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We've finally had a chance to see footage of the gameplay in The Secret World, Funcom's next massively multiplayer game. As you may recall, the game takes place in a modern-day version of our world where occult legend is reality and where three player factions (the Illuminati, the Dragon, and the Templars) take up the fight to save the world from the shadowy forces that have emerged to threaten the world. Previously, GameSpot revealed the first look at the first area revealed by Funcom: Kingsmouth. This fictitious New England town has come under siege by a mysterious fog that encloses the town and also seems to have turned the majority of its citizenry into walking dead with a nasty tendency to get right back up the next evening, no matter how many times you "kill" them.
We were first shown a chopped-up trailer that showed numerous, fully voiced dialogues with various non-player characters who either inhabit the town or have come to investigate it. These characters include a gruff, gray-haired cowboy type with a rifle who gave a weary speech about how the walking dead just keep coming; a priest wearing a sweater vest who had apparently given up on his faith; a housewife who complained about how Kingsmouth used to be a peaceful town; a female sheriff explaining how the police cruiser can't be used to escape now that it's part of the barricade; and two clean-cut youngsters in slick black leather jackets bantering about status reports and government cover-ups. While none of the clips or dialogues we saw were shown at any length, they gave a good idea of what exploring Kingsmouth will be about--getting intel from the locals and trying to piece together exactly what's happening from participants with varying levels of insight (and sanity). Funcom is already recording speech for its ton of fully voiced in-game dialogue.
And perhaps more importantly, the studio is now conducting internal playtests on The Secret World's gameplay, which we've finally seen in motion. Rather than focus on character levels (The Secret World doesn't have any), the game lets your character earn "points," which can then be spent to purchase "powers." Funcom plans to add a huge number of different "powers" that can take the form of either passive abilities that are "always on"--such as enhancements to your character's basic damage levels or perks that may occasionally let your character knock down your opponents with a standard attack--and active abilities, such as using melee weapons like swords, ranged weapons like assault rifles, and occult powers, such as hurling bolts of fire, ice, or lightning.
As to exactly how the powers system will work, The Secret World will have some kind of stamina bar that determines how much you can use your powers before you become exhausted, and active powers will have "cooldown" timers that determine how frequently you can trigger them. Similar to the strategic powers system of Guild Wars, The Secret World's power system will let your character earn hundreds of different powers but load up only a handful for a specific mission, which you must determine in advance. There will be places in the world where you can change your character's current power loadout (explained in terms of game lore as ley lines or other focal points of occult power) and purchase new powers if you've earned enough points through questing and fighting. Interestingly, while you'll be able to load your powers to hotkeys as you've come to expect from massively multiplayer games, The Secret World will also have an onscreen pop-up prompt for your powers that bears a distinct resemblance to the icon-heavy user interface of Apple's iPhone--different powers will be color-coded and labeled with cleanly lettered block script.
We watched a few party combat demonstrations with a small, three-person party of an assault rifle specialist, a hybrid melee/magic character who used a sword that could be ignited with magical fire, and a magic-focused character equipped with fire, ice, and healing powers. We watched this party take on different battles in a demonstration of The Secret World's "states" system, which will add a combinatorial element to battle. Certain powers can put enemies into a specific state, which will render them more vulnerable to follow-up powers that capitalize on that state (such as using a setup power to put an enemy into a vulnerable-to-fire state and then unloading with a fire-based attack). Funcom suggests that the most successful hunting parties will be players who do some pre-mission planning about which power combinations they want to bring with them, though the studio also confirms that The Secret World will very much be a game that will let you go solo if you prefer.
We watched three different battle sequences with this party: the first in the streets of Kingsmouth against a walking-dead onslaught; the second in a junkyard against a gigantic metallic monster made of wrecked cars and other scrap metal; and the third on a beach against strange, warped sea monsters with slick purple skin and glowing yellow eyes. Let's just say that if the setup of an evil curse falling on a New England town resulting in an ancient evil emerging from the seas reminded you of H.P. Lovecraft's short story Shadows Over Innsmouth, you were right on the money.
The Secret World still has a way to go, and no final release date has been confirmed, but we're pleased that we've finally seen the gameplay in motion, and we look forward to bringing you more about the game in the future.
Age of Conan launched in 2008 to mixed reactions, but much has changed since then. The development team has changed, the design philosophy has changed, items have become a lot more meaningful, and huge chunks of high-level content have been added. Now, the game's development team is hard at work on the next update for the game, Rise of the Godslayer, which will introduce a totally new area to explore--the faraway, vaguely Asia-inspired land of Khitai--along with tons of new gameplay options.
Khitai will be a huge land consisting of five contiguous zones filled with tons of new quests and new items. In addition, the land will house a group of about 10 new factions that will be tied to numerous faction-based quests and will offer dozens of new armor sets (in all of the game's armor types of light, medium, heavy, and silk), as well as one of two new riding mounts (either a tiger or a wolf) as rewards. While you can join more than one faction, joining them all and reaping each one's rewards will be nearly impossible because some these groups will have opposing goals, while others will flat-out hate each other.
In any case, it'll be worth it to try to gain at least a few loyalty ranks with one or two of them, especially the wilderness factions which have your potential new pet/mount. The new line of mount quests requires you to gain many loyalty ranks with the proper faction before you can even make the attempt. Once you do get in good with the right people, your character will need to strip naked (in game terms, that means un-equipping all your weapons and armor) and do battle with the mother she-wolf or tigress and actually steal one of its young. If you survive the battle, you'll have a wolf pup or young tiger that you must feed and care for until it matures to its "pet" state, at which point, you can have it accompany you into battle as a pet, much like any other pet in the game. However, you can perform an additional set of quests to fully mature your furry, fanged friend into a larger riding mount. Though if you do, your wolf or tiger will no longer be a fighting pet, so you'll have to make a choice.
We then watched a demonstration of some of the new dungeons that will be featured in the game. Like with some of the other, more recent dungeons in the game, the development team is designing new content that offers variety beyond what's already been seen in the game. In this case, one of the new dungeons, "Celestial Necropolis," will feature team-based puzzles that require members of your party to stand on certain tiles and perform a specific emote gesture.
