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Sociolotron Review
Wildefire, 2006-01-18

Sociolotron is an adults-only, subscription-based, independently-developed Sci-Fi Fantasy MMORPG set in London a hundred years from now. The game's backstory is that an ill-conceived biochemical attack has depleted the majority of the world's oil supply, and the resulting war has left most cities in ruins. While some modern technology remains, people generally live in almost medieval circumstances among the crumbling remains of old London, and many have rejected the traditional religions in favor of dark and mysterious cults. Sociolotron (just 'Socio' to its players) follows many MMORPG conventions; XP, HP, and mana, quests, guilds, professions, crafting, loot, and hostile NPCs are all here, and should be generally familiar to any seasoned gamer. Oh yeah, the game also features graphic interactive sex, rape, kidnapping, sadomasochism, burglary, substance addiction, pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, permanent character death (complete with a playable afterlife in Hell), player corpse looting, and a bunch of other things you'll probably not find in any other recent game.

Getting Into Character

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The character creation screen. Wildefire would like to assure "the ladies" that he's got more going on below the belt than his paperdoll view implies.

Sociolotron allows you to have up to three active characters per account, with the limitation that only two can be residents of London and the third must live in Hell. In terms of on-screen physical appearance you can only specify your avatar's gender, skin tone, hair color, and hair style. You can also choose your character's general attractiveness level, which though it doesn't affect what you see graphically, has subtle implications in your relations with other players. Over time your character may lose or gain weight, get pregnant, or even surgically enlarge or reduce various body parts. While none of these changes are graphically visible, they are described in detail whenever someone "looks" at you. Also at creation time, you pick an initial profession and fighting skill, as well as a nickname. Nicknames are used in-game whenever your avatar dons a mask. Players frequently use masks to hide their true identities for a variety of reasons (when an avatar is logged in, the nickname appears in the in-game player locator instead of the character's real name, which helps if you're trying to avoid someone). Finally, you can also choose to modify the default point distribution of your character's stats ("abilities"), such as Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence. Before you decide to modify these values though, understand that you will only rarely have the opportunity to increase any of your stats as the game progresses; it can happen when you do or find certain things, but it doesn't happen often.

20-Year-Old Virgins

You begin life in London as a blandly-dressed Newbie in your early Twenties. (Characters have a limited lifespan of around 70 years old, and since time in Sociolotron is much faster than real time, your character can expect to live about 2 1/2 years of real-world time, unless someone cuts your life short for you.) You'll find yourself in the middle of Stratford Plaza, a common hang-out for both newbies and seasoned players. Post-apocalyptic London can be a very dangerous town, and there is no in-game tutorial or help system. Instead, the game supports three different character stages, which determine what a given avatar can do, and what can be done to that avatar. The first character you ever create will be a Newbie (and this fact is clearly displayed to other players, along with your name).

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It's common for helpful/predatory players to hang out in Stratford Plaza waiting for newbies/victims.

Newbie characters cannot be attacked or held against their will by other players (although NPCs can and will attack Newbies), and they are not able to leave the districts of Stratford or Isle of Dogs. Newbie characters are also unable to reach the highest levels in any skills, face an XP cap of 150,000, and cannot learn some of the more advanced skills or join any cults. You are required to play the first ten hours of your first character's existence as a Newbie (and sitting around in taverns doesn't count; you must be out in the world, working off your time), and after that you can voluntarily choose to lose your Newbie status, making you a 'Casual' character. Casual avatars can travel anywhere in the game, and cannot be attacked, but they also cannot learn the highest skill levels, and they also face an XP cap. You can live your whole life in London as a casual avatar, but you won't have any voice in in-game political matters, nor will you be able to purchase property, so most players tend to move on to the next level, full "PC" (player character) status. PCs can go anywhere and do anything in the game, and face no XP cap- but they also run the risk of being attacked at any time by other players, and can potentially be permanently murdered. Casual and PC avatars are not allowed to harvest materials or attack non-PCs in Stratford or Isle of Dogs, as those are the only places where Newbies are able to roam.

Death on the Installment Plan

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The London Underground's a good place to go for a quick and dirty fight with NPCs.

