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The medieval kingdoms of Crusader Kings II are rife with war, disease, and drama. In this Old World real-time strategy game--the sibling of developer Paradox Interactive's other historical RTS, Sengoku--you choose from hundreds of noblemen and attempt to earn as much prestige for your kingdom as possible. Compared with the previous Crusader Kings, this sequel adds several new features, including a streamlined interface, a 3D world map, and a tutorial of the game's numerous menus and interactions. Unfortunately, the tutorial wasn't ready during our play session, but we still found plenty of ways to make our own fun.
Our ruler of choice was Boleslaw the Bold, ruler of the Kingdom of Poland. Our first, and only, task was to select a wife and secure an heir to the throne; die without an heir, and it's game over. From the available bachelorettes we picked Urraka--her name just rolls off the tongue--Princess of Navarra, because she had huge…tracts of land. Boleslaw is a man of simple tastes.
The blushing bride packed the wrath trait, meaning that she took a hit to her negotiation skills and was great at smashing expensive dishware, but she was also a charismatic negotiator, which bumped her negotiation skills right back up. Every character has a collection of traits, from amateurish plotter to glutton, that influence how he or she will interact with others. Diplomacy and international relations are just as strong as any sword or shield in the world of Crusader Kings II, especially for a smaller kingdom such as ours. A few days later, the marriage was accepted, and we faced our first royal decision: Do we make our subjects pay for the wedding? Choosing yes would keep us from losing any gold, while choosing no would award 50 prestige.
Not long after the marriage, we received a notification stating that Courtier Bozena might fancy us. We then had the option of blowing her off or paying a late-night visit to her chambers. Naturally, we chose the latter--they call us The Bold for a reason. A few beats later we received a message from the good king simply stating that he had visited Bozena's chambers and had given her "a good tumble." Ah, it's good to be the king.
But then doubt set in. Fearing the wrath of the queen, we clicked on the intrigue tab and surveyed our options. Our choices were to either "become a paragon of virtue," which was noble and boring, or "see Queen Consort of Urraka of Poland dead." We decided it was time to go all King Henry VIII on our wife and started a plot against her. Each plot has a percentage to indicate its chance of success. Our plot started with only a 43.3 percent probability of success, so while Boleslaw's spirit might've been willing, his reach exceeded his grasp. To help grease the gears of murder, we called upon Macko, Bishop of Czestochowa, and Bogumil, Prince-Bishop of Gniezno, who both held the "cruel" trait and had a high opinion of us.
With their help, the queen had an unfortunate accident a few months later. Apparently, her carriage was randomly attacked by bandits, and she didn't make it out alive. What are the odds? Behind all the family squabbles, there was still plenty of ruling to be done, such as dispatching our chancellor to improve diplomatic relations with the massive Holy Roman Empire in the West, or summoning our local lords to vote on increasing tax rates in cities. We also adjusted our technology focus in the culture tree to "profane art" solely for the increase in prestige, of course.
Our time with Crusader Kings II revealed it to be an immense game driven by character interaction. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to accomplish much in the way of conquering the world, but we did at least gain some prestige--and upgraded our marital situation for good measure. You'll be able to partake in Crusader Kings II's combat, management, and courtly intrigue yourself when the game is released on February 17 of next year.
We recently had a chance to take new and updated looks at three upcoming PC games from our friends at Kalypso, and we have new details to report. Here is our story. Stories. Here are our stories.
Projected release date: 2012
Genre: Space Strategy, Turn-Based and Real-Time
Show Me All Screenshots for This Game
Freshman game developer Novacore Studios is hard at work on Legends of Pegasus, an upcoming space strategy game whose colonization and space combat won't be entirely unlike those of Stardock's Sins of a Solar Empire. The game will include three playable races, including the humans, the X'or (a race of hostile aliens), and a third, unannounced race, and it will apparently have a dozen political factions with which you'll interact in the game's mission-based single-player campaign. In the campaign's story, you'll play as the commander of a starship fleet--in fact, humanity's final starship fleet, locked in a desperate battle to save Earth from alien invaders. However, just as your final battle is about to begin, a wormhole opens in space, dragging the fleet light-years away to an unknown sector of the universe, and so, like the fleet from Battlestar Galactica, your ships must eventually find their way home. However, they'll run into plenty of skirmish action on their way back and will also be able to colonize new worlds to harvest planetary resources and even set up trade routes by installing improvements into color-coded slots on terra firma on, and in orbit around, each new planet you find. And you'll of course be able to put your harvested resources to work in the form of research into new developments for your fleet. The game will also have a full ship customization system that lets you outfit designated hardpoints on each of your ships with various improvements, such as laser, torpedo, and plasma-class weaponry that can then be upgraded. And while exploration, economic development, and research will be turn-based, the game's combat system will take place in real time and in full 3D with full Z-axis combat. The game will let you play as any of the three races in multiplayer, but its single-player game is being built as an accessible experience with a great deal of built-in instruction and feedback in the form of tooltip explanations.
Projected release date: October 11, 2011
Genre: Strategy, Management
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Airline Tycoon 2 is the long, long, long-awaited sequel to the first management strategy game, and at long last, legions of Airline Tycoon fans will once again know the joy of running their own virtual airway. This sequel lets you choose one of four different playable characters who have specific strengths and weaknesses (such as finance, airplane design, and general management skills), and then stride out into the airport lobby to begin the joyous task of building up a successful airline by hiring flight crews, choosing air routes, and, best of all, building and customizing passenger planes. Planes come in different shapes and sizes (from smaller, luxury jets to large commercial liners) and can be outfitted with different types of seating, onboard storage compartments, and even decorative elements such as different types of signage to indicate the ever-important passenger restrooms. Plane parts vary in size and price, and while expensive parts are generally better, they may also break down more easily and require more maintenance. Similarly, experienced and skilled pilots and attendants will generally provide a better customer experience, but will cost a great deal more to hire and retain. You'll be able to make these monumental decisions throughout the course of the single-player campaign, as well as in the game's open-ended sandbox mode.
Projected release date: 2012
Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Military
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Global Ops: Commando Libya has an eyebrow-raising title, but we're assured that the game isn't about suppressing any uprisings. Instead, the game's story involves a terrorist threat posed by a fictitious faction that has taken up in the North African nation, and your role is as an American special forces soldier who has come to hunt down the terrorists, chew gum, and discover that he's all out of gum. The Unreal-engine powered game will have a full single-player campaign with nine missions that take place in Greenland, Europe, and eventually Libya. Also, you can adhere to cover and blind-fire your weapon from over or around cover--important tactics you've probably seen in modern third-person shooters. But don't let the real-world locations or realistic tactics fool you. This is going to be an over-the-top action game that doesn't take itself too seriously, though it will have a multiplayer mode reminiscent of the classic multiplayer shooter Counter-Strike, in which a team of terrorists square off against a team of counterterrorists.