One puzzle involves a chasm with a fallen bridge that will rebuild itself with the right combination, but requires some party members to stay behind and sit on their tiles while the others cross over and do battle with the bridge's guardians to secure the bridge from the other side. (These puzzles will be marked with hints that will tip you off about what kind of monsters guard the bridge and which party members you can leave behind on the far side.) The boss of this challenging dungeon, a meditating demon warrior, will use emote gestures of his own to summon floating stone monoliths to attack you, and you'll need to take careful note of those emotes to assemble the walkway to finally attack the boss. Another dungeon, "Pillars of Heaven," will be presided over by a bandit boss with the high ground who periodically orders his goons to pelt you with arrows from above. Unless you want to be Swiss cheese, you need to actually take cover in the surrounding areas to survive.
Interestingly, Rise of the Godslayer will launch simultaneously in Age of Conan's regular territories, as well as in South Korea with Funcom's Asia publishing partner Neowiz. This studio has provided helpful insight into the preferences of overseas players, from user interface details to the appearance of the game's new Khitai race, which will look suitably exotic and "Asian" while remaining true to Age of Conan's low-fantasy setting of barbarians, brutality, and exposed bits of skin. Rise of the Godslayer is currently being tested on Age of Conan's beta server and will go live later this year.
It's GDC 2010 in San Francisco, and that means lots of game companies are showing off new and upcoming games like TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea. The name is a mouthful, and so are the names of the game's playable fantasy races and its unusual fantasy monsters. It's being developed with a ton of lore and backstory written by developer Bluehole Games (the original developer of the Asian smash-hit Lineage series).
Surprisingly, even though everyone has a fancy name in the game, the actual gameplay itself will be simple enough to pick up and play because it'll essentially play out as either a third-person shooter or a third-person action game (depending on whether you decide to play a ranged character or a melee character). It can also be played either with a mouse and keyboard or with an Xbox 360 controller.
The game's interface won't even have a cursor--you can jump to your inventory by pulling it up with hotkeys and navigating it with simple arrow key or controller taps. It will also have a radial menu for chat shortcuts. Producer Brian Knox suggests that the game is easy enough to play on a controller for combat and travel, while the keyboard and mouse come in handy in the game's social hub towns, where in-depth chatting is more appropriate.
In any case, TERA will let you start the game as a character from one of six races, including humans, high elves, and four totally new races unique to the game. These include the demonic castanics; the savage aman; the hulking baraka; and the animal-like popori. Once you've chosen your race, you can choose to play as one of eight professions, which include four melee classes in the warrior, lancer, berserker, and slayer, as well as four ranged classes in the sorcerer, archer, priest, and mystic. While the game will have all the trappings of a traditional massively multiplayer game, such as quests, crafting, and competitive player-versus-player battles, the actual combat will be about pointing and shooting (or swinging your weapon) in real time. While it'll definitely help to wear the best armor available, your best defense will be to actively dodge incoming blows. Many enemies will telegraph their attacks in advance, giving you a chance to duck out of the way or raise your shield if you have one.
While the game will take place in a huge, colorful world complete with larger hub towns for the game's different races (the current plan is to launch with two or three, then add more over time) and offer PVP, oddly enough, TERA's focus will be on player-versus-environment gameplay, such as fighting monsters and performing quests. This is surprising coming from a developer from Asia (a territory where competitive PVP tends to be most popular), but perhaps it's good news for massively multiplayer fans looking to play a game with the kind of colorful artwork and complex lore typical of games out of Asia, without the heavy focus on sieging some other player's castle.
TERA is currently in a testing state in Asia, while the North American version is being subjected to numerous internal tests with several hundred people and will likely launch early next year as a boxed retail product with a monthly subscription fee comparable to that of other premium subscription games.
Let's cut to the chase: It's GDC 2010, and game studios like Eve Online developer CCP are here showing their wares. We sat down with a few representatives from the studio to discuss Eve's present and its future, and we did our best to get some more details on its other projects. These include Dust 514, a console shooter being developed in China, and an as-yet unannounced game being developed out of Atlanta, Georgia, that may or may not have something to do with CCP's acquisition of White Wolf Games, which is the pen-and-paper game company that produces the tabletop game World of Darkness. What we came away with was a good amount of Eve, a little Dust 514, and absolutely zero on the third game.
In any case, CCP is extremely pleased with Eve's continued growth from its relatively small community of a few thousand players to its recent highs of some 330,000 paid subscribers (to say nothing of the looky-loos who are playing the game's free trial). The game has grown with CCP-developed expansions every six months and the studio is already working on the 13th expansion, Tyrannis. It will launch this summer and will add new mechanics for mining and exploiting resources.
This planetary gameplay will directly tie into Dust 514, which will be a console shooter based in the same universe as Eve. Though the CCP staffers were hesitant to divulge any details, they did again confirm that the game will work directly with Eve in that Dust 514 players will be terrestrial mercenaries who will form up in strategic groups that may report to the player-built "corporations" (Eve's version of guilds) from the original PC game.
In the meantime, CCP is also working an a separate expansion that will add an entirely new dimension--namely, one outside of your spaceship. The expansion, titled Incarna, will indeed let you finally step out of your starship and walk around on foot on space stations. This means your politically conniving pilot can finally go off the grid and engage in shady, underworld dealings. It also means that Eve will gain all-new character customization options that will require new artists and programmers to implement. In fact, the studio is looking to recruit some 150 new people to work on the three projects.
For the time being, CCP remains dedicated to continuing to develop the game and add new dimensions to it over time while remaining open to discussion with the community, but the studio is otherwise focusing on making day-to-day technical improvements to the game's graphics and, more importantly, to its network stability. Although the game's population has grown from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand, the studio refuses to split the population onto different servers in favor of keeping every single player on the same shard so that everyone can interact with everyone. CCP reaffirms that this is core to the game's philosophy and will never change.
We won't lie to you. It's GDC 2010. There are games like Runes of Magic, a free-to-play, fantasy-themed game with a mysterious resemblance to a world where war is crafted. Currently, Runes of Magic is entering its next phase of content, known as "chapter three," after concluding its long-running second chapter, which is currently culminating with a high-level dungeon housing the ultimate villain of that chapter: a demon lord. Chapter three will introduce a new kind of variable-instance player-versus-player battle called Guild Siege, which is currently being beta tested and will be migrated to the live game soon.
