Earth and Beyond Review
Like most games with an RPG element, your character in Earth & Beyond gains experience for completing tasks. What makes Earth & Beyond different, is that it tracks three different types of experience: combat, exploration, and trade. Your character's level is a sum of his or her level in each of the three areas. Defeating enemies earns combat experience, visiting new locations earns exploration experience, and selling goods earns trade experience. You can also gain experience in one or more of these areas by accepting missions offered by NPCs or at the mission computers at many of the starbases. This system makes it easier for players who are interested in only one of these aspects of the game. You can advance in levels by mining asteroids and hauling trade goods without ever having to put yourself in harm's way.
Putting yourself in harm's way is not that dangerous a proposition in the game, though. There is no death in Earth & Beyond. Should your ship become disabled in combat, you get a free tow back to the last starbase that you visited. Or you can put out a distress beacon and hope a friendly explorer can give your ship a jumpstart. Being disabled brings a penalty with it in the form of an experience dept. After you are repaired and sent on your way, experience earned must go towards paying of the debt before you start accumulating it again. However, the debt gradually decreases with time as well, and if you rack up a large debt, simply waiting until you play the next day can be enough to wipe it out.
Every time you reach the next level in one of the skill areas, your character gains a new overall level. Gaining levels rewards you with skill points that can be spent to increase your character's special skills or make higher level engines and weapons available for use. Certain levels are milestone levels which reward your character with a promotion in rank, making ship upgrades and new missions available. Reaching one of these levels is exciting, as the new missions provide you with plenty to do. Unfortunately, as you advance in level it takes longer to reach the next higher level. This puts your character through some stretches where you are forced to run trade routes over and over or to hang out at enemy spawning locations for long periods of time. Some people don't mind working their way through these lulls, but if you are the instant gratification type then they might be too much effort to hold your interest in the game.
One way to increase the rate at which you accumulate experience is to form groups with other players. The more players in the group, the greater the experience bonus given to all of the members. Each class also brings unique bonuses to the group. For example, explorers allow the group to regenerate energy faster and warriors reduce the damage taken by group members. The increased firepower of a group also makes completing combat missions easier. While grouping is helpful, it is by no means required; you can play the game solo and do just fine. One thing that you can't do, at least at the time of the writing of this review, is to attack other players. Player vs. player combat is not supported by the game to the point where you can't even fire your weapons at another player.
The grouping bonuses and lack of payer combat are a little strange when taking the game's background story into consideration. The game's three races fought a devastating war in the recent past, and animosities between the races run deep. NPCs will relate stories of the war and their mistrust for their former enemies. The Jenqui despise the Progen philosophy and the manner in which they killed so many Jenqui during the war, but the game encourages them to form groups together and cooperate towards mission goals. Just the kind of incongruity that can drive RPG fans crazy.
The game also features an evolving storyline which involves the invasion of human space by mysterious aliens of unknown intent and origin. Whether or not you want to pursue the storyline and learn more about it is up to you - you are free to ignore it and go off on your own.