"So, wait a minute," you may ask, "You mean I can pay a monthly subscription, put months of time into my toon, and he can be murdered if he doesn't die a natural death first, never to walk this sweet earth once more?" Well, yes- but that's not the whole story. For one thing, only other players can permanently kill you- NPCs never will. Also, the attacking player must explicitly tell the game that a permakill is desired, and when the deed is done a crime is immediately filed against the murderer. These crimes seldom go unpunished by other players, so permadeath is somewhat rare. (However, no one is truly safe once they reach PC status. At a recent in-game ball, the Prime Minister at the time was supposedly permakilled.)

When killed by an NPC or a player who's not intent on ridding London of you forever, you are simply knocked out ("KO'ed"). You automatically resurrect in a room adjacent to where you met your fate, a fair amount lighter as you're missing most of your belongings. You'll only be left with a few weak health potions, the basic tools of your primary professions, and enough clothing to cover your genitals. The rest of your things are left in a so-called "death box" which can and will be snatched up by other players if you're not quick enough in retrieving it. Losing all your stuff is not as bad in Sociolotron as it would be for, say a decked-out high level player in World of Warcraft. You never lose any money when you're KO'ed, and you can re-buy all your favorite weapons, armor, and accessories during a quick tour of your favorite player-run shops.

When your character does die permanently, the default result is condemnation as a demon in a playable Hell. Hell is a no-holds-barred area with its own social ranking system and economy. If Hell isn't for you though, you can prepare for the future by naming an heir. To do this, a female player needs to get pregnant and bear a child. A month in Sociolotron is the same as a day in the real world, so player pregnancy lasts nine days. Once the offspring is born, it (supposedly) becomes a playable character accessible by either parent, although until the character is activated as an heir, you can't do too much with it. If one of the parents dies and has named one of its offspring as an heir, that heir will replace the dead character and inherit all of his or her belongings and property, in addition to 75% of the character's financial wealth. Note that female avatars need to be careful how many babies they successfully deliver, as each one changes her anatomy in such a way as to potentially affect her arousal in future sexual situations. Also, frequent abortions can be detrimental as well, so the best course of action for most female avatars is to monitor their ovulation and take birth control when they're not planning to bear children.

The Streets of London

Sociolotron's game world is divided into several districts, each representing a major area of modern London, from Kensington all the way to Isle of Dogs. Every district has players who are elected to serve as judge, jury, and mayor, and in case you were wondering, yes one player even serves as Prime Minister for all of Sociolotron. Getting around town can be difficult at first. There are no in-game maps of any kind, however the game's Help menu has a shortcut to some searchable official online maps. Every district in the game is divided into a number of roughly equally-sized grids (called 'rooms' although they can be either inside or outdoor areas). To move about within a room, you simply click the ground where you want to go. Every room has at least one exit, which you can double-click to enter the adjacent room. The districts are connected by the occasional energy gate (teleporter) and, of course, the London Underground. There's at least one underground station accessible in every district, and to get from one place to another you need to follow the Underground map to know which stations are along the way. (You can't just enter the Stratford station and say 'I want to go to Knightsbridge.' You need to know how to get there.)

One of the cooler benefits of being a full PC-status character is that you can own private residences or public businesses. All taverns in the game are player-run, and are the hub of most day-to-day activity. Both homes and taverns serve as hubs of commerce, for players can set up vending machines on their own property where they can sell items they've produced and even buy materials and items from other players. There is no uber-elite phat lewt in Sociolotron; most, if not all, in-game items can be crafted by any player with the appropriate skills and materials, and it is actually quite easy to equip yourself with good weapons and armor early on in the game by just visiting people's apartments and checking out their vending machines.

Most Honorable Professions

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It's getting so that you can't go out and rape the land's resources anymore without getting attacked by some half-naked crazy-named NPC freak!

Other than the aforementioned character stages, there are no traditional levels or classes in Sociolotron, but you do still accumulate XP for the purpose of learning skills. Any character can learn almost any skill in the game; it's just a matter of earning enough XP to learn the profession and enough credits to pay an instructor NPC to teach you. The only really critical skill-related choice you'll likely have to make is which cult to join, should you decide to go that route. Cult membership is represented as a skill level in your cult of choice, and the two cults are mutually exclusive.

Like most MMORPGs, the game offers harvesting professions and crafting professions, in addition to weapon proficiencies. Skills have a maximum level of 4, and higher skill levels generally imply that you're more efficient in what you do, and in the case of crafting, the higher your skill the more items you know how to produce. Learning up to level 3 in most skills can be done by simply visiting the correct instructor NPC (assuming you have the XP and money to spend), but the achieving level 4 typically requires that you complete a special quest which, upon completion, will give you access to a high level trainer.

