Early Access: Core Blaze Part 2
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-In-Chief
Another day is coming to an end and its time to get deeper into the Unreal world of Core Blaze. In yesterday's article I offered a teaser of some of the challenges waiting players in Core Blaze as well as touched on the classless character weapon combination system. It's now time to give a detailed look into the deep control system and character progression.
A Delicate Dance of Skill, Item Slots, and Stamina
Core Blaze is all about forcing players to think on their feet and utilize all their options simultaneously to overcome dreadful bosses. This involves a toggle of skills on one side of the controller and a toggle of items on the other side. Out of all of the console controller tie ins I have experienced in MMOs, this felt the most well thought out.
Console Controller Control Scheme:
One joystick to control your character, one joystick to rotate the camera, the R2 button to dodge/roll/defend, the R1 and L1 buttons to open your skill or item menu and then hot buttons with A, B, X and Y to quickly choose items and skills out of your list, B acting as jump and A acting as an activation function skill, and X and Y acting as basic auto attacks. X and Y may also be combined to use more powerful auto attacks or in unison with jump and controller movement to unleash a variety of auto attack patterns.
By preassigning your skills to A, B, X or Y in three scrollable sets players can quickly use the console controller to scroll through up to 12 skills in rapid fire succession. The same was true for the item menu, although I have some complaints with this system that I will discuss later.
Combat in Core Blaze happens so fast that players must be able to set their control scheme to muscle memory in order to utilize their attacks and combo them effectively. While you can mindlessly hack a lone monster to death, their tendency to group up makes standard 'beat-em-up' combat the fastest way to get yourself killed in this game (aside from tripping off a ledge like our showgirl did at one point). Try defending yourself against a hoard of zombies encircling you with your one-handed shield and tell me how well it works out!
So what is an MMO gamer to do when three-fourths of the classes are melee based? Utilize weaponized items. These come in the form of flash grenades, concussive grenades, mines, torches, grappling hooks, and a ton of other items I wasn't privy to experience in our short time with the game.
Flash grenades and concussive grenades offer melee characters a way to safely get into melee combat while their enemies by confusing them from a distance with explosive ranged items. Mines are ideal for archers to set traps against foes that are difficult to stun. Torches can be used to not only set enemies on fire but also set the environment on fire, burning your enemies to a crisp in the process. For example, Liang Qu the blue tiger from the Core Blaze trailer creates a shield of spiked ice around him continually that makes engaging with him head on suicide. However, a well placed flash grenade to his face can stun and blind him long enough to allow your melee team to run in and puncture a few well placed holes in his stomach.
This game feels more akin to a game of chess than checkers though as all of your actions are not only limited by the speed you can deliver them, but also the spirit bar and stamina bar. The spirit bar acts as your base stamina system, with every skill requiring a large amount of spirit to cast. The stamina bar represents your character's ability to engage in continuous combat, with it draining after each skill, auto attack, and item used, and only regening while out of combat with your foes. This made tanking quite an interesting occupation in this game because shielding was only an option for so long while holding the boss' agro. But dropping your guard can be near fatal, forcing you to rely on your team to draw the boss' attention before you reach the limits of your stamina and THEN rushing back and spamming through your stamina before the boss finishes crushing your teammates.
Weather and Time
Outside of the pure ecstasy of combat lies a dynamic world map filled with dozens of cities, and surprising events around every turn. While many MMOs claim this, they unfortunately eventually become dull due to players creating wikis, mapping out all the 'surprises,' and quantifying everything into mathematical predictable formulas and schedules. What a drag MMO players are!
RedGate Studios loves the initial feeling players get when stepping into a new game so much that they put great effort into preventing players from feeling this lull of 'been there and done that.' To do this they first started by using their amazing graphics engine to produce day and night, as well as various weather conditions. While day and night may be predictable, the weather is randomized to keep players on their toes.
While the graphical changes of these two factors might be aesthetic, they certainly aren't enough to keep players intrigued beyond the first few times you encounter them. As such they took it a step further and made it so monsters would differ between day and night, and some monsters would only appear in the rain, while others might only appear on a rainy night. Now compound this with a detailed time system, and the developers can make a world boss that appears at 3am on an unnaturally windy morning! Then consider that they can constantly change the requirements of when these monsters appear, or even add special public quests events that might trigger in these time frames and weather conditions, changing each week and constantly throwing players off.