Guild Siege lets guilds do battle with each other to see who really is the best of the best. This new PVP mode allows for up to 300 players at once (150 on either side) in and around the game's guild keeps, which have also been revamped. Expanding your guild housing now has a more strategic element to it because different improvements your guild decides to build within its walls may contribute directly to guild sieges. You'll be faced with choices, such as whether to use your limited space to build farms (which produce resources and make your guild wealthier); stables, which increase the speed of your guildmates and their riding mounts; or a library to research siege-related improvements. You can also make use of the guild throne, which was previously a vanity item but now acts as a vending machine of sorts that will not only produce global bonuses for your guildmates, but will also sell siege-related abilities and spells.
Once a siege begins, it becomes the defending guild's job to repel the attackers, which will be easier said than done. Sieging guilds can commission multi-person mounts for fast travel in chapter three, and more importantly, they can commission multi-person siege vehicles, such as catapults and ballistae, which can be aimed at guild walls (which can't be destroyed, but when sufficiently damaged, can't be fortified with defensive siege catapults of their own). Or the vehicles can be aimed at the front gates, which must be smashed to allow for front entry. (Then again, the attacking guild may also commission sky platforms that can quietly sneak you up and over the fortress walls as well.)
Once a guild keep is sieged, siege structures become activated, such as resource nodes. When these are fully captured by one team, they will fortify themselves with computer-controlled minions to help defend it. Likewise, keep defenders can purchase magical turrets from their guild throne to emplace at key areas to attack any nearby invaders. However, the most crucial part of a guild keep is its guild crystal, which is a giant glowing orb on a pedestal located deep within the keep. Once the crystal is destroyed, that's it--the siege is over. The attackers win and receive various rewards for their successful assault.
In addition, developer Frogster is working with Mothership Interactive, a social networking game company to launch a Facebook version of its game, which will have various crossover functionality with the online game and is scheduled to launch in May.
GDC 2010 is underway, which means no shortage of new and like-new games is being shown in and around the Moscone Center in San Francisco. One such game is the ongoing free-to-play military shooter War Rock, which is celebrating its third year in operations. The game originally launched as a gritty desert combat game in a fictitious Middle Eastern country, but it has expanded beyond desert battles with loads of new maps (more than 50), hundreds of weapons, and a brand new team-based, objective-focused mode called Siege War.
Siege War is a team-based mode that takes place in destructible environments with three different attack objectives that eventually lead to a missile launch. The attacking team must complete the objectives to trigger the launch while the defenders try to prevent it. This mode also introduces drivable vehicles, such as tanks, jeeps, and jets, as well as new environments, such as mountain passes, rivers, and lakes.
Next month, War Rock will introduce a new "gear" system that will let players wear new types of armor that will show up on their character models. It will also add both advantages and disadvantages when worn (heavy body armor will provide good protection but will make your character move more slowly, for instance). However, as before, the in-game cash shop that lets you buy in-game items for real money contains, and will continue to contain, all the game's weapons and armor. Some 90 percent of it can be obtained by spending in-game currency rather than real money out of pocket. And later this year, the game is apparently planned to once again reappear in North American retail markets as War Rock: Clan Warfare.
Hey, look! It's a bunch of games in San Francisco's storied Moscone Convention Center. It must be the 2010 Game Developers Conference, where games like Sword of the New World are being shown to the press. The game was originally launched in the US back in 2007 as a free-to-play game that offered the unusual ability to create not only a single character to play, but also an actual adventuring party of three different characters to customize, train, and lead through the game's classical era-fantasy world. Over time, the game has received regular updates by way of biannual expansion packs. As a matter of fact, the game was just updated with its 13th expansion, "Echoes of an Empire, volume 2," which has made numerous additions to the basic game. This includes two new player character classes, two new pets, three new armor sets, a new raid instance, and a larger character roster (previously, you could have only 32 characters; now you can have 64).
However, the big push in Sword of the New World is on a new system called "political PVP," which will let you "run for office" by becoming the leader of one of the game's factions. Because the game has 24 colonies that can be captured, the faction that conquers and controls the most colonies at one time is considered to be in control of the realm. It can also make the almighty executive decision of levying realm-wide taxes.
In addition, the game is continuously being developed with new content, including the aforementioned new raid instance, which includes the mighty "Helena" as a boss character. Don't let her glamorous blonde curls fool you--she's a dangerous opponent, but if you defeat her, you'll have the option to either finish her off or recruit her as one of your 64 characters, where she'll offer her services as a fire-and-ice sorceress with a monstrous pet. In the meantime, the game continues to offer in-game items for purchase with real-world money. These offer convenience (in the form of temporary enhanced experience gains and item drop rates) or character customization (in the form of clothing), rather than actual power.
The Game Developers Conference event in San Francisco is rolling right along and so is Aion, NCSoft's 2009 massively multiplayer online game. If you recall, Aion is a game that let you play as a winged character belonging to one of two factions that inhabits a shattered world; a "light" faction and a "dark" faction. It also let you participate in competitive player-versus-player battles, as well as demon hunts in the void between the world's halves. While Aion had some interesting ideas, many players found the game to be too severe of a "grind," requiring many hours of slaughtering monsters to gain higher experience levels (which are required to access the game's top-level areas) and the conquering of instanced areas multiple times to get a chance at the game's best items.
In response to player feedback, NCSoft has implemented additional ways of obtaining bonus experience, such as "energy of repose," which, after you log out of the game, then later log back in, grants an experience bonus when you return that is similar to World of Warcraft's "rest experience." The studio has also recently implemented "energy of salvation," which is an active experience point enhancer that gradually gives your character bonus experience for as long as you're logged into the game. In addition, NCSoft has reduced the number of instances required to get to the better loot by increasing the "drop rates" of key items so that players are more likely to find them the first time around.
NCSoft is otherwise optimistic about how Aion has developed since launch, and representatives pointed out that there are still high-level instances that have not yet been conquered by players. This means the player base still has room to grow into the content. In addition, the studio feels that the upcoming 1.9 patch will help "lay a foundation" for a better game experience going forward by implementing such changes as letting two-handed weapon classes, such as the gladiator and templar, merge two two-handed weapons to create a more powerful item (to address a character balance issue), as well as a return of the game's final instance to make it more fast paced and action packed.
