From E3 – Tuesday May 24th, 2005
NCSoft had two presences at the show this year. There was the much-glorified mega-booth in the South Hall, and the lesser known, but much more fun, meeting complex in the concourse. This was the site of my whirlwind tour of NCSoft’s major products in production and on the market. This year their focus was on City of Villains, Tabula Rasa, Auto Assault and Guild Wars.
First, we saw Richard Garriot show off the recently relaunched Tabula Rasa. This is a high-action, fast paced sci-fi MMORPG. Visually, it has taken a few steps back from the high fantasy of the previous incarnation and seemed a little more gritty and realistic. The game promises to mash together the action of a shooter with the grown of an RPG and cram all that into a massive environment.
The demo was too short to make any real determinations, but Richard did explain how the game will utilize dramatic compression – such as the ability to teleport instantly to any waypoint you have already been – and feature such neat toys as near ground vehicles. Unfortunately, there will be no full out flight machines, including spaceships.
Controlled in an FPS manner, your right mouse button triggers move and special attacks that can easily be scrolled through. The left mouse button fires your weapon. This is much different from the typical MMORPG and seemed to be used to good effect in the game. The demo I saw was easily the most fast paced and chaotic experience of E3, with the possible exception of Auto Assault. Finally, Richard explained the way each monster is a puzzle. One featured a giant ball of energy that would grow, then fire. This told you to avoid it right before it went off. Another was a giant flying ship that was pretty much impervious on the front and too far away for small arms fire. Instead, you needed to hide from it while it flew over, then pop up behind it with a rocket launcher to have any chance of taking it down. Forget everything you thought you knew about Tabula Rasa and Richard Garriot. If they can deliver actions like they did in the demo, this game promises to be a lot of fun.
City of Villains
Let me preface this by saying that while I am familiar with the basics of City of Heroes and have played it as part of my job, I never personally had a great interest in it. It is not that the game is bad; it just was not they type of game I enjoyed. Imagine then how shocked I was when I walked into this demo and left with a strong urge to start my own superhero and/or villain.
The coolest part of this game was the setting. It is one thing to run around the world saving damsels and dealing justice. It is quite another to run around wreaking havoc, stealing things and thwarting plans.
Make no mistake; City of Villains is a sequel to City of Heroes. The two games will cross over in some ways that seem more similar to an expansion, but the key distinction is that you do not need to have CoH to play CoV. That said, for players of CoH this may feel like a bit of an expansion, as they are suggesting you may need the new copy to access a lot of the crossover content.
Character customization was the fun of CoH and CoV is no different. They had some scary super villains, and once again, you could spend hours in production before you even bother playing the game. Then they took it to a new level with the addition of an evil headquarters builder. This is to CoV what character customization was to CoH. This is much like a simplified development tool, or perhaps the Sims. Here you can build the layer in a highly interactive and customizable visual interface. You apply textures, move floors, add rooms and generally have a lot of fun. The entire thing reminded me a bit of Evil Genius – in a good way. For those heroes out there, do not fret. This will extend back to the original game for those of you who buy the new title as well.
The new game is a series of islands that have become a home for all nefarious actions on Earth. The title features seven PvE zones where players can rob banks, abduct people, steal treasure and much more, as well as four PvP zones where the citizens of Paragon City will cross over with their evil opposition in full out PvP. The PvP model of the new CoH/CoV is more like Dark Age of Camelot – in that it is optional.
The engine has a series of technical upgrades to bring the latest in graphics and cut scenes to the game. In the demo we saw, after the evil avatar had stolen his prize from the Vault, including breaking into the safe, a superhero fans of the franchise would recognize – in this case Nimble Minx - showed up to try and thwart his plans, which created a classic comic book-esque showdown.
Another neat aspect of City of Villains is that villains do not get along nearly as well as heroes. As a result, when you build your evil base, you had better be sure to buy many good defenses for it. Other villains and even heroes can schedule base invasions to steal your trophies and you will be expected to defend them. Essentially, they will have one hour to infiltrate and steal an object at a set day and time. You have one hour to defend it, and the winner gets a reward. On the E3, show floor, this meant a cape and a beta pass. Something tells me that may change over time.
