Gen Con 2007
Gen Con 2007 is in full swing and there's been a decent amount of PC games on display at the show. After the jump you'll find my impressions on Crysis, Neverwinter Night 2: Mask of the Betrayer, Warhammer Online and Starcraft 2. We'll be putting together a larger, separate preview for The Witcher. It's looking really, really good!
I spent at least 30 minutes with each game, let's get to the impressions!
EA and Dell squat off to the side of the Gen Con floor, trying to bring a little E3 flavor to Gencon by blasting techno music and making the environment as non-conducive to gaming as possible. The same playable demo for Crysis that graced E3 was playable here, showing off the opening of the game and the first 30 minutes of play – more if you took care to knock over every ramshackle hut on the map.
I was struck by just how much this feels like the original Far Cry, even though the graphics are far beyond what we saw three years ago. Even after all the glowing praise heaped on the game engine, it wasn't immediately apparent to me exactly what makes Crysis so special. But I figured it out. It's not just that everything looks sharp and highly detailed, it's all the extra effects combined with incredibly dense and interactive foliage that make Crysis stand out. My personal "˜holy crap' moment was watching the flashlight diffuse through the branches, combined with the motion blur used to good effect while the enemy hunted for me. It sounds superficial, but I think a lot of publications are over-emphasizing the "awesome graphics" and not doing the atmosphere that leverages these graphics justice. All of these effects are useless – nothing more than tech demo - if they don't enhance the player's experience after the initial "oooh shiny" has passed.
The bad guys actually seemed pretty smart, running away when charged and concentrating fire when you keep your distance. It was fun combining superhuman howers - super speed, strength and cloaking - to hunt down them down, which is important because without the powers, we're looking at just a prettier looking Far Cry. I'm not prepared to crown the game as FPS homecoming queen just yet; we're going to have to wait and see just how well it holds up later in the game.
Not much to say here, believe it or not. I played the single player demo level, and here's the news flash: it's a very pretty Starcraft. This is good! The level of zoom seems to be about the same as the original Starcraft: Brood War at 800 X 600. Not so good! It's hard to imaging fans being disappointed by the way the game plays. I was watching people flow through their turns at the demo kiosks like old pros without missing a beat, so Blizzard is obviously focused on making sure it's an experience consistent with the insanely popular original. The game is already looking and playing very smoothly. I can't wait to see where they take it over the next year.
If it wasn't for Mythic's pedigree, I could easily see writing this game off as a WoW clone at first glance. They have adopted aspects of Blizzard's massive hit, but Warhammer Online is doing a few things to differentiate itself in a saturated market. The large group quests and realm control seem to be Dark Age of Camelot 2.0. Mythic's lead animator, who was kind enough to walk me through the available content, really feels that what they did so well in DAoC with large-scale PVP is vastly underrepresented by the genre. We fired up an instance that had 4-on-4 matches with either side fighting for control over three capture points. The nice thing about this is if your side wins, you gain more control influence over the entire zone, giving your side (Order, Chaos, etc.) benefits in the game. Like I said, DAoC 2.0 anyone?
Then there are the Realm vs. Realm areas, which aren't instanced at all. The main zone area where you do the usual questing and exploring has an area demarcated as RvR, meaning there are large group quests and objectives that all factions are vying for in the area, and you can be killed by other players. It's fun, and more importantly, Mythic is taking steps to make sure these more open RvR areas are filled with level-appropriate players. Walking into a low-level RvR area with a high level character brought up a warning, and when I attacked an NPC my character was turned into a chicken. How many flavors of Awesome is that?
Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of The Betrayer
Listen, forget about the higher levels, new races, spells and blah blah blah. The new strategic camera is GREAT. The camera pulls way out. Way out. So you can select all your party members at once, pause the game, give orders and do all that fun stuff we did with Baldur's Gate. It looks really nice and plays great in this mode. Big Zoom NWN2 almost feels like a completely different game. They will be patching the new mode into Neverwinter Nights 2, likely before the expansion is even out. With a tweaked and improved game engine, more work done on improving enemy behaviors and an actual ending, the expansion is shaping up to be 20 or 30 hours of great new content for fans of the original.
- Shawn Andrich (with whiny kibitzing by Rabbit)