The studio has no official launch date pegged for 1.9 but plans to continue dutifully bringing over and localizing content from the game's Asian version as soon as is humanly possible, considering both translation to English, as well as modifying and adding content, to make it more comprehensible and more pleasing to Western audiences.
If you're at San Francisco's GDC 2010 event, you just might be able to sneak peeks at upcoming games like Aika Online, gPotato's free-to-play online fantasy role-playing game. gPotato's representatives point out that the game will offer a strong amount of player-versus-environment (PVE) content in the form of monsters to slay, dungeons to loot, and quests to perform, but the primary focus of the game seems to overwhelmingly be on player-versus-player (PVP) competition, so much so that there are three entirely separate ways to engage in PVP at any given time.
Like many other fantasy-themed online games, Aika will let you create a character from various archetype professions, such as a warrior or wizard, and seek advancement by fighting monsters and performing quests (gPotato has purposely tuned character level advancement to move quickly so that players will be ready for PVP soon.) Likewise, you'll be able to deck your character out with various accoutrements, such as fancy weapons and armor, and there will be animal mounts you can ride, though the game will have a somewhat playful side--for instance, one of the in-game mounts is a giant armored hamster (yes, a giant armored hamster). In addition, once any character reaches level seven, he or she may take on a pet called a "pran," which is essentially an extremely young girl who will grow and develop into a young lady with various combat proficiencies depending on how you approach your relationship with her. Prans can use elemental powers, such as fire, water, and wind, and can be groomed to be intelligent wizards or fierce fighters.
Aika takes place in a land divided into six different nations, and you can swear allegiance to any one of them. These nations will at best have uneasy armistices among themselves and will at worst constantly be at each other's throats. This is because Aika offers comprehensive PVP both across and within nations. The most basic form of PVP is the Battlegrounds mode, which takes place in an area removed from national borders and is basically a free-for-all mode that lets you earn "honor" points to purchase exceptionally good types of armor (not unlike a certain other world where war, and honorable armor, can be crafted from PVP battles). However, one of the primary focuses of Aika is Relic War, a PVP mode that focuses on rare and valuable relics that a nation can store in a temple structure to radiate out various global bonuses to any citizens of that nation (such as persistent attack, defense, and experience point bonuses). The controlling nation can actually invest money to upgrade the relic (which enhances its bonuses), but this action will also make that particular relic a much more attractive target to a jealous nation. However, unlike in Dark Age of Camelot, which featured a similar type of gameplay, relics are found randomly as loot in high-level dungeons and have a chance of being utterly destroyed in a raid.
The final type of PVP in Aika is the Fight for Power mode, which is essentially a civil war among the top guilds in your nation. This mode unfolds in a weekly capture-the-flag battle that lasts for an hour and determines which guild is the most powerful in that nation. The leader of the victorious guild becomes "lord marshal" of the nation and can make choices that affect all players from that faction, such as adjusting tax rates on all transactions and adding or withdrawing gold from the nation's coffers once a week. While it may seem like a good idea to just plunder the treasury, it's this same fund that is also used to upgrade relics (and the security around relic temples), so taking the money and running might not be the best choice in the long run.
Speaking of money, Aika will, like many free-to-play games, have a cash shop where you can exchange real money out-of-pocket for in-game items. The plan is to offer convenience items and various types of apparel, as well as actual powerful weapons and armor for sale. gPotato hopes that the ability to put these weapons and armors for sale in the game's in-game auction house will mitigate any potential advantage that wealthy players have, since undercapitalized players who have enough in-game currency can snag these items in the auction house. Interestingly, the cash shop will also have a full line of pran-related items, including gifts you can give to your pet to improve your relationship.
Aika Online seems like it will offer a PVE experience that isn't unlike other games on the market, but its strong focus on multiple flavors of PVP may set it apart from the pack. Though a final, official launch date hasn't been confirmed, the game is scheduled to go into open beta next week, and its cash shop will likely open for business then as well.
The Game Developers Conference 2010 is in full swing, and so are running press demonstrations of Allods Online, the upcoming free-to-play online role-playing game from gPotato. Those who find free-to-play games unfamiliar and scary will be in luck with Allods, since the game's graphics, art style, and interface bear a striking resemblance to a certain world where war is crafted, and its story and factions are also not dissimilar to the setup in last year's AION.
Allods Online is an alternate fantasy game with World of Warcraft-like fantasy elements such as wizards, orcs, and bows and arrows, but it takes that game's primitive clockwork technology to its logical extreme with interstellar travel on gigantic astral ships. The world of Allods has been rent asunder by a great cataclysm, leaving it in fragments (or "allods") controlled by wizards of great power. Some wizards are worshipped by the League, the game's "good" faction; others are worshipped by the Empire, the game's "evil" (but not really evil) faction, while a third faction of astral demons prowls the intraplanetary space and is hostile to both player factions (hence the similarity to AION, which has a "light" and a "dark" faction fighting over a shattered world where demons live in between).
In any case, Allods will have the quests and player-versus-player gameplay you might expect from a large-scale online RPG but will attempt to distinguish itself with its endgame. The current plan is to launch the game in North America with a level cap of 40, at which point you can commission an astral ship of your own. Astral ships are enormous floating airships that currently carry up to six players but will eventually carry more. Astral ships have numerous moving parts, including engines, steering, and propulsion, and gPotato suggests that you'll need a smart team connected via the real-time voice chat application Ventrilo to really get the most out of your ship's speed and handling. Ships will also have jump pads that can be used to board other ships, though you'll need to make sure you line up your jump properly or risk flinging yourself into the void.
Astral ships act as floating bases and also as the literal vessels for high-level gameplay, since you can use your ship to explore far-off allods that may house hidden treasures; you can get into astral ship PVP if you sight a ship belonging to a player of the opposing faction; and you can use your ship to go hunting for astral demons. We watched a demonstration of demon hunting, which is easier to get into than you might think, since demons can be tracked by your ship's astral map. Once you've located a demon, which look like phantasmal blue monsters, you can attack it primarily using your ship's deck cannons, which you must manually aim and fire. Unfortunately, demons fire back and will damage your cannons and your hull--you'll need to commission your ship's repair goblins (yes, repair goblins) to fix them by running belowdecks, picking one up by the scruff of its neck, and dragging it to the ship damage. Should you lose an astral battle with a rival ship or a demon to the extent that your ship suffers critical damage, everyone on board will die and need to respawn, while your ship will end up as a nonfunctional wreck in your hangar and will need expensive repairs.
