'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.