Archives for posts with tag: Microsoft Studios

Drew and Thuban
Since its unveiling at E3 2014, gamers have wondered just what kind of game Platinum’s Xbox One exclusive would be. Until recently, all we had to go on was a pretty-but-cryptic CGI announcement trailer that did little to describe the kind of things we’d be doing in-game. At Gamescom last week, we finally got our answer.

If people had been expecting a character action game, perhaps they were a touch disappointed. But if there’s one thing you can say about Platinum’s output, it’s that they don’t much like repeating themselves, so it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to discover that, with Scalebound, the Osaka-based team are treading fairly virgin soil.

In a six-minute demo at Microsoft’s Gamescom press conference, we got to see Hideki Kamiya’s new action RPG, starring some guy and a massive dragon. That guy, Drew, has somehow been transplanted to a fantasy world that bears more than a passing resemblance to Avatar‘s Pandora – all floating islands and cascading waterfalls – and finds himself bonded to an enormous dragon called Thuban. Perhaps as a consequence of this, he also has a scaly, claw-tipped arm.

The world Drew finds himself in, Draconis, is sustained by an energy source called The Pulse. Much like its inspiration, it pervades and links all living things, though hopefully there will be no sign of any midichlorians. It’s this force (sorry) that links Drew and his dragon, the last of its kind in Draconis, and one cannot survive without the other; should Thuban fall in battle, so will Drew. Thus, the player will often find themselves playing as much of a support role as an offensive one, backing up his draconic buddy with heals while Thuban goes claw-to-claw with enormous monsters, like the Gamescom demo’s titanic mantis.

This is still a Platinum game though, and there’ll still be plenty of hacking and slashing for Drew to take part in. In the first combat encounter against a group of plate-mail-armoured knights, you’d be forgiven for being reminded of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XV, except there’s an angry dragon beside you instead of three impeccably-coiffed bros. Combat looks to be somewhat pared back compared to the usual Platinum extravaganzas, but it still looks tight and responsive, if not massively flashy and over the top. Drew flashes into combat with wide, arcing sword swipes, stopping to defend himself with his shield, and while there is no crafting mechanic in Scalebound, there are other weapons to be found, such as a bow, a spear, and an enormous greatsword that would make Cloud Strife blush. As well as standard blades and bows, you’ll also be able to find weapons with innate elemental properties, which should further extend Drew’s utility against Draconis’ oversized menagerie. Using his scaled dragon arm, Drew can also tether himself to larger enemies, clambering aboard them to deal large amounts of damage, and maybe even sever a gigantic limb in the process. And if he feels like he’s not quite pulling his weight in battle next to Thuban, Drew can also draw upon that Pulse energy to clad himself in thick, scaled armour, dialling up his speed and damage output in the process.

Thuban will act independently for the most part, though the player can direct his attention to certain enemies and structures that might be in need of some attention from a big stompy dragon. Thuban can also be heavily personalised, from armour, horns and offensive tail-blades to the elemental effect of his breath; need to hit some ungodly, building-sized nightmare creature with a frigid blast of ice, rather than the more traditional flaming dragon-breath? No problem, you can make that happen. But in order to build up Thuban, you’ll need to gather gems from defeated enemies. These gems are only available if you land the killing blow as Drew, so while you could easily rely on Thuban to wipe out fodder enemies in one hit rather than wade into battle yourself, you’ll miss out on an opportunity to develop your dragon. Platinum really wants you to strike a fine balance between the pair, and they really want you to feel a connection to your own, personalised vision of Thuban. “The more you invest in that dragon and in your relationship with that dragon, the more that dragon becomes yours,” says Creative Director JP Kellams.

And what of the world of Draconis itself? Media have been quick to call Scalebound an open-world RPG, but it’s not a term that Platinum themselves are using, preferring to call the game ‘non-linear’, while also promising that the game-world will be vast – it’s going to have to be to accommodate Thuban and some of the larger creatures we’ve seen. While the team won’t be drawn on the openness of the game’s world, they are promising many different villages and towns across Draconis, each with their own personal look. In one of their ‘First’ articles, IGN were treated to views of a “village that stretches off into the distance.” Hopefully, if the world is big enough, we’ll be able to fly Thuban between these outposts of civilisation.