Allods will, like many free-to-play games, let you play for free, but it will also offer a cash shop where you can purchase in-game items for real money. The game recently went into open beta, and the most popular stuff currently includes convenience items, like a larger container and experience-point enhancers. gPotato feels that the mitigating factor of letting players actually purchase powerful swords and shields will be that players can also take these cash shop items and sell them in the in-game auction house for the in-game currency of gold, so that players who don't necessarily want to spend the cash (or don't have the cash to spend) can acquire such items with in-game currency, as well as in various free quests.
Despite its more-than-passing similarity to other games on the market, Allods looks to distinguish itself with its unusual high-level gameplay. While the company has not yet confirmed an official, final launch date, the game has gone into open beta and is already available for anyone to try, complete with a functional cash shop. [Editor's Note 03/16/10: gPotato has contacted GameSpot and stated that more-powerful weapons and armor will in fact, not be sold at the cash shop.]
We find ourselves in a crowded San Francisco convention hall at the 2010 Game Developers Conference. What do we do? Rather than rolling the dice to see if we're getting drunk, we try out the free-to-play hack-and-slash online role-playing game Dragon Nest from Nexon. This is a hybrid game that takes the brawling mechanics of a third-person action game and adds persistent RPG advancement and a colorful, cartoon-like decor, and it seems like something that could be fun for the whole family, assuming all your family members have their own computers.
Dragon Nest works like a lot of free-to-play hack-and-slash games. It lets you create a character from a specific class (such as warrior, wizard, archer, or priest) and then sally forth into instanced combat areas to beat the living heck out of various cutesy monsters by repeatedly clicking your mouse button to swing your weapon or occasionally using various hotkeyed abilities. Instanced areas are divided into short, combat-heavy segments bounded by doors that unlock only when all monsters are destroyed, but these shorter segments make it easier for impromptu parties to stick together until they can take on the boss and eventually complete the instance and either move on to the next instance or return to a shared-space town to socialize with other players or purchase items from the in-game cash-op (which lets you spend real money in microtransactions in exchange for in-game items).
In our session, we ended up playing as a warhammer-wielding warrior in a four-player party with a wizard, an archer, and a healer. We had to tackle an outdoor instance that appeared to be an abandoned temple overgrown by bright green jungle. We found the controls to be easy to pick up--you use W, A, S, and D to move, like in a first-person shooter, and your number keys to access any hotkeyed special abilities or items. You left-click to attack and right-click to perform a secondary attack (in the warrior's case, a standing kick that has a chance of stunning an enemy). You can also double-tap your W, A, S, or D key to perform a quick evasive tuck-and-roll in that direction.
Our warrior character's special-ability hotkeys were loaded up with various additional melee attacks beyond our standard ones, such as an upward strike that set up a juggle attack and a shock-wave attack that stunned all enemies in front of us. The warrior seems like a very easy class to play (not much more involved then running up close and unloading on the nearest enemy), and none of the enemies that attacked us, such as roly-poly goblins and super-deformed dark elf girls in bikinis, lasted long against our ferocious, caffeine-fueled button-mashing. In each case, we dispatched the current group of enemies, then activated a pair of crystal panels in the world to open the next door until we found the boss, a large floating critter with glowing tentacles, who was flanked by goblins and elves. Since all four members of our party zeroed in on it, the boss didn't last long, and before we knew it, we were done with the instance.
Dragon Nest seems like it's an accessible hack-and-slash game with a colorful anime art style and very intuitive controls. It's scheduled to launch in North America next year.
With GDC 2010 in full swing, it only makes sense to sit down with Nexon's free-to-play hybrid brawler role-playing game Vindictus. The game (originally known in Asia as Mabinogi Heroes) takes its lineage from Nexon's Mabinogi, another free-to-play online RPG that has been up and running for some time. But Vindictus won't be a cutesy game where bigheaded characters beat up roly-poly critters that disappear in a puff of smoke. This will be a much more mature game with graphic violence and plenty of blood…and more than a little skin bared.
Vindictus draws loosely upon Celtic legends that suggested that a mysterious goddess would reveal paradise to those who defeated the enemies of the state. In this case, the enemies in question are the "fomors"--a blanket term for a wide variety of monsters that will include undead monstrosities, giant polar bears, and helmet-wearing demons. The goddess in this case has remained eerily silent even though the weary characters of the world have been at war with the monsters for as long as they can remember. The people are starting to doubt, as are the monsters.
In Vindictus, you'll play as a character who belongs to a specific character class, which is currently gender-limited; for instance, the heavy melee character that uses two-handed weapons is male, while one of the game's spellcasters is a sorceress that uses a giant scythe-like weapon. While this may sound limiting, the game will have an extensive character customization system that will let you create characters with varying skin tones, facial features, tattoos (facial, full-body, and otherwise), and scars, along with hundreds of different clothing, armor, and weapon options. Interestingly, the game will have an ongoing armor damage system that will actually be shown on your character's model--if you've been taking a pounding from a bunch of demons or skeletons, or what have you, your chain-mail suit will start to deteriorate, revealing the clothes you're wearing underneath, and should you continue fighting, even your clothes will wear away. (Fortunately, all characters will be at least partially clothed at all times in their skivvies.) Even without apparel damage, many of Vindictus' armor choices seem revealing enough on their own--for whatever reason, Nexon feels it's important to push not only the game's heavy character customization, but also the potential sex appeal of having young muscular characters wearing tight-fitting clothes.
What's far more interesting than any shirt or clothes is the game's combat system, which seems based on the brawling mechanics from classic side-scrolling beat-'em-ups like Final Fight and Double Dragon, taken a step further. While your character can perform various combination attacks with his or her equipped weapon, as well as use any magic spells or abilities he or she has access to, you can also manipulate your enemies and the environment. Vindictus is being built on Valve Software's Source engine--the engine that made a name for itself with Half-Life 2's then-impressive implementation of in-game physics.
