By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
Time to wrap up our coverage of E3 2017! But we saved a variety of truly impressive looking games for last. Whether you like hunting monstrosities in a horror filled swamp, or just blasting off bikinis with over-pressurized water cannons, part 2 of our Thursday recap should have something to wet your whistle.
For a time, we thought Hunt: Horrors of the Guilded Age was yet another extremely promising competitive online game scrapped to the wasteland of games that were too good to be true. The surprise Crytek reveal of Hunt: Showdown offers a rare second chance for such a title to shine once more, and shine it does. Even in this unpolished tech demo state, Hunt: Showdown was easily one of the most promising, original, and downright fun looking titles of the E3 experience. But what is it? Let’s break it down.
Hunt: Showdown isn’t your baby’s first arena shooter. This is the hardcore no nonsense adrenaline ride for you hardened gamers that have issues still feeling a pulse when you get into a gaming session. The basis is you, and a friend, or if you have a real masochistic nature, you by yourself, enter into a vast square kilometer of the early 90s Bayous of Louisiana alongside up to four other teams. The mission: use clues and your sixth sense Batman vision to hunt down a wild critter, seal its evil like a Japanese shrine maiden, and then haul your hard earned loot to the extraction point in one piece. The real mission: wade through a swamp filled with deranged hill billies, rabid dogs, zombies, and other Left 4 Dead rejects while not getting shot in the head by a greedy PvP focused rival team in the process.
Hunt: Showdown is all about the fear of loss and the high risk high reward gain playstyle. To instill a real sense of urgency and danger, they have introduced a permadeath system. While you do have an account bank to leave excess gear and weapons in, and some trivial experience gain can transfer over to a new character, if you get killed in a mission, get ready to reroll, losing all the gear you brought with you into the battle in the process. It makes you seriously second guess approaching an unknown enemy team for a gank with your hard earned character on the line. And with matches lasting between 30 and 60 minutes, you’re going to have to play smart and seriously coordinate with your teammate if you want to leave an area in one piece. Leaving in one piece WITH a trophy to show for it is going to be cause for serious celebration!
In the true spirit of the hunt, Hunt: Showdown has a very reactive and realistic environment. Noise exists in a 3D spectrum, and even using the in-game VOIP to communicate with your ally can draw the AI’s attention of a few nasty zombies if you’re too loud and excited. Yup.. the VOIP is involved with gameplay mechanics to essentially get you fully immersed into the action by roleplaying, right down to the whispers. Taking queues from The Walking Dead, players who know trouble is lurking nearby may be forced to take the greater risk of bringing down a zombie with a knife rather than the much safer assault rifle method to keep their sound low.
But even if you take precaution, it will take a true mastermind of a hunter to sneak through the bayou without leaving a trace. Open doors, cracked branches, ammunition on the ground, cut fences, lights left on, slain enemies, knocked over furniture, burn marks, and of course sound are all subtle indications that your opponents can potentially use to shadow you in an attempt to bring you down. Hell, if you are a bit on the crazy side, they are considering written notes and other more obvious signs you can leave behind to taunt those that have fallen behind in the hunt.
Things get hectic when you consider the victory condition and current system for activating it. A map can have one to three beasts to hunt. With five teams present, you can imagine at least one team is likely losing a member in the process of trying to bag the grand prize. After collecting clues about your target’s location, which in the case of the demo involved creating a psychic link to the monstrous spider in question to see their hiding spot through the monster’s eyes as the final clue on where to find them, players will eventually have a showdown with these beasts. There’s going to be a huge variety of beasties too, which are just as much of a danger to you as enemy players if you are caught unprepared or in a tight unfitting battle location.
Bringing these beasts down gets all the harder with the attrition of a match, as you have three fatty health bars that regenerate, but as each health bar depletes fully, it will stop regenerating. Leaving you with a much smaller maximum health regeneration each time. Bleeding, poison, and other such effects will force you to use your limited supplies wisely as well, since you can only do so a number of times before your team is out of supplies. Luckily, with permadeath looming over their heads, the devs have at least offered a saving system where a downed ally can be revived by their teammate if the two can pair up fast enough after that health bar hits zero.
Once your target beast is down, the sealing system begins. While you don’t have to stand in melee proximity of your target for the duration of the ritual, you have to stay within a relatively close range. Oh… and starting the ritual creates a giant burning hole in the map of every hunter in your match, a siren’s call beckoning those lagging behind to rush in for a showdown and come from behind kill steal. What’s more intense, is you won’t know where your extraction point is until the ritual completes, so you literally have no way of planning for your escape until the time comes. One final real challenge is that Batman vision I mentioned will make whoever is carrying the beast corpse a giant glowing target in the night, meaning stealthing your way to the extraction point is never going to be an option. Hope you didn’t waste all your limited bullet supply on zombies, because you likely have a 10 minute hike left after the beast is slain to make your escape.
