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Sci-fi shooter Earth: Revival tries to do everything, to its peril

TikTok maker Bytedance spends big on Nuverse’s open-world shooter survival game

Image: Nuverse

The year is 2112. Following first contact with a hostile alien force, Earth has been left ravaged. You, one of apparently (but not really) few survivors, are tasked with becoming a crackshot sci-fi super-soldier who specializes in all things shootybangs. As you level up, the number beside your name increases, although not in adherence to any rhyme or reason. Once it looks high enough, you enter a dungeon with three of your friends to complete basic fetch quests before challenging a monster who is noticeably larger than the monsters surrounding it to a war of attrition. This is Earth: Revival.

It is also every video game.

Earth: Revival is the debut game from Nuverse, a new studio formed by veterans from the Chinese games industry. While you may not immediately recognize its parent company, ByteDance, you will likely be well-acquainted with one of its other subsidiaries: TikTok.

Naturally, this means a lot of money is being invested in Earth: Revival, which is reflected in what amounts to quite a lofty ambition. It’s a third-person, open-world shooter that combines typical raid design with resource gathering, crafting, base-building, and a host of survival mechanics, meaning that it incorporates a little bit of… well, everything, really. And to an extent, this is impressive. Somehow, it manages to be relatively stylish when considered alongside its countless counterparts, and the shooter design is surprisingly tight for a game that is still around a year out from launch.

And yet the one detail that sticks with me throughout my demo is that the only thing making Earth: Revival different right now is its desire to be everything at once, which ultimately runs the risk of it being OK at lots of things without being good, let alone great, at any of them.

For example, combat introduces some neat ideas in that every weapon has a primary fire as well as two unique abilities, and you can mix melee and ranged tactics to experiment with fluidity and flexibility. There are also ultimate abilities (of course), one of which sees you temporarily make like Iron Man and rain down homing missiles while airborne.

Image: Nuverse

The comparison to Iron Man is apt in more ways than one, however, in that Earth: Revival’s menu features a bunch of arbitrary power ratings that have become typical of games like Marvel’s Avengers without doing anything to justify their presence in them. The numbers here, at least in our demo, are sufficiently inflated as to become pointless. That’s not to mention the mess of survival-related clutter that makes the function that is supposed to help you organize your game — menus — the very reason it becomes hopelessly and unnecessarily confusing. It is a hangover from similar titles that are fascinated with not just endless busywork, but methods of recording said busywork in the most ambiguous and inefficient way possible. I struggle to understand how this design trope is not long dead.

Fortunately, Earth: Revival has merit elsewhere. While raids have a lot in common with similar games — which is to say they have a lot in common with most of the games that have come out over the last several years — there is commendable enemy variety, solid dungeon design, and bosses that actually demand knowledge of adequate rules of engagement. Put plainly, moment-to-moment play is varied before, during, and after combat, which is why it seems so strange that Earth: Revival decided to also adopt a dozen other systems instead of further iterating on this one.

The result of this issue — which is overambition, poor prioritization, or a combination of the two — is that even Earth: Revival’s strongest aspect currently feels half-baked. While I would never pass final judgment on the state of a game this far out from launch, most of the bugs I experienced felt egregious when placed in their proper context. Entire buildings despawned around me. Side-quests locked me out of objectives before providing me with a chance to complete them. On more than ten occasions, I could not move during combat. Again, I do not mean to criticize a game that is still in development for not playing perfectly. But when you consider the amount of systems Earth: Revival is trying to incorporate, and how several of them exist not just in tension with one another, but active competition, it’s hard to view these flaws without thinking, “This should be pared back.” It would be a much stronger game if it identified the parts of itself that are emphatically strong, and refocused development around them — particularly when you remember that, once again, it already looks like every other game.

That’s not to mention its Far Cry-esque, nonsensical inclusion of dogs with rocket launchers, or various other companions I can’t quite remember. By trying to be so many different things at once, it co-opts not the successes of other games, but the dissonance that would come to be if they were all hastily superimposed on top of one another.

Image: Nuverse

There is one part of Earth: Revival, however, that could make it work. As well as being able to run raids with friends, you can build a hub with four other players, and PvE worlds can support up to 50 people from various squads. This is the part of the game that gives its typical “third-person raid shooter” sign a little luster. It should be the main focus of the game on top of combat — but then several superfluous systems would need to be cut, and I am unsure whether Nuverse is willing to do that.

There’s also a PvP mode that I was able to get some details on. According to Nuverse:

“As of now, there are 3 PvP modes: 4v4 Phosphorus Arena held by Phosphorus Industry; 12v12 Edengate Elite Challenge held in Edengate City; and Eden No.1, which is an innovative PvEvP mode of competing with other survivors. The original idea when we designed PVP mode is to give the gamers multiple experiences by covering various combat scales, providing diversified battle rules, and even introducing new mechanisms. There are additional plans for more PvP modes, too.

“All PvP modes happen in certain PvP maps. We do not currently plan to bring open-world opt-in/out PvP to Earth: Revival. We are also not planning on splitting the player population between PvP and PvE servers as we want to have as many of them enjoy the world of Earth: Revival together as possible. However, we are open to our players’ feedback on the systems, and any ideas are welcome.”

This — the player-versus-environment-versus-player mode, the invention of new PvP modes, and the push towards a world designed to be enjoyed communally — is what could make Earth: Revival worth playing next year.

Image: Nuverse

As for the rest of it, maybe being just like a regular raid shooter would have actually worked to its benefit. There’s no need to ape every system from every genre in an attempt to become some sort of multi-category cornucopia of popular ideas. Sometimes it’s best to decide what you want to do and focus on doing it well. If you can introduce something new while you’re at it, great!

But there’s a reason no other studio has aimed for this kind of multi-layered sameness yet: It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Here’s hoping Nuverse recognizes that before it’s too late.

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