VidRhythm is...well, it's an app that... look, it'll be easier to explain after you watch the video below. Seriously, have a look.
OK, we know what you're thinking--what the hell was that?
VidRhythm is the new app from Harmonix, the company best known for its work on the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises on consoles. VidRhythm is its first internally developed app for Apple's iOS devices, and surprisingly, it's not actually a rhythm game.
So what is VidRhythm? While music is still at the core of this Harmonix title, instead of pretending to play virtual instruments in songs as in Rock Band, this app takes sound samples that you create and turns them into the instruments in some premade tunes. This works by breaking down the various sounds in a song, and you'll have to individually record each of these sounds for VidRhythm to put together. Recording is done via your iOS device's built-in mic, and you'll have to make different drum sounds (such as a low "bom" to simulate a bass drum; "pshh" for a cymbal; and even sing a few words here and there). Each time you make a sound, VidRhythm also takes a picture, which is then used to make the video to accompany your song. As with the songs, there are a few style templates you can choose from, ranging from video wall-like mash-ups to videos featuring dogs and cats owned by the Harmonix staff.
The result is what you saw above: a goofy, often hilarious mash-up of the sounds you made accompanied by whatever funny faces you pulled during the shots. Most of the fun in VidRhythm really comes from roping in your friends to each contribute a sound, and it's great fun to watch and listen to the results. There are 20 song templates included in the app, ranging in genres from hip-hop, dance, and pop to even a couple of classical tracks like Beethoven's Symphony No 5. And once you've made you mini-masterpiece, VidRhythm allows you to either save it on your device as a movie or upload it to YouTube for the world to point at and laugh about.
VidRhythm is a great social app, and we can see it being a fun distraction at parties where you can rope in your friends to see just how ridiculous they can be. It may not be a game, but it's a good first step for Harmonix into the app world, and we can't wait to see what it has got next. Hopefully next time, it will be a game!
It's been far too long since we last fought on the battlefields of Red Orchestra, the hyperrealistic World War II mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. Therefore, when we loaded up the Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad beta, we had a lot to unlearn. Years of regenerating health and energy shields taught us to jump into the middle of a firefight and watch the kill streak rise. In RO2, pulling a stunt like that got us shot in the face. Here, we needed to slow down and respect the fact that our character was a mere mortal--not a walking tank.
Utilizing cover was a must if we hoped to survive in the deadly world of RO2. We could snap to most walls, doorways, fallen columns, or other flat surfaces. Using the alt-fire to level our iron sights automatically drew us out of cover to take a shot. Using cover also steadied our aim, which was especially useful when using an unwieldy machine gun. However, in some cases, it was difficult to tell when we were actually stuck to a piece of cover, which led to some firing-straight-into-a-wall moments.
When it comes time to shoot another person, in the ideal scenario, you're nestled behind a piece of cover and the victim is off in the distance oblivious to your presence (while also jumping up and down and trying to find the grenade button). In practice, this was a rarity. Most firefights took place in close quarters inside bombed-out buildings or cramped hallways. These encounters were tense, terrifying, and over in just a few seconds.
There we were, jogging toward our allies at the front line. Suddenly, a man rounded the corner in front of us. There was a brief pause as we made sure we weren't about to shoot an ally. Then the bullets started flying. Two seconds later, one of us was dead. In those two seconds, our mind spun as we frantically processed gun recoil, character movement, and a half-dozen other factors in making the killing shot. The only problem was our opponent was usually a half-second faster.
Red Orchestra 2 was not the place to be a hero. We were a cog working alongside our 31 teammates in the game's massive 32-on-32 multiplayer capture-and-hold matches. Its highly lethal play style might not appeal to everyone, but it does make the payoff for good coordination and teamwork all the sweeter. After the match, the game tracked our progress with different weapons in its character progression system. It will also include a single-player mode, though it was still unavailable during our play session. Red Orchestra 2 will be released on the PC next week.
Time is of the essence in Sine Mora, a side-scrolling, shoot-'em-up from developer Grasshopper Manufacture (Shadows of the Damned). Life and death were determined by a timer that ticked down as we played. We gained additional time for defeating enemies and lost time for taking damage. And because our health was tied to the clock, this meant that our ship's special weapons, including screen-clearing lasers and missile barrages, doubled as healing items by refilling our timer for every enemy destroyed.
We could also slow down the action with another special ability--we'll call it bullet time--to help dodge projectiles from enemies. While Sine Mora didn't ebb too heavily on the bullet-hell design, its representatives did promise plenty of difficulty settings to ramp up the insanity. The gameworld sported a crisp, cartoonish style that, while beautiful, made it difficult at times to distinguish what was an enemy and what was in the background. And while we couldn't hear it over all the noise at PAX, composer Akira Yamaoka will be scoring the soundtrack.
A release date for Sine Mora hasn't been set, but you can learn more from our PAX demo. The game will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, the PlayStation Vita, and Steam.
Black Knight Sword
Black Knight Sword, a 2D hack-and-slash game also from Grasshopper, opens with its protagonist hanging from a noose. We gave him a little tug and he tumbled onto the stage of life, which was framed by a red curtain and accompanied by the murmurings of an unseen audience. After meeting a bug-eyed fairy and being transformed into the titular black knight, our hero ventured into a bizarre fairytale that only Suda51 could tell.
The game is an interactive kamishibai, or "paper drama," that plays out from the audience's point of view. Its unsettling, hand-drawn art style projects a distinct Eastern European influence that juxtaposes calm, cobblestone streets with hostile, disembodied heads supported by two arms. As we cut our way through, the background elements were torn down and rebuilt behind us similar to a stage production (or a demonic pop-up book).
Defeated enemies, as well as microwave oven item boxes, dropped human hearts for us to collect. These could be spent to upgrade our character's abilities and give us an edge in battle. And, we needed all the help we could get against the bloated, yellow knight we faced at the end of our demo stage. Despite his awkward lumbering, the oaf still bested us more times than we'd care to admit. While the release date is pending, Black Knight Sword will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
We recently attended a media event held by publisher Kalypso where it showed off four upcoming PC and console games: Air Conflicts: Secret Wars, Dungeons - The Dark Lord, Tropico 4, and Jagged Alliance: Back in Action. We picked up and played each game and have a few new details to report.