Sex in the City

Sex is not a mere role-playing concession in Sociolotron; it is a fully-baked and detailed gameplay mechanic. Players can engage in both consensual and forced sexual relations with other players and some NPCs- and believe it or not, sex serves a number of important purposes in the game. (Aside from the whole heir thing, the fluids that are exchanged and spilled during sexual encounters are critical components of some potions, and the game provides a variety of methods for collecting these substances.)

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Wildefire chats up a slave girl in the Hell Fire Club, impressing her with his southern charm.

Sex is really a sort of minigame in Socio, and before you utter the words 'Hot Coffee,' understand that this is no mere rhythm exercise. It's actually so complex a process that I'll only touch on a few details here.

For one thing, as the game's manual explains, the sex system mostly follows common sense. For example, a man cannot penetrate his partner until he is sufficiently physically aroused. He can reach this state himself by obvious means, but it's easier and quicker for his partner to help him out. Additionally, in penetration situations, both the size of the intruding object and that of the receiving orifice play an important part... if the inserted item is too small, arousal for both partners will drop. On the other hand, if it's too large, this increases the amount of pain that both partners experience, which is again generally bad for arousal (unless your character is a masochist, in which case pain actually helps). Some players have monogamous relationships, most players have many regular partners, and some players actually have a prostitution skill and will sleep with just about anyone for the money. As detailed as it is, the sex system isn't as comprehensive as it could be. For example, multi-partner penetration isn't supported, and not all body parts are officially accessible. This is not a hindrance to the seasoned role-players of London, however- they tend to fill in the gaps with their own descriptions.

Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

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A thirsty Wildefire surveys Sin City in Stratford, looking for a beer- preferably of the cheap, pale, watered-down variety.

Nightlife in London is likely quite different from that of any other online game. Instead of standing around in the streets dueling and showing off their hard-earned elite armor after a day's adventuring, Socio players are more likely to congregate in one of many player-run taverns, where live sex shows, suggestive dancing, or, well outright prostitution are commonplace. Sex slaves collect at the feet of their doms or dommes (players can literally own other players as slaves, and siphon experience points as a result), and just about everything that happens is done completely in character. A novel facet of Sociolotron is the concept of urges. Like addictions in normal human nature, the more you do something in Socio, the more likely you are to need it later on. For example, if you repeatedly endure pain during sex, you are likely to develop a high masochism urge. While this may enhance your arousal in future sexual encounters, a very high masochism urge can have terrible consequences. For example, in the middle of a fight, your avatar may simply drop to its knees and enjoy the beating! Urges don't go down on their own; you generally have to complete special quests or locate certain items to do that.

Forbidden Quests

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Wildefire misinterprets the suggestions of his friendly neighborhood NPC sex worker.

There are no "story quests" in Sociolotron of any kind. Instead there are twelve or so different classes of randomly-generated quests that you can take any number of times to achieve certain goals. You obtain quests as scrolls found on the bodies of fallen NPCs, or you can also buy them from other players. When you activate a quest scroll, some parameters are randomly determined, and you are given instructions on what your first step should be. For example, a "Treasure Hunt" quest generates a number of quest stones around London, and each one you find gives you a clue as to where the next might be. Particularly interesting are the "Kill Traitor" and "Protect Freedom Fighter" quests. When you activate a Kill Traitor quest, you are instructed to eliminate a certain NPC somewhere in London, but there's a catch. You see, the moment you begin the quest, another currently-logged-in player is automatically assigned a quest to protect the very NPC you were sent to kill! You're not guaranteed a fight every time you take one of these quests on, but it's a real possibility. There is no formal grouping mechanism as is typically found in other games, however, players can still share quest rewards and XP by use of quest 'shares.' Any time you activate a quest, you are provided with a number of quest shares. You can give shares to other players you want to go with you on the quest, and they will receive rewards commensurate with their number of shares in their possession.

