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GamesCom ’10 Report: Day 1

I woke today with a sense of purpose. Actually, I woke with a hangover, immediately threw aside the silk sheets of my luxurious accommodation and knocked over several half-empty champagne bottles on my way to the marbled bathroom. But it was there I found my sense of purpose!

GamesCom! Games! Shitloads of them! I’ll be posting full-bodied previews next week, but for now here’s my roundup of what I saw today.

Dragon Age 2
That noise you hear is me sucking air through my teeth. When I heard Dragon Age’s combat was becoming more action-oriented with the addition of a Mass Effect style third person camera and direct control (but retaining the option of ordering and equipping your party), I was all for it. I love Mass Effect’s combat, and figured that Bioware could do something amazing with Dragon Age’s gory, visceral fighting.

I was disappointed. Turns out it plays more like Fable, with that anime-style animation where your weapons is raised high above your shoulder in one frame, and then in the next it’s at the end of the blow, with a glowing light indicating where it passed through. More than that, 3rd person melee combat with no block or dodge button feels deeply wrong to me. As a warrior, you run up to enemies and hammer the attack button, popping off special abilities as and when they’re ready. I guess you could play an archer, or a mage. But still. Air through teeth.

Sword of the Stars 2: Lords of Winter
The subtitle refers to the yet-to-be-revealed new race, apparently. Changes from the original all seem highly positive. There’s a shift to more capital ship-focused combat, a more detailed simulation of the galaxy and an interesting-sounding option to divide up your empire of stars into provinces, providing a bonus to trade and moral but giving your enemy exciting targets in the form of provincial capitals. So, it sounds like a nerdy strategy game is getting even nerdier. Ace!

Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade
Paradox Interactive’s Total War-alike RTS is working the formula on a smaller scale. Your units can be equipped, level up, progress through skill trees, and you get to control heroes who carry around relics. You can also decide from several battle plans for each fight, and every so often scripted events force difficult decisions.

It makes me wonder if Total War’s problem is that it’s just... too big, too ‘total’. A Total War game on the same scale as the Braveheart game, that’s what I’d like to see. Mourning when a village burns.

Torchlight 2
Yes! Morechlight, more like. By which I mean it’s more of the same, thoroughly reshuffled. The three original classes are replaced by four new, more unorthodox ones (so far they’ve announced ‘Railman’ and ‘Wanderer’), all the areas are new, and the cat and the dog are probably gone, too.

I had an interview with a guy from Runic, but the convention’s rumbling bass rendered the recording incomprehensible. In summary, he said that he didn’t feel like they were competing with Diablo, that he didn’t resent Blizzard spending forty years on Diablo 3 when Runic turned out the original Torchlight in 11 months, he put forward a very convincing argument as to why Torchlight 2 was still called Torchlight despite half of it being set outdoors, and he admitted his own dungeoneering experience ended at finding an old WW2 coastal defence bunker but not going in.

Speaking of Torchlight-

This was one of the surprises of today. I hadn’t heard of Magicka before, but it’s a Swedish-developed four player co-op game where you all go blasting your way through monsters in a top-down, Diablo style.

It looks just awesome. You all play tiny mages, but there’s no mana and no concrete spells. Instead you just charge up elements (of which there are eight) and let them loose, with different combinations causing different effects, and then choose whether to apply it to yourself, the area around you, your sword or as a projectile.

So, just earth might throw a boulder. Earth plus water would throw mud. Another player could then throw ice or electricity at your moistened enemies. Meanwhile, another player could combine arcane and healing to create a healing beam, except OH NO because that beam touches another player’s plain arcane damage-dealing beam, and since arcane and healing are opposed elements this causes a huge explosion that kills half the team. Cue hurried resurrections.

This game was made for RPS. I can’t wait.

Portal 2
I only saw the trailer that’s currently doing the rounds on the internet, but figured I’d stick my oar in. Doesn’t it look good? Isn’t it clever how they’re rejuvenating the portal puzzling by adding all these elements you learn to manipulate with portals, like the propulsion and repulsion gel? Ooh. Ooooh. Be gentle, Valve.

For lunch I had four grösfurters, a jar of pickled fleshy things that might have been vegetables at one stage of their troubled lives and three tankards of sweating pilsner. I like Germany.

Might & Magic: Heroes VI
No, it’s not Heroes of Might & Magic IV anymore, because Ubisoft consider Might & Magic a universe now. Will our lives ever be the same again? I don’t know. We must keep living our lives, that’s for certain. Minute by difficult minute.

The big development here is that the developers have played the King’s Bounty games and so are adding boss battles and dynamic fields of battle to the series. There’s also a new, more mature art style (thereby differentiating them from King’s Bounty) and clever rethinks to the strategic map including forts which prevent your enemies from holding things like mines in their area of influence. You can also now (brace yourself) change cities from whatever faction they belong to to your own, which takes gold and several turns. So, a Necromancer player who’s dominating will be able to create centres for undead recruitment all over the place.

End of Nations
They say it’s the first MMO RTS! Is it? Probably not. Michael Legg, President of Petroglyph also said during the presentation that the most players any RTS has ever supported in co-op battle against the AI is two, which is total untruth.

End of Nations does look interesting though. It was a ways in to the presentation that I figured out what Petroglyph and Trion are actually doing. Basically, it’s an MMO in that your army (your character) is constantly developing all the time. After ever battle you get scrap metal and machine parts, which can be used to make new vehicles or modify existing ones, or you can auction it off. There’s also stuff to do with picking a faction to fight for each season, and if your faction win (over the course of two weeks to two months, they say) then you get extra loot.

What keeps powerful vehicles from dominating new players is that each battle has a point limit. So, the most a high-level player can do is showing off by bringing in one 500 point tank instead of 20 smaller ones.

It also supports properly ludicrous battles, with tens of players on each side. And massive tanks! MASSIVE tanks.

Rift Planes of Telera
This looked like a very competent MMO.

This didn’t. There’s cheesecake art, and then there’s a piece of tiramisu with a similarly sized wedge of stilton on top. I stopped playing when I found out I could make a knight, fully clad in armour but with her bare ass poking out.

...now I’m writing it down, I realise that sounds amazing. I’ll go back tomorrow and play more.

From Dust
Another surprise! Ubisoft’s From Dust is a curious looking God game that’s all about sculpting terrain. It’s up to you to take care of a tribe of tiny people by picking up fat globs of the environment (water, sand, lava, fertile soil and so on) and plopping them down elsewhere. The demo we saw had a developer creating a safe path from one of the tribeswomen to run off and fondle a water stone, thereby allowing the village to keep a huge tsunami at bay.

It’ll be coming out on Steam at a cut price, so don’t expect some blockbuster AAA release. But it does look curious, and the developer let slip it’ll also feature animals. Animals!

Vainglory of Nations
Overwhelmingly in-depth colonial-era strategy, from Paradox. I'd write more but I blacked out when the developer showed me a 20mb Excel file with (no joke) 80,000 sets of stats for the various units and leaders in the game. I have no memory of anything else.

Lord of the Rings Online
I had an appointment to see what’s in store for LotRO, but I was late for my appointment and the nice German girls at reception didn’t know where the PR lady was :(

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Quintin Smith avatar

Quintin Smith

Former Staff Writer

Quinns was one of the first writers to join Rock Paper Shotgun after its founding in 2007, and he stayed with the site until 2011 (though he carried on writing freelance articles well beyond that). These days, you can find him talking about tabletop board games over on Shut Up And Sit Down, or doing proper grown-up journalism with the folks at People Make Games.