In Vindictus, not only will you be able to whack your enemies senseless with your weapons, but you'll also be able to grapple with them, lifting them and carrying them as living shields against oncoming attacks. You can also pummel them into environmental geometry (one portion of the demonstration showed a character pummeling a werewolf right through a stony wall that chipped away beneath the onslaught). In addition, your character can pick up environmental debris and use it as a melee or thrown weapon--pillars, small boulders, and shattered wooden trellises are all fair game. The Source engine's physics can also be used to set up attacks, such as cutting down a rope bridge with enemies on it, or pulling loose a set of logs that's restraining a boulder you can send crashing down on enemies below. The physics can even be used to solve puzzles, such as releasing the same boulder to splinter a filmy wooden barrier above a subterranean cave. And in addition to interesting physics, Vindictus will encourage group tactics with unusual mechanics like chain harpoons, which can be hurled at larger enemies (like the aforementioned giant polar bear) to drag them to the ground and restrain them so that your teammates can deliver a proper beating.
Vindictus' interesting physics, high-quality graphics, and surprising violence definitely help it stand apart from other free-to-play games. It's scheduled to launch later this year.
The Secret World: First Footage
Come back on Saturday, January 30, for the first footage.
Come back this weekend for an exclusive reveal of the first footage of The Secret World, the next online game from the creator of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, plus an interview with game director Ragnar Tornquist.
Online Games Blog
Everquest II: Sentinel's Fate
We recently took an advance look at Everquest II: Sentinel's Fate, the sixth expansion pack for Everquest II. The expansion is intended to mainly provide more monsters to stomp and more shiny treasures for high-level players, though it will also launch with new functionality to welcome newer players into the fold, such as a new "storyteller" system. This system will guide new players along a specific route through hand-picked zones in the game determined by expert players to be the easiest and most efficient way to gain experience points and advance a character.
Among other things, The Sentinel's Fate will increase the game's experience level cap from 80 to 90, as well as add two new overland zones, a dozen new dungeons, and an entirely new kind of gameplay: battlegrounds. These will be cooperative, team-based player-versus-player battles that will take place on medium- to large-sized maps. The expansion is also scheduled to ship with two six-on-six battlegrounds and one 24-on-24 battleground.
As you might expect, the new expansion will continue Everquest II's ongoing story arc that involves the fantasy world of Norrath recovering from a ruinous cataclysm while being set upon by a new threat, The Void. The Void will play a key role in the expansion's story, though it's suggested that even this mighty foe may soon give way to a new nemesis that will threaten the land.
In the meantime, the expansion will add Odus, the longtime home of the copiously cranial Erudite race from the original Everquest, as well as the Ruins of Old Paineel, better known as The Hole--a dungeon that also appeared in the original Everquest and will be entirely underwater. The Hole will be home to mysterious doings, including an evil plot hinted at in writings on the dungeon walls. The Hole, as well as other dungeons in the expansion, will have a toggle for "normal" and "nightmare" difficulty to let more casual groups tackle dungeon content but will reward high-end raiding guilds who take on "nightmare" level dungeons with the best rare items the expansion has to offer.
Everquest II: The Sentinel's Fate is already up and running on Sony Online's beta server with about 10,000 testers and will launch in a retail box on February 16 packed in with the original game, as well as all previous expansions. It will also be available as a digital download on February 23, but in the meantime, see more new screenshots of the expansion in GameSpot's screenshot gallery.
Online Games Happenings
News items and developments for the week of Tuesday, January 26, 2010:
Star Wars Galaxies has announced that the new Galactic Civil War: Forces Under Siege update is live and ready to go. The update includes Imperial vs. Rebel gameplay in different cities, plus the ability for neutral players to sign on as mercs. The update also includes faction planet control, profession-specific quests, and new reward items. More information is available at the Star Wars Galaxies site.
City of Heroes continues to push its "mission architect" feature, which lets you craft your own quests (missions) for other players to play. Most recently, the company recruited the services of various game designers and authors--including game designer Austin Grossman, Heralds of Valdemar author Mercedes Lackey, and comic author Troy Hickman--to create new adventures. More information is available at the City of Heroes mission architect site.
Free to play news: F2P game publisher Perfect World is bringing not one, but two games into closed beta soon: Battle of the Immortals, which will incorporate images, characters, and traditional mythology from Western cultures, such as the gods of Mount Olympus and the mystery of the sunken city of Atlantis; and the second phase of closed beta for Kung Foo!, the studio's "hilarious, slapstick MMORPG" crafted with the assistance of DC Comics author Devin K. Grayson. Details on each game are available at their respective Web sites (linked above).
GameSpot has three continuous days of The Secret World coverage lined up for today (Wednesday), Thursday, and Friday. Each day will unveil a new video trailer for one of the three secret societies in the game.
Today's story is already up, and it focuses on the Dragon secret society--one of three societies in the game.
All players will be able to join one of these three shadow groups to take up the fight against the mysterious occult legends that have come to life to threaten the modern world.
Today's update includes an exclusive new video trailer on this organization, which you can preview below.
The story also includes some in-depth discussion with Ragnar Tornquist of Funcom on the faction, its combat skills, its diplomacy and questing skills, and what role Dragon characters will play in the game. Will this shadow group be right for your adventuring needs? (Hint: Maybe.)
Preview the trailer here and be sure to read today's story.
Also, visit GameSpot's The Secret World gamespace for more information on the game.
After making a huge impact at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo with an impressive new video trailer, Star Wars: The Old Republic has become one of the most highly anticipated games among online game fans and Star Wars fans alike. Publisher LucasArts had already revealed five of the game's character classes publicly: the Republic trooper, the smuggler, the Sith warrior, the bounty hunter, and the Jedi knight. It recently took the wraps off the sixth player-character class in the game, the Imperial agent, but at a recent press event, we had a chance to see this profession in action.
The agent profession relies on stealth and trickery to get the job done. At a glance, it may seem like the profession is simply an Imperial analogue to the smuggler, but the agent focuses more on assassination skills that include both close-range "backstab"-style stealth melee and long-range sniper shots. The agent also focuses more on deadly hovering drones and an approach to stealth used for assassination purposes, rather than a hasty escape.
