E3 2004: The RPGs

It was another great year for RPG fans at the Electronic Entertaiment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, California. A couple of us from GameBanshee were able to attend again, so it's time to spill all the RPG information a person would want within another multi-page article like I've done for the last few years. This year, you'll find extensive details about nine different role-playing games, including Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, The Witcher, Dungeon Siege II, Champions: Return to Arms, Fable, X-Men Legends, and Wish. In addition, you're in store for an extra bonus - I'll also be sharing details throughout the article about the exclusive after hours Jade Empire/Fable party that we were able to attend! So without further delay, let's get on with it...


Jade Empire

Since I already mentioned that we were able to attend Microsoft's exclusive Jade Empire/Fable party, let me begin with a quick preview of BioWare's upcoming RPG. Before you begin playing, you'll be able to choose from seven different characters (Wu the Lotus Blossum, Monk Zeng, Lu the Prodigy, Scholar Ling, Radiant Jen Zi, Tiger Shen, and Furious Ming), each of which start with different amounts of Mind, Body, and Spirit statistics. If you're not happy with the beginning stats, though, you can always customize the three primary abilities by allocating a certain number of points however you like. That way, your character will excel in whatever type of abilities you're most interested in, yet you still keep the character's overall look.

Initially, your character will only have access to a few combat styles. However, as you play through the game, different combat styles will open up to your character. For example, in the build we were able to play, our character obtained a sword off the corpse of an assassin. Once in our possession, a new sword style opened up, complete with its own separate moves and combos. Each of these styles can be advanced throughout the game, with much more powerful (and spectacular) moves becoming available at higher levels of expertise. During a demonstration that BioWare's Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk gave, three extremely powerful moves were shown. One involved the character petrifying the enemy, then shattering them into a pile of rubble. Another move threw a powerful kick that literally made the recipient explode into a shower of blood and gore. Using a sword, Ray and Greg showed that you can even decapitate your opponent, killing them instantly.

In addition to combat moves, your character also has access to a certain amount of Chi, which allows you to use magical abilities. One such ability is called "Focus", which is similar to the "Bullet Time" feature of games like Enter the Matrix and Max Payne 2, except that your character continues to move at regular speed while your enemies are brought to a crawl. Transformation styles are another set of abilities that use Chi. After your character defeats a demonic creature in Jade Empire, there is a random chance that the demon will drop its spirit. Once a demon's spirit is obtained, you are able to transform into that particular creature and use all of its attacks. Although Chi is used up at an extremely fast rate while morphed, such transformations can turn a very difficult battle into a much easier one. In the event that you run out of Chi, you can find small blue globes that will replenish it after defeating some of the more common enemies in the game.

Similar to past BioWare games, Jade Empire allows you to pause at any time to make tactical decisions during combat. However, when not paused, all combat is carried out in real time. Therefore, being quick on the controls while using your special moves and combos can give you a considerable advantage over your opponent. Dialogue is presented in the same fashion as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, with different dialogue choices being offered depending on whether or not your choices have been for good or evil in the game.

In addition to dropping Chi-replenishing globes, some of the more significant enemies you'll face may even drop magical gems that can be used in your personal dragon amulet. Each of these gems possesses a magical effect that will be granted when placed within one of the sockets of your amulet. During the E3 build, we were able to obtain a few gems, including one that added +50 Health and another that granted temporary invulnerability. This adds some interesting depth to the game and we look forward to seeing some of the gem combinations players will be able to come up with for their character.

