There’s a school of thought that the first hour of an MMO will give you a good idea of what to expect from the next sixty. Example: if you spend your first hour in a dank, single-textured cellar, inexplicably missing giant rats with a rusty dagger in an attempt to gather rat tails (that are, again inexplicably, only found on the occasional rat) then you’re probably in for a lot of hunting and painful grinding.
Gunshine’s very first quest involved no rats, no rusty daggers, no anatomical improbabilities as implied by crappy drop rates and no dank cellars. After character creation (in which I generated a moustachioed, afro-haired Doctor) Gunshine washed me onto a beach with nothing in the way of equipment and gave me my first quest: kill four dragons. My reward? A gun.
There are two comments to be made: firstly, being told to punch out dragons in order to get a gun is one of the most mental openings to a game I’ve ever seen (MMO or otherwise). Secondly, if this is what medical training is like in the future, I fear for the NHS.
‘Doctor’ is one of the three classes available in this forthcoming free-to-play browser-based MMORPG and despite being the lightly-armoured healer of the bunch it’s still capable of kicking out some tremendous damage, as this is a rather solo-friendly game. The other two are the oh-so-manly Bodyguard (which, as the name cleverly implies, is a tank class) and the Hunter (which… shoots people).
Gunshine mostly plays out a bit like a more quest-focused Diablo, or an isometric World of Warcraft. You pick up quests denoted by exclamation marks and then follow their instructions – usually travelling somewhere else to kill something or to find someone (who will normally get you to kill something).
The emphasis seems to be on streamlining: there are no quests to grab 72 teeth from surprisingly toothless monsters and indicators continually prod you towards your quest objective. Finding said objectives is simple enough though, as the world is divided up into tiny areas that load individually as you enter them – your map pointing out the area’s objectives.
Taxi services can take you to any location you’ve previously visited, and taxi ranks can be found in the majority of areas. Even death doesn’t really slow you down, instead fondly patting you on the head by respawning you nearby. There’s little in the way of frustration and few moments that break the flow; you just keep clicking, keep killing, keep obtaining loot (with a naming policy generating such wonders as “Crappy Cleaver” and “Cool Denim Vest of Brightness”), and keep levelling up.
So far so standard, but this browser game has a few adept touches, and the biggest is easily the ability to hire your offline friends to join your party. No, really: if someone’s on your friends list, you can pay a small fee and have their character accompany you for 15 minutes. If an area is kicking your arse and your friends are all offline, have the AI control a buddy’s meatshield for a little while. Now, if you hate people as much as I do you’ll doubtless consider this a fantastic concept, and I’ll allay a few fears by stating that it actually seems pretty well balanced. In the early levels, you quite frankly haven’t amassed enough cash to hire a max-level juggernaut to crush everything in your path.
Mention of friends does lead us onto two slightly more worrying facets, however. Firstly, there’s a huge amount of Facebook integration. You don’t need a Facebook account, admittedly – I didn’t use one at all – but the game gently nudges you to connect with one. Every time you buy a new skill or level up, for instance, it’ll ask if you want to post about it on Facebook. There are also some not-so-gentle nudges: certain areas are locked off unless you have a certain number of Facebook friends playing Gunshine, although these areas are thankfully optional.
Actually, I told a tiny lie. These areas aren’t locked off if you don’t have a certain number of Facebook friends… as long as you have items with the “credibility” stat, most of which can only be acquired with real-world money. Now, the monetisation shouldn’t come as any surprise: this is a free-to-play game, which means that microtransactions were bound to be involved somewhere, and locking off certain entirely optional areas – while still giving an alternative way to get in – is actually a pretty fair deal.
I did raise an eyebrow on noticing that the microtransactions crept into other areas, too, and I don’t mean the shops allowing you to purchase powerful equipment (which, again, is to be expected). No, there’s something else.
As with every other MMO you wander back to a class trainer to purchase your skill upgrades. Most cost the game’s standard currency, but a few cost Diamonds – the real-money currency. Again, this actually isn’t as bad as it sounds – in the early stages, at least – as you earn a few Diamonds from levelling up, and these were sufficient to grab said skill. Factor in the occasional bit of loot that requires you to pay Diamonds to open it, however, and it’s easy to foresee a situation in which a player might just be one or two short of the next skill upgrade, at which point shelling out a few pounds would seem awfully appealing.
But I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. Despite my hating the concept, Gunshine seems supremely fair with its microtransactions; I daresay you could hit max level without paying a penny. As for the game itself, well: it’s surprisingly pretty for what’s essentially a Flash game, it’s got some decent writing behind it and a fairly original pseudo-dystopian world, and the click-kill-click-loot-click-level mechanics are as finely distilled and addicting as ever. Better still, there’s no noticeable lag. It’s certainly polished, even in beta, and if the thought of a Diablo-Facebook combination gives you a pleasant twinge then I would highly recommend you pop over to the official website and partake in the beta.