E3 2003: The RPGs

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This year's E3 had much to offer for RPG enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I was on a limited schedule, so I was only able to see a handful of the more popular massive multiplayer and single player role-playing games. On the top of my "must-see" list were BioWare's Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis, Troika's Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Here's a recap of what I saw:

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Luckily, BioWare was gracious enough to give me a private showing of both Star Wars: KotOR and Shadows of Undrentide. The first half of the presentation was of KotOR, which is being developed for both the Xbox and PC. For those of you who haven't been following this game, it is an RPG set in the Star Wars universe, 4000 years before the popular movies. The game is completely based on Wizards of the Coast's D20 system, which makes character creation and advancement very similar to previous BioWare RPGs.

Baldur's Gate fans will be happy to learn that you will be able (and are encouraged) to assemble a group of NPCs and form a party to adventure with. There are nine NPCs in all, but you can only have a maximum of three characters (including the protaganist) at any time in the game. Fortunately, any NPCs that you decide to leave behind will station themselves in the Ebon Hawk, your personal ship that you travel the galaxy with. The NPCs provide a wide array of different skills & feats, so you may find yourself returning to the Ebon Hawk to try different combinations of characters for specific obstacles or battles in the game. In addition, every NPC has his or her (or its!) unique quest to embark on, so you'll want to try different party configurations if you want to experience every aspect of the game.

In addition to interacting with the various NPCs, you will also be able to alter and upgrade your equipment within the Ebon Hawk. For example, your character can insert different crystals into their lightsaber, which can provide new colors to the blade and/or upgrade the stats of the weapon. BioWare assured me that the lightsaber crystals will be vital to the game and that the most powerful crystals can only be obtained from difficult battles or quests. One other option available to you within the Ebon Hawk is a turret battle simulation. Because some battles will be fought from the seat of the Ebon Hawk's turret, you will want to utilize the simulation to learn how best to defend against incoming enemies.

Controlling the Ebon Hawk's turret is not the only mini-game available in Star Wars: KotOR. There are three mini-games in all, including turret defense, swoop racing, and a card game similar to Blackjack called Pazzak. Swoop racing will be available at more than one planet during your travels, and typically involves controlling your swoop bike through a series of obstacles while making sure to land on acceleration ramps. Each ramp will send your bike increasingly faster through the course, so missing even one ramp will hurt your overall time. For example, in the course I was shown, the protaganist had to beat a 27 second record in the race, which made the acceleration ramps very important.

The choices you make throughout the game determine how far your character will shift towards the Light or Dark side of the Force. For example, during dialogue you may be presented with the option to use the "Choke" Force Power on the individual in order to coerce more information out of him or her. Obviously, choosing this type of action will undoubtedly move your character further towards the Dark side. BioWare has always paid attention to detail, and this aspect of the game is no different. Depending on where your character is on the Dark/Light spectrum, their appearance will change. A protaganist that has committed one too many dastardly deeds will find themselves covered in hideous tattoos and their upper body menacingly hunched over.