Another interesting facet of Jade Empire is the Marvelous Dragonfly, which we were able to see in some of the cutscenes of the game. This machine will be your character's method of transportation in the game, and although BioWare isn't saying much about it, they did hint that you'll even be able to upgrade it. In one demonstration we received that was exclusive to the private Jade Empire/Fable party we attended, we were even shown that the Marvelous Dragonfly can be used during a mini-game BioWare will be making available to players. The mini-game, which I honestly thought was a joke when I first saw it, looks very similar to the old 1942 arcade game where you controlled a powerful airplane that fired bullets at other enemy aircraft that would fly on to the screen. Essentially, you are given a top-down perspective of the Marvelous Dragonfly and can battle oncoming fighter aircraft and even drop bombs on the countryside below to take out siege towers and the like. The mini-game was fairly lengthy, with the finale involving a battle with a Siege Golem. Such a mini-game obviously doesn't fit the RPG theme and may not be for everyone, but it should provide some enjoyment to those players who like classic arcade shooters like 1942.


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Not only is The Sith Lords a sequel to one of BioWare's finest achievements and one of the best games ever made, but it marks Obsidian Entertainment's ambitious debut into the world of game development. Although the original KotOR set the bar very high, we're happy to report that Obsidian is making fantastic progress on the sequel - complete with an intriguing storyline, more environmental effects like rain and lightning, sixty new feats and force powers, several new joinable NPCs, and plenty more.

LucasArts' Producer Mike Gallo was present to walk us through the demo, which began on Telos - one of seven planets you'll journey to throughout the game. To begin, he showed us a few combat maneuvers with a lightsaber (which you won't obtain until later in the game) and the new Force Sight and Force Crush powers. Force Sight allows the player to view other characters by their alignment, so evil characters will appear red and good characters will appear blue, and Force Crush is a powerful combat power that allows the character to raise an enemy from the ground and twist their body mid-air for massive damage. Pretty nifty.


To provide an incentive for the player to form a party with characters other than Jedi, Mike explained that all joinable NPCs will possess a unique ability that will make them more desirable and valuable in particular situations. For example, we were shown a female bounty hunter that had rocket launchers mounted to her wrists, making her an extremely effective combatant at range. Although only one NPC from the first game is confirmed to be joining your party in the sequel (T3-M4), Mike assured us that other original characters will be showing up in cameo appearances. HK-47, for example, will be making an appearance in "some form", although that quote only makes us more curious as to the conditions of the robotic assassin's return.

Since the PC and Xbox versions of KotOR II will be shipping simultaneously, we were a little worried that the PC version might be "console-ized" like recent console/PC game releases. For those of you who played the original KotOR on the PC, you'll recall how all of the interface menus continue to use 640x480 resolution even though the game itself might be using a much higher resolution. Mike assured us that the team will be scaling such interface screens on the PC this time around, as well as taking advantage of other enhancements that are made available with the PC. This will ensure that you won't have to scroll so much when using a high resolution and viewing item statistics, etc.

One final tidbit of information that I thought was interesting is that you will be ultimately battling against a Sith known as Darth Sion - at least that's what the scrolling entry text claimed when the Xbox was "accidentally" reset =). Mike wouldn't comment on any specifics about the entry text, including Darth Sion, so we'll just have to wait to find out more. For more information about KotOR II, I highly recommend taking a look at our recent preview of the game, where we go much further in depth on what is known about the sequel so far.


Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Out of all the role-playing games we saw up close, Vampire: Bloodlines is by far the most graphically stunning and easily holds as much or more potential for greatness as any other RPG at E3. A bold statement? Well, not really, considering that the masterminds at Troika are behind the game's development and Valve's state-of-the-art Source engine is powering the game. Although the game runs in a first person perspective, Troika is persistent that the game is first and foremost a role-playing game, and after seeing the game firsthand, we can back that statement up 100%.

During character creation, the overall look of your character will depend on your choice between seven different Vampire clans and your gender. There is plenty of customization that can be done once your character's model is chosen, including a set of traits to pick from, much like we saw in the Fallout series and Arcanum. After these first few choices, you'll be given a set number of points (the team hasn't decided on how many just yet) to allocate amongst your different skills. The entire character sheet is modeled after the White Wolf RPG, so fans of the pen n' paper version should feel right at home.

