We recently learned that Perfect World Entertainment bought Cryptic Studios, the maker of Champions Online and Star Trek Online. While it was a surprise, it shouldn't have been. PWE has been successfully growing and publishing games for a long time. I caught up with PWE at E3 to take a look at three brand-new titles that will be coming out later this year. I approached the decked-out booth cautiously just in case the company had plans to buy me as well!
I was ushered into a dark cave-like structure built just for showing off three new titles. I shook hands, made introductions, placed faces with names that I normally knew only through email or social media, and sat down in front of a screen with a glowing image of a man in a bear suit -- a bear suit with giant claws. It reminded me of Frank from Donnie Darko.
The PR team started to give me the details of the new titles I was about to play, and then I turned around and logged in. Join me past the cut to hear what I thought!
The first title I got to play was Rusty Hearts. I have no idea what the name refers to, but I can tell you that the dramatic artwork and gloomy setting are a possible source. If you have played side-scrolling action games like Dragonica or GhostXand think they will prepare you for Rusty Hearts, forget it. Rusty Hearts is in the same vein as Castlevania, Devil May Cry and other harsher Anime styles. If there were one way to describe the look of the game, it would be detailed. Players will have a lot of choices when it comes to customization, thanks in part to cool costumes and additional gear.
The game will feature fully 3-D town areas where players can trade, group up, and socialize. While you're in these areas, the camera can be panned and zoomed just as in any other normal MMO. Once you're in an instanced dungeon or combat area, however, the camera is locked into side-scroller mode. Don't let that fool you, though; the game looks incredible. As I have said before, Anime is not generally my favorite art style, but there are a lot of different styles of Anime, from realistic goth to cartoony sillyness. Rusty Hearts comes off as intense, fresh, and razor-sharp. The combat was fluid and intuitive, and controls were based on the keyboard, with full control-pad support. As I played, a pad kept vibrating next to me, reacting to the hits I was taking.
I think Rusty Hearts might very well have excited me the most out of almost everything I saw at the convention. Yes, it felt like other games at times, and occasionally it looked like other worlds we have seen before, but it ties everything together with a very clear and unique vision. Combat is simple enough for anyone to get into, but the combo system and different encounters will leave a lot of room for strategy. Each dungeon will offer four difficulty levels, and PvP will be fully realized with Guild Battles, arenas, and tournament systems and other options.
I had an interesting discussion with Executive Producer Jonathan Belliss about how to categorize Rusty Hearts and how the term "MMORPG" has slowly morphed over the years. While I could understand the concern for calling a game like Rusty Hearts an MMO in the classic sense, it does have persistence, multiplayer interaction, and full communication. If fact, it's every bit an MMO as any game that features social areas along with instanced action. It would be hard to find an MMO that does not use some sort of phasing, instancing, or channel variation nowadays. To be honest, PWE loves to set trends. I have a feeling the company wants to forge a new way to describe MMORPGs.
Next up we took a look at Blacklight Retribution, a new first-person shooter brought to us by Zombie Studios. There have been a lot of free-to-play FPS games out there, but this one truly stands out by offering amazing graphics (powered by DirectX 11 and the Unreal 3 engine), intense weapon customization, powerful suits of armor called hardsuits, and several tactical goodies like a temporary, special vision that allows players to see to each other across the map. By hitting the V key, I was able to see the other squad of players heading toward me. Of course, they could do the same to me, which gave the game a real intensity. The special vision even showed random weak points on the hardsuits, spots that were vulnerable but small.
The map we played on was claustrophobic and urban, so hiding out and running for cover was critical. True, Blacklight is not an MMO, but it is worth mentioning for the fact that Perfect World Entertainment has published such a good-looking title while offering it for absolutely nothing. There was no word on how the cash shop might work, so I look forward to seeing how it is implemented. After a few short matches and declaring my team the winner (I actually did pretty well!), we were allowed to move on to the next game.
Ah, RaiderZ. I've read about this title for a while but was not quite sure what to expect. I am a huge fan of action games like Vindictus, and I truly love approaching massive monsters in the hopes of knocking them silly, but no game has really offered that experience in a massive open world. Well, RaiderZ is doing just that, in a pretty spectacular way.
One of the most exciting features of the game is found in the character creation. No gender-locks, no classes. If you want to make a tank, go for it. If you want to specialize in healing or DPS, you can do it. If you want to mix them all, it's possible. It's also simple. As you gain experience and levels, you can put points into any of the skill trees; instead of selecting from only a few choices, you can choose from whatever you like. It was simple, to the point, and exciting. Frankly, I was surprised to see such wide-open character creation in this game.
Once you have your character made, you can form a group and hunt down massive monsters in the open world. It's a beautiful world, too, utilizing the Unreal 3 engine and NVIDIA PhysX. As my group went through a basic battle with two bosses, items would drop from the monster -- pieces of gear or weapons -- and I was able to pick them up and fight with them. Sometimes a random item would break off from the mob, and I would receive a buff from grabbing it. The idea is to stay on your toes because if you don't, the monster will simply smash you to pieces. We fought one particular baddie who had a crystal embedded in his chest. If we hit the crystal, he felt it. Otherwise, we barely did any damage.
It was actually pretty tough for us to get to the crystal without being slung around like ragdolls, but eventually we broke the crystal and used the pieces as projectiles. After that boss, we faced a massive dragon who would swoop down and knock us over or spew fire. He gave off subtle signs before he would release his attacks, so I attempted to dodge by hitting the shift key and a directional button. After a while of stabbing and pounding, one of the players in the group broke off the dragon's horn and stabbed him repeatedly with it. It was epic, to say the least.
After seeing what Perfect World Entertainment is offering with these three titles, I can say that the company has pushed its level of quality several notches higher. It's not that the current PWE titles are not well-made or beautiful; it's that a game like Rusty Hearts or RaiderZ adds additional variety and even more of the AAA MMORPG quality that the company is becoming known for. All games are tied to one account, as well, which keeps it very convenient. Cash-shop purchases are carried accross the same account and use the same basic monetary unit. Social tools like the Core Connect program can add extra in-game functionality, as well. A player could easily spend all of her time, and possibly money, in the PWE portal.
With its recent acquisition of Cryptic Studios, PWE just might find itself running the world of gaming soon. As long as it keeps me entertained with games like Rusty Hearts, I'll be fine with that.
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!