In Graphic Detail

Sociolotron is like that plain-looking but charismatic kid you remember from grade school. What he lacked in appearance he made up for in wit and charm. To be quite blunt, the oddly colored character models are serviceable at best, while most of the game's environmental graphics are downright ugly. There is only a single character model for each sex of player character; the only things that distinguish one avatar from another are its hair, skin tone, and clothes. Luckily, it is rather cheap and easy to dye nearly any item of armor or casual clothing, and there are enough fashion options available that characters are still usually able to develop a unique look for themselves. Character animations are crude, resembling mini-slide shows, and some of the sexual animations just don't 'connect' if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

New players frequently think they're experiencing technical difficulties when they discover they can't hear anything when they play Sociolotron, when in fact there simply is no music or sound. The lone exception is that there are various 'instruments' located around the game world, which are really more like tape players. You occasionally find musical recordings which you can then play on these instruments. The songs are all public domain MIDI files, so don't expect Jeremy Soule.

Sociolotron also features a somewhat bizarre and unconventional interface. Instead of being full-screen, the game always runs in a regular window (which is important because you'll frequently need to refer to official web pages and the manual for information), and you can resize the window to fit your screen. The game window is divided into seven areas: Your current view into the game world (the graphics), a chat and system message area, a context-sensitive tabbed menu, a scrollable character stats panel, some buttons for inventory management, the "paper doll" window which displays either you or the currently selected player (you use this to equip or unequip avatars), and your inventory. There's also a menu bar across the top where you can access various settings, and the all-important Help menu which has links to all necessary external information pages as well as the game's manual. Sociolotron really benefits from high screen resolutions; while it doesn't improve the game's appearance, the higher the resolution the more 'real estate' you can see in the actual game world. 1024x768 is just barely acceptable (when you're in bars you're only able to see people sitting right next to you). I prefer to play at my notebook's native resolution, which is 1600x1200.

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Wildefire insists that his lady friend sit on "that funny lookin' chair." Unfortunately for him, NPCs don't take kindly to being placed on Succubus altars.

The interface can be a real bear to manipulate because performing complex actions often requires you to flip through numerous different menu tabs while the appropriate items are selected. For example, chaining up a victim or partner requires several steps that must be performed in a number of places on the interface- things such as manufacturing keys for the chains, selecting the target character, getting a tight hold on the character, dragging the chains onto the paper doll, selecting the chains, locking them, etc. Activities like this could be drastically simplified with macros and configurable hotkeys, but there are none (and using external macroing methods is forbidden). There are a handful of useful hard-coded hotkeys for simple things like selecting yourself and standing up from a seated position, but it's just not enough. Even a more intuitive menu system (perhaps some more items in the menu bar at the top of the window) would lessen the pain of many procedures.

Combat is thankfully simple- perhaps too simple for many MMORPG vets, but that's not really the focus here. To attack someone, you just select the target avatar and either hold CTRL and double-click, or choose ATTACK from the Combat menu. As long as your mark is within range of your weapon, you will automatically fight with your opponent until only one of you is left standing. You can optionally choose to just "hurt" your target instead of fighting with full force (some players use this setting in S&M situations). It is rumored that if your avatar's masochism urge gets too high, your avatar will automatically switch itself to hurt-only mode so that the fight lasts longer. The stats of your weapons and armor make a huge difference in Sociolotron- unfortunately, no stats for any item are available within the game's interface. You must refer to the official items list web page (linked from the Help menu) for this info, and it's a cumbersome process. There are spells in the game as well- which require mana- but they're not so much "lightning bolt! lightning bolt!" as they are "bring my sex partner to climax without the necessary stimulation."

Despite the interface's lack of some critical in-game details, the regularly-updated external sites and the game's semi-private official forums should give you all the information you need that's not already in the game's manual. Oh and understand this: The manual is essential reading. I'm not kidding. This is not like most MMORPG user guides where 80% of it is useless lore that you don't read anyway. Every topic in the Sociolotron user guide explains important information that you need to know in order to play. It is fortunate then, that the documentation is well-written and admirably complete, if not always up-to-date.

Ill Communication

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Mistells can be awkward in Sociolotron, perhaps more so than in any other game.

True to its name, Sociolotron gives players an abundance of ways to socialize. The single chat window lists all spoken text and system messages, color-coded for easy identification. Players can easily speak to anyone in a given room, or whisper directly to a single selected individual. There are numerous ways to communicate with players not in your immediate vicinity. You can use cell phones to call players in your personal address book, and you can also use your phone or one of the many computer terminals in town to leave offline players a personal text message. The game also includes an integrated IRC client so other players (even those who aren't currently logged into the game) can chat openly. Some players also publish in-game newspapers and classified ads (also accessible at public terminals).