Air Conflicts: Secret Wars
Projected Release Date: September 8, 2011
Genre: WWII Flight Simulation (arcade-style)
Platform: PC | Xbox 360 | PS3
Show Me All Screenshots for This Game: PC | Xbox 360 | PS3
We took an updated look at the PlayStation 3 version of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars, an arcade-style flight combat game. Secret Wars will have seven different single-player campaigns, each with seven missions (a total of 49 in all), as well as dozens and dozens of flyable planes from both the WWI and WWII eras. It will also have competitive online multiplayer for up to four players simultaneously (one-on-one or two-on-two). In the campaign, you play as DeeDee, the daughter of a WWI flying ace who wastes her youth as a booze smuggler until she's drafted to join the French resistance and become a fighter pilot herself. Interestingly, Secret Wars will have different atmospheric effects, such as four different seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall), as well as different weather conditions, such as rain, which will affect your visibility. Though the game is focused on dogfighting, there will be other objectives, such as stealth operations that will require you to hunt priority targets while remaining low to the ground and out of your quarry's sight range. We took the game for a quick spin in a dogfighting match with a Spitfire and had a relatively easy time using the game's lenient physics model to bank, turn, and lean hard on our guns whenever an enemy craft so much as brushed against our gun sights. The game will be released this September for the PC, the Xbox 360, and the PS3.
Projected Release Date: September 27, 2011
Genre: Fantasy-Themed Strategy
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Dungeons - The Dark Lord is the follow-up to Dungeons, the fantasy-themed dungeon management simulator that was released in February. The Dark Lord's primary addition will be online multiplayer, which was the most requested feature from the original game's fans. The Dark Lord's multiplayer, which we unfortunately didn't get a chance to try, will pit players against each other in their own dungeons as they attempt to build better, more-profitable lairs of their own while occasionally sending out raiding parties into their foe's domain. The Dark Lord will also add new playable dungeon lord characters, such as a yeti, a zombie king, and a demon queen, which we played in the game's available tutorial missions. Like in the original game, you must build up your dungeon by hollowing out sections of cavern and building rooms that will add various bonuses to your domain or lure ambitious adventurers to their demises. The Dark Lord seems to play very similarly to the original game; the demon queen character we played was easily controllable either with mouse clicks or with a zoomed-in view that let us use the W, A, S, and D keys to control her movement while mashing on our left mouse button to attack our foes in melee. Dungeons - The Dark Lord will be unleashed this September for the PC.
Projected Release Date: August 30, 2011
Genre: Strategy, Management
Platform: PC | Xbox 360
Show Me All Screenshots for This Game: PC | Xbox 360
Tropico 4 is, of course, the fourth game in the "Caribbean island simulator" series and the direct follow-up to Kalypso's Tropico 3. The new game will, as we've discussed in our previous coverage on it, include tons of new features that will build on the success of the last game. Like in the last game, you'll play as a new dictator running the island of Tropico, and you must build your empire's economy while successfully interacting with eight political factions (capitalist, communist, intellectual, religious, militarist, environmentalist, nationalist, and loyalist). You must also interact with world superpowers, such as the US and the Soviet Union (which may declare war on you), as well as China, Europe, and the Middle East (which won't invade but may still impose the dreaded economic sanctions on your fledgling nation). While the game doesn't seem all that different from our last look at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it has clearly benefited from the extra time that Kalypso has allowed to polish the game further. Tropico 4 will be released at the end of this month.
Projected Release Date: Q1 2012
Genre: Military Turn-Based Strategy
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Finally, we got our hands on an updated version of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action to find that the game continues to shape up as a 3D remake of Jagged Alliance 2. The laptop computer interface, which lets you check your email and deploy to various hot spots in Arulco has now been added to the game. But we were able to play through only one mission, the Arulco airport, with our lone team member, the Hungarian demolitions wunderkind Barry Unger. This updated version of the game had character voices implemented, but in this case, the voices were from the original Jagged Alliance 2. We've been told previously that the original plan for Back in Action was to have rerecorded voices, so presumably, this voice was just a placeholder. (Though frankly, we wouldn't mind if the new game simply had the old Jagged Alliance 2 voices, which were excellent.) Our version of Barry was powered up for demo purposes and flying solo, and as you may recall, he's not the world's greatest marksman. His revolver and demo pack weren't really the best weapon loadout to take on an airport guarded by entrenched militia. However, this session at least gave us a chance to try out the game's plan-and-go command queuing, which let us quickly and easily order Barry to walk, run, crouch, go prone, or line up potshots against his foes. And because the game conveniently displays your enemies' line of sight as a glowing cone on the ground, we had no problem taking down a few scattered guards here and there. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action was recently delayed to the beginning of 2012.
Tropico 4 is a real-time strategy game loaded with sand, surf, and simulation. After seeing the game at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we finally got the chance to try our hand at Caribbean island management. Thankfully, we didn't run into the catastrophic disasters that were hinted at during our E3 demo, but we did attempt to brave the unsteady tides of island politics.
While Tropico 3 may have left some players feeling lost after its shallow tutorial, Tropico 4 wasted no expense with its extensive, five-part tutorial. From building a simple farm to analyzing an island's economic infrastructure, the tutorial left us feeling ready to take on whatever the game could throw at us. Our first, and perhaps most important, task as ruler was deciding on our avatar. The list included historic figures such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, as well as more-exotic characters, such as Voodoo Pizzaman. The decision was obvious. Dressed with a coat and top hat, Pizzaman was a capitalist and hotel tycoon whose political leanings would win us some points with the Americans, as well as hurt our standing with the Soviets.
When we arrived on the scene, the island city of St. Clara was in pretty bad shape. Only the most basic economic infrastructure was in place and most of the citizen's needs weren't being addressed at all. That meant we needed to get some tenement housing and corn farms up as soon as possible. While we held ultimate power, our advisers were always eager to help direct that power toward one project or another by offering numerous missions. In this case, our economic adviser suggested we either convert or build an extra farm to produce tobacco, which our city could then export for profit. Doing so would not only fetch us a cash reward for completing this mission, but it would also further improve our standing with the United States, thus affording us even more financial aid in the future.
With the basics covered, we flipped open the almanac to take a closer look at the condition of our citizens. This tome detailed everything that was happening in our city, from our standing with the city's numerous political factions to our monetary earnings. Looking under the people tab called up a list of all the factors that influence the mood of our citizens. There were noticeable improvements in food and housing, but health care was in the red. To further reinforce this issue, one of our advisers called us up just as we exited the almanac to request that we build a clinic or two. However, to staff the clinic, we would have to pay a little extra and hire some foreign doctors because we lacked the educational facilities to produce our own.
Not having any higher education also hurt our chances of finding any good candidates to staff our ministry. Of the five minister slots available, we were only able to fill two of them with people who weren't cowardly or dumb as a brick. Having a minister of the interior let us issue edicts, for a small fee, on issues of environment (anti-littering policy) and personal privacy (wiretapping). We ended up forgoing all other options and went straight for the gold by issuing a special building permit edict, which would slightly increase the cost of constructing future buildings but also drop a steady stream of money into our private Swiss bank account.