World Exploration and Crafting
The system in place for Core Blaze opens a whole new level of evolution into the MMO world. No longer will players be able to set their watches and predict their gaming environment around them. A portion of crafting may even be involved in finding rare treasure chests that spawn randomly around the map due to given circumstances.
Yet another twist comes about with Core Blaze's unique way of blocking players from having access to the entire world from the beginning. Certain tools, such as the hook shot, make it so players can access new levels of the world previously blocked to them. This system is by far a superior system than most MMOs that arbitrarily set portals with level requirements to limit players. Now you will actually see players hook their way across a large gap or up a cliff face and wonder 'wow, I can't wait to find out what's up that hill.' While the hook shot was the only item of this mentioned at the meeting, they promises there were tons more exploration based items to be unlocked within the game.
Get outside of your cave! You haven't seen anything yet.
In terms of crafting, I have to step a little outside the bounds of what was told to us at Gamania's Show. I feel that this speculation is justified by putting 2 and 2 together. They told us that crafting of weapons, armor, and healing as well as active weaponized items is all possible in the game. They also told us that exploration is limited and that rare resources can be found on the world map. Then they told us that monsters can be damaged in unique ways based on certain attacks, such as chipping teeth off of the tiger Liang Qu with a well placed sword attack to his mouth (which in turn makes him rage and go into berserk mode).
It makes sense then that crafting in this game will involve not only exploration of the map and boss battles, but having the skill to inflict damage in certain ways to certain bosses (that may only spawn during the night on a rainy day on weekends) to collect all the requirements for crafting the ultimate weapon. How great a throwback would it be to older games to see players crafting rare armors that not only are their rivals too poor to craft, but might not even have the skill/knowledge to acquire the mats for these items. As I said, this is a bit of speculation, but with a game where the limits of known MMOs are being pushed, I think I'm allowed to dream.
The last bit of news I can share about Core Blaze is that it uses an atypical progression system that throws levels out the window in exchange for combat experience, achievements, and weapon experience. By clearing dungeons and fighting battles, you character will level up, but Producer Jacky Chu emphasized that this was not a flat statistical level up so much as a symbol of your experience to other players. True statistical improvements come from acquiring better weapons and better equipment. Your skills can improve and allow you to unlock new skills from fighting multiple battles with your weapon of choice.
This type of system is not unique to the MMO world, but it certainly reserved to a select few pioneers of the industry such as DarkFall Online. However just like the team behind Langrisser Schwarz, Core Blaze assured us that they wouldn't be rewarding players for doing the mundane like running their head into a wall to build endurance. As such limitations are placed on both skill and equipment types you can wear based on an achievement system.
Jacky Chu described the achievement system as a type of martial arts belt ranking for your character. There are various types of martial arts one can study, and being good at one doesn't necessarily guarantee you are a master of a different form. However without these belts a player may find themselves too weak to equip a larger bow, or too clumsy to unleash a high flying aerial technique. This forces players to seek out all the challenges of the world and accomplish them one by one to unlock the full potential of their character.
Now as much fun as it is to hype this game, my write-up wouldn't be complete without pointing out the flaws. The game isn't released in North America yet.. such a huge flaw! Besides this, the control scheme is a bit awkward in its current implementation. I disliked having to place my supportive and healing items on the same three tiered menu set as my attack items. This game is far too fast paced to give you time to scroll through a set of hp and mp potions to activate a grenade and then aim the grenade at the enemy. I need a faster way to utilize these items! It's also quite annoying that you pretty much lose all menu interface when getting smacked around by a monster because it's impossible to move and scroll through your items effectively at the same time.
This can easily be resolved by either making a separate button (perhaps select) that opens a menu dedicated to offensive items, or even by allowing you to add your favorite offensive items to your skill menu. Vice-versa, some defensive skills would feel more at home next to my healing potions. There was no mention of customization of these menus at the press event and I certainly hope they make it in for the game's full release because this was a serious flaw holding back my full enjoyment of the action combat.
Although I wish I could tell more about the game, I've more than exhausted the lengths of my current knowledge. The North American press was persistent enough to get the development team to hint at a hardcore PvP system as well as organized GvG and castle raids, but that was all they were willing to share. After seeing all the games present at the Gamania Show I feel that the wait for 2012 has just became longer than ever. And OnRPG will do our part to continue taunting you with great games to make it worse in the near future.