The demonstration we were shown started off by first visiting a night club called Confession, which resides in an abandoned church. When we first entered, we noticed a locked door, but could not pick the lock due to our low amount of skill. Moving on, we then talked to a very seductive woman, which offered our first real glimpse of the dialogue system. Much like previous Troika games, dialogue choices will vary depending on certain choices you've made, as well as your Vampire clan and gender. Additionally, some dialogue will appear in blue, which means that it is only available because of a certain skill or discipline you have at your disposal (Intimidation, Seduction, Persuasion, and Dominate are all examples of skills and disciplines that affect such dialogue choices).

After speaking to the woman, we were able to complete a quest that gave us just enough experience to add a couple of points to our lockpicking skill. Heading back to the entrance, we approached the door and were now able to pick the lock. The game actually zooms in and shows your Vampire's hands doing the lockpicking, while a small percentage bar shows your progress and ultimately your success or failure. Luckily, we were successful, and entered the room to find a laptop on one of the desks. The laptop was password protected, but by using our hacking skill, we were able to decrypt the password and take a look at one of the files. The file detailed a Stone Gargoyle and claimed that the monster was invulnerable to firearms, but might be susceptible to blunt weapons. The information didn't mean much at the time, but it would prove invaluable later on.

Leaving the Confession night club, we then approached a man named Fat Larry in the back of an alley. This gangster-looking fellow sells armor and weaponry from the back of his truck and offers some pretty hilarious conversations. To show us how NPCs would respond differently to other characters, Troika's demonstrator used a cheat to change his character to that of a female Nosferatu and talked to Fat Larry again. This time, the smuggler cooed at our character at first, but then became a little frightened when we started spewing some of the insane dialogue we were given as choices.

Browsing Fat Larry's stock of items, we bought ourselves a couple of weapons, including a large sledge hammer just in case we encountered the Stone Gargoyle we learned about back at the night club. Once finished, our demonstrator used a discipline to sense heat, showing that both a woman and a rat cowered behind the smuggler's truck. Since we were a bit low on blood, we approached the woman and began to feast, making sure not to drain her completely. If we had, our Humanity would have dropped, which isn't something you typically want. The lower your Humanity, the more chance you have of going into a frenzy and sucking the blood from any living creature - even your allies.

Once we replenished our blood supply, we made our way to a Sabbat hideout, where we were shown several different discipline effects. One of the more powerful disciplines we saw in action was Blood Boil, which caused the targeted creature's skin to bubble and pulsate as they curled up in pain, and eventually explode in a shower of blood. Later on, we witnessed other vampires using the Celerity discipline, allowing them to move at extremely fast speeds. Celerity actually causes a blurred effect on the vampire, making it easy to tell which are actively using the discipline. We also witnessed how the environment can be used to your advantage, after the demonstrator lured a vampire onto some underground tracks to have him killed by a passing train.

Reaching the end of the Sabbat hideout, we finally encountered the Stone Gargoyle mentioned back in the Confession night club in an old abandoned building. The graphics were absolutely amazing; the camera zoomed in on the Gargoyle's face while he threatened our life for showing up unexpectedly. Our demonstrator explained that we could talk our way out of a fight with the Gargoyle if our social skills were high enough, but we decided to fight anyway. At the beginning of the battle, we took our character on top of a balcony and watched as the Gargoyle began demolishing the balcony from below in order to drop us down where he could make short work of us. Once we were forced to jump down, we opened fire on the beast and realized that the text we read back at Confession was true - the Gargoyle was totally invulnerable to all but bludgeoning weapons. Therefore, we equipped our trusty sledge hammer, invoked the Potency discipline to strengthen our attacks, and proceeded to beat on the creature until it finally crumbled into a pile of rubble.