The same article states that Drew and Thuban will have to gain new skills in order to fully traverse and explore Draconis, which perhaps brings to mind a gear- or skill-gated progression system; could Scalebound be a post-Okami Kamiya taking another crack at the Zelda formula, perhaps? From the sounds of it, rather than levelling up, Drew will gain skill points based on his actions and his performance: ““If you heal your dragon, or execute other supportive role-type actions, you’ll be able to earn skill points, ” Kamiya explains. “By motivating the player to participate in actions and behaviours that are meaningful, it will… help you progress further”. Drew can also extend his earning potential by chaining kills together, adding a bonus onto the skill points he has already gained: “If you’re successful at consecutively defeating the enemies, the longer that chain will last,” says Kamiya.

scalebound

But if all this focus on skill points, gems and customisation gives you cause to worry about the action side of things, fear not; Platinum aren’t about to let their hard-earned reputation slide. “Even though I know we’ve been emphasising that this is an action RPG, because I need to get that message across – I hope you agree that we know how to make action games,” Kamiya told IGN. “We know how the responsiveness of a move is what really differentiates our games from other action games. That’s what’s so special about our games, whether it’s Bayonetta or my previous title Devil May Cry. So one thing that’s not going to change is that how great it feels when Drew is in battle. You’re not going to feel like it’s worse than what we’ve done before. The sort of intuitiveness and the response to the action that Drew is taking? That will remain at the quality that’s always defined our action games.”

Yes, my limited edition copy of Halo 4 has just arrived, and I can just about contain my excitement long enough to post a few pics!

The image above shows everything that comes out of the snugly-packed box when you open it: the game, encased in a sober white and grey steelbook; a plastic-backed booklet about the UNSC Infinity; a Spartan IV armour schematic belonging to one ‘Gabriel Thorne’; two small, thin packages, foil-packed. Presumably for freshness?

The smart-looking grey box is (very) snugly surrounded by a black piece of cardboard that’s a little difficult to remove without feeling like you might damage it. The grey box inside is kept closed with a nice magnetic flap, which has a nice metal clip on the edge. This bears a number – perhaps this is a truly numbered limited edition? It’s an attractive collectors piece, for sure, though I still lament the lack of a proper Legendary edition – I’m one of those mental people that has both the Halo 3 and Reach Legendary editions weighing down my shelf.

On the back, we have the usual plot synopsis, an outline of Infinity multiplayer, and a list of all the extra goodies that come with the LE.

Inside the steelbook case are two discs. As far as I’m aware, disc 2 is an install disc, with disc 1 being the authentication/play disc. I’ll find out shortly – as soon as this is up I’ll be sliding the shiny circles of goodness into my 360 and getting stuck in.

I haven’t taken any shots of the contents of the foil pouches, but I can tell you that the silver one contained a mission briefing card (apparently for the first Spartan Ops mission), while the red, resealable pouch contained all your digital goodies, such as the limited extended edition of the excellent Forward Unto Dawn.

I’m going to leave you with one final image, as I’m so eager to get stuck in that I’m just about ready to explode with excitement. So, while I go and wake the Chief, here’s that Spartan armour schematic I mentioned earlier.

If I can tear myself away later, I might share some initial thoughts on the campaign. But that’s a big ‘if’.

 

UPDATE
Ok, I’m part-way through the second mission and just wanted to share some thoughts. First off, the game is stunning to look at. If it’s not the best looking game on the 360, it’s certainly among them. Lighting in particular is excellent, as are the particle effects that are strewn throughout the first campaign mission. The sense of scale is also incredible – this is the best opening to a Halo game that there has ever been. There are also CG cutscenes here and there, for the first time in a mainline Halo title (Halo Wars also had some excellent CG scenes), and they are utterly amazing. Among the best I’ve ever seen, certainly the best I’ve ever seen in a game.

Secondly, it absolutely plays like Halo. It feels like Halo. It is Halo, it’s as simple as that. 343 nailed it. The curve of grenades feels just right (which was a worry for me after trying the game at Eurogamer Expo – their trajectory seemed a little flat). Everything works as you’d expect, everything handles as you’d expect – I’ve so far had a chance to ride both a Warthog and Ghost, and they both handle exactly as you’d want them to.

The sound has also had a major upgrade. It’s hard to really get a sense of how powerful everything sounds from videos on the web, but sound in this game is among the best I’ve ever heard. The Battle Rifle sounds absolutely beastly, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the DMR. The music, too, is absolutely top notch – different, but also perfectly suited to the landscapes that are unfurling on your screen.

One final comment I want to make is of scale. A couple of reviews have claimed that Halo’s trademark open combat areas have been dialled back in order to crank up the graphics. I haven’t seen anything to back that up yet. Sure, the first mission on the Dawn is claustrophobic and tight (until the end of the mission, which I’d hate to spoil), but hey, you’re on a starship. Think back to the first level of the original Halo – it was all corridors. The second mission is massive, as big as anything from Halo 3 or Reach so far, and one part set in a valley is big enough for a series of battles rather than just one. It’s huge.

It’s safe to say that so far I’m massively, massively impressed. I can’t emphasise how well 343 have captured the essence of Halo while also putting their own big budget stamp on it. Everything I’ve seen so far points toward a wildly accomplished debut outing for the studio, and if it carries on like this, it’ll easily be my game of the year.