GDC 2012 Day 2: Game of Thrones Online
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
One of the more surprising visits in my time at GDC came from my visit to Big Point’s booth. Now I won’t pretend to be some major Game of Thrones fan or expert so let’s put that out there right from the start. In my eyes all I saw going into Big Point’s demo was a fantasy browser title cashing in on a major HBO IP that is also a relatively popular novel. And like most veteran gamers, the term fantasy browser MMO leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Nonetheless I agreed to the meeting and went into the back room of their booth with notebook in hand to see what they had to tell me. Ten minutes later my mind was blown at just how far they’ve pushed the Unity Engine to create this monumental game.
The biggest selling point from an unbiased observer is the sandbox elements Game of Thrones Online brings to the table. You have player controlled castles that can be fitted to have siege engines, oil drums, and all kinds of fancy things set up inside to show the grandeur of your house. These houses also provided unique resources vital for setting up specific defenses for your properties. But maintaining said grandeur comes at a heavy price. Let’s break this down from the start.
Players will start out with no real stake in the political dealings that dictate all major factions in the Game of Thrones Online. Instead you just choose some basic customization options like hair, hair color, skin color, facial hair, and family lineage and get thrown into the north, south, or western part of a medieval setting best described as Sopranos meets the Roman Empire. So begins your long journey to reach level 100 in a classless system.
You read that right. It wouldn’t be a proper sandbox with classes now would it? Players can choose to specialize in a number of skills including ranged, melee, and commander type actions totaling in 20 skills at launch. You will have to know your skill set by heart as combat in this game is incredibly action oriented for a browser game. Players will be able to strike their foes with low, medium, and high swings as defending players will have the option to defend these strikes with little to no ping issues involved!
Once you get your feet wet in the system you’ll learn of the death of King Robert and the ensuing chaos as various political factions attempt to assume his throne. The major three houses, Baratheon, Stark, and Lannister have an oligopoly on power in the region and if you want to become anybody in this world it’s in your best interest to form and join a lesser house that is allied to one of these three great powers. Each house offers varying buffs to their allied lesser factions and will be your primary vehicle for what really matters in Game of Thrones Online… the pvp.
PvP in Game of Thrones Online occurs in three major ways. The first is by wandering into the territory owned by a rival faction. In doing so any players allied with the faction will be able to attack you on sight with no penalties so expect a constant battle so long as you reside in their lands. The second route is through official arena battles consisting of 5v5. Players will be able to go in as a group or solo queue to fight alongside randoms, and individual elo ratings will be rewarded to keep matches as even as possible. The third and most meaningful PvP though is fought over the control of castles, forts, and keeps.
When I first heard this I expected some kind of watered down series of mini-games deciding the outcome of battle. But much like the show, Game of Thrones Online is full of unexpected twists. They’ve actually managed to implement full-on massive siege instances in real time that will include as many as 100 players going at it at once with siege weaponry and capture points. The idea here is that controlling a castle gives you a lot of power in the political system to collect taxes and hoard resources vital for dominating in PvP. Those ruling a lesser house that claims one of the game’s 8 castles may even rise to the level of Hand of the King through a voting system. But like all good things in life, claiming one of these castles is no easy feat.
Outside of the 8 castles are 16 forts and numerous keeps that stands as the first lines of defense for ruling parties. Lesser houses seeking to conquer a castle must first engage in many 20 versus 20 siege battles over keeps to gain a foot hold to launch an assault on a fort. Fort battles are on a much larger scale and will allow up to 30v30 player battles. Beyond this is the grand daddy of them all, the castle siege. Castles can be equipped with boiling oil vats, NPC guards, and tons of other traps and goodies to keep unwanted guests out. In order to claim a castle the invading party must break through the outer walls and seize control of a number of control points within the castle.
As I mentioned earlier, the castles offer rare resources vital to setting up the best defenses. Having the right resources to properly defend your castle will be vital to political success so I imagine quite a bit of trading between castle lords will occur so the rich can stay in power indefinitely. However a king without trustworthy vassals is nothing at all. Players will need to find ways to cement the loyalty of the rest of their lesser house factions to stay in power. This is because the penalties for switching your house’s loyalty to one of the other two major houses are extremely low. Thankfully lesser houses can’t vie for control of a castle until leveling up their guild quite a bit through various guild questing endeavors so not everyone will be in a position to make a claim for a castle. Still I would expect to see plenty of bribery and scheming going on as alliances rise and fall in true sandbox fashion.
So beyond the political and pvp systems you might be wondering what else this game did to catch me so off guard. For one it has an awesome dynamic weather system in-game that provides for low, medium, and dense amounts of fog, clouds, rain, sleet, and snow to fall as players adventure through the realm of Westeros. Mounts will also reside in-game and be one of the primary routes that players can customize themselves to stand out in a crowd. Big Point was pleased to point out that authentic sounds and music used directly on the show would be present in-game to help build immersion. Also as the game expands they plan to include as many as 9 total major houses with unique buffs belong to each to add just a touch more of chaos to this political sandbox.
We’ve got a bit of a wait before the Game arrives, but you can expect to get into game sometime this fall. I’ve seen some interesting browser games in the past, but if Game of Thrones delivers on its promises this could be a turning point in the way we all look at the fantasy browser genre as a whole.