First Impressions: Elf on Elf RPG action never looked so good
There has never been a shortage of choices in the fantasy gaming genre. From the early days of Ultima to the most recent World of Warcraft expansion, fans have been able to stalk dungeons alone or in groups, solve text puzzles, and plan massive battles involving elves, elephants, and everything in between. So the guys at 10tacle Studios have got a long row to hoe if they hope to make a lasting impression with their Q2 2007 addition to the sword and sorcery catalog Elveon. With Unreal Engine 3, an innovative 3rd person combat system and a backstory that makes the The Silmarillion look shallow?not to mention a track record of games like GTR, GTR 2, and GT Legends?they might just have enough of that Elven magic on their side to pull it off.
The first thing Elveon brings to the table is lore, and lots of it. Designers at 10tacle reportedly spent two years fleshing out Elveon's original mythologies and histories. The game takes place in Naon, a world populated by four races of Elves, each with its own culture, religion, weapon skills and magic abilities. These are Elves at the height of their power, long before the end of magic and the coming of Man faced by the Elves in that other fantasy universe. All is not wine and roses, however, as relations between the four races have crumbled, leaving only conflict and distrust. The ancient gods that once viewed the Elves as favorites and descendants have all but abandoned the material plane. The Dragons, original source of strife in the universe and at one time held in check by the gods, are again allowed to sow turmoil in the world. The great Elvish city N?mathar and the heart of its magical power, the tower Starspear, have been lost and passed into legend. Some believe they never existed, while others look to them as a path to a brighter future for Naon. Some believe that with the arrival of the right hero, with the arrival of a champion, N?mithar can be restored, its magic recovered and the Elves reunited as in times long gone.
Storytelling, then, is a priority for Elveon, and the designers at 10tacle have gone to extremes to flesh out the world and draw the players in. For instance, they have even reportedly wrote a complete Elvish language to be used in the game. It's unclear, though, how this will be used in-game, since video released so far features an Elf speaking in plain old English. Everything?from architectural design to armor style?is molded to evoke the Elvish mythology so important here. The developers have also come up with an innovative means of involving the player in the story that promises multiple paths leading to multiple outcomes. And they have also come up with a way to get players involved in the ancient history behind the game. Rather than force the player to watch traditional, non-interactive cutscenes, Elveon allows the players to take part in flashbacks that flesh out the stories of the ancient gods. It sounds like this will add up to a Pulp-Fiction style non-linear tale that interlaces the historic moments with the events of the present.
Likewise, the game will offer plenty of character variation and customization. The player begins with a blank slate character from one of the four Elvish races, each race with its own fighting style, religion, and history. From then on, the players develop their characters along individual lines, adding weapons and armor and making him?the characters revealed so far have only been male?unique. The game promises to offer about a hundred weapons in four classes (dagger, spear, bow and sword) and dozens of armor types. Player characters will be able to learn weapons skills from other characters, including learning the fighting styles of other Elvish races. Characters will also have patrons that will influence their development. All of this looks like it will lead to an integration of story and gameplay, where the mythology and culture will be much more than a mere backdrop for the action.
Speaking of action, the developers have put just as much detail into the Elveon combat system as they have into the mythology, with motion capture of martial arts experts and detailed modeling of weapons physics. What that means is that attacking and defending will be much more specific than in past games. In order to block an attack, players will have to time and aim their parry in order to put it in the path of the incoming weapon. And if it a fight takes place in a cramped space, it won't be possible to swing a sword in a wide arc without hitting the wall. Players will also have to be conscious of their characters' stamina during a fight: spamming an opponent with a flurry of random blows in hopes of an opening only leads to fatigue and vulnerability.
And like everything else in the game, the look of the combat fairly screams ?cinematic.? The third-person camera allows for dramatic perspectives, and the devs promise an AI for the camera that will add to the look. Videos released so far add weight to the action through intelligent use of slow motion, for instance at the moment of a critical hit. The videos also seem to use motion blur and depth of field effects for a more movie-like feel. Depth of field is the result of a limitation of camera lenses (and the human eye) which allows sharpest focus only at a single distance at any one time. Items in front of and behind that plane will appear out of focus to some degree. Put in to artistic practice, it allows designers to emphasize a particular element in a scene. Older games generally present sharp focus at all distances, a look which some might call unreal or even cartoonish.
Discussions of the gameplay at this point emphasize on the epic single-player campaign, which makes sense considering how important the mythology and story seem to be. It looks like the player will attack this quest solo, without the aid of a traditional RPG party. Mention has been made, however of on-line PvP tournament play. The developers are also considering a larger-scale possibility for on-line play which will allow for battles on a grander scale, but no firm details have been released at this point.