)While there is an emphasis on developing the Hero’s traits and skills, personal fortunes do not exist; there is no individual massing of currency, which then favors heavily addicted players over the casual player in this regard. Resources are defined by tribute received by the territories controlled by each faction; individuals are given portions of this tribute automatically by the faction, thus allowing irregular players access to the materials necessary to enjoy the game without having to invest huge amounts of time to build up their units, etc.

Players are allowed to build units at factories in the faction capital. These units, branched into infantry, mobile, aerial, and alien units, are upgradeable and adaptable; players can even chose how to equip them in various categories. This high level of adaptability allows for a great deal of individualization during game play and allows for a level of specialization rare for RTS games. Units also have the ability to increase in experience based on their involvement in battles. As units increase in experience, their hit points will increase and their battle effectiveness will expand. A extra bonus that I find to be especially nice is that even though a unit might be destroyed on the field, the hero can return to the factory and rebuild the unit with no loss of experience, equipment, or level. This means that players can lose units without being overly punished. However, the longer units exist on the field, the higher levels of experience they will receive.

battle2-01.jpg (9242 bytes)As was mentioned before, Nexon tries to allow players natural routes for growth and progression. This being the case, SG allows players to engage in different types of combat in order to increase experience and the strength of their units. Heroes are allowed to engage in simulated combat that allows for newer players to play with advanced units that are not immediately available. This not only allows the player to grow accustomed to how to use these units, it also allows heroes to understand how others might use these units and how to defend against them. This aspect allows newer players to be able to participate in battles with more advanced players and still be able to contribute to the progression of the battle. Heroes can also engage in battles with native aliens. While these battles do not provide experience to the hero, they will strengthen the individual units and allow for battlefield experience against an artificial opponent before engaging in more challenging modes against other single opponents or joining into full-fledged battles.

Once a hero begins to participate in full battles, the true joy of the game begins. There are really so many different strategies due to the limitation in the number of units that any one player can bring onto the field at any time. There is no way to bring a little of everything into a battle, so players have to begin to develop some strategies of exactly how the battle needs to progress and exactly what roles they need to play in it. Lone guns don’t do too well in this kind of environment, so the ability to take and give battle orders is something that actually has to take place. Working in teams has yielded some of the most enjoyable wins and agonizing losses that I have had during my gaming experience. This is where the human factor comes into play. Heroes are only as good as their ability to communicate and interact with each other during a battle. Since the battles are limited in their scope to about 20 players, factions can’t just flood the field. Actual battle plans and control have to take place or sheer chaos (and losses) ensues. During the course of a battle, players are allowed to replace their destroyed units with reinforcements, which enhances the need for planning and communication so that the proper types of reinforcements are brought in and brought to bear at key points as quickly as possible.

capital1-01.jpg (8729 bytes)While seasoned veterans normally are aware of the need to work with each other and to assist newer players to learn their roles on the field, human nature also plays a part in the game. Stupidity, pride, inexperience, and a host of other human weaknesses also rear their ugly heads on the battlefield. Often, this has left me grinding my teeth after a close battle that should have been won except for some glory hog who left his position to try and get an easy kill so that he/she could advance a level. They might have gotten the experience they needed, but left the rest of us hanging out to dry. This might sound like a criticism, but is indeed the opposite. This type of player interaction only works to heighten the reality of the battle environment, which only increases my level of enjoyment and hampers my efforts to sleep, eat, and function as a normal human being with a job and other responsibilities.

SG does not require a lot in terms of actual system requirements: 2 MB video card, 600 MB of drive space, and a Pentium II processor. In terms of most games of this nature, these are pretty low requirements. However, there is one aspect of this game that is extremely important: the Internet access speed. Connections make or break this game, not only for the hero but for other players as well. Whenever new players try to access a battle, the system will pause all action until the new player is able to access the specific server where the game is being processed. While this is done automatically, players using slower Internet connections often cause lags in the playing time that can seriously hamper the battle and often irritate the other players already involved. Thus, as a recommendation, this is not a game to be played on a 14.4 or 28.8 Modem. A 56K might pull it off, but the best results will only come from broadband, high-speed connections. (Blessed be the name of the T1!)

battle3-01.jpg (9245 bytes)Another small issue, insignificant in terms of the entire game yet incredibly irritating, is the constant presentation of ads for the game during game play. The interactive screen allows for constant messaging between players throughout the game (especially important during large skirmishes with large numbers of allies and foes). Often, Nexon presents quotes from gaming reviews (like this one) as messages that can be extremely irritating, especially since everyone playing the game has already bought it. It seems like Nexon enjoys preaching to the choir, so to speak. Like I said, it is a small thing, but it is something that rally gets under my skin, especially when I am in the middle of a game.

However, in Nexon’s defense, they have also demonstrated a level of technical support level that I have rarely seen duplicated anywhere else. I experienced several problems while trying to install the game and create my character. I emailed them explaining the problem, not expecting to hear anything for at least 2-3 days. Instead, I was involved in a quick and furious e-mail tag game that resolved the issue within four hours of reporting it. This is to be especially admired as the entire episode took place after what I would have thought to be normal support hours. At least two of the five stars I give to this game are due to this level of support, which I find to be a HUGE selling point.

Clayn D. Lambert   (10/06/2001)


Ups: Excellent RTS action; massively multiplayer; great game dynamics; friendly to newbies; highly addictive.

Downs: Requires good (fast) online connection; self-promoting within game.

Platform: PC