When someone invites you up to their hotel room, unless you’ve been sharing drinks at the bar and developed a certain subtle understanding, it’s typically a good idea to refuse. When the word “cabal” is uttered in the same proposition, a thrown glass for distraction and immediate sprint for the nearest exit would be the course of wisdom. However, I have a duty to you readers to explore even the scariest corners in search of fulfilling entertainment, so I bravely strode forth to see what might be hind that grey door.
Luckily for all of us, the alarming phrase was actually in reference to CABAL 2, ESTSoft’s newest offering to the digital-gods, and the room was actually a suite equipped with laptops and big screen TVs. Plus, it helped that I also happened to be attending with a colleague of the media persuasion, and I won’t get into the whole “I’ll go, if you go” portion leading up to the aforementioned situation.
So what did I think of the game? I felt there’s some promise there, but with some hurdles that will need to be negotiated if they hope to make it in a crowded market. Also, like any other unreleased game you play at something like a PAX event, you don’t really get time to dig deeply into the game. That quick pass did net some early impressions worth talking about, though.
The immediate thing you notice when getting into the game is that the graphics look pretty good. Borrowing a bit from other recent games in the genre, CABAL 2 takes a step away from realism to focus more on a stylized form of graphics. That would typically net significant extra cycles for your graphics card, but without knowing exactly what hardware they were running our demo on, it’s hard to say how big a difference it made.
I suspect that they are spending everything they saved in choice of texturing and models on effects, though. It struck me as a conscious decision that I think paid off well for them. The various combat effects look especially nice, something I could appreciate in particular on the big screen while watching my fellow writer take his turn on the controls. I could also appreciate the slick animation work involved with the combat, as well.
That’s the other reason I think their choice in artistic direction really paid off. The stylized look of the world and characters allowed them to stand out amidst the wealth of effects created during combat. Had they attempted something more realistic, I think the game would have been too heavy for most PCs and the combat wouldn’t have been nearly as fun due to the scene becoming a bit muddled by the combat effects.
Let me emphasize here that the combat is very fun, and a big part of it involves how cool they made it look. CABAL 2 is one of those smash-face MMOs that manages to implement a combat mechanic with subtle features preventing it from becoming the normal hot bar combat. It still is a standard hot bar-style of system, but the subtle changes break it up and make it feel much less plain.
The immediately noticeable change is the combo system, which calls for the player to execute specific additional attacks upon what seemed like random combination opportunities. Those opportunities are spotted when icons pop up to the right of center on your screen, notifying you of which ability will combo if executed next. Combos stack like a buff, causing the player to do more damage the longer they can keep the chain going.
The combo moves aren’t just standard moves, though. They’re amped up a bit, demonstrated in portion by even more particle effects as the ability is executed. At the end of combat, the player is even informed of how much combination damage was dealt, and over how long of a chain.
The other difference in how CABAL 2 implements combat is that each class gets a special attack form. When activated, the character armor and weapon changes to something more heroic and the skill bar is switched out for a new one with different abilities. The new attack state lasts a limited amount of time and then has the expected cool down, but while activated the character will do a lot more damage.
The combat in CABAL 2 is fast-paced and flashy. I can see it appealing to a lot of people, and the art direction really lends itself well to all the special effects that make an already interesting system even more fun. I’m still not 100% sold on the game, though. I have a few concerns before I really held it up as a solid next offering in the fantasy MMO genre.
The game has a very strong Asian influence, and while I’ve enjoyed a number of games in that vein, I don’t think they tend to do quite as well in American and European markets as folks often expect. The grind-based gameplay of many of these games seems to prevent them from gaining as much ground as studios might like when they cross the ocean. I’m sure there’s more story to the game than what I saw, and it’s early enough in development that there certainly is yet more of that work to be done, but I didn’t see as much emersion-building as I would have expected in a game this far along in development. That suggests to me that story plays second fiddle to combat, which of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a significant one.
Another thing that worries me is the lack of over-all meta-game. There is PvP in battleground-like scenarios, but why are players engaged in them? The story, as I understand it, is that characters are something like mercenaries fighting for both sides of an on-going conflict. The problem is that it doesn’t sound like the player can actually chose one side or another and actively work to advance their chosen cause. That strikes me as relatively short-sighted because human nature contains a drive to be important and to contribute to something greater. Capturing the ability to do that is a major part of nearly every successful franchise.
Also concerning me is the lack of a robust in-game economy. CABAL 2 will be using a resource gathering system similar to that employed by Star Wars: The Old Republic, in that the player picks what resource he wants gathered and those resources are just delivered to him over a certain period of time. At first glance, it seems tacked in, but I think it was actually a design decision.
This may come off strange, but I think it was actually a good design decision, as well. The reason I believe it to be an intelligent choice is because of where I think they’re trying to go with CABAL 2. My feeling is that this isn’t supposed to be a deeply immersive game, but rather one of those games you jump into for a few minutes to bash some skulls between other activities.
When you consider this to be the direction they may be going with the game, then other design choices like the economy start to make a lot more sense. If that’s the case, I think they’ll actually be pretty successful at it, at least from my short experience with the game. The combat is a great deal of fun and has a whole lot of visual appeal.
I’m also confident there’s a lot of game-based story I didn’t see and expect they’ll have more coming. It just felt really de-emphasized, which is fine if their building a game along the lines of what I think they are. I’d just be a little concerned about long-term health if that’s the case.
Plenty of people will pick the game up and likely enjoy it quite a bit, but I don’t expect the game to have the sort of continuity that many in this genre can boast. However, should they go for a free-to-play model from the start, I think they’ll find the game even more successful in new markets, and probably have a greater longevity in the end.
If you’re looking a lot more for the MMO than you are the RPG, and you’re the sort to enjoy fighting over empire building, then I think you’ll like this game. It’s definitely not the game for the sort of crowd that prefers sandbox games with much their more complex economic opportunities, but CABAL 2 definitely looks like a fun romp for anyone who wants to jump in and knock a few virtual heads around.