The demonstration we watched showed an agent character quietly climbing a series of ramps in what appeared to be a Republic base. A few guards kept watch at each ramp level, and rather than simply run in with guns blazing, we watched the agent take down each group stealthily. To dispatch the first pair of guards, for instance, the agent character first did a quick survey of available cover by mousing over nearby environmental objects. Like we explained in our E3 coverage of the game, cover works by letting you hover your mouse over environmental objects and projects a colored stick figure behind the objects to give you a preview of how much cover those objects will provide. The agent character selected a set of crates and clicked on them to acquire cover, causing the character to automatically tumble forward behind them, still out of sight of the rebel scum. The character then dispatched an exploding drone (those wonderful, baseball-sized hovering spheres) to flank one of the soldiers and fired a high-powered sniper shot to fell the other. As soon as the first enemy fell, the second became alerted to our presence and began firing on us, though a follow-up shot from our agent's rifle, which dealt damage to the second guard, triggered the detonator on our drone, blowing him to bits.
After clearing this obstacle, we then moved up to the next ramp level to find another pair of guards. We took a slightly different approach with these two, immobilizing one by using the agent's "sleeping dart" ability, which silently incapacitates an enemy, then tagging the second with a "poison dart" ability that inflicts an accelerating amount of damage over time but starts out so subtle that its targets may not even notice. We then tagged the sleeping guard with a drone. For a few moments, all was quiet, until the poisoned guard made the horrified realization that half his health had drained away and opened fire on us. A sniper shot got rid of him, and we disposed of the sleeping guard with a few more rounds.
The next ramp level up was a bit harder to negotiate because there was no cover this time around. With no cover to hide behind, our character was unable to simply pop out a few stealth shots, so we instead activated our stealth-field generating belt (a holdover from the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic single-player games). Apparently, this belt doesn't fully make your character invisible--rather, it just amplifies your character's stealth skill and helps you move more quietly, so you still need to stay out of sight. However, when in stealth mode, your character can utilize a backstablike stealth melee attack (with what looked like dual short "vibroblades"--the metallic swords of the Old Republic universe) that does huge damage to an enemy when performed from behind, and the last guard died bravely for the sake of showing off how this works.
The Imperial agent class appears to be a profession for players who want to think through and carefully coordinate their next moves in battle. This should prove interesting for players who enjoy playing stealth-based classes or assassin professions. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on The Old Republic, its character classes, and more.
If space is the final frontier, then Star Trek Online may represent an opportunity to boldly go where no nerd has gone before. The online game from Champions Online and City of Heroes creator Cryptic Studios will let you play as an officer with either the Federation or the Klingon Defense Force. It will let your virtual space cadet pilot a starship and also lead an away team on foot.
Our tour of duty this time around was a different--but definitely not the first mission in the game--and mostly self-contained task that required us to respond to a distress call in a distant sector. From the in-game "astrometrics" star map, which abstracts the humongous distances between star systems in space, we charted our course and hit full impulse power, carefully avoiding any encounters with enemy starship squadrons that appeared on our map.
Once we arrived, we found the space station under attack by Orion pirates, who appeared in small, varied squadrons. Though there will be several different ship classes for your character to control in the game, there will also be different classes of enemy ships. These include larger cruisers and carriers, as well as much-smaller, faster fighters. Depending on what sort of ship you're using (and the ships of any teammates you've brought with you), you'll likely want to focus your fire on specific targets. Taking out any fighters first seems like it's usually a sound plan because these ships are faster and nimbler than any capital ship--plus, they go down quite easy. Unfortunately, cruisers and some other enemy ships will compensate for their slower speeds with additional tricks. These include heavier shields and heavy-hitting photon torpedoes, as well as painful space mines, which certain enemies can drop in abundance.
Getting caught in a minefield while being strafed by enemy fighters zipping past you and having larger warships dump photon torpedoes on your head seems like a more intense experience from what we'd seen in our previous, easier tutorial missions, but even though there's definitely a lot more going on, Star Trek Online's space combat still isn't a hectic game of clicking wildly. Combat is still paced like a naval battle--larger ships take time to come about and each of your ship's four shields (fore, aft, starboard, port) are usually pretty good at holding out long enough for you to either divert energy to the chewed-up shield area or activate an engineering special ability if you have an engineering officer that can instantly repair your shields to full.
Actually conquering your enemies in a space battle really seems to be a matter of carefully timing and lining up your shots just right--kind of like what you'd expect from a system inspired by the traditional broadside-based combat of the Age of Sail. Most of the time, you'll be at the helm of a ship equipped with both phasers (the laserlike beam weapons that deliver continuous bursts of damage while in play) and hard-hitting photon torpedoes, which aren't very effective against shields but deal huge amounts of damage to an exposed hull. And as it happens, if you have a good science officer onboard, you may have the ability to fire a special tachyon beam that will cut through a shield like a hot knife through butter. So, bringing down an enemy capital ship is all about keeping your foes within firing range while tearing up your target's shields, dropping them with tachyon fire when available and following up with a well-timed torpedo salvo that will hit home after you've dropped your enemy's shields but before those shields have had a chance to regenerate. However, you still can't afford to keep your enemies too close because aside from abilities, like the aforementioned mines, destroyed enemy ships still go up in a fiery explosion that deals heavy damage to any nearby ships or targets. This explosion can be even more dangerous in the middle of a minefield if nearby mines sustain enough damage to go off themselves.
After fighting off the first wave of pirates, we zipped about the quadrant picking up clusters of dilithium crystals floating in space to help repair the space station by simply flying within range and pressing the "F" key to "interact" with it (to collect it, in this case), which was similar to Champions Online. After dropping off the crystals at the station, we hightailed it to another quadrant where various strange anomalies had been sighted. While these particular anomalies were tied to the second leg of our quest--specifically, we were tasked with approaching each one, then scanning it--other anomalies can exist elsewhere in the universe and occasionally yield treasure caches of minerals. There are also other objects if you take the time to explore and find these hidden goodies. Unfortunately, each anomaly was guarded by Klingon forces, who, as it happened, were laying siege to another space station embedded in an asteroid.
