Choose a company, choose a life. Or be prepared for a ride of nightmare. Welcome to the future.
Atleast this is how cyberpunk environments generally work. The genre in the most compact summary means “high tech, low life” but varies greatly from Gibson novels even to The Matrix movies. Although a few mmorpgs can be quite cyberpunk-like (eg. Anarchy Online) they usually aren’t, besides a few aspects or areas, except Neocron of course that has clear goals with the mentioned genre.
Most of the people can mistake this game for a Deus Ex mod quite easily, and it’s hard to blame them. The closest game to the general ambience and graphics quality would be that one for sure. All in all it’s still a quite reasonable quality for a free game without any proper backing options. No in-game item shop, no subscription. Don’t forget the first release date either, as this is from 2002 originally.
The game UI is not intuitive at all, but you can get used to it and it’s not bad after a while. It’s probably just old, and nothing works the way you would expect it to do so. It’s like finding a tool that looks useless, but turns out to do everything you wanted it for, just right. Even if you can’t find a district or a shop, there is your Nav-Ray to show a route to your location and the whole path will show up on your screen, little green arrows and a dotted line showing the way.
There are classes and professions that may sound like you have all possible combinations to choose from but don’t get fooled. Professions limit a lot of things, so you will most probably use certain combinations only.
Your skills advance as you use them. That is a system I like a lot, but some could find it frustrating. Why? As you may guess, it means a lot of skill grinding with higher values. Instead of just killing for xp then distributing points you really need to use your skills, over and over again. A lot. Think of the same mechanics The Elder Scrolls games use. With my implanter/poker (a character that applies biowares or implants into others or themselves and optionally repair or even construct them) I ended up removing and equipping implants for long-long hours just to gain some skill points.
On another note, this is still nothing compared to most of the asian mmorpgs. You can just put on a chill tune, chat to people, or even watch a movie while you grind your skills and you will get there eventually. Every time someone mentions grinding, people’s taste scale greatly and it’s hard to find the perfect amount as well.
You get a small apartment from your corporation, loud club music coming through one of the walls, making your mind numb so you stay in the other side of the room instead where your computer is located. You log in to check the news, but it’s all the same, every day is exactly the same.
There is a really neat in-game BBS system that has serious bugs (like no reply function, it’s kind of annoying) but still a nice feature. You will mostly find old messages though, the most people I saw at the same place at Plaza SEC1 was maybe 20 or so. And that is the district people afk or gather and meet at. So it’s a really, really low number for an mmo.
Why would you even care about a 12 years old game? You could also ask though, that why isn’t it completely dead? Because of two main factors. It’s still under active development, and has a true and strong atmosphere. The music, the environment, even the game mechanics are just like a spell cast on you, and you end up standing in the subway looking around charmed. I can’t really emphasize how important active development is, especially when you consider that most of the free mmorpgs are released and never really fixed or took care of after their short open beta phase. They are only used by publishers to generate some income through in-game purchases.
On a negative note, maybe the only real problem with Neocron is not the dated graphics or the low population but that it has no feel of a direction, your game time seems pointless quite often. There is not much of a main story here you could follow, only your new life and usually the ad-hoc missions you get or make up to grind your way up the virtual hierarchy of the game. This is a pretty big issue, especially when you try to introduce someone to a new game. The only main quest you can follow is a so called Epic Mission that has 6 quests, depending on your Faction (usually a corporation).
Despite being a Windows only release, the game runs smooth under Wine, even some old posts you find about messing with configuration files (eg. to skip precaching) is very often not needed at all any more.
There is another possible reason Neocron is not really successful, and it’s because cyberpunk kind of lost it’s original charm through the years. As more and more aspects of the genre became non-fiction, you don’t really need games or books any more to experience it. You shouldn’t forget, that runners are just criminals and the whole, the usual cyberpunk setting became reality even if with a few twists of course. Maybe it’s easier to see in Eastern Europe than in the USA but this is the case nonetheless. Touchscreens were science fiction not even long ago, something you only see in Star Trek, but now nobody is surprised by them. This is quite the same pattern. Most of the privacy and surveillance issues are all real, and just as neglected as in the once-was fiction stories. Most of us are enjoying the safety of corporations, even Megacorps (Shadowrun term) could become a thing quite soon with Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and so on. Suddenly the cyberpunk genre is too real, and not subject of games any more, but the news instead.