An important thing to note is that Sociolotron players are expected to speak in-character in all public communications (except IRC), unless explicitly speaking out-of-character using the OOC feature (which colors text green). Sociolotron staff discourages players from revealing personal information about themselves for safety reasons, but despite this, many players also use Yahoo! Messenger to keep tabs on each other. In order to preserve the integrity of in-game roleplay, the use of out-of-band methods for in-game role-played communications is frowned upon. For example, if your avatar is gagged and chained, you (quite logically) can't use your in-game cell phone to call your friends for help. You COULD use IRC or Yahoo! Messenger to alert them, but this would violate the rules of proper roleplay.

What Happens in Socio Stays in Socio

I've talked to numerous people who canceled their World of Warcraft accounts due to a perceived lack of "high end content" or who quickly lost interest in Guild Wars after they had completed the game's story mode. What fascinates me about Sociolotron is that this game essentially has no formal content of any kind, yet many Socio players have been "In London" since the first betas began two years ago. Truly, Sociolotron's thoughtful and deep game mechanics provide for a lot of freedom, but without the player community there would be no compelling reason to play; the players are the game.

At this time there is only one game server, so when you play you have access to the entire Sociolotron community. The player population is small (generally between 60 and 180 players are logged on at any given time) but very dedicated, and a real community, with commerce, law, scandal, and history has evolved.

Is It Hot or Not?

Now here's the part where I have to justify my rating for this game, which is an eight out of a possible ten. For perspective, I would rate World of Warcraft 9/10, Guild Wars 8/10, and City of Villains 7.5/10 (they're all good games and I play every one of them). I am aware that it seems odd I should rank Sociolotron- a low-budget game with primitive graphics, no sound, and essentially no formal content- alongside those multimillion dollar juggernauts, but stay with me. You see, Sociolotron has much less in common with its flashy contemporaries than it does with ye olde text-based MUDs and MUSHes of yore- a heritage that is apparent every time you enter a room and receive a textual description of the place along with a list of other players. I would almost describe Socio as a graphical MUSH with advanced gameplay mechanics. Seen in this light, Sociolotron is more of a role-playing sandbox than a traditional MMORPG. If you MUST compare Socio to one of its modern brethren, it would probably be more appropriate to consider virtual habitats such as Second Life or Active Worlds. Sociolotron is more of a "game" than either of them, but all of those titles prize community and player creativity above all else. Note that Sociolotron is not free to play, and there is no free trial- but your first month in the game costs only $4.00 USD. (After the first 30 days, the price goes to $9.95 a month, but gradually decreases at certain points the longer you keep your subscription.)

I had to deduct a couple points for production values, interface, and lack of integrated game data (you shouldn't have to browse to an external web page to see the stats on that sword you've had your eye on). Despite these issues, the amount of thought, detail, and care that went into this game is apparent at almost every step. Keep in mind that I've said nothing of the game's crafting, cults, gangs (guilds), social ranking and legal systems, or a number of other things that distinguish Sociolotron from other online games. There is a lot to explore and learn in London.

In the case of this unique game, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to simply render a score and run off without also giving you some advice, so here goes: If the reason you play MMORPGs is to explore vast 3D territories, engage in massive guild raids, collect rare and powerful items, complete hundreds of story-based quests, or even have exciting PvP or PvE combat experiences, Sociolotron is probably not for you. I also cannot recommend Sociolotron to folks who have trouble separating their in-game identities from their real-world ones, since terrible things can happen in London and if you're not able to see Sociolotron as "just a game" it might not be a very healthy experience for you. And let us not forget that this is an adults-only game. You must be 21 or over, and players can and do act out things in the game that would not be socially acceptable or safe in the real world.

On the other hand, if you have a high tolerance for a fair amount of bizarre and generally politically incorrect in-character behavior, you're curious about novel game mechanics, or you're interested in seeing what online role-playing is REALLY all about, Sociolotron may very well be the game you've been looking for. Just be warned that you're probably going to be forever spoiled by the role-playing freedom the game affords you... well until Sociolotron 2 comes out anyway.

The Verdict

RPG Dots:   (8/10)

The ups and downs:
Roleplaying freedomPoor graphics
Great communityClunky interface
Innovative featuresNo sound
Reliable client 
Player run govt. and economy 
Game Overview
Version: 1.0.23
Average Reader Ratings: 5.9 (30 votes)
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