In a very basic sense, Gigantic is a MOBA-ish team action game for PC. Yes, MOBAs are the trendy online game equivalent of gourmet cupcakes, and it seems everyone these days is making one. But Gigantic has a couple of distinct advantages. One, it's a uniquely stylish hybrid of strategy/RPG/team action/shooter. Two, its development team's collective pedigree will impress even the most cynical gamer.
Starcraft, Guild Wars, Halo, Borderlands, Mass Effect and Gears of War are among the many class-A games made by members of the Motiga team, a fact that could make them insufferable. The opposite however, is true. Our hosts, CEO Chris Chung, and VP of Product Development James Phinney were both affable, down-to-earth guys who at the event were visibly excited to share their game with us.
After a brief presentation, a few curious journalists bellied up to the bar (literally—the game stations were set up on a bartop) along with Chung, Phinney, and a few other Motiga devs. We took a moment to select a character from among Gigantic's singular rogues' gallery. After brief deliberation, (and waffling between melee and magic-user) I chose a hulking, Black Knight-ish melee hero called The Margrave.
Playing The Margrave I soon learned, takes some finesse. My team spawned on an airship high above the arena, then entered the map by (what became one of my favorite things) leaping way down onto it. There, we faced off against our enemies in a floating, multi-leveled arena. The idea of Gigantic is of course, to beat your opponents, but winning isn't simply about racking up kills. More important is working together to power up and guard your team's "gigantic" (get it?) Guardian before the opposing team can power up theirs.
Motiga reps said there will be numerous Guardians come launch day, but for the purposes of our match, there were only two: a skyscraper-high dragon and an equally colossal griffin. Our job, as our backseat-driving Motiga coaches explained it to us, was first to claim as many control points as possible, thus enabling us to spawn various support monsters (such as an enemy-revealing Cerberus or a team-healing “Bloomer”). After that, we took turns with our opponents running across the map, attacking and defending.
I mentioned before that my hero, The Margrave, required a bit of finesse. A reasonably hardy character, The Margrave had several useful attacks, including a zippy dash-stab* and a handy stun-everyone-in the-area* leap. These were highly effective when used strategically. The problem is, I don't generally play thick-necked guys who use big, heavy objects to hit things. Circumspect characters are more my style, the magic-using kind who are rarely obligated to jump into the thick of things and soil their nice leather gloves.
*These are my own descriptive but utterly-unofficial terms.
Most of my attempts to help my team that first round ended in my quick, ignominious death. (Not surprising considering the tutorial Motiga has in the works was not yet available.) Gigantic is played from a close, third-person view and if you're melee, that means being aware of everything around you and being able to react to it quickly. It also means things get extremely chaotic as you spin in circles hoping one of your wild swings connects with an enemy.
"Ho ho ho," melee experts are saying right now. "Playing a thick-necked guy who hits things isn't as easy as it looks!" Which for Motiga as it turns out, is more or less the point.
During our match, the team said their hope is to make Gigantic the kind of game that's accessible to casual players, but could also enter professional eSports if it wanted to. Related to that, James Phinney recounted his belief that when it comes to bridging the gap between the casual and hardcore audiences, “intuitiveness and emotion are the connecting tissue.”
Certainly from a controls and presentation point of view, Gigantic gets high marks; its control scheme couldn't be easier, and its highly stylized heroes have a flair all their own. From a hardcore perspective, being good at the game requires not only learning how to play your character well, but to play it well within a team.
My natural inclinations being at odds with The Margrave, during the second match, I tried a six-legged lizardy caster called Charnok, and my fortunes were vastly improved. This red leathery hero had a fireball attack, a rain of fire and and an ejector-seat move that allowed him to detonate himself up into the air, thus escaping attack and damaging nearby enemies. His moves were very effective, especially since he can set enemies on fire from surprisingly long distances. That match—with Phinney's help—allowed me to get the hang of spawning support creatures and have a meaningful part in the match-ending Clash.
Though Guardians can go at each other whenever they're charged up, matches are designed so that at the fifteen minute mark, the two leap to the center of the map, making it the new center of combat. This is when the heat's really turned up because not only do kills and deaths count for more points-wise, it's all the easier for a vulnerable Guardian to be taken down and once that happens, it's game over.
We played three matches during the demo, all of which were challenging and fun. It can be overwhelming at first, trying to fight a battle in real time while trying to level up your hero's abilities, but the good news is, it's never boring. There were ten very different heroes to choose from (the most memorable to me aside from Charnok and The Margrave were Roland the bounty hunter, Tripp the acrobatic assassin, and an alchemist—a veritable ball of a man—called Uncle Sven) but Phinney said there will be nineteen at launch. There will also be fifty spawnable support characters.
From what Motiga showed us that day, Gigantic is on its way to becoming a true fan favorite. It's being made by a team that's not only skilled at making entertaining games with amazing hooks, but with a clear vision of what they want to achieve. As far as how long we'll have to wait before playing Gigantic, well...that's not as clear.
When questioned about Gigantic's release date, Motiga fell back on a somewhat vague “when it's ready” kind of answer. They did say the game would be free-to-play, but all they would divulge about an upcoming alpha is that it will be “soon,” and that beta will likely not happen until some time in 2015. Ah well, works for me: more time for me to hone my lackluster melee skills.