Sept 5, 2007
Though traditional tabletop games have been losing ground to videogames for years, the hot new thing at this year's GenCon Indy appeared to be mash-ups that merged the best of both worlds to create the gaming equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster - though more friendly and less likely to lug away your girlfriend. Along with these hybrid creations, the usual MMO suspects were out in force along with a few other intriguing stragglers that we discovered.
Legends of Norath
The first of these, Legends of Norath (PC) is the recently announced digital Collectible Card Game (CCG) from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) that’s primarily playable from within EverQuest 1 or 2. According to SOE developers, it’s a sort of “Norathian Chess” that adventurers might enjoy in between questing while catching a frosty brew in a pub.
Conversely, players can challenge each other from between servers, between the two EQs (the original or its sequel), or even via external non-EQ play. Legends features a slick playmat interface, impressive art, and complex gameplay that involves items, spells, combat between avatars or units, and quest cards. But we felt that Legends of Norath’s most intriguing aspect was the potential to win or discover “Loot” cards useable by your EQ characters.
Though it also taps into collectible card concepts, PC-based PoxNora (by Octopi, Inc.), is an entirely different beast, combining online-only, turn-based fantasy tactical battles with randomly acquired creatures and upgrades called "runes" to form impressive armies that wage war across a wide variety of terrain and human foes. Your champions gain experience, can be traded (with purchase of the full game), and can also be developed uniquely via skill paths so that no two armies’ compositions are ever the same.
In most turn-based strategy titles, gameplay is somewhat rigid but that’s not the case with PoxNora, where you can encounter a variety of cause and effect situations - for example, if a lake blocks your path, you might cast an ice spell so your troops can cross the frozen waters - but your enemy might then, in turn, cast a fire-based maelstrom to melt the ice and drown your units. All this mayhem is captured via aesthetically pleasing cartoon graphics that are surprisingly good for an independently created title. Octopi, Inc. has remained firmly committed to the ongoing development of the game as well as the support of its growing player-base with a brand-new expansion set to release in the next few weeks and more on the way.
The Lamborghini of the games we test-drove at GenCon was of course, Blizzard’s forthcoming RTS mega-sequel, StarCraft 2 (PC). We spent some time in a quick skirmish match vs. the CPU with Blizzard’s Associate Community Manager, Kevin Yu, and came away as impressed as we expected to be and then some. Though StarCraft 2 isn’t shying away from its roots, by any means, the shiny new paint job really makes it feel like fresh, uncharted territory - we suppose that’s what happens when you combine amazing shadow and lighting tricks, combined with whiz-bang particle effects and Blizzard’s trademark colorful art style.
They’re also hoping to provide more personality and distinct strategic roles for every single unit all guided by their overarching mantra, “Integrating everything with fun.” StarCraft 2 will offer both DX9 and DX10 support to cover both low-end and high-end gamers and Blizzard is committed to streamlining and improving everything that made the first game so fantastic. It's also hard at work on an improved, more in-depth single-player campaign in addition to the game’s primary draw: the infamous multiplayer.
A few interesting multiplayer improvements include the ability to salvage your own buildings, to lower specific buildings in real-time to grant your troops easier passage around your base, and the ability to queue multiple build and movement orders. We’re not drooling too much, just yet, because knowing Blizzard’s "released when it’s done" policy, our mouths would be bone dry long before we get to play StarCraft 2.