When Jim wrote his preview of Love more than a year ago, he sealed it with "Even in 2008, a year of fascinating, intriguing developments in gaming... Love stands out like a magnesium fire in a haystack. Let's just hope that Steenberg's energies and inspirations last enough to set the world on fire when he does reach that vital beta."
Finally, that beta's arrived. Despite code savant Eskil Steenberg's intention to keep evolving the MMO, he's released a version of his curious, mathematical baby that he considers feature complete, and access is available to anyone willing to hand over 3 Euros to fund its continued development.
Let's work from the ground up. What do you get for your 3 Euros?
Well, you get a month's access to one of the game's 200-player servers, each of which contains a sprawling, procedurally-generated landscape featuring desolate plains, lush forests, ice shelves, statue gardens, claustrophobic waterways, AI villages and cliffs. Lots and lots of cliffs.
A lot has been made of how beautiful Love is. And it is beautiful, just not in the way you might expect. You know how otherworldly and awe-inspiring the world becomes when you stay up till dawn? Love's that kind of beautiful. It's a parade of stark, gaping colours enveloped in fog, which lends the game a strange, ethereal prettiness that's somehow bigger than you, and induces queasiness if you exist in it for too long.
As for the game itself, it's about exploration of this dreamlike world and working with other players to build settlements within it. This begins with one lucky player finding a Monolith Token somewhere in the wilderness which allows them to fling up a single Monolith wherever they please, thereby starting a settlement. Other players can then touch the Monolith to join the settlement, with the Monolith acting as their respawn point from then on.
Searching for a decent settlement after picking your server is a lonely undertaking, and with all the lethal water and hostile roaming AIs around, it plays a bit like a rite of passage. My own trek through the wilderness saw me spending a good 20 minutes trying to find my way out of a sun-bleached maze of stony walls and bluffs, travelling up ruined staircases or leaping across half-finished bridges where I could find them.
The feeling of glee when I stumbled across a group of players sculpting out a settlement on top of a bright glacier was immense. It was my first and probably last ever instance of being happy to see my frame-rate drop. I'd found my new home! I ran around in a daze, surveying the power pylons and caves these guys were building. Then, while searching for their Monolith, I somehow wedged myself in a tiny tunnel. I couldn't get back out, and everyone else ignored me. Eventually I gave up hammering at movement keys and respawned at my last checkpoint, knowing I'd never be able to retrace my steps. I'd never see those people again.
In a good while I found another settlement, this one in a clearing in the middle of a forest. More relieved than happy by this point, I cautiously located and touched their Monolith before I got the chance to do something stupid. It was here I got to grips with building.
If your settlement isn't very developed, like mine wasn't, building in Love is largely about even more exploration. Each of the dozens of features you can add to your encampment, from wind turbines to windows to constructions that dispense guns or even project live holograms of your base, all of them exist as tokens that are randomly spawned throughout the world, often in AI settlements. It's up to the fearless players of your conclave to venture off, find these tokens, bring them back, and then inevitably deploy them in a really stupid place that you'll have to live with while becoming increasingly angry at your fellow man.