By Nathan Grayson on April 25th, 2012 at 11:30 am.
If it looks like Minecraft and builds (kind of) like Minecraft and – though I haven’t chewed it (yet) – presumably tastes a bit like Minecraft. So is it Minecraft? If we’re talking about “alleged lovechild of Minecraft and Fallout” RPG shooter 3079, then the answer’s a resounding “hardly.” Originally catapulted into the public eye via Indie Royale’s Alpha Bundle, the unabashedly lo-fi indie curiosity recently shed its beta tag and, in its place, donned a slightly heftier price tag. So, is 3079 worth your 2012 time and money? Depends on what you want out of a game purchase, really. Here’s wot I think.
Here it is: Don’t call 3079 a Minecraft clone. Oh, sure, its world is a procedurally generated mass of blocky peaks and valleys, and yeah, it’s entirely possible to shape said blocks into all manner of flying buttresses and flightless birds. Hell, creator “phr00t” is, like Notch, a largely one-man show. But there are other things, too – things that have attracted the (largely erroneous) label of “Fallout meets Minecraft.” Mines and the crafting thereof represent an option, but that’s merely the foundational crust on an overloaded game design pizza composed of shooting, looting, questing, stealthing, ship-piloting, exploring, jetpacking, grapple-hooking, backstabbing, front-stabbing, and business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back-stabbing.
Problem is, none of it fits together particularly well.
The setup for 3079 is – much like the rest of the game – a fairly basic one. You play as an intergalactic spaceman type who’s been sent to a mysterious planet in order to figure out why its two factions won’t stop beating the cube-shaped stuffing out of each other. So I began by descending into the planet’s atmosphere, all the while marveling at floating spheroid boulders that added to the purple sky’s otherworldly look. “Alright, then,” I thought. “I could get used to this.”
I could not, as it turned out, get used to it. Red, semi-translucent sky demons – impervious to my puny mortal weapons – swatted me into freefall, which quickly proved rather non-conducive to living. Shortly after, I was reborn on the planet’s surface, surrounded by unfamiliar structures and naked as a jetpack-less baby. For such a lo-fi game, it was quite the running start. I was punted face-first into a mysterious, hostile world. What would I find?
Fetch quests, as it turned out. Lots and lots of fetch quests. Impressively, pretty much everything in 3079 – cities, storekeepers, quest-givers, map layouts, buildings, etc – is randomly generated. Problem is, this requires a one-size-fits-all approach to each quest type, and in a wide-open world, that leaves very little room for depth. So my allies, the Humoids – who best resemble Voldemort from Harry Potter after eating too many Skittles, becoming morbidly obese, and also becoming part-Skittle for some reason – told me to go to a nearby location and mash a leader of the opposing faction, the Neanders, until it cried “Uncle! Not that it really matters so much, seeing as you just killed me.”
So I did that, and then… nothing. My main objective was a nearly directionless “Do quests to unlock a level five Demon Smiter,” but a practically useless map failed to point me in the direction of any of 3079’s nearly identical quest-givers. Instead, I had to wander unsettlingly deserted, disorientingly similar buildings until I finally emerged from the directionless wastes and sighted a Humoid with a star on its torso. That, amazingly, is the only trait that separates quest-givers from normal NPCs of all shapes, sizes, and terrifying snake faces.
So, ultimately, I spent at least as much time corralling NPCs who rank up there with customer service representatives on the “ready, willing, and able to do their jobs” spectrum as I did actually shooting Neanders, smiting demons, and delivering nondescript squares apparently coveted by the land’s wealthiest denizens. Which is not to say that the light at the end of that particular tunnel proved much brighter. The basics of shooting, at least, managed competence, even if it felt like I was pegging papier-mache baddies with bullets made of cotton and a lover’s gentle caress. Melee, on the other hand, was a nightmare, with slow, inconsistent strikes often failing to connect unless Lady Luck finally saw fit to throw me a bone wrapped in lottery tickets. If I used melee at all, it tended to be paired with stealth cloaking, but only as an initial blow.
So, for the first few hours, I just did incredibly similar quests over and over and over again en route to spending the latter half of my time duking it out with demons – which proved slightly more interesting due to sheer scale of resulting showdowns. Many battles – especially when the aforementioned red menace was involved – involved tens of combatants on both sides, but (sometimes literally) braindead AI and generally straightforward shoot-and-strafe tactics mowed down intrigue long before it could ever really take root.
3079, however, attempts to offer sheer volume where its rather limited individual mechanics grow stale or even sprout the odd tuft of mold. Problem is, while the components are plucked from admirable inspirations (everything from Diablo and Borderlands to Deus Ex, Fallout, and of course, Minecraft), they come together in such a way as to actually be less than the sum of their parts. Building, for instance, is generally useless and far too basic to be intrinsically compelling, and loot – while imbued with all the statistical variety random generation allows – lacks tremendously demonstrable differences. Sure, some weapons hit harder or slightly faster than others, but most weapons of one type (snipers, pistols, rifles, etc) feel roughly the same. There was, then, no single mechanic that exerted a tractor-beam-like, “just five more minutes” pull. 3079 never hooked me. The number of options here – from freeform exploration to mining to building to questing – is nearly staggering, but none of it stays particularly entertaining for long.
