Final Preview: This Fleece is fancier than your standard Gap version.
It's not uncommon for a wedding to be marred by some minor tragedy. Someone forgets to bring the bouquet, someone else breaks a heel, etc, etc. Mine was in an unairconditioned church in the middle of a nice, warm July, and at one point I looked down to see my tie streaked with drips of sweat. It's generally stuff you can look back on years later for a laugh or two. No so with the wedding of my ancient Greek hero namesake, Jason, in the upcoming Rise of the Argonauts from Liquid Entertainment and Codemasters. On his wedding day, before Alceme, his bride to be, can even say, ?I do,? she's sent into the afterlife by a sniper's arrow. It's the opening scene of the game, and sets the pace for the action to come, first as King Jason goes after the sniper and any and all in league with him, and then as the Greek hero embarks on a quest to find the Golden Fleece, an artifact that holds the power to revive his betrothed.
Aficionados of Greek mythology may have noticed a few changes there, since Liquid Entertainment is playing it fast and loose with the source material, using it as a general framework for the hybrid RPG-action fighting game with what looks to be a pretty compelling storyline. You play as Jason, established king and skilled warrior, as he travels from one Greek island to the next in search of clues that will lead him to the Fleece. Since you're filling the shoes of an existing hero, there doesn't look like there will be any character building at the start, but the rest is designed so that you customize and define Jason's character along the way by upgrading armor, weapons and skills by winning favor with one of four Greek gods.
The favor system is a prime innovation of Rise of the Argonauts, and it winds its way through just about every element of the game. It all starts with the deeds system, which replaces the usual experience point system found in most role-playing games. As Jason accomplishes various tasks, he amasses a battery of deeds that he can then dedicate to one of the gods. Deeds run a wide gamut of possibilities, ranging from standard mission objectives (?Drive the Ionians from Jason's Palace?), to specific actions (?Enlist Medea in your crew? or ?Win a duel with Xeno?), and including items that sound more like Xbox achievements (?Kill 35 soldiers? or ?Make 5 Hermes-aligned decisions?). Once Jason has built up a selection of deeds, he can approach a god's shrine to dedicate them in exchange for skills.
The game will offer four skill trees, one each for the gods Apollo, Ares, Athena and Hermes, and the skills in each tree match the personality of the god. For instance, Ares is the god of war, so skills in his tree emphasize power in combat. He offers the Shield Breaker skill to give Jason the ability to do damage to an opponent's shield in combat. The Rampage skill, which gives a temporary power boost, is also in the Ares tree. Meanwhile, the Hermes tree emphasizes the god's agility and cunning by including a combined sword attack and dodge skill called the Serpent's Fang. Compassionate Apollo offers the Indomitable Will skill, which increases Jason's ability to block enemy attacks. And Athena's superior tactical ability means that her skill tree includes the Intervention skill, which is a power block that can stun the enemy. Numbers aren't generally a good indicator of a game's depth (they're too susceptible to manipulation by the PR team), but each god's tree in Rise of the Argonauts offers twenty-five skills for your customization pleasure.
The gods are designed to be a part of Jason's life throughout the game, from the skills trees to the weapons he wields, right down to the things he says in conversations. First, each god favors a particular weapon. Ares favors the mace, which in its upgraded forms can first stun, then knock down and eventually knock back opponents. Hermes and Athena are tied to the sword and spear, respectively. And Apollo favors the shield, which in skilled hands also becomes a weapon when Jason uses its edge to slash at his enemies. Conversations are likewise influenced by the gods' favor. When Jason enters into a conversation, the player must choose to align his words with one of the four gods in order to not only earn favor with that god, but to also determine what Jason says. For example, if Jason says an Ares-oriented line, his words will be more direct and aggressive. It's an interesting feature intended to make the gods presence felt throughout the game.
And in another interesting, potentially controversial choice, Liquid Entertainment has chosen to eliminate the HUD from Rise of the Argonauts. That means no health bars, no mini-map, no inventory screens. The idea is to give the player all that information directly in the gameplay. So if Jason's health is low, the player will see the wounds on his body. And if the player upgrades Jason's mace, the weapon will look more powerful, rather than just listing a few stats. If Jason hits an enemy with the mace for a lot of damage, the enemy will react accordingly. All of the gameplay information will be conveyed on-screen to keep the player immersed in the game rather than plowing through menus and inventories. Even control over the ?squad? of Argonauts occurs in the game without the need for a game-slowing control mechanic.
Finally, the real-time combat system in Rise of the Argonauts will feel more like a fighting game than a traditional RPG. This means faster-paced combat with combos and finishing moves. And since there aren't any health bars, players can get killing blows on an enemy at any time if he drops his guard. If the guy lowers his shield and you're able to sneak in a slash to his throat, chances are you've just won the fight with a single sword stroke. One of the boss battles has Jason fighting against a giant, re-imagined Medusa, with massive eels in place of the traditional snakes. The hero king has to dodge the huge beasts while trying to work in a fatal shot. The eels are intertwined with the thick columns and building that supports Medusa's slimy, fishy bulk, and they move lithely around the area in an impressive display of the animators' skills.