Last night, on my way home from work, I stopped by the Software Etc. that’s attached to the Barnes & Noble to pick up a couple of games. I knew that Starfleet Command III was out, and so I had to pick that up because I’ve been a big fan of Task Force Games and the first two installments of the computer version. Starfleet Command III will now allow you to play Star Fleet Battles with the Next Generation-era starships and such. This is really nice, because I’ve often wondered exactly how that would play out and I think while I could appreciate the style of the Movie-era ship, I’ve always loved the new designs and weapons a little more. The other game I picked up was Earth & Beyond.

For those among you who’re somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of Earth & Beyond, or any Massive(ly) Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), think EverQuest. I was first introduced to the concept of EverQuest through Todd and his little brother Jody, who play it and continue to play it to this very day. I recall that it was around May of 2000 when I started finding myself running around the forests of Norrath and killing everything in sight to level my character up and get new spells and abilities. To keep an open mind, one has to understand that while EQ was the first successful MMORPG, it certainly is not the only one out there. Between Earth & Beyond and EverQuest, you also have Anarchy Online, Dark Age of Camelot, World War II Online, Asheron’s Call, Ultima Online, and a few other assorted failed attempts. Even Blizzard is going to get their mojo started with World of Warcraft (WoW) in a few months or so. Activision has started talking about making an MMORPG based on Star Trek, and I know that Lucasarts is working on a Star Wars MMORPG.

Regardless, this entry is more about the first night of playing Earth & Beyond than talking about the other games. Let me get to the bottom line first, though, so this does not appear to anyone as though I’m just bashing EB because I’m a die-hard EQ fan. Truth be told, nothing could possibly usurp EverQuest as far as sentimentality. EQ will always be in my heart as one of the best games out there today. That said, let’s dive right into why I think Earth & Beyond is going to give EverQuest a run for its money. Anarchy Online tried really hard to serve up the science-fiction end of the MMORPG spectrum while EverQuest was busy slaughtering the competition in the fantasy realm. But the major problems that AO had appear to be gone in Earth & Beyond. From the character generation screen to gameplay, it’s a smooth ride of getting yourself acquainted with the keyboard and mouse controls. As with Anarchy Online, however, the whole point to playing multiplayer games is the opportunity to play with other players. The grouping bonus is not a detrimental as it was with EverQuest. One of the major gripes I have with EQ is the fact that the more people within the group, the less overall experience is given on a personal level, not to mention that it informs you exactly what level you need to be in order to actually contribute to the overall group, to prevent lopsided pairings. In addition, some of the buffs are apparent and more informative than in EQ, more than simply saying that some mystical effect is in place, it will give you detailed information on what it is and what it does to help your character. That’s an important aspect to spell-casting, is knowing what you’ve got exactly and knowing how to use it. EverQuest lacks in communication and information, but Earth & Beyond is batting a thousand so far with me. However, like all games, Earth & Beyond does have it’s share of problems. Most of them are simply part of getting used to interfacing commands, such as a non-intuitive method of control and a lack of information about some of the other features in the game. To make up for this, EB has an interactive tutor by the name of Megan, who wiggles and wobbles over your screen while explaining in moderate detail about how to operate your vessel and use basic functions in order to being immediate interaction in the game. I highly recommend that you take the tutorial or else risk being lost without a map later on, because the interface is not immediately obvious. EverQuest has an advantage there, as they design the look and feel of your command screen to be very specific and prevent any large amounts of uncertainty. And yes, the I key still pulls up your inventory.

I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun with this game, as time permits. I’ve already joined the local union of WNO players in one of the guilds, and with their assistance, I’m sure more fun aspects of the game will be revealed. It just takes time.