GamersFirst - they of War Rock, APB Reloaded, and now Fallen Earth - have announced the development of their own, brand-new MMO, Hailan Rising. It's going to be a traditional fantasy MMO with a rather untraditional level-free, PvP-focused design. Not only are there no levels, but you're not even going to be skill-restricted by class. Read on for a bit more about how GamersFirst intend to pull this off for free, without making it "pay-to-win".
GamersFirst's Darek Connole doesn't spend too long on the story of Hailan Rising, because he knows that what is interesting are its mechanics. Hailan, an old, lost nation, destroyed by the Gods in a vast flood, is now emerging once again from the seas. Two factions aim to capture its riches for themselves. So far, so scene-set, and we start hitting some of Hailan Rising's more interesting features. "You'll be in full-blooded PvP within fifteen minutes," claimed Connole. "And that's because there's no levelling, and therefore no grind. That's a four letter word to us." Connole explained that most MMOs had a primary focus on PvE, and that had negative ramifications for how PvP played out. GamersFirst's thought was to turn that on its head, and put PvP first. There will be raids and monsters and all that PvE stuff in Hailan Rising, but how that plays is a consequence of this being PvP first. What this means, in turn, is making sure that everyone in Hailan's world, from newbie to ancient habitualist, is able to fight each other in the open world.
How does that work? Well, there are four archetypes that the player can choose from, but the talent tree is entirely unlocked. If you have the "Etherea shards" to spend - and these can be bought or collected in the world - then you can unlock anything on the talent board. These shards are basically talent points, with the rarest of them allowing you to unlock the most interesting or powerful skills. Of course if these talents are from outside your archetype's area then they'll also be far more expensive to obtain, but obtain them you can, for experimental healer-damage characters, or crazy hybrid tanks. It's all about allowing players to create interesting or esoteric builds. This philosophy extends through the game, as Connole explained: "Every character in the game can use every weapon, so if you want to give your mage the heavy mace, you can. Just don't expect him to be amazing with it. Hailan is all about character versatility."
Of course with the game being free, some of that stuff is going to have to come from cash payments, too. Connole explained that the game is intended to sidestep "pay-to-win" by simply making the payments about convenience. So anything you get from the shop could effectively be earned from the game, and having a premium account (not a subscription but a paid for state that doesn't renew automatically, unless you want it to) is "all about quality of life". This means you don't incur penalties for a respec, for example, and having so many possible builds means you are likely to respec fairly regularly. There are also a few offbeat tricks, like allowing you to display a lame piece of kit to the world, while hiding the fact that you are decked out with great stuff, so you can avoid being an automatic target in PvP.
What's clever about this, however, is that the game is going to attempt to keep everyone on pretty much the same tier, in terms of power. This means that newbies, with few skills and crap gear, are "invisibly buffed". They will still be noticeably weaker than a decked out, experienced character, but they won't be in another dimension in terms of power, as in most MMOs. "Newbies will definitely be able to trouble experienced players," confirms Connole. What this means is that as you grow in power and have more etherea shards and great bits of equipment to your name, so you become noticeable tougher and more versatile, without necessarily being able to one-shot those newbies who have just stumbled blinking onto the path ahead of you.
The motivation for PvP, of course, brings the game around to resources, and therefore PvE. Players will basically be fighting for control of the more interesting and more profitable areas of the world. So if you want slay the epic loot dropping beastie, the chances are you're going to have go and slay the people who are currently in control of it. All of which means this will be a highly guild-oriented MMO. "This really isn't intended to be solo'd," explained Connole. "It's very much a guild versus guild game. We want people get in there and play with and against real people."
Which is, of course, the fundamental strength of MMOs, and of PvP generally: it's always more interesting than fighting something control by code. Whether Hailan can capitalise on its bright ideas - as well as that innate potential of having multiplayer interactions aplenty - will be interesting to see. It's going to be developed in Unity, so it'll also be a test of how pretty the team can make that engine appear, and how well it can handle an MMO networking tech. Further, whether GamersFirst's open, level-free structure and cash-shop plan survive contact with actual players remains to be seen. It's looking pretty promising.
Hailan Rising will be entering beta in a couple of months, with release tentatively scheduled for "when it's ready".