What I Expected
My expectation for the first release of the Star Citizen persistent universe alpha didn’t include missions. It wasn’t until this year’s CitizenCon that we learned we’d see some of the early mission design, along with multi-crew features, updated flight mechanics and the ability to engage in FPS combat. Knowing that some aspect of Star Citizen questing content is procedurally generated, I envisioned EVE Online type missions.
With EVE as a frame of reference, I assumed I’d meet a wall of text telling me what to do and why I’m doing it. I was prepared for quests to repeat themselves in description and actions. Nowadays we call these “repeatable” or “daily quests”. I’ve learned to live with it. Although I enjoy doing PVE, I wasn’t worried about it much in SC. Similar to EVE, I believe the meat of the Persistent Universe is interacting with other players, trade professions and the economy. PVP environment/server or not, I do PVE because I enjoy the rhythm of it and having explicit objectives in each zone.
What I’m Experiencing – So Far
In Star Citizen you have mission text available on your MobiGlas. This is useful for players who prefer having the game nudge them in the right direction. It's also helpful in tracking mission progress and displaying relevant locations in space. However, doing the missions contain an unexpected amount of voice over (VO) work, which so far, is very good. We knew Squadron 42 would have high quality VO. However, I don’t recall hearing or reading about the same being done for the persistent universe.
As a result of the mission circumstances and the environment, some of the VO is downright unnerving. You’re drifting alone and vulnerable in the darkness of deep space. Another player can pounce on you at any moment. Did I mention that it’s DARK! Listening to the mission VO, you suddenly realize you’re exactly where someone else was ambushed and killed. You see their ship wreckage with your own eyes. Your adrenaline starts pumping and you think, “Holy shit, I need to get the hell outta here!” EVA suddenly feels like swimming in quick sand. Your ship seems a million miles away – that hallway, in a hallway, in a hallway, movie effect. When you successfully ricochet out of there at mock-five, you believe that you really dodged a bullet. Good stuff!
Rest assured however, that it's not all doom-n-gloom. Like Blizzard does with World of Warcraft, they also interject bits of humor to lighten the mood. A good example is this audio I captured that's part to of a mission to fix a communication array. After the array is rebooted, you're encouraged to report to the ICC Scanhub, which is a cartography space station. As you near it, your ship is hailed and this audio is played. The background noise is my ship's engine.
The above scenario is not what I was expecting and it’s the use of VO that keeps you immersed and in the moment. I knew they were planning a seamless world. I hadn’t equated that with seamless questing experiences. I’m enjoying the breadcrumb mission approach and the believable acting that comes through in the voice overs.
Is this Sustainable?
Even though the player interactions repeat in some instances – go fix a damaged communication array, the follow-up story hasn’t so far. Who was there before you and what happened to them afterward changes. The attention to detail with these early quests reminds me of Tortage, the starting zone in Age of Conan (AOC).
AOC questing from level 1 to 20 was so well crafted and unique, it made for a really engaging beginning. However, we quickly learned that content was very thin on the ground from levels 21 to 40. We don’t know why the quality and quantity of the content fell off so sharply. I don’t recall if they were pushing to hit the release date, which may have been a factor. Whatever the cause, it was a huge let down and widely talked about at the time.
Perhaps such handcrafted quest content isn’t sustainable across a whole game. Now add in the extensive VO work we’re seeing and it begs the question, is it? I hope so. It really does make a huge difference in the immersion. EVE is very rich in lore but I’ve always felt most of that was delivered outside of the game. Doing missions was very mechanical and factual. Where am I going? What types of enemies will I encounter so I can configure my ship for the appropriate damage types? Head off to complete the mission. Rinse. Repeat.
Perhaps I’ll feel and behave as mechanical and technical in Star Citizen, when not being prepared means losing my ship for “real” and one loss against the number of lives my character has before she dies a permanent death – VO or no VO. But based on how it feels now, I expect that adding in the “real” losses will make it even scarier. The immersion seems much higher than MMOs of recent memory. A situation that I believe is bolstered by the extensive VO work.