The Stone Gargoyle's destruction marked the end of our demonstration, and we were left awe-stricken at what we had just witnessed. Although we only saw a fraction of the entire game, what we did see was absolutely amazing. The game looks and plays like a finished product already, making it very obvious that Troika has gone to great lengths giving the game plenty of polish. Unfortunately, Bloodlines won't be released for quite some time (it can't even be released until after Half Life 2), but from what we saw at E3, the game is destined to be a masterpiece. This is one RPG you don't want to miss.


The Witcher

Just before we left for E3, BioWare contacted us to see if we'd be interested in taking a look at a new RPG in development by Polish game developer CDProjekt called The Witcher. Although BioWare isn't actually involved with the development of the title, it's their Aurora Engine (the same one used for Neverwinter Nights) that is powering the game. Of course, any RPG that has BioWare's support and a dedicated team of developers interests us, so we jumped at the chance to see it.

During our appointment, we met with several members of the CDProjekt team, who I can honestly say seem to be some of the most committed developers I've ever met with. They're all hardcore RPG fans, citing several role-playing games from the past two decades (including the Fallout series) as their influences in creating The Witcher. It's good to see such enthusiasm from a group of developers, which makes a very good foundation to create a fantastic RPG.

The demonstration began with an explanation of how The Witcher started - first with CDProjekt's own technology, and later with BioWare's Aurora Engine after a meeting at E3 2003. The team has done a great deal with the engine in the last several months, including the total removal of the D20 system (opting for their own advancement system entirely), a completely renovated combat system, and several graphical optimizations.

Combat in The Witcher is considerably different than anything you've seen in recent role-playing games. Initially, the protaganist starts with three combat "slots" in which you can allocate different combat maneuvers. When combat begins, the timing of each mouse click determines the success of each of these combat maneuvers, which likewise determines the amount of damage you inflict and the amount of experience you gain from your enemy's defeat. As you advance through the game, the character can obtain additional maneuver "slots", allowing for more sophisticated combos during battle. The team also explained that all combat animations were captured from a famous Polish swordsman, which makes such battles look much more fluid and lifelike. For additional excitement during combat, the team told us that they are implementing speed potions that allow your character to fight in "Bullet Mode", which (if you've read this entire article) you'll know is also present in games like Enter The Matrix, Max Payne 2, and Jade Empire.

The Witcher takes place in a grim world full of violence, with the storyline being based upon the book by European author Andrzej Sapkowski (which sold over three million copies). The team promises many plot twists throughout the game, and certain encounters will not necessarily match traditional fantasy stereotypes. For example, we were shown a good-natured NPC that had taken up the art of Necromancy simply to try and revive his dead wife. A Necromancer that doesn't use his skill for evil purposes shows that the team is striving to offer something a little different for RPG veterans.

Since the game is single player only, character advancement and customization is very important. The main character in The Witcher will have four attributes (Strength, Agility, Vitality, and Endurance), with each of these factoring into the mechanics of the game. For example, Strength will determine how much equipment you'll be able to carry and Agility will affect your defensive skill, among other things. Similar to other RPGs, your character will level up as he gains experience, with no level cap at the present time (although the team is not sure if there will be one at release or not). Equipment is gained through your adventures either from battle spoils or purchasing from various merchants throughout the game, with some of the more powerful items being hidden in "Easter Egg" areas. During the demonstration, the team even showed us one of the Easter Eggs that involved accessing a hidden tunnel where the character would find a chest that contained a Jade Empire poster.

We'll definitely be keeping a close eye on The Witcher. From what we saw of CDProjekt's devotion to the game, along with BioWare's firm backing, The Witcher could prove to be one of the best RPGs of 2005.

