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Friday, August 29, 2014

PAX Day 1: Battlecry, Dragon Age Inquisition, and Evolve

I look forward to PAX. I know it's had some difficulties in the past with its founders saying some things they really* shouldn't have on several occasions, but at this point I am willing to warily entertain the idea that the convention and its founders have become different entities.Whether that is true or not, I look forward to PAX because I get to spend it with my best friends so I set aside my reservations for time with friends.

This we are attending for the first two days, and the majority of my time today (day 1) was spent on the expo floor hunting swag and watching games.

Maybe I am strange, but I don't really have an interest in waiting in lines for an hour or more to get 10-20 minutes playing a game. I would rather stand behind the developers and watch while listening to the staff tell me about it and answer my questions. So I parked myself near exhibits and watched the gameplay footage. Today I got a chance to watch three games in particular; Battlecry, Dragon Age Inquisition, and Evolve. Below I've included some thoughts on each.


Battlecry sounds interesting on paper, but in truth it did not look all that great on the screen. It's a third person, team-based, World War 1 themed, shooter/fighter. Kind of like if Team Fortress 2 stepped 50-60 years backwards and switched to mostly melee combat. The various classes wield impossible and impractical weapons (such as a giant sword that unfolds into a shield or rapid-fire crossbows) and in the demo the game was a variation of a three-point domination mode.

The game has an odd identity though because it is incredibly bloody and seems to delight in throwing red everywhere, yet at the same time seems to want to capitalize on the same sort of morbid humor TF2 does. The problem is Battlecry takes it one step further and it ended up just making me feel a little uncomfortable. When media outlets berate games for "sanitizing" violence this is a game they could easily make their poster child. I couldn't get good pictures, but suffice to say it is bloody in a way that seems stuck between being cartoonish and graphic.

Though the aesthetics didn't sit right with me I did find one thing I really liked in their handling of the three-point control game. In most games you have three static points that the factions fight over. What often results is that one team gets two points and is thus encouraged to play very defensively to hold them. This can become frustrating for an attacker because it is often easier to defend than attack. Battlecry addresses this by granting each control point a finite number of score points that it can provide. The longer the point is controlled the more score it provides but when it reaches its max the point disappears and a new one appears somewhere else on the map shortly thereafter. This means that both sides have to play both defensively and offensively to win because while your team may take control of all three points they won't be assured a win simply by continuing to hold those three. Even in my brief viewing of this variation I noticed it made each team more aggressive and less inclined to camp points so I do hope other games borrow this mechanic.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Really all I saw of this was multiplayer, but that part did pique my interest. After the unanticipated success of Mass Effect 3's multiplayer it seems natural that Bioware would want to test the waters with other IPs, though in variations of course. In DAI the multiplayer is essentially a 4 person dungeon crawl where the party progresses through five areas that get steadily more difficult. It looked very hack-and-slash, so I am concerned that the repeated areas might get grindy after a while so here is to hoping that the dungeons are semi-random (or the zones are chosen at random? I don't know).

Watching the multiplayer did allude to some story elements though because apparently the multiplayer is essentially the Inquisitor's allies going on "side quests." The main enemies appeared to be Templars (they were wearing the getup) but there were TONS of red glowing crystals around that looked very similar to the red lyrium Meredith infused her weapon with in Dragon Age 2. In addition, there were enemies that appeared to be humans with those red crystals growing out of them. So if I had to guess I would surmise that the Templars (or a faction thereof) somehow get corrupted by this red lyrium and the Inquisitor has to deal with them.


I'll be honest, when I first heard about this game I completely ignored it due to a general "big publisher big hype" bias. That said, I was rather impressed by the gameplay I saw at PAX. For those that don't know, Evolve is kind of like Left 4 Dead meets Aliens. It's a 4 v 1 PvP game where the 4 players are "hunters" that come from four different classes and the last player is a giant alien monster of some type. In the footage I saw the monster was a 20 foot tall beast that could throw boulders and breath fire. Meanwhile the hunters come in four classes and to be honest I could not really tell them apart besides the Medic (healy stuff!) and Assault (big ass gun).

For the monster the main goal was to destroy a power relay, while the hunters are trying to kill the monster. I think the monster can also win by killing the players but that I am not sure of. I was actually impressed by how good the game looked and how interesting the concept became when I saw it played out on a screen. The game definitely needs some polish in the UI and hit detection department though; the monster's body occludes it's aiming reticle for several of its attacks and I often saw it's attacks miss hunters that appeared to be well within the animation. The monster's movement also seemed a little awkward at times.

So that is all I have for now, more tomorrow as I discuss my thoughts on the panels I attended and some other games I came across; such as the FIFTY BILLION MOBAs featured at PAX.

*really really really really REALLY

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