Vendetta Online

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I’ve recently discovered a game called Vendetta Online. This may be the MMORPG I have been waiting for: real-time skill-based combat, space flight, trading and mining, space flight, an interesting back story, space flight, and extensive moddability through custom skins, binds, and plugins. Oh, and it’s a space flight game.

I love space shooters. Put me in a cockpit and give me 3 dimensions of unfettered movement, and I may as well be in Valhalla. Combat is secondary; fighting in space is fun, but just the feeling of (pretending to) pilot through the stars, skirting around asteroids, and maneuvering into docking bays is intoxicating to me. The chance to do so with other people in a persistent world is something I can’t pass up.

The space flight in VO is a very solid balance of realism vs playability. Contrast Vega Strike, which focuses on realism to a fault. In Vega Strike, it often takes upwards of 15 seconds to maneuver your craft into position for each attack run on an enemy. Also, to disengage your engines you have to throttle all the way down, and to turn without having your engines engaged you have to press a special key.

Vendetta Online, on the other hand, operates in a more enjoyable way; you only apply thrust for as long as you keep pressing one of your thrusters. When you stop thrusting, you maintain your current velocity until you thrust again. This lets you reorient your ship without changing your vector, which is very useful for targeting objects, getting a visual on enemy craft, etc. It also feels very intuitive and realistic (whether it really is realistic or not is irrelevant, see below). Moreover, you can apply thrust in 6 directions; forward or backward along the 3 primary axes (relative to your ship’s current orientation). The game controls refer to left (+y), right (-y), up (+z), and down (-z) as strafing, while forward (+x) is accelerate and backward (-x) is decelerate.

Having the ability to thrust in any direction is useful and fun, but it isn’t very realistic (well, not with the ships looking the way they do; a ship that could do that would need thrusters all over the place). This is where the fun > realism design mentality comes into play, and frankly it makes for a very fun game. Another unrealistic design decision is the existence of a maximum velocity. Sure, you could make some sci-fi sounding arguments for it, but honestly it’s a balancing mechanic, plain and simple. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The game world is vast; 30 systems with 64 sectors in each system (a system is a 16x16 grid of sectors). Each sector is “theoretically infinite” in size, although all of the interesting stuff is centered about the sector’s origin; after a few kilometers you find a whole lot of nothing that goes on forever. To get between sectors you can set a destination and ‘jump’ there. Likewise, to get between systems you go to special sectors that have wormhole areas, and you ‘jump’ while in one of these.

The game’s main RPG element (and I mean RPG-esque mechanics, not actual roleplaying) comes in the form of licenses. These are like a combination of level and skills in most MMOs. There are 5 licenses: combat, light & heavy weapons, trading, and mining. As you perform the eponymous activities, the skills increase. When they level up, you gain access to new ships, weapons, and missions. But the game remains primarily skill-based; in the hands of an incompetent pilot, the better ships aren’t that much better. I am afraid that I’m a testament to this fact.

The game isn’t perfect, though, and as long as I’m writing something like a review I’ll have to point out a few flaws. I hate to have to do this to you, Vendetta, but it’s for your own good. This will hurt me more than it hurts you.

The game world is big, like I said before. However, the player base is small. VO runs entirely in one instance, and you could easily fly across the galaxy and not meet another player. There are, on average, only 30 - 40 players online. This is alleviated a little by the fact that there is a cohesive world-wide chat, so communicating with the other players is easy.

I don’t know if there are more people on at other times of the day (I tend to play any time between 22:00 and 06:00 UTC) or if this is a low point for the year (more players during the summer?). Maybe the game is just old, and has lost most of its player base to attrition. At any rate, it feels like a ghost galaxy sometimes. I want to populate this world, to convince everyone I know to play and invade the VO universe en masse.

The other flaws in the game are fairly minor. You can only take one mission at a time, and many missions are automatically aborted (and thus failed) if you log out mid-mission. A network hiccup can destroy an hour of work (or more for mission trees that require you to start all the way over if you fail any mission in them).

In-system jumps and wormholes look the same. A more spectacular graphic for wormholes would be really cool, but on the other hand, the in-universe explanation for wormholes makes the modest special effects make enough sense.

There is also a stat called “grid” that weapons have but don’t explain. It refers to the total amount of power connected devices on your ship can use (i.e. the “power grid”). It’s kind of like a maximum voltage, and you can only use 20 grid per ship, although this is not explained anywhere. It’s not important until you get access to some pretty hefty ships, but it would be good to know about it, at least.

Other than these and similar minor nitpicks, the game is tons of fun and I foresee myself playing it for a long time. There is a free 8-hours-of-play-time trial available. My character’s name is Gjalfr. See you there.