Developer Phosphor Games is really attempting to create something unique with its upcoming urban survival MMO Nether. While that's often said of many entries in the genre, this game puts together several elements that aren't commonly seen in MMOs, and even its survival aspect - a theme we've seen a lot of lately - is fairly refreshing from a thematic point of view. I was invited by Phosphor to check out a build of the game, and from the looks of it, fans of post-apocalyptic worlds can expect something especially intriguing.
Nether doesn't take place immediately after an outbreak, but rather roughly one decade after a catastrophic event called The Cull that wiped out the majority of the population. While there are some survivors that retained their biological normalcy, others were transformed into hideous creatures called Nethers. What makes these hideous freaks different from the typical zombie characters is that they rely largely on sound rather than sight, and they can teleport. So if you're sprinting all over the place and firing loud guns, you're bound to draw the attention of aggressive hordes.
What makes the setting stand out is its emphasis on verticality. Rather than dropping you into a world where everything is on even ground, Nether features a world design that started out loosely based on Chicago, which happens to be where Phosphor's studio is located. Skyscrapers are everywhere, and while they're not teeming with life or in very good shape, they can be explored. I was told that players will be able to enter most buildings, which is where they'll uncover story bits in the form of newspapers, magazines, and corpses.
While enemies roam around the majority of the map, there are various safe zones where you can find shelter. While at one of these safe zones, you can't be shot by other characters or attacked by enemies. Here you have access to the in-game shop where you can sell any items you're not using, trade with other players, or pick up some new gear for yourself. Even when you're not in a safe zone, though, there are plenty of spots to hide in should you find yourself outnumbered.
You'll be able to enhance your character in different ways, which should allow different types of players to take on varying tasks. If you want more physical strength for melee attacks, you'll be able to allocate XP to categories related to that gameplay style. Meanwhile gun lovers can instead upgrade their reload speed, accuracy, and so on.
Dying in Nether means you'll lose all of your backpack items such as guns and ammo, though your skills and level progress will remain intact. This adds a sense of desperation and urgency that you wouldn't otherwise get if you simply retained all your items and weren't punished for dying. That said, should you fall with your partners around you, they'll be able to grab some of your items and hold them for you. When you quit your game, you'll be immediately transported right where you left off when you stopped playing.
You can currently sign up for early access to Nether, and the game will eventually hit Steam once it's deeper into its development cycle. I asked Phosphor whether the game would be free-to-play, or if it would feature a fixed price. While pricing details are still under wraps, the game will have a specific price tag. As far as microtransactions are concerned, these will revolve mostly around cosmetic items.