First Look: Transformers Universe

By Alec Meer on April 2nd, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

‘Massively Online Tactical Action, eh? We’ve been wondering for several weeks now what a MOTA is, after this new acronym turned up applied to Jagex’s rebooted Transformers MMO. Turns out it’s Team Fortress 2 meets WoW PvP meets League of Legends, obviously. Even with a collection of Jagex staff noisily demoing the game to a room full of assembled hacks, it took a while to figure out what exactly was going on.

Would I control a pack of robots, taking direct control of one at a time while the others shot and stabbed and morphed and drove autonomously? Ah, no: rather I’d have a regularly-changing pack of a robots, trading card style, from which I can choose just one to deploy at any one time. Should it fall, I can either field it again (with assorted options on how to repair it first) or switch to another one that might fare better, or more specifically prove a better match for the robots sent out by the other players on my four-strong side. Part of me had hoped for a brutal machine war in which anyone who’s killed was killed forever, and you’d have to draw replacements from a limited pool, but as anyone who’s ever followed Transformers sprawling, sometimes wonderful fiction (please seek out the current More Than Meets The Eye comic series) will know, no Transformer ever stays dead. They’re car-sized X-Men, basically.

It’s a flashy enough affair for sure, and what was shown so far certainly busted any negative expectations about both free to play games and Unity-powered games. The robots look straight out of the Prime cartoon (see below, however), character selection and upgrade screens have a slick, stylised look – in no sense does this appear cheap. Jagex are at pains to point out this is a huge deal for them, and they’re determined that it not seem like the usual licensed fare, If the final result matches the canned footage I was shown, they’ll have lived up to that.

Whether this is the dream Transformers game is another question entirely – with no build-your-own bots, an avoidance of the fan-favourite Generation One continuity and a heavy focus on 4v4 PvP battles, the aim seems to be a younger, LoL-loving crowd who more generally think big robots wot turn into cars are cool, rather than Transformers Masterpiece line-collecting 30-somethings who know what the Underbase is, have their own theory on which particular near-dead Decepticon was turned into Cyclonus and spotted the Furmanism in this article’s header.

(I really do know far too much. It’s like a disease. At the event, sometime RPS contributor Craig Pearson – alas clad in the colours of the enemy that day – and sadly nonetime RPS contributor Steve Hogarty – of PC Games N – asked a series of what they believed to be increasingly obtuse questions about Transformers. Whether it was they or I who was most appalled that I could answer every one of them is not certain).

Battles play out like Warcraft battlegrounds, as savy players use complementary powers and rapid recognition of enemy types to corner, whittle down and negate their opponents. It’s fast, real-time shooting with bonus powers (many of which are heavily focused on defensive capabilities) on timers, and a revolving cast of Transformers spanning broadly familiar MMO classes. Each class – tank, healer, sniper and that sort of thing – has a fairly distinctive rough silhouette despite having a wide variety of Transformers within it, so the idea is you can tell from afar pretty much what you’re up against before wading in. A massive robot with bits of monster truck on its shoulders isn’t going to turn into a sniper, for instance.

So far, all the Cybertronians on show have been new creations, devised by Jagex rather than pulled from thirty years’ worth of ‘official’ Transformers (of which there are now thousands), but cameo appearances from famous names such as Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, and hopefully some non-boring ones too, have been confirmed. This is pure speculation, but as this is a free to play game, I’d be extremely surprised if buying yourself a Jazz here or a Soundwave there weren’t an option before too long. I’m probably* biased due to my long-standing, incurable despite best efforts, interest in Transformers, but my knee-jerk take on the new characters was that they weren’t as striking or memorable as those in other TF fiction. They seemed somewhat assembled from bits rather than fully-formed, although the one that had a Mystery Machine-style camper van as its alt-mode was an immediate favourite.

New robots are gained and added to your hand, CCG style, either through long-term play or buy buying them, and while the microtransaction system has yet to be fully detailed, Jagex are promising it’s pay for variety rather than pay to win. The battles are set within relatively large arenas – e.g. a city block – which seem short on destructibility but big on allowing rapid movement.

Transformation is anywhere and anywhen, although being a dune buggy or campervan while a quartet of angry Decepticons have at you is largely unwise. Combat is focused on robot modes, and while there’s a great deal of strategy going on in terms of positioning and co-operation, it does have that WoW-like aesthetic of a bunch of guys jostling each other amidst multi-coloured explosions, surrounded by a busy UI full of icons and numbers.

