E3 2004: The RPGs

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? =)