Customization is planned to be a big focus, with a variety of male and soon female hunters being added to the test demo. Though there is no class system, there is an open perk tree that you will continue the unlock as you survive multiple hunts in the process. Hunters will advance from an intern level, to a grizzled veteran state, to an ultimate survival status, unlocking improved gear and more perk points in the process. This can be as game changing as dual wielding weapons, or as subtle as gaining camouflaged gear to help you further blend in as a shadow of the environment.
There’s still a lot of work in progress and testing to be done, so Hunt: Showdown has no confirmed public beta test date or launch date announced. But the dream clearly is still alive and strong at Crytek.
Spellforce 3 is one seriously complex game, but we’re going to try to sum up the points relevant from the multiplayer perspective in as few words as possible. Essentially the primary gameplay in the single player game, which transitions over into a core element of multiplayer, is the hero system. Players get to build a custom hero from scratch, choosing to distribute perks between three of six available perk trees. You can lean heavy on a single true, or go full hybrid by splitting your points equally into all three chosen trees. With your typical fantasy tropes such as melee, ranged, black magic necromancy, elementalism, etc. Your support heroes also have unique trees to set them apart from your core character, and you can even unlock the ability to earn elven and ork heroes and unites to further diversify your forces.
Gameplay will feel natural for anyone familiar with online PvP RTS battles. There’s currently 9 beautifully rendered and massive maps available, with six slots on the map for armies to begin at. You can assign teams, add AI with seven or so difficulty settings to fill extra slots, or even set up split control over an empire where say your friend manages your buildings and economy while you take full control of unit command for interesting twists on the typical team play formula. Then it’s all about gathering resources, scouting the enemy, fighting against neutral monsters and enemy players to gain experience and upgrades for your hero units, and eventually conquering the world map.
One major variation on Spellforce gameplay compared to most RTS though is the encampment system. You can only set up a base in each sector of the map. While your new bases will share the technology developed at your headquarters, they don’t share the resources. If you want to rush a forward base construction faster than simply starting them over from scratch, you will have to send a resource caravan along roadways between your bases to share resources. Resourceful enemies may intercept these caravans and swipe a segment of the dropped resources for themselves, adding a new dimension of gameplay as you’ll be forced to send a strong enough guard regiment with resources to ensure their safe arrival.
The game also offers an advanced line of sight mechanism and elevation advantages. If archers are raining arrows down upon you from up a mountain and behind a stony cliff face, if you zoom in you’ll get an idea of where the arrows are falling from, but won’t actually be able to see the units until line of sight is established. This can allow a micromanagement specialized character the opportunity to sneak a small band of troops carefully into an enemy’s base to cause havoc on those who don’t properly set up scouts and watchmen units to prevent it from occurring.
The multiplayer is merely the tip of the iceberg of the complex and insanely forward thinking package that is Spellforce 3 though. Let’s talk about the single player campaign… that ALSO offers co-op!
Akin to multiplayer, in single player you get to design your starting hero from the ground up. While we didn’t get a very close look at the exact skills on offer, or how much we’d have access to from the start at level 1, it was clear that the tools are present to make extensively different characters from your friends as you play through the game. But what’s better, as your story progresses and you unlock new allies, your friend will be able to jump into your game to play as one of your fellow heroes. There was no mention of difficulty spiking to adjust to having such a powerful ally on your side, but it’s cool seeing co-op gameplay being considered in an extensive 30-100+ hour campaign.
So what sets the campaign apart from the multiplayer online modes? Well for starters, there is story. Spellforce 3 would perhaps be better labeled as Spellforce: Origins, as the timeline takes place prior to the building of the great city from Spellforce 1. Astute old school players may even recognize key figures of lore from that game appearing throughout the story quests. Once you are sufficiently advanced into the world, you will even take part in building said city from the ground up as a sort of headquarters for your continued operations!
That said, the majority of your time will be spent on the road, following quests that take you throughout human, Ork, and Elven lands. But it’s not all about rolling up with your heroes and squashing a few goons. No Spellforce is far too complex for that. The world is rather open in how you approach it, and as the hero you can engage in lengthy dialogues with multiple outcomes, such as even allying with bandits you were sent to thwart, gaining command of their small army, and facing off against the real threat of the region. Every map is massive and hand crafted with love to constantly build a believable and coherent world for the player. It’s just as much an exploration RPG as it is an RTS.
Granted occasionally the challenges will rise far above the threat level that a few hardy adventurers can handle. This particularly epic missions will feel like the online multiplayer, as you take up command of local allied armies, build units, expand your village into a township capable of forging higher tier units. But, here’s the rather interesting part. Crushing the enemy forces isn’t the end. You can hang out on these maps as long as you want, building up their township to epic proportions, and building your reputation in the region in the process! Or you can leave them as they are… weak and defenseless. Should you have to return to the region at a later time, they might have even been wiped out by new threats, as the world constantly evolves and changes throughout, not just where you happen to be! Heck, it’s possible for smaller cities to develop into full-fledged 1,000 citizen townships. Which isn’t just a random number. We mean between the workers, soldiers, and other peasants, there will be 1,000 NPCs living there!