Despite its comedic trappings, Tropico 4 looks like it's upholding the deep strategic elements of its predecessors. Balancing your political relations both at home and abroad, as well as building and maintaining a strong economy, is still a very daunting task. You can fill the shoes of El Presidente yourself when Tropico 4 is released August 30 on the Xbox 360 and PC.
Russia's largest game publisher, 1C, recently held a press event to show off its lineup of upcoming PC and console games. We've already brought you hands-on impressions of Men of War: Vietnam and Off-Road Drive. And now, here are our impressions of the rest.
Projected release date: August 30, 2011
Genre: First-Person Shooter
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We got our first chance to try out the single-player game in Red Orchestra 2, which will populate the game's multiplayer maps with computer-controlled bot characters on both sides of the conflict. As the game's name implies, it will take place in Stalingrad, the site of some of the bloodiest and costliest battles of World War II. The game's campaign will include a handful of missions for both the Germans and the Russians (you'll actually skip around between both sides, rather than play one side all the way through). And between each mission, you'll receive your orders in the form of a short cinematic sequence in which your army's commanding general will brief you on your objectives and the importance of your efforts in the larger war effort. In the actual single-player game, you'll play as one of the soldiers in the game's usual three fireteam squads (rifle, assault, or machine gunners). But you will have the ability to give simple orders to your remaining fireteams by mousing over locations in the world and then pulling up a radial menu to give simple commands like "attack," "move," and "reinforce." Given the way that you'll spawn in as a member of one of the three teams and how each team, if not given high-level tactical orders (or individually micromanaged down to a single man) will act autonomously, developer Tripwire Interactive is confident that no single-player match will ever play out the same way twice.
We played through a mission as the Russian army and found ourselves doing our best to pincer enemy forces into one location by sending the second fireteam to a single flank, sending the third team to the opposite flank, and then charging in with our current team. In Red Orchestra 2, just like in the original game, gunfire is usually lethal, and wounded soldiers may be able to take a few potshots before fading out of consciousness, but in the single-player game, after you die, you respawn as a different member of one of your fireteams. In effect, the number of squaddies you have surviving is effectively your store of extra lives, and as you complete each of the multiple objectives on any Red Orchestra 2 map, your faction will reinforce with fresh squadmates that will fill out each fireteam's ranks. Tripwire was eager to point out that the game is a PC exclusive, and it will come with a server browser, support for dedicated servers, and also ship with a modification software development kit. As a matter of fact, the mod SDK has already been available to members of the Red Orchestra fan community for about eight months, so hopefully there will be plenty of interesting mods available for it when the game launches later this year.
Projected release date: 2012
Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, Free-to-Play
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Royal Quest is a free-to-play fantasy online role-playing game from Katauri Interactive, the developer of Kings Bounty: The Legend and that game's subsequent expansions. Publisher 1C suggests that this new free-to-play game will continue to emphasize what Katauri considers most important: colorful fantasy adventures with detailed artwork. At the 1C event, we watched a video trailer for the game that showed a party of human characters interacting with a great many different monsters, some of which were immediately recognizable as familiar fantasy archetypes (orcs, dragons, and the like), and some of which were recognizable because of their resemblance to critters we've seen in other games. These included a giant bird mount with a strong resemblance to Final Fantasy's chocobos and a slithering monster that looked a heck of a lot like Starcraft's hydralisks. In any case, once we got a chance to sit down with the game, we found it to be in a very early state, and because we started with a low-level fighter character, we didn't have a ton of options.
Our fighter began his career inside a stony castle keep--a safe house with merchants and quest-giving characters--and we visited a merchant to purchase an egg to hatch our first mount, a creature that resembled a small raptor dinosaur. Then we ventured outside the castle to take on our first challenge, a patch of killer venus fly traps that sprayed giant soap-bubble-like projectiles at us. The gameplay seemed to resemble the kind of mouse-driven, hack-and-slash stuff you may have seen in other free-to-play online games from Asia and Europe, complete with a hotkey bank at the bottom of the screen to house your character's abilities. We're told that the details on the game's "cash-op," the in-game store that lets you buy in-game items with real money out of pocket, haven't been finalized. But if nothing else, you'll be able to purchase new apparel for your characters. You character can join one of four base classes (fighter, rogue, priest, wizard) but can later change class to a more-advanced profession. Royal Quest is tentatively scheduled to launch in April 2012 in Russia, with a worldwide launch to follow later that year.
Projected release date: 2011
Genre: Sci-Fi Strategy/Role-Playing Game
Show Me All Screenshots for This Game
We got our hands on Star Wolves 3: Ashes of Victory and went through character creation and customization. This space-exploration role-playing game will let you play as a hotshot starship pilot who, with the help of his three wingmen, must fight for truth, justice, and peace throughout the galaxy--or something along those lines. At the start of the game, you customize your character by choosing to specialize in a specific skill line, such as piloting, gunnery, or missiles by spending what will ultimately be dozens of points to specialize in skills like ship handling, ship speed, ship repair, and various weapon proficiencies. You do the same with your three wingmen (or to be more precise, two wingmen and one wingwoman) and then start the game aboard your character's mothership. This is a large, slow vessel, which, like each of your pilot's fighter ships, is customizable with different slots for weapon emplacements, as well as engine and shield improvements. At the outset of the campaign, you must follow a friendly pilot into hostile space, pursuing space bandits who are attacking a nearby space station. Star Wolves 3 takes place in fully 3D space with X-, Y-, and Z-axis movement and camera controls that let you scroll and zoom around your fleet in three dimensions. But thankfully, the game has a minimap to go with its larger star map and its many-icon-having game interface in the lower corner of the screen. Star Wolves 3: Ashes of Victory will be released later this year.
Imagine you're trapped in the woods--just a man and his jeep. It's raining hard, and the closest thing you've got to a road is a patch of mud. What do you do? If your answer is "panic," then you need to spend some quality time with Off-Road Drive, an off-road driving game from publisher 1C Company. At first blush, Off-Road Drive looks like a rough-and-tumble arcade racer with an off-road setting, but after we spent some time with it, we found it leaned more on the simulation side.
Each of the four tracks we played was laid out like an obstacle course. The challenge was knowing what technique to use to overcome each obstacle. To plow through a deep mud puddle, for instance, we needed to activate our vehicle's four-wheel drive to gain more traction. While driving over an uneven bed of rocks, locking the main and axle differentials let our wheels spin at different speeds, depending on which ones were gaining traction at that moment. In all cases, placing well in a race meant not only racing fast, but also racing smart.
However, despite our best efforts, we more often than not got stuck. In our most desperate hour, it was time to use the winch. The winch is, essentially, a grappling hook mounted to the front of your vehicle used for hauling it up and over difficult terrain (such as a vertical cliffside). We used it to great effect in overcoming the game's primary villain: fallen trees. Off the track, we could pop into the garage and tweak the performance of our vehicles in three categories. Changing our tires and altering the suspension affected our vehicle's performance on different terrain types. Changing our skin, of course, affected how awesome our ride looked.
