PAX Prime 2012: Hands-on with Phantasy Star Online 2

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PAX Prime 2012: Hands-on with Phantasy Star Online 2
Someone's compensating.
I'm sure I'm not the only one around here who has fond memories of sitting in front of a Sega Dreamcast (a moment of silence, please), hacking-and-slashing my way through the original Phantasy Star Online, and I'm also sure that I'm not the only one who's positively giddy for Sega's upcoming Phantasy Star Online 2. So of course, when I found out I'd be able to get my hands on the game at PAX, I was pretty ecstatic.

But nostalgia can only go so far, and I'll admit I was somewhat nervous as I stepped up to the demo station. Would this new iteration in the PSO series live up to my rose-tinted memories of the title? I stepped into the boots of a Human Hunter to find out for myself.

Let me preface this by saying that my demo included only an adventure section of the game, so I won't be able to comment on character creation or any of the other details that I'm sure players are dying to hear about. What I did get to experience, however, was a healthy dose of combat with a four-player party, and I'll be honest: I'm a man of simple pleasures, and as long as I get to stab the blazes out of something, I'm pretty content. As I mentioned, I filled the role of my party's Hunter, which is a melee class with the capability to soak up damage and dish it out in equal measure. I was given the choice of three weapons: stupidly oversized sword, gunslash (it's exactly what it sounds like), and the wired lance. What the devil is a wired lance? Again, it's exactly what it says on the tin: a pair of blades tethered by a wire. Think Blades of Chaos from God of War.

I played my demo with an Xbox 360 controller, and it handles as if the game were designed around it (and maybe it was). The combat is very action-focused, and I have no problem comparing it to the aforementioned God of War or perhaps TERA. The X and Y buttons unleashed my normal and special weapon attacks, respectively, while the trigger buttons were used to dodge and cast hotbar abilities (which are selected using the controller's d-pad). The controls are tight and responsive, and that's very important because high reaction speed is necessary to succeed in some of the more difficult fights.

Wait, that doesn't look like a bea-- OH GOD MY ARMS.
The adventure area began by pitting my party and me against a few trash mobs (damn you obnoxious rappies), and I decided to test out the wired lance. Oh. My. God. There is an indescribable amount of joy derived from latching to a rappy using the blades, then retracting the wires, slingshotting yourself into that stupid yellow penguin and dropkicking it in its stupid face. The wired lances could also be used to pull an enemy to me, Scorpion-style, at which point I could sling it into the ground, dealing additional damage to any other enemies who happen to be caught in the rappy-flail's trajectory. The little buggers aren't particularly difficult to take down, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't incredibly satisfying to do so. Each weapon's animations convey a real sense of power; when you slam your stupidly oversized sword into the ground, you can almost feel the ground shake as it cleaves the earth (and whatever else happened to be in its way). You might recall that I had great things to say about TERA's combat system back in the day, but PSO2 actually does it one better. There's a huge emphasis on mobility, and you better get very, very friendly with your dodge button if you don't want to eat dirt.

Rappies are fun and all, but the real challenge came with the first boss of the zone, a mob known as a rockbear, though to me it resembled a gargantuan ape hewn from solid stone. And rockbears, apparently, do not mess around. It had a number of large AoE attacks that required precision timing to avoid, and one wrong move meant being on the receiving end of a knuckle sandwich, only the knuckle is about the size of your head. Unlike many games that allow you to simply run in, zerg the everloving daylights out of whatever poor soul you're attacking, and walk away virtually unscathed, PSO2 demands that you calculate your moves and keep your reflexes sharp. One of my favorite abilities with the stupidly oversized sword involved jumping into the air (oh, by the way, previous PSO players, you can jump now; rejoice!), then somersaulting repeatedly like a human buzzsaw while striking with my sword with each rotation. Fancy, to be sure, but once you're in the middle of the animation, you can't break out.

There were more than a few occasions when I got overconfident, jumped in for my buzzsaw attack, and was promptly and contemptuously swatted away like a marginally annoying insect. Eventually I learned my lesson and began attacking more conservatively, ensuring that I was always ready to dodge at a moment's notice, and before long, the rockbear collapsed under the weight of my party's awesomeness/stupidly oversized swords.

Phantasy Star Online 2's Vol Dragon
The rockbear, to our surprise, had been guarding the entrance to a cavern inside of which we met our next and final challenge of the demo: a fearsome vol dragon. PSO2's action influence was quite evident during this fight, as the vol dragon has a number of weak points (one on his tail, one on his back, and one on his head) that players must continuously assault if they expect to bring the massive reptile down. That's the thing, though: He's huge and incredibly mobile in spite of his size, so his weak points can be difficult to reach, especially for melee classes such as my poor Hunter. The tail was the easiest target, though, so I whipped out my stupidly oversized sword and got to work. Eventually, the large crystal formation on his tail shattered, revealing soft, tender dragon-flesh and immobilizing him momentarily. The party took this opportunity to focus attacks on his second weak point: the horn on his nose. Apparently Mr. Dragon didn't take too kindly to this, as he immediately burrowed into the ground, only to emerge with a fresh coat of armor composed of white-hot magma. Meanwhile, smaller mobs flooded the room, leaving my party of four to deal with innumerable small annoyances and one very large, very angry dragon.

Eventually, through our keen reflexes, sharp wits, and liberal use of the tried-and-true tactic of "run the hell away and heal," we brought the draconian giant to his knees. And unfortunately, that's where the demo ended. Frankly, I probably could have played for at least another hour or three. PSO2 may not be bringing anything strictly unique to the table, but it certainly is bringing a fast-paced, action-packed combat system that players of hack-and-slash titles such as God of War will find very much to their liking. I'm interested to see what kind of non-combat features the game brings, but until then, I'm satisfied knowing that soon I will have yet another MMO to scratch my action-craving itch.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
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