The sky’s literally the limit in this player-governed MMO.
We knew it was probably game over when the wind yanked the compass off our airship’s dashboard and flung it into the cloudy wastes below. Frankly, very little was going according to plan. I was on a developer-made airship in the upcoming survival MMORPG Worlds Adrift, a game about crafting airships and using them to explore numerous floating islands, and by rights we should have sailed through the storm wall we’d intentionally entered as smoothly as butter. New islands awaited if we could only make it to the other side! New adventures and resources! But no. We lost our bearings, even though the developers did their best to repair the sails and engines by grappling heroically to the underside of the ship in the midst of the storm. Our vessel was a mess, and somehow we found ourselves on the same side of the storm we’d gone through.
It’s all PvP enabled, so there’s always a chance a bunch of pirates could fly in from another neighboring rock and steal your stuff.
Roughly sketched, that’s the core experience of Worlds Adrift. You spawn on a random floating island in the clouds, and you then use the scattered resources to cobble together an airship of your own design. Once your dirigible dinghy’s airborne, you sail away to other islands, often through storm walls that serve as barriers between zones and learn “knowledge” that lets you build niftier toys. Just don’t expect the ride to be smooth. It’s all PvP enabled, so there’s always a chance a bunch of pirates could fly in from another neighboring rock and steal your stuff.
Developer Bossa Studios gives us a world where players create almost every single visible element, right down to the floating islands themselves.
But I’m doing Worlds Adrift a disservice with such a quick sketch. It’s the flesh that’s packed on this skeleton that makes it so appealing. Here developer Bossa Studios gives us a world where players create almost every single visible element, right down to the floating islands themselves. (You can use a free tool to make your own, if you want to try.)
Despite its stylized cartoony aesthetic, it’s a world where decently realistic physics govern every action, whether it’s trees that fall on you and kill you if you’re not careful while cutting them or newly constructed ship engines that roll off into the cloudy nothingness if you were so silly as to drop it on a slope.
It’s a truly persistent world that leaves the smashed detritus of wrecked ships where they fell forever, or at least until some enterprising builder cleans up the mess. Free of any quests or story, it’s a world that’s entirely shaped by the societies and economies players make for themselves. In fact, based on what I’ve seen, it comes perhaps closest to that elusive dream of a third-person action MMO that mimics feel of EVE Online.
The constant promise of cooperation and danger inject Worlds Adrift with a vivacity that No Man’s Sky never had.
But that’s not the only inspiration. The whole affair leaves behind a slight aftertaste of No Man’s Sky, which is most apparent when you land on far-flung islands that stand in for planets and you start harvesting everything in sight with your little laser. Yet these aren’t lonely lands, and the constant promise of cooperation and danger inject Worlds Adrift with a vivacity Hello Games’ space adventure never had.
And it’s technically a survival game, focused heavily on cooperation between players. The ships here essentially function as your “castle” or “keep” in a survival game like Age of Conan, but the big draw in Worlds Adrift is that you’re not forced to hang around the joint all the time in order to fend off invasions at 3 a.m. You take your home with you, so to speak, adding on as necessary.
It’s a rare survival game that’s focused on the thrills of living rather than the threat of dying.
As a bonus, the ship disappears when you go offline. Once you’re actually in the game, though, everything’s fair game. The developers have also tried hard to keep everything manageable for newbie players. Should you die, you’ll retain your knowledge all the schematics you pick up as you play and explore, but every character has the same pitiful 100 hit points in order to give rookies a fighting chance against evil-minded folks.
Overall, though, it’s a rare survival game that’s focused on the thrills of living rather than the threat of dying. It’s not burdened, for instance, with the fussiness of constantly scrounging for food in order to keep yourself alive. Instead, you only have to eat when you need to recover from injuries, which Bossa tells me has the happy side effect of encouraging cooperation among players since they’re not constantly in danger of kicking the bucket. Raids and piracy directed at ships under construction are very much a feature of Worlds Adrift—to the clear horror of some rookie players on Reddit and the official forums—but there’s also at least a decent chance someone’s going to try to help you out or rob you. Or so Bossa Studios would have me believe.
Cooperation helps fuel the societies and resulting stories players are already making for themselves only a few weeks into the current closed beta.
After all, cooperation—even if if mainly amounts to honor among thieves—helps fuel the societies and resulting stories players are already making for themselves only a few weeks into the current closed beta. Among the most fascinating is the Transportation Security Agency (yes, the TSA), which floats around “policing” sectors and fining any players who aren’t carrying the “proper” passes. Naturally, they kind of turn into pirates if you don’t give them what they demand. Or then there’s the Cardinal Guild, which makes up for Worlds Adrift’s lack of maps by creating and disseminating maps of their own. There’s even a bounty-hunting guild that’ll hunt down annoying players or their creations. (For a price, of course.) Alliance–read: guilds–still aren’t in the game yet, but players have already formed strong societies in this vein on their own. I’m more than a little excited to see how well it all comes together in its final form.
This, frankly, is ambitious stuff, particularly for a studio whose key achievements until now include Surgeon Simulator 2013 and a game about a sentient slice of toast. Still, what I’ve seen so far proves the studio has its feet on solid ground and in a genre that’s been adrift without good ideas for far too long.
Leif Johnson is a contributing editor to IGN who scribbles words about video games from a remote ranch in South Texas. You can chat him up on Twitter at @leifjohnson.
Source: IGN Video Games