Dungeon Siege II

After spending a good deal of time just trying to make it through the mob of people in Microsoft's booth area, we were finally able to take a closer look at Gas Powered Games' ambitious Dungeon Siege sequel. The game is looking fantastic, with an optimized version of the original engine and a slew of additional features. New in Dungeon Siege II are several new pets (aside from just the Packmule), a full skill tree system, very impressive monster AI, a host of new set items, dual wielding, and more. On top of that, GPG is striving to make Dungeon Siege II into more of an RPG, creating an engrossing story to keep players captivated. NPCs now offer branching dialogue selections, and the choices the player makes will determine how he or she will overcome certain obstacles. The team has also reduced the total party number to six, and has added random dialogue between the NPCs in your party (similar to Baldur's Gate II and Star Wars: KotOR). Both of these additions should ensure that each character in your party has more significance and importance than in the original game.

As I mentioned above, GPG has been hard at work developing the AI of the monsters in the game. During our demonstration, we were shown how monsters will actually lure the party into traps. After defeating a group of opponents down to only a few left, the remaining enemies ran us into a ravine where many more monsters ambushed us from the top of a cliff. Additionally, if a group of creatures has a leader, the lesser creatures will surround and protect the leader at all costs. The strategic advantage to this, though, is that if you kill the leader, the rest of the creatures will typically lose all morale and scatter.

The new skill tree in Dungeon Siege II is similar to games like Diablo and Champions of Norrath. As you gain experience levels, you'll be able to allocate points in different Melee, Ranged, Combat Magic, or Nature Magic skills (currently, the game grants a character one skill point per level). The farther into the skill tree you go, the more prerequisites the skill will have. Since there is no level cap, though, a character could still become quite proficient in multiple (or all) skill categories.

To further advance the power of your characters, all set items from Legends of Aranna and a host of new set items will be making their way to the sequel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how set items work, let me give you a quick summary. Certain pieces of armor or weapons in the game are part of a set, ranging from 2-5 total pieces. As your character equips more pieces of the item set, the stats for all respective items increases. During our demonstration, we were shown the Mirror Shield and Shining Blade, both of which were from the same set. By equipping both, our character gained additional stat bonuses, defense, and damage than if he had equipped two items that were not of the same set.

Packmules were a huge part of the first Dungeon Siege, so the team has expanded on pets entirely this time around. We were told that the sequel will have anywhere from 8-12 total pets that the player can acquire, and that all of these will be purchased from merchants (sorry, no summoning). During the demonstration, our party had a small fire elemental that helped carry equipment and even lend a hand during combat. Although pets don't gain experience and levels, they do age from "Baby" all the way up to "Mature", which provides an incentive to stick with the same pets over time. You can also increase their overall potency by equipping items for them and feeding them food. For example, you can hand your pet a powerful sword in order to increase their skill in melee.

Since there wasn't a whole lot of information available about Dungeon Siege II before E3, we really didn't know what to expect. However, after seeing the game firsthand, we were thoroughly impressed. Overall, the sequel has so much more to offer over the original that even if you weren't a fan of the original title, you'll want to give this game a shot. And since the original Siege Editor will continue to work with the sequel, you can expect to see plenty of fan-created content when it ships this fall.


Champions: Return to Arms

Sony and Snowblind's sequel to Champions of Norrath had an elaborate display right alongside the EverQuest II booth. The game is coming along very nicely, with several features that should make the action RPG even better this time around. The team is keeping all five of the same characters from the first game, but are also adding two more - a Vah Shir Berserker and a yet unannounced character. On top of the fact that there will be seven characters to choose from, Snowblind is also expanding the skill tree for each character from the original Champions by adding 1 or 2 new skills that they can advance in.

The Vah Shir Berserker is an extremely powerful combat-oriented character, capable of dishing out more melee damage than any other character in the sequel. To make up for this advantage, the Berserker will not possess much defense, so the player must be careful not to endure much punishment. However, if the Berserker does drop below a certain health percentage (currently at 25% in the build we played), he will go into a rage that will unleash even more damage on the enemy. In addition to the berserking rage ability, the Vah Shir will also be able to summon throwing axes at any time, simply by expending some mana.