We beamed aboard the station itself in an away team that consisted of ourselves, a Cryptic staffer, and three computer-controlled officers. As in our last session, our characters were set to be on a much higher character level than our foes (to make sure we didn't keep dying). Star Trek Online's hand-to-hand combat remains a pretty dynamic experience that, as we've explained in our previous coverage, gives you access to two different weapon loadouts, each with three different combat skills that recharge fairly quickly. Our character was equipped with a hand phaser with one loadout and a phaser sniper rifle with another. By using the powerful sniper shot ability on our rifle, we were able to take down those dirty Klingons at a distance while our teammates rushed in and used melee attacks. This particular mission was fairly straightforward and required us to simply clear out a few Klingon details guarding the control room. Then, we took the control room and guarded it from a few waves of Klingon invaders looking to take back the station, though they didn't last long against our powered-up party of the Federation's finest.
That ended our latest session of the game, but it left us intrigued to try out more combat, particularly with some of the higher-end starships that will have more options to mount additional weapons and more crew slots to access officer abilities. Star Trek Online seems like it will offer a colorful and highly authentic Star Trek experience in a streamlined, accessible package. The game will launch in early 2010.
Blizzard's online store has the first two in-game pets for purchase at a price point of $10: the L'il K.T. and the Pandaren Monk. Half the proceeds of the monk pet go to Make-A-Wish if purchased before year's end, but still, this is $10 for what are effectively World of Warcraft microtransactions. Considering that the pets are in an online area called the "pet store," maybe this is a sign of things to come.
If you were born within the last 40 years or so, you're probably familiar with the Lego company's plastic brick-based toys of the same name, whose addictive snap-together properties have brought together children of all ages to build fire stations, spaceships, and castles while being an occasional choking hazard. And if you're familiar with recent Lego-branded video games from developer Traveller's Tales, you'll know that Lego's "mini-figs" (the smiley-faced Lego versions of people) have made video games their second home, embarking on virtual adventures in many different locales. Now, Colorado-based studio NetDevil has partnered with Lego to produce a family-friendly massively multiplayer game called Lego Universe--a game we spent a bit of time watching in motion.
We started our session by creating a new character from a huge selection of different leg styles, torsos (with different apparel options), different hairstyles, and different faces, then diving into adventure. As it happens, Lego Universe will take place during an intergalactic conflict between the forces of imagination and creativity and the forces of chaos and destruction. Chaos has apparently begun to manifest itself in the universe in the form of black holes and strange, infected "darkling" creatures, and your mini-fig has been enlisted to fight the good fight to defend creativity throughout the galaxy. Unfortunately, the spaceship you're travelling in has had a run-in with a nearby black hole, which means you must abandon ship before you crash-land.
This sets up the tutorial area of the game, where you learn the basics of the game's interface and control scheme, including running, jumping (the game will have light platformer elements), performing quests for key characters, solving puzzles using the "quick build" features that the Traveller's Tales games introduced (which lets you rebuild set combinations of bricks into useful envinronmental aids, like springy jumping pads), and dying. You can sort of die in Lego Universe if hit by monsters too many times or by falling into a pit, which will free your "creative spark" (basically, your mini-fig's immortal soul) to fly back to your most recent location, possibly costing you a bit of extra time but never truly killing off your character.
This tutorial area also introduces you to the concept of building "models"--different functional tools your mini-fig can create with the right pieces. Your character's first model is a three-part rocket ship to hop into and escape to safety, and by gathering components from various treasure boxes onboard the spaceship, you can use a simple interface to fill three ghostly component slots with three different rocket parts, completing your ship and making your escape. Later models will include things like drivable vehicles and other constructs to help you on your travels, as well as fixtures for your mini-fig's virtual protperty, such as a seaside dock near a beach house. In all cases, your character's collection will grow over time based on where you've traveled, but NetDevil is consciously avoiding promotion of various real-world Lego playsets--that is, the developer absolutely does not intend for the game to simply be a gigantic advertisement for Lego products.
After escaping to the nearest planet, the lush world of Avant Gardens, you take on new quests and earn your first weapon, a melee item such as a sword or hammer, and engage in combat against possessed darkling settlers and infected robots, whom you can smash into their component blocks. You're also introduced to your character's rudimentary statistics in this area, which are represented visually by a handful of meters in the upper-left screen: hearts (how much health your mini-fig has, reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda games), shields (how much armor you have), and imagination, which effectively acts like magic power (or "mana") from other games and lets you use quick-build items and other abilities. Eventually, you'll be able to pick up ranged weapons, such as pistols, which you'll liberate from pirates, and water pistols, which can be fired at environmental puzzles to trip switches or at Lego skull torches to put out the fire (though the latter will playfully spit water right back at you).
Your character's power will not be tied to any kind of experience-based progression, but rather to the items it currently has equipped. Over time, you'll collect a huge variety of different tool models and apparel items that grant special powers (such as a pirate captain's hat that compels all players in the area to dance a happy jig), and you'll also be able to express your creativity by coming upon "build areas," which appear in various areas and challenge you to build an open-ended goal, in some cases, with limited conditions (for instance, building a Lego bat in a cave build area using whatever pieces you feel will look like a bat).
You'll also be able to expand on your creativity with the aforementioned player property, which will let you take models of real estate fixtures such as boat docks, then make any and all modifications to them. Same goes for pets, which can be tamed using the pet-taming skill, and can be captured from secret pens hidden on different planets (pets primarily seem to include terrestrial animals like Lego buffalo, Lego elephants, and so on), and each pet enjoys a different kind of food, though care and feeding won't be overly burdensome. Above all else, any and all user-created content that can be viewed publicly will be subject to moderation, both through automated tools being built into the game and NetDevil's customer service staff (to make sure no one makes any offensive-looking or otherwise threatening furniture or critters). Otherwise, you'll be free to share your creations with anyone on your Lego.com friends list--in fact, this social network is already up and running on the Lego site and will eventually track all your mini-fig's creations and achievements in a statistics page you can share with the public or show off to your friends.
Lego Universe seems like it's making a lot of smart decisions, the kind you'd hope a developer would make when creating a safe and accessible game for players of all ages. Even though the game's development isn't yet complete, it already has a bright, colorful look that suits the source material extremely well. If you or someone you know might enjoy this family-friendly game, you'll be able to play it when it launches in the second half of 2010.