Preview: Nether tosses you into a ravaged world with what's left of humanity

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.
There are several types of enemies aside from the standard beat-the-crap-out-of-you grunts, or Hunters. Shriekers will make piercing sounds that draw the attention of nearby monsters. Then there are the much larger Hulks that require multiple players to team up, with some individuals distracting the creatures while others attack them. Another group of creatures was described by Phosphor as "meat bags." These are humans whose brains have mostly shut down after they tried to resist the transformation. While mostly docile, they'll cry and make sounds that alert nearby Nethers, as well as attack you if they feel threatened.

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.
Actual gameplay depends on what your focus may be. There are several melee weapons that allow you to hack away at enemies, while the usual varieties of guns allow you to blow heads off up-close (shotguns), or pick enemies off from a distance (sniper rifles). Because you'll be playing with others, it'll likely be best to figure out who does what, so you can have snipers watching your back from both Nethers and other survivors while you take your assault rifle or pistol with you when you gather supplies or take on missions.

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.
Nether is still in development, and Phosphor hopes to get community input to help build the game further. The early release will feature gunplay, melee, stats, and 64-person multiplayer, but how it develops from there depends on the fans. I was told that Nether could very well turn into a fast-paced arcade-style game, or it could take more of a simulation approach. In addition, the community will help Phosphor decide if things like vehicles or farming will be included in later builds. As the project continues to grow, the map and story will be expanded accordingly.

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.
What was shown of Nether actually had great potential. The game is still a little rough to look at, and the world is somewhat dense, but that's likely to change as Phosphor toils away on the endeavor. If you're a fan of games like DayZ, and if you were rightfully offended by the sh*ttily constructed The War Z/Infestation: Survivor Stories, Nether could very well be a hauntingly post-apocalyptic adventure to watch out for.

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