The storyline behind Return to Arms is that after destroying Innoruuk in the first game, his body shattered and the pieces were scattered throughout the Planes. Now, evil has begun to corrupt each Plane that possesses a part of Innoruuk, so you must travel to each and put an end to the growing menace. The team told us that players will be traveling to all Planes in the EverQuest mythos, including the Planes of Hate, Fear, Innovation, Valor, and War, so can expect a unique and much more perilous journey this time around.

Those of you who played the original Champions will recall that money was practically worthless at higher levels, so the team is adding more money sinks to the game in Return to Arms. For example, you'll be able to purchase very expensive unique items from merchants, and items like potions will most likely be more expensive than before. On top of that, Sony assured us that players will also be looting fewer items from monsters, but that the ones that do drop will be much more useful.

Since you can import your old character into Return to Arms (complete with all items and experience), all unique items from the original game will be obtainable in the sequel, as well as a host of new ones. We didn't see any specific items, but since the level cap has been raised to 80, we're betting that there will be some extremely powerful equipment to be found. Sony also explained that when you import a veteran character, the game will determine which difficulty levels to unlock automatically. That way, you won't have to take an imported level 50 character through the lower difficulty settings just to unlock the higher ones.

Another interesting addition to the sequel are medals and awards that character can gain by replaying certain levels of the game and completing certain challenges. Sony explained that they haven't decided on exactly what challenges players will be presented with, but something like making it through a level with limited health potions is just one idea they're kicking around. After completing a challenge, the characters involved will receive a medal or award that will grant additional statistic bonuses, powerful equipment, or even unlock secret levels that weren't available previously.

To conclude, let me just say that I was a huge fan of the original Champions of Norrath. The game breathed new life into the Dark Alliance engine (and our Playstation 2) and showed that Snowblind Studios can make an extremely fun action RPG. After seeing the sequel firsthand, I can assure other fans out there that we definitely will not be disappointed when it hits store shelves February of next year.


Fable

Microsoft and Big Blue Box and gearing up to release Fable, an RPG exclusive to the Xbox that has been in development since before Halo's launch (it was known as Project Ego back then, however). During Microsoft's exclusive after hours party, we were able to get some hands-on with the game, as well as watch a demonstration from Peter Molyneux himself. The most interesting aspect of Fable is that the virtual world allows you an unprecedented amount of freedom, granting you the ability to choose between good and evil in virtually all decisions presented to you.

You begin the game as a young child, but will progress to adulthood as you make your way through the game. In addition to the main quest of the game (which is to discover what horrible atrocity has happened to your family), there are numerous of side quests, including the option to get married, purchase a house in a village, and even have children. Depending on whether or not your character has made good or evil choices during such quests, he or she will receive different reactions from the townsfolk and other people in the game. For example, if you are a famous hero, people will start to cheer when you enter their village. However, if you have committed plenty of evil deeds, the villagers will scream and run away when they see you.

Of course, the world of Fable is a dangerous place, and making your way between such villages will no doubt require some combat. The combat system of Fable offers you three choices - melee weapons, ranged weapons, or magic. Using a melee weapon simply requires you to choose a favorite weapon from your inventory (which will then be the default) and then press a single button on the controller to place it in your hand. Ranged weapons work the same way, except that the usage is a bit different. Once your bow is out, you can switch to a first person view and use a crosshair to align your shot. Then, you can press a button to pull the arrow back, with the length of time you hold the button determining the potency of your shot. After a few seconds, the Xbox controller will begin to vibrate, meaning the arrow will inflict maximum damage. It's also worth mentioning that the character has access to an unlimited number of arrows, so you won't have to make long trips back to town just to stock up. We didn't see a whole lot of the magic system, but it looked fairly easy to get the hang of. Some spell choices include Lightning, Teleport, and Multi-Arrow, with at least a dozen more available to the character as they progress.