After spending some time with Off-Road Drive, we came away all the wiser in the ways of off-road navigation. From Russia to Thailand, the game will having you tearing up the wilderness all across the globe in numerous competitions. You can start honing your own survival skills when Off-Road Drive is released later this year.
Men of War: Vietnam is taking the brutal Men of War series to the equally brutal battlegrounds of the Vietnam War. New weapons, new maps, and an era-appropriate rock-and-roll soundtrack are all coming together in this real-time strategy game. For the uninitiated, the Men of War games resemble a hyper-lethal version of THQ's Company of Heroes games. And from what we played of Vietnam, this one is no exception.
While some games set during the Vietnam War are content to tell their tale from the eyes of US soldiers exclusively, Men of War: Vietnam widens its scope with two single-player campaigns covering both the Americans and the Vietcong. Of the four missions we had available, the first dropped us into a convoy of allied Soviet and Vietcong troops on approach to an American base. The convoy's trip was cut short by a surprise attack from an American helicopter, but we got the chance to turn the tables on our attackers by hiding in the jungle and conducting some guerrilla warfare.
Like in previous Men of War games, if we wanted to be successful we couldn't just order our men to move and shoot. Depending on their loadout, each solider brought a different flavor of pain to the fight, be it a satchel of grenades or a deadly sniper rifle. Micromanagement of our troops was key, and if we found one we really liked, there was always the direct-control option. This let us control an individual unit using some simplified third-person shooter controls. However, our aim wasn't all that great, so we decided to let the AI handle the marksmanship.
Once the dust had settled, we made sure to scavenge the dead for extra supplies. Ammo was abundant but not limitless, and finding some extra bandages to patch up our wounded was always a plus. Our next task was to flank an American-occupied antiair installation. During the assault, we decided to be a little sneaky by breaking our light machine gunner away from the group to have him flank around to the right. This was a bad call. While messing with that unit we missed the grenade the Americans had tossed at our other troops. When we turned our attention back to them, it was just in time to see the trio get blasted into the air.
A later mission switched sides and put us in control of some American GIs assigned to investigate some civilian villages. Early on we encountered a group of civilians digging up an empty field. When we approached, they promptly dropped their shovels and took up assault rifles, though it didn't do them much good. Further down the same path we got the chance to ambush a Vietcong ambush party, leading to a lethal jungle firefight. Once again we split a specialist from the group, a sniper, and perched him on a tall cliff side. Using his special ability, we sniped a few key targets and took the pressure off our men.
Based on what we played, Men of War: Vietnam is certainly upholding the steep difficulty curve of its predecessors. Quick wits will be a requirement for survival, but if you need a helping hand you can invite up to three of your friends to help you out in four-player cooperative play. Men of War: Vietnam will be released on the PC later this year.
The closed public beta for Might & Magic: Heroes VI is in full swing, and we got to spend some quality time with it, starting with the single-player campaign. The opening mission of this turn-based, high-fantasy strategy game put us in control of Prince Charming himself, Duke Slava, who is also the son of the deceased Duke Pavel. Slava, his aunt Sveltana, and a smart-mouthed raven have to band together to stop a renegade orc shaman, Toghrul, who has made a pact with a band of demons.
Like in other games in the series, we spent much of our time exploring the overworld as our avatar, Duke Slava, collecting resources and fighting monsters. These resources were wood, ore, crystal, and gold, which, as always, sometimes appeared in convenient piles out in the open, or guarded by enemies. Another way to amass resources was by controlling a production facility, such as a wood mill or stone quarry. While taking one of these stations was easy, holding it could be hard. Certain stations were under the control of a nearby fort. Holding the fort prevented others from taking nearby buildings; however, enemies could still capture them temporarily by leaving units garrisoned in them.
Once we were flush with rocks and gold, we returned to our keep to cash in our resources. There were plenty of different structures for us to build, but we focused mostly on the unit-producing ones. Once we had a sizable army in tow, it was time to take the fight to the demons. Whether we were fighting a wolf or a demon, combat was conducted on a large grid similar to a chess board. Both side's units took turns moving and fighting across the board, depending on which ones were faster. Our force was modest--only a handful of crossbowmen, spearmen, and healers--but our hero unit had some special skills to help even the odds.
Unlike the others, hero units don't move around and fight on the battlefield. Instead, they can act once a turn and either attack an opponent directly or use a spell or special ability. Because the duke was a might-based hero, as opposed to magic based, we mostly had him attacking enemies when he could. However, he also had a few useful abilities, such as stand your ground, which granted one extra retaliation and increased the defense of the selected unit. We used this to great effect on our spearmen, who were already pretty beefy. With them soaking up damage, we had Slava use the rush ability on our crossbowmen, increasing their initiative and movement stats, to keep them in a prime firing position.
Heroism (which increased a unit's morale, luck, and damage) and flawless assault (which caused a unit to deal maximum damage) were great all-purpose abilities. The number of turns these spells affected our units for and the percentage increase to stats varied depending on Slava's level. All of these abilities stemmed from the war cries skill tree, which is part of the might skill set. While we had fun cutting down wolves, demons, and their ilk, we found it much faster to skip through easier fights using the quick battle options, which let us speed up animations.
While the single-player campaign focused on the units from the Haven faction, we could also create new characters from the Necropolis, Sanctuary, Stronghold, and Inferno factions to use in multiplayer. However, the multiplayer was local only against either bots or other players on a single map. Against the AI, it functioned much the same way as in the campaign, with the option of playing on teams or in a free-for-all. For more information on the game, check out our previous coverage. Otherwise, you can get your hands on Might & Magic: Heroes VI on September 8 for the PC.
NIS America announced its 2011 lineup at an event in San Francisco, so it looks like we're in for another epic Japanese strategy role-playing game that will last hundreds of hours. While it stays true to the Disgaea formula, the visuals are a step up from the sprites that we're so used to seeing. Each character is wonderfully detailed on the grid, so it's like moving around little anime figurines. It's colorful, it's quirky, and there are prinnies; what more do you need? We had an opportunity to sit down with the lead programmer and director of the game, Masahiro Yamamoto, to talk about the new features in Disgaea 4. See the interview below for more information. But if you want to see the game in action with the new visuals (and hilarious narration), I'd highly suggest the trailer, which is also embedded below.
Disgaea 4 is set to be released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 this September.
It's amazing what Disney can do to a theme-park ride by transforming it into a multibillion-dollar franchise. TT Games is no stranger to reimagining popular licenses in Lego form, and so far, it looks like Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game will follow in the same footsteps as Harry Potter and Star Wars. With each new Lego game, the environments start to look better and better. Because you'll be swashbuckling your way from Tortuga to Singapore, there's a lot to see and do in a game that is known for cooperative couch play. It's actually much better to show you, so take a look at the video preview below.