To add an extra layer of alleged “depth” to the proceedings, each action you can perform is tied to an Elder-Scrolls-style evolve-through-use stat system. Once again, though, 3079’s variation on the theme appears to miss the point of what made this mechanic work in other games. The energy meter – which basically serves as a slowly recharging replacement for ammo – is an especially egregious example of this. In short, weapons on par with my level (read: the only ones that could do meaningful damage to the baddies I was battling) caused my energy meter to sputter, wheeze, and bid the world a tearful goodbye after only a few shots. Then I’d have to hide until it sprang back to life – much like the phoenix of legend, only slow, tedious, and nothing like the phoenix of legend at all.
I was able, however, to level up my energy stat by draining my meter and then continuing to fire my weapon – each misfire lapping up a few precious drops of my health but gaining morsels of experience. Yeah, it didn’t really make much sense, but – when paired with an health and energy insta-regen station – it proved an undeniably effective means of grinding skill points. And also, you know, the other thing: boring. It was, in effect, a completely unnecessary step between me and fun. Some might call it “old-school,” and if that’s your thing, cool. Me, though, I’d at least prefer a system in which it’s optimal to get better at fighting while, you know, fighting.
All the while, little frustrations buzzed around my sanity, slowly but surely taking their toll. The biggest offender was easily 3079’s uneven difficulty curve, which often transformed the game into a frustrating war of attrition instead of a rewarding battle of wits. Ships, for instance, cruise around overhead, but – unlike their corner embracing, wall-smooching creators – they ran me down like sharks in a blood frenzy. It took until I was well into the double digits level-wise before a ship’s nearly inescapable volley of blaster fire didn’t signal light-speed death and faster-than-light-speed frustration. And, more than a few times, the game then spawned me right into the path of another. Two cheap deaths within seconds of each other. Wonderful. Oh, and did I mention that 3079 robs you of a random item on death? Because there’s nothing quite like having to hunt down another main-story-required Demon Smiter after cruel fate intervenes and plays an especially mean number on its rhyme-and-reason-free murder flute.
With time and sheer, unbreakable will, however, 3079 did eventually mold my entire graveyard’s worth of charred, broken remains into a capable combatant. Ultimately, though, I didn’t feel like I learned all that much. Whereas, say, Minecraft forces you to study and experiment to make it through the early goings, 3079 – admittedly, in an entirely different fashion – basically bulldozes you until you grow an adamantium spine or quit in an enraged huff. Stats, loot, and upgraded armor win the day more often than not, with the same basic strategies remaining more or less effective throughout due to a general dearth of enemy types.
Multiplayer, at the very least, greatly lessens the frustration with good old-fashioned strength in numbers. Moreover – though I only ended up adventuring with a few other players – multiplayer servers can, in theory, handle as many players as you can throw at them. Granted, the current game isn’t really balanced for that, but it’s an ambitious option, if nothing else. Even then, though, the incredibly basic MMO-style quests and generally unspectacular combat severely limit any sort of lasting appeal. Honestly, my friends and I had the most fun simply exploring as far out as we could, pushing the procedural world to generate stronger and stronger enemies and the occasional interesting piece of terrain.
3079, then, is a tough game to truly recommend or damn. It is, more than anything else, a giant procedural playground with all the strengths and drawbacks that implies. And while frustrating or out-and-out perplexing design choices run rampant, I can’t rightly write off the potential in things like constructing a sky fortress (however simple it might be) mid-battle or stumbling onto a gigantic Humoid vs Neander vs Demon clash in the middle of nowhere – hilariously braindead AI or not. Moreover, while the world’s currently simple and bereft of truly interesting sights, can you imagine something like this with more varied terrain, characters with vaguely existent personalities, and more involved city structures? That’s a place I’d be thrilled to explore.
More complex encounters and quest types, especially, could turn this one into something truly special – even if it still ends up miles from perfect. And on that front, there is some hope, as 3079’s current Big Bad (which I won’t spoil) puts up a pseudo-multi-stage fight, and a recent patch added quests that involve taking over entire enemy forts any way you see fit – grappling hook, stealth, blowing up walls, whatever. If 3079 continues to mold its everything-and-a-kitchen-sink-made-out-of-blocks design approach around quests that actually warrant it, its vision of a truly open, entirely procedural RPG world might not be so far out of reach.
For now, though, 3079 is a wobbling tower of ideas with only a couple dabs of glue holding it together. It is, on some level, an impressive production – especially coming from just one person – but at the moment, it’s more promise than fully realized genre fusion. Much like its ever-expanding, potentially never-ending landmass, however, I very much look forward to seeing where it goes.