Worlds Adrift hands-on: an MMO unlike anything you’ve played before

Hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago, the world was destroyed. Nobody knows what caused it, and nobody knows the events that led to it happening. Regardless of the mystery surrounding the world’s fate, it doesn’t really matter what happened all those years ago. Pockets of humanity have survived and the world has restructured itself into independent floating islands in the sky. It’s here that Worlds Adrift takes place.

As Bossa Studios’ (Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread) latest game, Worlds Adrift brings something completely different to the MMO market. Aside from the removal of standard MMO tropes such as character levelling and A-to-B quest structures, Worlds Adrift makes use of Improbable’s SpatialOS to craft a persistent, living, physics-based world.

When I describe Worlds Adrift’s gameworld as persistent, I don’t mean it’s a land that won’t stop pestering you – it means it’s a complete area shared between everyone playing at once. It’s the same technology that HelloVR is using to create its incredible MetaWorld, and Bossa is using it to create a sprawling world where plants grow, animals mate and nothing about the world is truly scripted. One encounter with a set of angry manta-ray-like creatures saw me tossed overboard from my hodgepodge sky ship and cast adrift in the bottomless skies of Bossa’s creation.

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Here, when you cut down a tree to harvest some wood, that tree is gone for everyone.

For any avid MMO player, the unpredictable nature of the world makes for the perfect playing space. I’m sure there are many World of Warcraft fans out there who couldn’t tell you what their favourite raid was actually about, but could tell you about the hilarious moments surrounding their raiding party. In Worlds Adrift, it’s these moments that make everything so fantastically fun.

Persistently fun

Thanks to SpatialOS’s capability to stitch servers together into one persistent universe, Bossa’s world is unlike anywhere you’ve ever played in before. Here, when you cut down a tree to harvest some wood, that tree is gone for everyone. Well, until it grows back for everyone. This level of detail is more than just a graphical nicety – it has real consequences. If you somehow manage to remove all the fruit from the trees of one island – as Bossa’s devs accidentally managed to do in the latest Alpha build I went hands-on with – all the fruit-eating animals will disappear. As you can imagine, the consequences for that little floating island’s ecology will change too. This is, to all intents and purposes, a living virtual world that everyone shares.

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If you’re wondering how a persistent world can make for an enjoyable game experience, imagine if No Man’s Sky allowed you to see the impact that other players have had on the worlds you landed on. Any crashed sky ships you come across will be abandoned ships of past players who had crashed out of the sky – likely due to a powerful storm wall (which I’ll come onto in a bit). You could strip the ship of valuable resources for your own use, but the chances are it will have already been picked clean by other vulture-like players who stumbled upon it earlier.

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Bossa has also introduced the ability for players to design and upload their own floating islands among the procedural ones it has created. Not only does this keep things feeling fresh – as nothing works better than a bit of human design – it also adds a more personal touch to Bossa’s big and open MMO.

In fact, due to the near-infinite size of the space offered up in Worlds Adrift, chances are you’ll spend a lot of your time alone. But the beauty of persistent world design means you’ll always see the actions of others who have come before you. You’ll never truly be wandering through the skies with no human interaction at all, even if that interaction is just an echo of players gone by.

Plain sailing

Bossa may be holding its cards close to its chest when it comes to Worlds Adrift’s story and setting, but thankfully it’s going all out on its most important feature: sky ships.

Because the world of Bossa’s creation is made up of individual floating islands, having a ship is essential for making your way from rock to rock. Without a ship, you also won’t be able to progress past the incredibly tough storm walls that block progress to other, bigger sections for you to explore. While these walls serve as progress markers in place of a traditional levelling system, Bossa claims that there’s no right or wrong way to traverse them, and that it comes down to having a sturdy ship just as much as it does to being an ace pilot.

Building a sturdy ship, however, isn’t as straightforward as it seems. As with the rest of Worlds Adrift, there’s no right or wrong, best or worst way to do something. You could build a ship out of wood and take to the skies and still traverse a storm wall – you’ll just have to be a better pilot, making sure your nimble and lightweight ship isn’t spun around and whisked away by frighteningly fierce winds.

The option to build a ship from plate steel or lead is also there, but you’ll be faced with a heavier, slower ship to maneuver. Weight works wonders for crossing a storm wall, ensuring you’re not thrown around too much, but it’s terrible for outrunning foes – unless you pack it out with some powerful engines to boot.

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In reality, a mix of materials works best. Outfitting your ship’s more sensitive areas with heavy armour keeps them safe and means you can save weight by plastering the rest in lighter materials. In a future update, you’ll also be able to dig down into you’ll ship’s hull and turn those into valuable storage space too.

These ships are designed to not just be a mode of transport, but also to be a base of operations that’s ever moving.

For now, though, Bossa has brought an excellent new feature to Worlds Adrift’s shipbuilding kit. Whereas before you’d be left to use a set of predesigned shells to build upon, the latest Alpha build comes with the ability to sculpt your own chassis as you see fit. You can literally build anything you can imagine, even in the tool’s early testing stages. Not only is the potential for wacky and weird craft creation bigger than ever before (flying Moby Dick-style whale ship, anyone?), its addition shows how dedicated the team at Bossa is to creating a truly free-form MMO experience.

These ships are designed to not only be a mode of transport, but also to be an ever-moving base of operations. Bossa sees teams of people working together on a ship to ensure group prosperity and exploration. In the future, it wants to players to be able to build their own interactive buttons for making automated weapons, openable bomb doors and a whole lot more.

From speaking to the folks at Bossa, it’s clear that Worlds Adrift isn’t just the most ambitious title they’ve ever made – it’s the game they’ve been itching to make all this time. The enthusiasm is plain to see, but we’ll have to see how well it captures players’ imagination when it releases later this year. For now, you can sign up for the beta at the Worlds Adrift site before applications close on 29 August.

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