While playing the demo ourselves, however, we did notice that the AI of some of the opponents could maybe use some work. For example, after running our character up to a camp of bandits, we simply used the "sniper" first person view and launched arrows at each one's head. As each bandit would fall with a large arrow protruding from their skull, the others would simply stand there, apparently unaware that their comrades were being struck down. In fact, even when we missed and an arrow whizzed past the bandit's face, he never once moved from his post. Keep in mind, though, that this was simply an E3 build, so it's tough to say if the final build of the game will work like this or not.

During his presentation, Peter Molyneux showed us how important the character's social skills are. First, playing a good-natured character, Peter sent the character up to a woman to do some flirting. Because the character was of a good alignment and was fairly famous, it didn't take long before a heart began to appear above the woman's head. The more flirting you do (using various social skills), the larger the heart grows and the more fond the woman becomes of your character. Just before the heart was full size, however, Peter had the player "break wind", which brought the heart down in size drastically. Afterwards, we were shown the same situation with an evil character sporting fiery red eyes and horns protruding from his forehead. As Peter explained, evil characters will have a tougher time flirting with women, but there are some women out there who might fall for an evil character before a good one. Since none of the women in this particular village seemed to care for an evil character, Peter instead had the player slaughter the entire village. In fact, we were told that a player can actually kill virtually everyone in the game if they want. How's that for freedom?

Fable looks to be making some great progress, and will finally be hitting store shelves later this fall. If a virtual world full of adventure and a vast amount of freedom sounds interesting to you, then Fable is definitely worth picking up when it becomes available.

X-Men Legends

For some reason, we haven't seen a whole lot of press for Activion's X-Men Legends, and it's really a shame. The game is a great idea - take an extremely successful comic book & movie series and turn it into a strategic team-based game with plenty of action and the ability to build and customize your X-Men just like a classic RPG. At all times during the game, you control four different X-Men from a pool of fifteen, many of which need to be unlocked as you make your way through the story. What is the story, you ask? Unfortunately, the team is reluctant to give up too much information, but we were guaranteed that Magneto will be involved (what is an X-Men game without Magneto?) and that a handful of the former X-Men comic book writers were involved in creating the storyline. In fact, the game will even present you with flashbacks of former X-Men comic book storylines from time to time, so fans of the series will most likely recognize such tie-ins.

As mentioned above, you will be leading a team of four different X-Men, although you'll only have direct control over one of them at a time. You can cycle between the different team members whenever you wish, and the other three will fight for themselves depending on the AI level you have customized for them (aggressive, defensive, etc). However, should you find yourself surrounded by enemies or up against a very difficult opponent, you can hit a "panic" button on your controller to call the other three X-Men to your aid automatically.

Each of the fifteen X-Men have unique abilities, such as Wolverine's innate ability to regenerate and Nightcrawler's teleportation ability. Throughout the game, you may find yourself in a predicament where certain X-Men will work better than others, and other areas can be completed multiple ways by different X-Men. To demonstrate this, we were shown how you can patch up some leaky walls by using Cyclops' lasers or Iceman's freezing ability. Or, if you need to get through a door, you might choose to tear it down with Wolverine's claws or simply teleport to the other side with Nightcrawler.

As you'd expect from a game filled with mutants armed with potent superpowers, combat gets pretty intense. During a few of the fight scenes that we were shown, the X-Men filled the screen with effects as they pummeled the enemy with several different special abilities. The game isn't just about combat, though. Each mission will have specific objectives that you must address (such as the patching of leaks mentioned above), and you'll receive experience bonuses for completing such tasks. Each of your X-Men receives a baseline amount of experience, though, so you won't find yourself needing Storm to complete a task later in the game and she's only level 1 because you never used her in previous missions. As experience is gained and levels are acquired, you'll be able to allocate points to different abilities for each of your X-Men. Even passive abilities like Wolverine's regeneration can be made more powerful by allocating points to it. As with most RPGs, though, the more powerful special abilities have pre-requisites before you can start to build them.

If you're a fan of action RPGs or team-based strategy games, then you'll definitely want to keep an eye on X-Men Legends. The game is set to ship for all three consoles later this fall.