In our updated demo, we got a tour of some of the new locations in At World's End. Singapore had its own charm to it, especially when you made your way into the bath house. The cutscenes should provide a few chuckles. For a more pirate-y atmosphere, Shipwreck Cove and the Maelstrom are extremely well done in terms of capturing the mood and tone of the movie environments. You'll notice that even Jack's swagger was done in such a way as to properly represent the infamous Captain.
Gameplay in Lego Pirates is similar to all the previous Lego games, where you need to work with your partner to make your way through the levels. As a pirate, you'll find plenty of opportunities to get into a swordfight and hunt for treasure, as well as fire cannons at treasure chests and other ships. You'll even be able to explore beneath the waves. One of the new features in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean includes the ability to take all of your unlocked characters into Free Play mode. There's more of an emphasis on platforming rather than puzzle-solving, and there are signs throughout the game, as well as non-player characters that will help guide you in the right direction. You may have noticed in the video that some puzzles involve turning wheels and coordinating with your partner, so it doesn't look like this is going to be as puzzle oriented as, say, Lego Indiana Jones.
For more information on the game and the 3DS, be sure to read our last preview, which covers Dead Man's Chest. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game will be coming out on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, PSP, Wii, and 3DS.
It's no secret that video games based on movies get a bad rap. However, Sega is looking to lift some of this negative stigma with its series of Thor: God of Thunder video games. Instead of just retreading the events of the upcoming movie, these games have been given the liberty to tell their own tale outside of the movie's narrative. Marvel Comics writer Matt Fraction, known for his work on Uncanny X-Men and numerous Thor comics, has been assisting as a story consultant in crafting a tale specific for these games. It will chronicle Thor's journey across the numerous worlds of Norse mythology to battle enemies lifted straight from the comics, including Ymir, Surtur, and Ulik.
The first version of the game I checked out was on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which was a third-person action game. The areas I saw focused primarily on combat, which was very straightforward and built around accessibility. Fighting was a mixture of normal hits with Thor's legendary hammer, Mjolnir, interspersed with the elemental powers, which acted as finishing moves. The direction pad could be used to switch between Thor's three elemental powers: wind, lighting, and thunder. If an enemy got out of range, Thor could attack from a distance by locking on to and strafing around an enemy while lobbing his hammer into its face. Check out the video below to see the Odin son in action.
The Wii version took a similar approach with the same third-person action, but it had a different visual style. It looked more like the comics, unlike the previous game, which more resembled the movie, with its bright, colorful palette and numerous unlocked outfits for the title character taken from his numerous incarnations. I started out in a boss fight against the flame giant Surtur and his minions. This encounter introduced me to the game's combat, which was very reminiscent of the previous version's combat. However, because this was on the Wii, combo finishers were executed using specific motions with the Wii Remote rather than mere button press. Using the direction pad and gesturing with the Wii Remote, I could also access Thor's numerous elemental powers. One summoned a typhoon to knock enemies around; another called upon a lighting storm to stun targets; the third supercharged Thor's hammer for additional damage.
After shattering Surtur's giant, flaming sword, I wailed on his weak spot by throwing the supercharged Mjolnir at it repeatedly until he finally submitted. The second area I played in showed off a mechanic unique to this version: flight. Thor took to the skies in a simple rail shooter sequence where I used the Wii Remote to point and shoot lighting wherever I pleased (which was everywhere). I could also hold down the fire button and paint the cursor across multiple targets to strike them all at once, a technique that was useful for catching smaller enemies.
The last version I saw was on the Nintendo DS, and it turned out to be my favorite. Developed by WayForward Technologies (Contra 4), this version of the game featured yet another unique art design. This time, it was in the form of some highly detailed and stylish sprite designs. The game itself was a 2D side-scrolling brawler that utilized both screens on which to smack foes around. The first area I saw took me through the game's tutorial, which was set amid a massive invasion of Asgard by trolls (described as the rats, kobolds, or bandits of the Thor universe). As I got reacquainted with the god of thunder for the third time that day, I was relieved to see that the game had steered away from including gimmicky touch-screen controls. After routing the fiends, I skipped ahead and faced off against the frost giant Ymir. This was the game's first, and certainly not last, dual-screen boss encounter. Down on the bottom screen, I had to fight off Ymir's frozen fiends while dodging a barrage of icy boulders before leaping up to the top screen onto the giant's shoulders and introducing his face to the backside of my hammer.
Every version of the game had something different to bring to the experience, and it was refreshing to see developers given more creative liberty in how they adapt these licensed games. You can find the whole set just in time for the cinematic release this May.
Do you like blowing up robots? High Moon Studios, developer of Transformers: War for Cybertron, sure does, and it's putting that passion to work in the upcoming Transformers: Dark of the Moon video game. This game will bridge the gap between the previous film, Revenge of the Fallen, and the upcoming summer action flick.
Our hands-off demonstration featured several snippets from the game's campaign mode, which will cycle between the Autobot and Decepticon's perspectives. The developer also made sure to highlight the new stealth force form, which we saw in action during the Ironhide mission segment. The Autobot was cruising through Detroit, which had been reduced to an urban war zone, on the prowl for those sneaky Decepticons. We could hear the voice of Optimus Prime telling us we needed to regain the human's trust and, above all else, be careful.
Apparently Ironhide didn't listen to these instructions very closely because in the next scene, he was trapped in a large crater surrounded by Decepticons. Here, we got to see the robot's three forms in action. The first, vehicle, was used to either escape from or drive up to an enemy. The second, stealth force, outfitted Ironhide's vehicle form with a bunch of guns, as well as let him lock on to and strafe around targets. This form was used primary at midrange as a way to soften up enemies until he could get up close. The final form, robot, worked best in melee combat and gave Ironhide access to his special abilities. These included the deadly grenade blossom, which sent out a half-dozen grenades that locked on to the remaining targets.
The combat looked flashy and fluid. From what we can tell, a lot of the characters, from Soundwave to Bumblebee seem to use similar tactics: Riding into an area, blowing up a whole mess of robots, and then riding on to the next. However, Starscream's segment did offer up something different in the form of aerial combat. His mission was to take down the massive Autobot cargo jet Stratosphere, which combined aerial combat and melee fighting on the hull of the massive aircraft.
High Moon Studios has always been faithful to its source material, and there's something to be said for the therapeutic qualities of mass robot slaughter. You can find Transformers: Dark of the Moon on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 14.
Might & Magic: Heroes VI is making a lot of changes to the Heroes of Might & Magic series (not the least of which is changing the actual name of the series), but many of these new additions will add to the series in intriguing new ways. One of Heroes VI's most unusual new additions is the Sanctuary faction, also known as the Nagas.