Your decisions throughout the story can also temporarily or more permanently align you with Orks and Elves, allowing you to utilize some of their soldiers in certain areas of the world. While again, we’re pretty in the dark about what the differences are in unit types, visually speaking they seem like night and day. It will likely add an extra layer of challenge learning how to utilize the strengths of all three racial factions to overcome the tougher late game challenges.
Another note on the sidequests. You might arrive in an area with the primary objective of escorting refuges from a warzone to somewhere safer to settle. You don’t HAVE to do that at all. You can leave them to their own devices and wonder off seeking your own adventure. You might even run into a group planning an ambush and talk them out of the fight before it happens. Or discover secret boss monsters and other mysteries. Of course just because you don’t have to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Your decisions, successes, and failures, will have ripple effects later on in the story that you might not expect.
Also on the note of your decisions, your allies will be watching how you act and may be more or less inclined to follow you as a result. Those that truly align with your choices may even unlock special abilities capable of unleashing their true power! Nice little surprises to find for those that play the game blind without a guide… people still do that these days right? Right?!
Thankfully THQ Nordic was nice enough to share a few multiplayer beta codes with us so you can expect plenty more coverage of Spellforce leading up to launch later this year!
Senran Kagura: Peach Splash
One thing is certain about Senran Kagura. These developers are not afraid to experiment widely from their successes in the past. While primarily a third person action fighting game, they have done offshoot mobile RPGs, a cooking/rhythm game, a sidescrolling bullet hell, and now with Peach Splash, a TPS – Third Person Splasher.
Following the successes of Paladins and Overwatch, Senran Kagura is throwing their hat into the ring for a 5v5 arena shooter in which the largest character roster yet will do battle for school supremacy over summer itself. Each school will feature an extensive campaign, with it all totaling up to a longer campaign storyline than even Estival Versus. As you’d expect, each girl will level up from fighting these battles against AI controlled rival schools as well as the nameless minions that plagued Estival Versus, making hard mode a slog of unreal punishment. But with the name of the game being water guns, the way you fight has changed drastically.
With all the girls starting in their Yin Burst Mode (Senran Kagura’s fancy way of saying bra and panties), there is no longer a health management system to worry about. You only get one health bar this time, so make it count! As your health drops, you’ll begin to experience some wardrobe malfunctions warning that you are nearly defeated. To fight back, you have to manage your water meter.
Your water tanks act as both your ammunition meter as well as your boost meter. You need water to boost into the air for double jump action, or rapidly move to get behind cover and avoid line of fire. You can boost while shooting, sure, but you will find your tanks on empty in no time at all. Once your tanks are empty, you have to stop and refill. This makes you more vulnerable for taking damage, as well as makes you must slower for the duration, so time your refills carefully and don’t get caught in the middle of a warzone with empty tanks!
Experience works very differently in Peach Splash compared to its prequel. Completing missions will unlock card packs ala the cards you collect in Paladins. Cards unlock various boosters and abilities to strengthen and customize characters. There’s 800 in all, so good luck collecting the full set from randomized card packs. However, the bright side about getting duplicate cards is that is how the experience system works in the game. Meaning the more overall cards you’ve collected, the faster you’ll be able to level up characters! Plus you will have the choice of a variety of water gun twisted versions of all the popular shooter staples to round out your roster, each with their own quirky positives and negatives. I personally was a huge fan of the water balloon grenade launcher as landing that giant splash is just so satisfying. The standard assault rifle was great for learning the mechanics though as it didn’t chug water tanks down quite so quickly.
The one downside to this new system though is it kind of takes the originality of the girls away. In Estival Versus, one of the biggest selling points was that there was such a massive roster, and each girl brought their own fighting style and ultimate moves to the table to set them apart. Now every girl is just what you build them as, as while sure you still have tons of visual customization options you can purchase in the shop, their fighting style is basically a blank slate. I hope they can figure out some middle ground between now and launch to maintain some sort of unique trait to set each girl apart at least a little bit.
It’s also clear that Peach Splash is meant as a casual relaxed take on the shooter genre. There’s no complex aiming system as a guided aim helps you lock onto and follow targets. There’s also no body hit registration so your well placed head-shots aren’t any more valuable than tickling an enemy’s toes. But if that stuff isn’t important to you, you are probably the target audience for the killer fatality offerings in Peach Splash. Once you down an enemy to zero HP, you can gain a small boost by getting into melee range, and point blank blasting a girl’s top off as she screams in indignant horror at what you’ve done. I won’t lie. It’s a satisfying moment.
With online team play being the primary focus of this title, it will certainly be exciting to see how well received the next edition of Senran Kagura really is.
That sums up our written coverage of this year’s E3 2017! Be sure to catch our Total Recap video though to get a quick highlight of all our coverage in one convenient spot!