Wish

We were extremely busy at E3 with our various appointments, and didn't get a chance to see as many MMORPGs as we would have liked. One that we did get a good look at, though, was Mutable Realms' Wish. This MMORPG is similar to others on the market in that it provides a seamless (no zone) world to explore in a fantasy setting. However, the game will take place on only one server capable of supporting 10,000+ players consecutively, which is why Mutable Realms has coined the game as the first "Ultra" MMORPG. During our demonstration, the team explained that a server communication technology called ICE is the reason why such a massive number of people can be logged in at once, and that the true number of players could hit 20,000 or more! Quite a feat, indeed.

So what will so many players do with their time in Wish? Lots. During our meeting, we were shown how players can take over a town, set up a taxing system for income, and even designate who can come and go within it. Or, if that doesn't interest you, you can pick up one of nearly 40 tradeskills such as Alchemy, which will allow you to create poisons and imbue weapons with powerful abilities. Like other online games, there is a guild system as well, so you can always join up with guildies for some exploration. And, since the game is totally skill based with no levels, there is no penalty whatsoever for grouping with friends or guild members that are much weaker than you are.

The skill system is fairly intricate, yet simple enough to comprehend almost immediately. There are several skill categories (like Weapons, Armor, and Roguish Abilities), each with their own set of skills (like Halberds, Plate Armor, and Lock Picking). Once you've taken up a skill, you will begin as an Apprentice and must physically use the skill to gain experience in it. When you hit a certain point of expertise, you must then visit a trainer to progress to the Journeyman skill level. Eventually, you'll become an Elder in that particular skill and can even take other players under your wing to get them started with the same skill. The team explained that each character can only achieve Elder proficiency with a handful of skills, so you'll want to pick and choose wisely.

Crafting is a major part of the game, since absolutely any item can be crafted - no matter how powerful. However, if you want to smith some of the most powerful swords and armor, you're going to need extremely rare materials and a recipe to teach you how to craft such an item. That way, players who want to obtain their equipment simply by making it themselves will first need to traverse the world in search of materials. Mutable Realms provided the example that players may have to slay high level monsters like the Great Wyrm to obtain the rarest materials, ensuring that dungeon delving and dragon slaying will be required to equip your character with the best.

Speaking of dungeon delving, during our demo we were shown a couple of such dungeons, one of which was an enormous underground dwarven city called Stonewatch. This area showed off the graphic engine's finest moments, with our character making his way down huge corridors with detailed stonework. The vast chambers of Stonewatch are filled with monsters to do battle with, and it was in one of these chambers that we received our first taste of combat.

Before I tell you a bit about combat, let me first explain the basics. Each character has a certain amount of endurance that determines the number of special moves they can use during combat. The more powerful the move, the more endurance needed to use it. For example, while using a Bladed Staff, a character can invoke the Fury of Slashes ability to do an impressive slashing combo against an enemy. Other more powerful moves include the Ribbon Maker, 1000 Cuts, and Horrific Slash. Although combat is turn-based, characters will continue to move around - even dodging and tossing their sword from hand to hand - while it is their opponent's turn. Although such intricacies sound small, it makes your character look engaged in the combat at all times and adds a nice level of immersion.

Wish is still in a fairly early development state, having made it through only one stage of beta testing so far. However, it's looking very good already and has a serious amount of potential for the future. The team is still tweaking the skills, grouping, and looting systems, and is diligently working on several areas of the game that we didn't even mention, such as player mounts. If all goes as planned, and the game can support as many players as the team hopes, Wish could be a serious contender in the world of MMORPGs.


Whew, I think that's just about everything. It was definitely a good year to attend E3 - the show just keeps getting bigger and better. Next year, maybe we'll even get to see games like Baldur's Gate III, Arcanum II, Fallout III, and a whole new KotOR. Hey, a guy can dream, right? =)