Jagex gamely tried to talk us through what as going on, what powers each robot was using and why they’d just won or lost a given skirmish, and clearly it’s going to make sense when I’m in control of the situation to some degree, but frankly from afar it looks like chaos in that traditionally MMOy way. Sadly ut’s all health meters and icons rather than robots being visually the worse for wear – I couldn’t see any detached limbs or exposed Spark cavities. Sure, it’s an all-ages game, but it’s a shame it’s not a bit more brutal to its metal men and women.

Outside of these arena fights there’s an open world of sorts, though Jagex downplayed its role somewhat. We saw an Autobot speeding around a rocky Colorado landscape, briefly transforming to bot mod to take down some AI Terrorcons of assorted sizes, then alt-moding up again to drive to an Autobot base which acted as a social hub. I hope this stuff plays a sizeable role in proceedings, as it looks like valuable and scene-setting downtime in between the mania of the PvP battles.

A note on which Transformers universe Transformers Universe is set in. While the character design is clearly inspired in a big way on the recent, now-axed Transformers Prime series, Jagex say it’s in fact the Generations universe. Now, Generations is a collector-orientated toyline based on reworkings of the 80s, Generation One Transformers, but this is in fact an entirely different fiction called Generations, which involves elements of multiple series. Got that?

My strong suspicion is that Universe was originally intended to be a Prime game, but as that series ended during the game’s drawn-out development (a result of the decision to switch from traditional MMORPG to something a little more of the moment) a change was needed. That’s only a guess, of course. In any case, the long and short of it is that this is an entirely new continuity, but expect many commonalities with other ones.

I’m keen to play it myself even if I’m concerned I might be too old for it (says the man who still enjoys playing with plastic robot toys), but I suspect Transformers Universe is going to be rather popular. It’s got that drop in and have a muck about aspect of Team Fortress 2 with the long-tail strategising of League of Legends et al, and if what they’re saying about the free to play model proves accurate, you’ll be throwing in a few groats to get new toys rather than to keep playing. The reluctant fanboy in me does pipe up excitedly when I think about possible character pack prospects – if I’m enjoying the game, I would totally throw down some pounds to get a Wreckers pack or the MTMTE crew.

There’ll be a beta soon, with release slated for later this year.

* definitely

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28 Comments »

  1. tasteful says:

    hey alec how come transformers turn into cars when it would be faster to just run

    • tasteful says:

      and then they wouldnt have all the transforming parts so theyd have more space for guns

      • Tom De Roeck says:

        Alec will probably tell you that there are cybertronians that dont transform. But it is like an extra perception of reality, the ability to transform. Not so much actual functionality, more of a cyber spiritual thing, like zen for robots.

        • Stardreamer says:

          Alec will probably tell you that there are cybertronians that dont transform

          Oh Yarp, definitely. Look up the Militant Monoform Movement, Rack-n-Ruin, Action Masters…

          But I really do suggest you chaps think again on the non-functionality of alt-modes! Should I run with my legs, or DRIVE AT 400MPH? HMM…TOUGH ONE!

          • Corb says:

            Personally I’d rather have a speed of light doom laser with pinpoint accuracy :P

    • Jake says:

      A better question is how come Decepticons, that can fly in robot mode, turn into planes while autobots that can’t fly turn into cars? Surely if Optimus Prime turned into a plane things would just generally be easier for him?

      I want to play obscure Transformers trivia more than I want to play this game. Still kicking myself for missing Soundwave at Toys R Us..

      • Barchester says:

        An even better question would be why it even makes a difference, since the Autobots can actually fly in robot form as well (at least in the first few G1 episodes).

      • crinkles esq. says:

        I collected the G1 Transformers comic book when I was a kid, and the origin story was that when their spaceship’s AI systems awoke, it sent out automated drones to scan local life (the spaceship only recognized life as being metallic), then redesigned the Transformers to camouflage themselves using the “life” that it found. So the plane Decepticons like Starscream and Ramjet transforming into jets was to avoid being detected, though perhaps they were also able to fly faster than in robot mode.

    • Bluerps says:

      I always wondered why they transform into human vehicles at all. Aren’t they from a different planet?
      (I know absolutely nothing about Transformers, except that they are robot-people that can change into vehicles)

      • Rao Dao Zao says:

        And why do they even need disguises when they’re usually massively powerful nigh-indestructible robots with giant guns?!

        • BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

          Because while they are massively powerful, the Autobots refuse to kill humans. The only way to avoid conflict with them would be to disguise themselves. And they can become human vehicles because they scan them before they transform. They can become almost anything they scan, it’s just that for modern day Earth, vehicles are more convenient.

          And Optimus is a truck and doesn’t fly, I guess for the convenience of filling out a roll. It’s like saying ‘Why doesn’t everyone in the military use a rocket launcher, don’t they do a lot of damage?’ well yes, but overall it would be inconvenient if everyone used them. You need recon, aerial, and ground support in combat, and that same aspect applies to the Transformers.

          • Philomelle says:

            Shorter answer: why would you need guns when you have a giant plasma axe with a jet turbine mounted onto it for maximum momentum?

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            “well yes, but overall it would be inconvenient if everyone used them”

            I think you meant to say “totally awesome”.

      • Philomelle says:

        Cybertronians are like giant robot chameleons. Their bodies adapt to their environment in order to blend in with it better.

        Google for images from the War for Cybertron game, it’s set entirely on their native planet and has vehicle forms that are vastly different from their usual Earth ones as a result. Another good example would be the Beast Wars TV-series, where they adopt organic form because prehistoric Earth is saturated with a unique radiation that is harmless to organics, but poisonous to machine-based life.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Goddammit now I need to go rewatch Beast Wars. Thanks so much.

      • Mitthrawn says:

        ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS AREN’T HELPING TO SELL TOYS.

        In reality, the transformers transform because they own a secret controlling interest in Mattel and Hasbro.

      • Bluerps says:

        And now I know! Thanks, Transformers fans!

    • Skabooga says:

      Alec, how do Transformers reproduce?

      • Stardreamer says:

        Well, according to the latest theories expounded by IDW Publishing’s sublime series of comics (seriously, go read More Than Meets The Eye right this very minute):

        1) Sparks (souls) are spontaneously generated, or ‘Forged’, in ‘hot spots’ around Cybertron and her moons by massive releases of matrix/allspark energy from the cores of those worlds. These are then collected and placed within constructed Transformer bodies.

        2) Using sophisticated science, Matrix energy is siphoned off existing sparks and then injected into suitable bodies, a process known as ‘Constructed cold’

        There’s a third example whereby organic beings from another world, already in the natural (?) evolutionary process of swapping their organic bodies for purely mechanical ones were turned into erzatz Cybertronians by the meddling of one of the Transformer’s most notorious scientists. Their evolutionary development presumably became purely Cybertronian after that point.

        Hey, you asked. :) MORE HERE.

  2. DatonKallandor says:

    The game RPS continued to claim was a MOBA despite no indications of such turns out to be not a MOBA at all? Shocker.

    • P.Funk says:

      Well in fairness, I’m not exactly sure what this game is supposed to be. 4v4 deck drawing with MOBAish combat? What exactly is a MOBA anyway? At a glance the unknowing might think its just a WOW clone or even a beta for an MMO.

      Seems like this game is trying to be a bit of everything. From the footage I’ve seen it looks rather bland. None of the fighting appears to have the visceral quality that DOTA has. Might be a repeat of Mechwarrior Online, which I found utterly unsatisfying.

  3. Stardreamer says:

    Over – Finished!

    Ahhh, Furman. So what did you think of the end of Regeneration One, then, Alec? It never ends…but it kinda just did (again)?

    • Alec Meer says:

      It was bobbins, for the most part. Far too drawn out, with very little characterisation. Some lovely art and a couple of the more iconic face-offs were good though.

      • Focksbot says:

        Nice one on the More Than Meets the Eye shout-out, Alec! How come the British (and Irish) writers on Transformers keep turning out to be the best by a mile, eh?

  4. Tams80 says:

    Jagex? Never again will I play one of their games. It might be good, but I don’t trust them to not ruin it.

  5. Universal Quitter says:

    Not sure how common it would be to know this in the UK, but “mota” is old school Mexican slang for cannabis.

    I had a good chuckle at the thought of RPS’ finest minds scrambling to uncover the meaning of “MOTA,” and was sad to see it turn out to be a(nother) article covering some MOBA offshoot.

    In this context, they all look the same to me.

  6. Phasma Felis says:

    This looks distressingly like the sort of game where you have 14 different abilities and all of them are on cooldown, and if you step out of the way of a slow-moving projectile it hits you anyway because you didn’t use your Dodge Roll ability.

    I’d be happy to play a Transformers action/deathmatch game. Zero interest in a Transformers “we want to be WoW for some reason” game. Guess I’ll have to drop in on the beta and have a look.