Given the name, you might guess that these snakelike people were somehow influenced by the six-armed, sword-wielding academy creature from Heroes of Might & Magic III. But they're actually a brand new faction of snake people whose design was apparently influenced by the samurai of the Japanese Sengoku-Jidai era, as well as Shaolin monks and East Indian mysticism. The faction's philosophy focuses on oneness with self, honorable single combat, and embracing nature in its architecture.
The Sanctuary faction's primary use of magic is tied to water; whether that is through bless spells that strengthen its armies or through offensive spells that summon tsunamis to smash its enemies. The faction's might hero is the shogun, and its armies will include sword-wielding snakemen, snake-haired priestesses, and a powerful dragon known as the kirin. Watch the trailer and enjoy exclusive new screenshots of this faction in action.
Tropico 4 is one of many new games on display at the 2011 Game Developers Conference, and from the looks of it, this sequel will build on everything people enjoyed in Haemimont's Tropico 3 and offer more of it. In Tropico 4, you'll still play the role of El Presidente of the tiny, fictional-but-a-lot-like-Cuba island of Tropico during the nation's tumultuous, fictional-but-a-lot-like-Cuban history across the 20th century.
In Tropico 4, you'll still create a new dictator with different traits and will still need to balance the needs of the people against your nation's burgeoning economy, as well as the requests of foreign superpowers. This time around, you won't just be meeting with the USA and the Soviet Republic. China will also play a role as an economic superpower that you must consider in your administration. To help you attain absolute power and completely above-the-board riches, Tropico 4 will now let you appoint citizens to a council of ministers to support your political initiatives.
Otherwise, Tropico 4 will have a much bigger campaign than the previous game--20 missions across 10 new maps, in fact. The game will also have 20 new structures to build that will reflect the game's latter-day sensibilities, such as a stock exchange, a shopping mall, and a water park. In response to demand from the fan community, the new game will also have more natural disasters (volcanoes, droughts, tornadoes, among others) that will randomly pop up and potentially change the complexion of your current course of action. The game will even integrate functionality for Facebook and Twitter, so if you're the sort of dictator who needs to broadcast every new exploit of your benevolent regime to your followers, you'll be able to do that, too.
Tropico 4 will give Tropico 3 players more of what they want: more missions, more structures, more natural disasters, and more politics. The game is scheduled for release this August on the PC and on the Xbox 360.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is one of many new games on display at the 2011 Game Developers Conference, and in one of our many sorties to the show floor, we took the opportunity to see the game in action. As the game's title suggests, it will take place in and around the city formerly known as Stalingrad. This city is perhaps most infamous for the Battle of Stalingrad--a bloody World War II skirmish that is said to have incurred more than 1 million casualties. Red Orchestra 2 will launch with 10 different maps, four difficulty settings, and two new vehicles: the T-34 medium tank and the Panzer IV medium tank. Tripwire intends, however, to push out new updates to the game on a regular basis as soon as it possibly can. The first update will include four additional vehicles, but the studio also hopes to turn out new maps and other content after the game's initial launch.
We sat down to watch a single-player demonstration of the Danzig map--not the final name of the map (because this map, like all the others, is based in Stalingrad), though its layout will be very similar to the popular Danzig map in the original game. If you happen to be in the position of squad leader (a specialized role you'll have dibs on if you've successfully pulled off a great many kills, objectives, and other accomplishments in Red Orchestra 2--all documented and saved in your Steam profile), you can give quick and easy move-and-fire orders to your teammates. You do so by hovering your mouse over the intended position and pulling up the in-game radial menu to issue orders for movement, support, and calling in artillery. There's even an order to refuse to take that last order--this last one is available if you're not the squad leader and you…disagree with your fearless leader's last directive.
Red Orchestra 2 will ship with three different game modes: Territories, the previous game's control-point-capture mode (not unlike the original Conquest mode from the Battlefield series), which makes its return from the first game; Firefight, essentially a team deathmatch mode intended to draw in new players (realism settings can actually be relaxed); and Countdown, which is essentially a modified version of Territories that still challenges teams to move on a single series of progressive objectives but gives players only one life to live until their team reaches the next objective. Countdown has a very short timer for each objective--something in the neighborhood of two minutes or so. Thus, Tripwire hopes that this mode will be far less frustrating than in other shooters with "one life to live" modes where getting killed early means sitting on the sidelines until the entire game is over.
Like with the original game, Red Orchestra will otherwise continue to focus on highly realistic shooter gameplay. For example, taking heavy fire will still put your character into a state of suppression where your view blurs and your character breathes more heavily, causing more barrel drift when trying to fire your weapon. In addition, as part of Red Orchestra 2's new slow death system, if you take a severe enough wound that causes you to bleed out before dying, you'll still be able to reach for your gun and wildly fire off a few new shots before your view fades to black.
Perhaps most impressively, the game will have a new material penetration system that will affect whether bullets of a certain caliber and fired by certain weapons can pierce certain types of cover and strike the soldiers hiding on the other side. In addition, the new game will have destructible environmental objects that can turn temporary cover into flaming rubble. We watched a T-34, realistically modeled from the inside out (while inside the tank, you must man one station or another, such as driver or gunner, and will need to physically switch seats should one of your squadmates get killed), open fire on rickety wooden buildings in a countryside map. This partially smashed the roof with a single shot and then tore the rest of the roof, and the four walls down, with a few more successive shells. Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad will add more of the realistic combat its fans love, along with new features that new players should find appealing. The game will ship later this year.
In the month of March, if you find the hotels in downtown San Francisco to be packed full of guys speaking all kinds of different languages, you're either in the middle of a Die Hard-like terrorist takeover or in the middle of the annual Game Developers Conference. Because we were fairly confident that it was GDC time, we made our way to the city's fabled Moscone Center conference hall to meet with representatives from Stardock to discuss the studio's upcoming projects. The projects: Stardock's upcoming billing solution that it's pitching to developers of free-to-play games; the recently announced Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion; and Fallen Enchantress, the first expansion for Elemental: War of Magic. The representatives: Stardock frontman Brad Wardell; lead producer Derek "Kael" Paxton, the creative mind behind the cult-classic Civilization IV modification Fall From Heaven 2; and designer Jon Shafer, formerly of Firaxis, where he was lead designer on Civilization V.
Wardell kicked off our informal meeting by discussing his studio's current nongame project, a billing solution for free-to-play games that will let developers of such games quickly and securely charge players money for all those wonderful microtransactions to purchase funny hats and healing potions they tend to buy in free-to-play games. He casually mentioned that the studio is already in talks with several independent game studios and suggested that he "would be surprised if there weren't at least a few games coming out by this Christmas using [the service]."
