Yeah, you heard me. Nether, the latest survival FPS MMO to come from Phosphor games, is quite the challenge – and not just because of blinking zombies. Set in a sprawling cityscape loosely based on Chicago, this survival MMO is enjoyable but not without its pacing issues.
As a warning, this game is currently in its “Early-Access” phase. Any comments regarding the game may reflect upon a gameplay experience that is now updated and improved/worsened.
Nether’s tagline is cleverly worded “Prey or Pray,” but both as verbs; players in this survival game have the option of running and hiding, keeping themselves alive in a purely defensive manner or going out into the world actively seeking danger.
Experience is gained via killing the nether, the fancy word given to the game’s monsters. Pretty much all of them have the ability to teleport, and, without prior knowledge of this, it can be pretty surprising and kind of terrifying.
Imagine: you’ve spawned on the top floor of a highrise building. Looking around the city, you see a vast urban landscape beneath you. If your graphics are turned up enough, you can see a couple monsters wandering about.
“Excellent,” you think. Jumping and sprinting about, you start to test the controls in the confidence that the noise you are making couldn’t possibly attract anything. And then the lowest-level nether creature makes some noise behind you. Assuming it came up a stairwell, you lay into it with your starting kitchen knife and murder it.
And a pistol drops! You know this is super rare, so you try to pick it up. Then your screen is covered with black dripping goo. Startled, you whip about to see another nether spitting another hunk of black acid at you. Again, you lay into it with your-WHERE DID THAT GIANT GORILLA-THING COME FROM-OH GOD, THE ACID-SPITTER JUST TELEPORTED.
And then you die, continuously trying to pick up the pistol before the gorilla-thing beats you down.
You are then given a series of confusing options. One generates a new character – your old one is lost forever, apparently – the other quits the server you’re on and deposits you at the main menu. Setting up a new character, you are then spawned immediately into the world again with no wait times.
Nether does a lot of things right. There are no spawn wait times, as the game claims to want players to get back in the action as quickly as possible. This is a pleasant change from other FPS games, but the action doesn’t seem to be easily found, both a blessing and a curse. I ran into a single player on a half-filled server. One single, solitary player. I saw him for 2 seconds, and then he ran past me and down a shadowy alley, forever gone.
Wandering the world, the player definitely experiences a sense of despair and loneliness. The city is rendered in areas filled with homes, skyscrapers, monsters, and safe zones where players can congregate and trade with NPC merchants or each other. A handy map detailing the city, landmarks, quests, and the player’s location and orientation, is indispensible.
Yet wandering the city can be very frustrating. With the starting equipment, one must either find weak nethers to murder or better equipment to make leveling and acquiring skills easier. This proves to be very difficult, and, more often than not, the player will die thinking they’ve engaged a single weak nether only to be beset by an army of them.
The safe zone of each area is a good place to catch a breather as it is nether-proof. This, of course, is a rule that is often broken as part of the game’s event system. Aside from emergency item drops and random surges of nethers, the safe zone can also be attacked by nethers in droves for a period of time until a certain objective is met.
Equipment isn’t the only thing a player needs; aside from guns, weapons, and ammo, they must also keep up their stamina and hunger levels lest they face penalties and eventually death. It’s a neat way to keep the player immersed in the world, and also to keep them from simply moving from hideout to hideout.
Overall, the Nether experience was a mix of emotions, mostly boredom. Wandering the city for a long time can get old, and the urge to run out the sprint meter eventually becomes irresistable. The urge to fall upon a nether in a rage is also tough to resist.
I clearly remember attacking a gorilla-thing with a pistol thinking it would be enough to reduce its health to the point where I could cut it down with a knife (they’re very common, so they couldn’t be that tough, right?), but this proved hilariously futile, and it emptied my full health bar in seconds.
With any luck, the game will develop past its pacing issues; the trick will be to walk the line between making the game too easy and crushing all but the luckiest veterans into gorilla-thing food.
The verdict? Keep an eye on this one, but don’t rush out to get it. Like most MMOs, it seems this one will need some time to become a fully-enjoyable experience.