I sit idling outside of a Pike encampment, just north of the mutant city of Tocado. The encampment’s a lengthy industrial zone with a couple smokestacked buildings, some railing leading into the hillsides, and a whole lotta auxiliary structures hastily shod together, Pike skull graffiti spray painted on their walls.
I switch on combat ‘attrition’ mode, giving me a significant boost in my ability to commit sustained combat operations -- my weapons won’t be overheating as much, in other words, but this is at the expense of speed. I can only drive at a rate of 50 percent, but that suits my purposes for tanking through a densely structured area. I also click on an ‘offensive’ stance, slowing me down even more, but shoving that much more punch through the canons. I don’t want to give these Pikes much time to respond. I’ll be coming at them slow, but I’ll be hitting them hard. They’ll know what hit ‘em…
…But only for a second.
A couple lookout towers flank the front gates. I take those out with splash damage tearing away at their fences and other adjacent structures. Some ‘old world’ VW Beetles with mounted machine guns scramble as I come through the gate, but I’ve already excelled too many levels past them. In the last couple weeks, through honest-to-goodness casual storyline play, I’ve gained a dozen levels with no level gaps. NCsoft’s no-grind policy holds its ground.
I pour out damage from multiple angles. I prevent my turret from auto locking on the VWs, which doubles up firepower aiming straight ahead with my forward weapon. I’ve also come into possession of a melee weapon: a front mounted set of blood spikes that dump a serious can o’ hurt on anything I run into. It won’t serve me at full capacity here (since I’m moving at fractional speeds) but I’ve found it to be an invaluable addition to my arsenal. Buildings, railings, infantry -- all things that give lower level vehicles pause -- are rendered into a more putty-like substance at ramming speed. Once you mount a melee weapon on your vehicle you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one.
I spend a full ten minutes plundering the Pike camp. Buildings exploding everywhere, fences shredded, towers toppling, and guard vehicles spraying hopelessly at car.
Harvesting materials should be this good in every MMOG.
This is something Auto Assault gets very right. Gone are the days of clicking random bushes and tree stumps. Gone are the hours scouring for random rocky outcroppings for tin. Materials useable in crafting drop from virtually everything you destroy, and the materials list is long. You’ll be stacking piles of salvaged nuts and bolts, weapon barrels -- even blood -- just by going about your regularly scheduled program of destruction. While drops are random, they’re not completely random. As in, certain “loot pools” (buildings, ruins, plants and animals, infantry, and vehicles) drop certain salvageable items.
I’ve been saving up my salvaged materials for some time in anticipation of commencing craftwork. There was no need to sell it. Missions handed out all of the money, weaponry, and armor I could utilize, given my level. And with so many slots available in my inventory I was never hurting for space.
Over time I’ve allocated points evenly throughout the research & development categories. Which is a mistake, I’ve heard. It’s much better to specialize your abilities, since (even considering specialization) a character will likely hit the level 80 roof before they max out their crafting skills. Creating objects at the higher levels requires hundreds of materials and, naturally, the patience of a master craftsman to create those high-end valuables.
Somewhere around level six were training missions for crafting. And I don’t quite remember the process. I run circles around Tocado’s refinery station, fruitlessly looking for a way into this boldly-bannered structure. I’ve purchased some low level ‘junk’ armor plating from a junk dealer, I’ve got an inventory crammed with salvageable materials, and I’ve even trained with an armorer to bring my ability from level zero to level one. And still I can’t remember how to fix this junk to make it useable.
Exasperated, I hit the public channels and beg for help. The crowd is courteous and understanding, informing me that I simply need to stand next to a refinery, open my inventory, and right-click the junk armor. It becomes obvious from there what step comes next. Embarrassed, I humbly thank them and follow their instructions. Aside from my goldfish memory, crafting is easy, but subsequently contains none of the excitement from the brilliantly formulated harvesting process. There’s a quick 2-3 second bar that fills up as you craft an object, but no flash-boom-bang effects or emotive movements to accompany the process. I understand that walking around town isn’t a center point of action in Auto Assault, but maybe because the rest of the game’s action is so breakneck that it makes crafting that much more dull.
The junk came cheap, of course, but by the time I paid one NPC to refine my salvaged materials into useable ingredients, then paid a second fee associated with using the refinery itself, there was zero profit to be made in selling the fixed armor back to a vendor. This makes obvious counter-gold farming sense, but I haven’t the inclination to spam the chat channels with “WTS yadda yadda,” and the guild I joined has exactly four people lower in level than me. None of which have any use for the level one armor I fixed, since vehicles initially come equipped with level one armor.
So I make a lot more of the same thing: buying a dozen units of junk armor, refining salvaged materials into the combined components I need, fix the armor at the refinery, then sell it back to a store vendor to break even on my spending. My skill is increasing though, so that benefit is immediately obvious.
In the clan, I occasionally convoy with a raucous individual that goes by the name of “Uzi” (not his real name). He’s an excitable w00t w00t pwning type of fellow, which, in my humble opinion, quickly drags a fantasy roleplaying experience downhill. But in the adrenaline junky world of Auto Assault his Chuck Norris jokes, poor spelling, and randomized ALL CAPS rants feel completely appropriate and at home in this setting. Simply because in a parallel future world, real world references make perfect sense and come naturally to the audience. One’s character could (conceivably) talk about other MMOGs like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI without breaking the mood. Because we’re playing in Earth’s future and those are viable elements of Earth’s past. That is, unless WoW is still dominating the charts several hundred years from now, like where we find Auto Assault’s setting.
Joining a clan makes for great conversation, but there hasn’t been a pressing need to convoy with anyone up to this point. In fact, in weekly polls producer Net Devil places on the login page, nearly 50 percent of players prefer tackling missions completely Lone Ranger style. PvP and arena battles consistently rank low in priority for the player base.
I can vouch for that, because it took me several days of trying to get into an arena match before one actually happened. There’s an arena signup in most large towns, and you can continue on with the rest of your day while waiting indefinitely for another player (plus or minus two levels of yourself) to sign up for a match. Mutants are rare in the arena since Humans and Biomeks tend to overpower them easily in straightforward guns blazin’ clashes. But there’s nothing preventing members of the same faction (i.e., Mutant vs. Mutant) from competing in the arena.
I took on a Biomek player and found out firsthand just how difficult it is to compete as a Mutant. The Biomek destroyed me three times to every one time I destroyed him. I kept respawning and I kept going at him like a trooper, but the battle became quite predictable after about 60 seconds of this.
After the match concluded I congratulated my opponent. I got back into my vehicle, rolled up on a Pike encampment, set my car to combat ‘attrition’ mode, and prepared for another excellent harvest.