We then grilled him, as best we could, about Rebellion, the recently announced stand-alone follow-up to Ironclad Games' acclaimed 2008 strategy game, Sins of a Solar Empire. Wardell suggested that Rebellion, which he hesitates to refer to as an "expansion pack" because of the massive amount of content it will offer, including enough new playable factions to double the game's base roster, will essentially be Ironclad and Stardock's attempt to take the opposite approach to the game's previous update strategy. In years past, Ironclad released two "microexpansions" for Sins, Entrenchment and Diplomacy, which Stardock felt received unfair evaluations despite their $10 price tags. Said Wardell, "Even if you only charge $10, people expect, you know, $23 worth of content." As a result, Rebellion will go the other way, offering a substantial amount of content for $40, though owners of the Sins Trilogy product (which contains the original game and its two microexpansions) will be able to purchase it for $30.
After discussing Rebellion and Stardock's other projects, Wardell was happy to quietly back out of the discussion so that we could discuss Fallen Enchantress, the upcoming expansion, with Stardock's two other staffers. Paxton explained that he's a producer and his basic duties are, like any good game producer, managing deadlines, expectations, and communication throughout the team. But his larger goal is to take the world of Elemental: War of Magic, which many players found to be sparse, and flesh it out. Paxton, as mentioned, is known among the mod-making community for Fall From Heaven 2, a modification for Civilization IV that radically changed that game. It added a dark fantasy world, revamped religions, an in-game collectible card minigame, and many role-playing elements. The producer confirmed that his goal is to bring this same brand of dark fantasy, "partway between Lord of the Rings and Edgar Allen Poe-style horror," to the world of Elemental.
Part of the way Paxton intends to do this is to ensure that the world is much more filled out even at the outset of the game. Elemental's original concept was a strategic adventure that challenged players to rebuild a destroyed and mostly empty world. The world of Fallen Enchantress will be anything but empty, and true to Fall From Heaven 2's form, it will be much more dangerous. It will be filled not only with randomly generated artifact items that provide powerful bonuses, but also with dangerous monsters, up to and including elder dragons and ancient gods that you simply won't have any chance of defeating until you have a highly developed kingdom. And in the meantime, as for any scouts you send out into the wide world in the early game, well, don't expect them to come back alive. And if you do unearth the lair of an angry ancient god, don't bother building a new city nearby--you're all but guaranteed to lose it. At this point, Wardell pointed out that War of Magic's current AI--in the version 1.1.1 patch--is already fairly aggressive and "will come after you if you don't build up properly." The executive then took the opportunity to affirm that his only role on Elemental is programming the AI--"the job [he] really [wants] to do anyway," as opposed to game design, for which he professed no great love. At that point, Wardell went back to reading his grown-ups newspaper.
Surprisingly, when asked about whether Fallen Enchantress had any additional new gameplay systems planned, such as in-game minigames or expanded religions, Paxton responded vehemently in the negative. He clarified that despite the fact that the Fall From Heaven 2 mod is known for its tremendous breadth, the producer "hates breadth for the sake of it" and that his primary objective was to include only those features that could be tied directly to the core gameplay experience and made complete sense. He also mentioned that his secondary objective was to winnow out anything else. Shafer, on the other hand, explained that his primary duty is focusing on making Elemental's campaign much more interesting and varied. The former Civilization V designer suggested he's approaching his task by documenting feedback from Stardock's fan community, which felt that the base game's single-player experience was far too linear and that magic was too scarce. Shafer also mentioned that he's helping with the game's modification tools to give players more control over tweaking values and adding new content by exposing XML code in more areas.
From the sound of things, Rebellion will have a lot to offer Sins of a Solar Empire fans. Elemental, for all its numerous and well-documented problems, is also in good hands with Paxton and Shafer, both of whom are committed to making Elemental a better product. When asked about future products, all three members of Stardock's staff predictably dodged all the questions, clarifying only that after Fallen Enchantress is done, Paxton will remain with the Elemental team to work on the second expansion, while Shafer will go on to lead development on another, undisclosed project.
Brink is the next team-based shooter from Enemy Territory: Quake Wars developer Splash Damage. Just like its predecessors, this game is another first-person shooter where players have to do more than simply score kills to win a match. During our brief multiplayer session, we got our hands on the character-customization tools, the SMART parkour system, and received a crash course in teamwork.
Our session began with a brief introduction to the world of Brink. The oceans are on the rise for unknown reasons, and humanity's last, best hope for survival lies with the Ark. This self-sufficient habitat floats above the endless blue, which is both home and prison to thousands of refugees. Humankind is facing its darkest hour, so naturally, everyone has started killing each other. The end of the world is pretty stressful after all. On one side of the conflict are the security forces, Ark's keepers of the peace, and on the other are the resistance fighters, who are jerks.
We started by creating a security force character using the game's extensive customization tools. Brink's bright, high-contrast style was instantly reminiscent of Mirror's Edge, but it had a fresh coat of dirt and bullet holes thrown on top. From the dozens of faces, character voices, and articles of clothing, we built a hulking machine gunner decked out in a heavy explosive ordnance disposal suit (something you would never, ever want to fight in). We also hooked him up with a beard; you've got to have a beard. Once everyone had finished creating their characters, no two members on our wildly diverse security team looked alike.
Once our multiplayer match started, the first order of business was choosing our class. There were four available: the soldier, the medic, the engineer, and the operative. Because we were still in unfamiliar waters, we decided to go with the straightforward solider class. Each class has a special ability to aid the team. The solider is basically a walking ammo dispenser, which is of vital importance because everyone's primary weapon ammo is extremely limited. This ability takes a moment to refresh after each use and may be spent to either refill your own ammo or a teammate's.
Soldiers also excel at shooting things, but that won't do you much good if you can't see your target. The SMART system is activated by pressing a single button, which manages all your jumping, ducking, sliding, and other acrobatic maneuvers to get you around the battlefield quickly and easily. No longer will you be restricted by an insurmountable, four-foot-high gate. Using SMART near a low wall vaulted us up and over; using it near a short gap made us jump. Once again, we got a definite Mirror's Edge vibe from the proceedings.
When we were actually locked in a firefight, the action didn't feel far removed from the developer's pedigree. Skirmishes weren't accented by the quick, one-hit kills found in other first-person shooters, such as the Modern Warfare series. Instead, they were battles of attrition, with each class aiding others with health, ammo, turrets, and whatever it was the operative does. Each character had a decent amount of health, making it much less punishing when we stumbled out into enemy crossfire.
Teamwork pays off in Brink. You earn experience for aiding your teammates, completing missions during the match, and (of course) for scoring kills. For team security, our mission was to escort a maddeningly slow-moving robot across the map so that it could recover some sort of sample. As a solider, it was our job to run around and plant explosive charges on anything we couldn't shoot through. Team security emerged victorious in the end, only to have our victory cut down when Splash Damage revealed we had been playing on the easiest difficulty. Check out Brink on May 17 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.