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GenCon preview roundup

The Witcher
The Witcher (PC), developed by Polish developers CD Projekt and published by Atari, has the most interesting and fully-fleshed storyline of all the games we saw at GC. Based off the Polish fantasy novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski - you've heard of it, right? - the Witchers are a supernaturally-powered band of monster hunters. Geralt, one of their members, has been killed but somehow restored to life in order to defend the Witcher stronghold from outside assault by arcane-knowledge seekers.

The game uses a heavily modified version of BioWare’s "Aurora" RPG engine to present a third-person action RPG with amazing combat animations (there were over 200 motion-captured sword combat animations used in the game’s development and provided by genuine medieval sword masters) and graphic effects, including dynamic weather and mood-enhancing shadows. In fact the entire color palette is perfectly matched to the grim-faced protagonist and his home, the gritty Northern Kingdoms.

When we zoomed in, the game offered a heavy action feel but when viewed from a higher perspective, and factoring in the nifty skill development system, it felt much more like a RPG. The timing-based combat also promises to provide a more exciting gameplay experience than the usual button-mashing Diablo-style RPGs. After hands-on time with this intriguing RPG/Action title, we’re convinced it has the potential to be a sleeper hit when it releases this fall.

Eye of Judgement
Certainly the most creative of all the games we examined at GenCon had to be Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCEA) forthcoming Eye of Judgement (PS3), developed for use with the brand new EyeToy add-on. At its heart, Eye of Judgement is a collectible card game where player’s units work together to capture five out of nine squares on a battle mat.  However, the catch is that your cards are brought to glorious 3D life by the PS3’s EyeToy in order to slug it out.

Unfortunately words don’t quite do the experience justice but rest assured what little we saw left us mesmerized. You can literally hold your unit in your hand and move it around under the watchful gaze of the EyeToy. Eye of Judgement will make full use of the PlayStation Network and comes from a strong pedigree, having been jointly created by both Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast - you may remember the latter from a little game called “Magic: The Gathering." Ironically, this bizarre melding of technology and tabletop game may represent the first truly innovative experience in the next-gen console market.



Above: The Witcher

Pirates of the Burning Seas
Finally, in the category of “Why didn’t someone think of this before,” comes the heavily anticipated MMORPG about life as a scurvy sea-dog: Pirates of the Burning Seas (PC) by Flying Labs Software. We spent some time chatting with both Troy Hewitt (Director of Community Relations) and Lindsay Krassin (Lead Animator) about what sets PotBS apart from other MMOs.

The main impetus with Pirates is that you’ll genuinely feel like your actions are having an impact on the world around you. Plunder too many gold doubloons from Spanish Treasure Fleets and suddenly those Spanish ports aren’t so friendly to your or your ship full of scallywags, not to mention the effect it may have on the rich Caribbean economy.

As Hewitt more eloquently puts it, “Your story interweaves between national dialogues within the area in dramatic ways.” Depth won’t be an issue at launch as Pirates of the Burning Seas offers 64 different ship types to own and tons of distinct character development features (ala City of Heroes) when crafting your own perfect version of “Jack Sparrow."

Ship-to-Ship combat isn’t glossed over either with plenty o’ ways to pound your name into an opposing ship’s wooden sides and three specifically unique up-close and personal sword-fighting styles available to player characters: Rapier Fencing, Dirty-fighting, or Florentine fighting. Pirates, currently in a late beta, is now feature and content complete as it sails towards a final release and we have our cutlasses and hand-hooks eagerly poised to swashbuckle the Spanish main! Awk! Pieces of eight! Awk!

Other interesting games at the Con that we just didn’t have time to examine in-depth but which looked good nonetheless included Age of Conan (shaping up nicely), Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer  (PC) (looks to be a fully-featured expansion pack), and the new System Lords expansion for the Stargate Online CCG (PC) by SOE, which adds a new villain-related mechanic and 292 new cards. With our electronic pillaging complete, we stagger away under a heavy load of awesome videogaming info - eager to play all these amazing games and wondering what next year’s GenCon will bring gamers.

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