It is tough to explain why this demo blew me away. Perhaps it was the visual of the villain walking through the door of the bank and shooting evil powers at a couple nameless police officers. So often, comic books follow the good guy as he saves the day, and this gave us a chance to see the other side of the coin. Half of me was waiting for the good guy to swoop in and take him out. The other half of me was completely thrilled that for the first time in comic book history the bad guy won!
The game is already out, and the team proclaimed it a hit as they sold 250,000 copies in the first week on shelves. It is the #1 selling game in North America and will continue to grow. Despite the fact that there is no monthly fee, this does not mean you will not see post-launch support and free content. Sorrow’s Furnace will be the first free update – which they call a chapter - that introduced a huge epic dungeon and new areas to the game. It will be a streaming (download as you need it) update, and completely free.
The original plan for Guild Wars was to fund the game through retail expansions every six months. This plan remains the same, with the exception of the first pack. It is due in Q1 2006, and very little is known about it. They did however say that their goal is to make expansions like a new series of cards in games like Magic the Gathering. They can be a lot of fun and provide many new options, but you by no means need them to compete.
This summer will be dominated by the summer tournament season. Details are yet to come, but players can enter PvP tournaments, that will eventually whittle it down to a final group. The finalists will get trips to exotic locations and the winners will also receive cash prizes. With the planned addition of an observer mode, this tournament promises to be a lot of fun for fans of the game and fast paced action as well as those who are actually lucky enough to make it deep.
The whirlwind adventure concluded with the team behind Auto Assault, and the pressure was on as Richard Garriot decided to sit in on this demo. The coolest technical innovation that was also a lot of fun as they showed off the game was the completely and totally destructible environments. Their havoc physics engine made the entire environment a lot of fun as it exploded throughout the mission. With infinite ammo, I believe the demo-er had more fun shooting buildings than he did in the mission itself.
That is not to say it was mindless. You must destroy structures to get loot, which ties into their crafting system. In a post-apocalyptic world, you need to repair broken pieces of technology you find. A “recipe” from another MMORPG is a broken machine with a list of items you need to complete it. A nice touch is that if you follow the recipe you will always succeed, but if you want you are able to add other items that you think might help. This could give the item bonuses, or it could destroy the whole thing.
The game offers a mix of action and RPG elements. You have two fields of vision that you can control and when they overlap, your gunning is more accurate. However, whether they hit, is determined by character and not player ability. Throw in fast paced driving, constant explosions, and this game should amuse both the FPS and RPG fans, much like the game of their observer Tabula Rasa.
The game relies heavily on one to eight player-instanced missions. In the example we saw, they had to fight their way through a type of junkyard, plant beacons on a hill and then fight their way away from the hill before they called in strikes to take out the entire area. The instanced missions provide a wealth of chances for cinematic situations, such as people popping out at you that are not possible in non-instanced content.
For fans of PvP, there are a few options. There will be arena PvP, which you can bet on, ladder style PvP and tournaments where the team schedules the event and lets players compete for rare and unique items. Non-participants will be free to spectate. A nice little touch is that you can fight against folks from any server at all. This means that if you are number one on the ladder, you are the best Auto Assault fighter in the world, not on one server.
The game is too chaotic to type, and as such, they are building in voice chat to every copy of the game so you can communicate via headset rather than your fingers. From what I saw, this was a wise move.
The game features three races (human, biomech and mutant). When you are in the city, you are an avatar. When you are on missions, you are a vehicle. Those lines are never blurred. The basic analogy is that the character is your skills, while the vehicle is your inventory. The game also features a wide range of classes and highly customizable vehicles for players to enjoy. Auto Assault is a blast of fresh air in a sometimes-stale genre, and looks well on its way to success.
Overall, NCSoft has arrived among the big boys on the MMORPG scene. They promise to have a varied and intense catalogue of MMORPGs to choose from and may be one of the only major developers that still takes risks and tries brand new things. My experiences with them were a refreshing change from the standard selection of games that often dominated the show floor.
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