E3 2004: The RPGs

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.