Most persistent online role-playing games seem to have a fixation with dragons and dungeons, orcs and elves.
It's certainly a theme that works. Millions of players worldwide have signed up to plumb the depths of dragon-filled dungeons like Blackwing Lair in the multiplayer online game "World of Warcraft."
But what about something a little more postapocalyptic? With hot rods and mutants instead of horses and dwarves?
That's the premise behind "Auto Assault," a new persistent online game from NCsoft Corp. (T-rated, PC only, $49.99 plus monthly subscription fee) that dares to be different — at least on the surface.
There are a few things anyone who plays games of this genre should know first: They tend to be very addicting and require large amounts of time to play (we're talking about a commitment likely measured in months, if not years).
Most importantly, these games never really end — the adventures continue for as long as you pay the $15 monthly subscription fee.
I began my adventures in "Auto Assault" at the character creation screen, where I was able to choose from one of three races, each with different specialties, as well as the battle vehicle I'd be driving around.
I choose a Biomek MasterMind after tinkering around with three different races and customizing my virtual driver and racer.
My rationale was simply that the Biomeks, cybernetic humanoids, just looked cool. And being a MasterMind meant I could control a menagerie of robot minions as I drove around in battle.
Seeing as this is a driving game wrapped around a role-playing game, "Auto Assault" was a different experience than other online games I've played.
I was immediately thrust into a bleak, wind-swept vision of dystopian Earth where the three factions constantly vie for turf.
You can do stunts and catch air off big jumps, perform missions to gain more experience, or just blow everything up, as I did with my hood-mounted chain gun.
"Auto Assault" is all about progression, however, and you'll want to do all of the above in the long road of going from a Level 1 weakling to Level 80 master.
Destroying buildings and enemies often yields loot you can use to obtain better weapons, tires, fancy hood ornaments and new vehicle chassis.
You'll probably die quite a bit along the way (I certainly did), but there's no penalty for failure: your hulking wreck of a vehicle is instead airlifted to a free repair station.
Another feature giving the game some lasting value is a special mode where you can battle other players.
Compared to some other online games I've played, the game world was rather devoid of other people to group up or chat with. Those few I did meet, however, were generally mature and helpful.
I also had some technical glitches: Certain sound effects would annoyingly repeat like a skipping CD, and often my frantic key presses and mouse clicks didn't respond until a precious few seconds later.
So far, I'm enjoying this road trip. Anyone looking for an online game that's more Mad Max than Gandalf might want to take "Auto Assault" out for a spin.
Three stars out of four.