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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - The Technomancer, The White March and Kingdom Come

RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - The Technomancer, The White March and Kingdom Come

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Tue 18 August 2015, 14:04:49

Tags: Adam Brennecke; Gamescom 2015; Josh Sawyer; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Obsidian Entertainment; Paradox Interactive; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March; Spiders; The Technomancer; Warhorse Studios

Going to Gamescom has been an honored Codex tradition ever since the heady days of 2013, when JarlFrank and Grunker (alas, I knew him) first set foot in those hallowed halls on an invite from Ubisoft. Last year, Darth Roxor volunteered his valuable time and resources to vent about a particularly boring Pillars of Eternity presentation while sharing his positive impressions of Blackguards 2. Based on the strength of their performances, the staff turned to me, Bubbles, to inject a bit of hardcore journalism into this year's proceedings. I was given a single, all-important task: go visit a few Gamescom booths and write some stuff about it, all expenses paid.

I proceded to make appointments for 31 games (most of them RPGs) and even managed to have some vaguely positive experiences with one or two of them. Most importantly, I acquired a few top level industry contracts, while also collecting a ton of highly valuable merchandise:

I stayed at Gamescom for a total of three days, covering Wednesday (the so-called "trade exclusive day") to Friday. On Wednesday, I was joined by my seasoned sidekick / staff appointed watchdog / president of the Dan Vávra fan club JarlFrank, whose startling physical decay since his first visit would prevent him from staying for longer than one day. In terms of content, Wednesday was the most extreme day of my visit, covering some great presentations alongside a few truly wretched experiences that I will strive to scrub from my mind forever, with very little in between.

The Technomancer

Our first visit of the day was to the booth of French developer Spiders, where we had booked a presentation on their new RPG The Technomancer (planned release date: early 2016). I figured this would be a good “training wheels” presentation for my first real life contact with a person from the video game industry, since nobody on the Codex had really seemed to give a toss about Spiders's previous games, Mars War Logs and Bound by Flame. Still, one's first time is always a bit stressful, so I relied on my seasoned companion to take most of the notes.

Jarl: Well, this year's Gamescom was pretty interesting. I could only visit on Wednesday, but that day alone gave us a couple of very good interviews - and some pleasant surprises (that may or may not turn out to be disappointments, in the end.

Our first presentation for the day was Technomancer, an action RPG developed by the team behind Mars: War Logs. And while the gameplay presentation itself was rather lacklustre, the devs said all the right things. The game is going to be set in the same universe as Mars: War Logs, but it will have a bigger budget and bigger team - and also bigger ambitions. The central theme of the game will be scarcity of resources, especially water, on a post-apocalyptic Martian colony. The player character will be a dude (you can't play a female char) whose appearance you can customize, there'll be crafting to improve your equipment (it seems like nowadays, crafting is considered a mandatory RPG feature), there are 4 stats and 4 skill trees to develop your character in - all the basic action RPG staples we've come to know.

But the devs don't just want to make yet-another-popamole-with-stats. They want to focus on choices and consequences, many of them game altering. Most quests can be solved in multiple ways, be it through combat, stealth or diplomacy. When the presentation was over, I asked whether combat in the game can be avoided entirely :rat diplomacy Codex:. The devs answered that most combat can be avoided, except for the initial tutorial level (yes, a tutorial level - I'll get back to that later), and boss fights, which are mandatory. They didn't elaborate further, but that likely means you won't have any diplomatic options when dealing with boss enemies. That doesn't mean that diplomacy-focused characters will have problems with the boss fight. Combat skills and "social skills", as the devs are calling them, are raised seperately, with different point pools. The social skill points can buy you ranks in diplomacy, but also in stealth - for some reason, sneaking and lockpicking are considered to be social skills. What that means, effectively, is that your character will inevitably end up skilled in both combat and either stealth or diplomacy.

Diplomacy itself is the focus of the game, as the devs put it. There are mutliple factions with which you have a reputation that changes based on your actions. When you really piss of a faction, you might be attacked on sight when you enter one of their strongholds; you can close off quests from one faction by aiding their rivals; the game is going to be non-linear and you can re-visit locations (which implies a semi-linear hub structure); overall, what the devs said about the way player choices can influence the course of the game sounded really, really good. Too bad we didn't see any of that in the gameplay presentation they showed live on screen. Five seconds into the game, we were greeted by a cutscene. That wouldn't be the only cutscene to play during these roughly 20 to 30 minutes of gameplay. In fact, there were so many cutscenes, I actually wrote "ugh, all these damn cutscenes" into my notebook. The gameplay itself consisted entirely of following linear corridors and killing enemies. Almost no dialogues at all, only combat. While the devs talked about choices and consequences and factions and multiple ways to solve quests, the screen showed a typical action brawler.

I actually mentioned this to the devs when the presentation was over, and they said that was because the beginning of the game - which they showed us - was a tutorial level. The typical "follow some linear instructions for the first 20 minutes of the game where we teach you how the systems work". This was not the best part of the game for a presentation, to say the least, especially since they were constantly talking about how ambitious their game is and how much emphasis is put on player choice. A tutorial level is the worst thing to show if that's what they want the audience to see.

The general impression I took from this presentation was positive, but I was a little doubtful whether the team can really deliver what they promise. For a medium-sized studio to attempt an AAA game aiming to rival The Witcher 3 in its C&C is an ambitious project.

Bubbles: Most of the Technomancer presentation was handled by Spiders's CEO Jehanne Rousseau, who had taken on the executive-level task of explaining how a studio with a history of making half-baked low budget games could possibly pull off a complex hardcore RPG full of meaningful choices and consequences. Rousseau was the only female presenter I would meet at Gamescom; this seeming career imbalance was alleviated by the fact that most of the receptionists and trash collectors I saw were women.

She began by describing the game's Mars setting (which had also been used for Mars: War Logs) in detail, stressing the storytelling potential of a planet ruled by warring corporations, all with unique business philosophies that potentially made for great storytelling opportunities (one specific example was a “KGB type" corporation spying on everyone else, which does sound pleasantly ominous). She made clear that the developers were so absolutely convinced by the strength of their setting that they had founded their studio just to make Mars games. WithThe Technomancer, they finally had a sufficiently high budget to realize their vision of a well-developed and complex game in that setting - or so she claimed, at least.

She also promised a multi-layered narrative for the game, combining a) a grand quest to re-establish the planet's disrupted communications with Earth and learn what's been going on in the world, and b) the more personal and more problematic task of protecting the “great secret of the technomancers” (a group of weirdos with strange powers). All of the corporations are eager to squeeze that secret out of you, the titular technomancer, for their own profit, and you will have multiple options for dealing with that pressure. Rousseau highlighted the developers' ambition to develop meaningful choices and consequences throughout the game, promising a “completely changed” experience based on whether you kill a certain foe, sneak past them, or torture them for information.

While the game's combat skill screen looked uncannily like a Witcher 2 rip-off (with three trees for the weapon styles of blade+shield, blade+gun, and staff, and a fourth tree devoted to Technomancer abilities), the presenter placed greater stress on the importance of the non-combat skills. This set-up sounded a bit like the Fallout: New Vegas system: she mentioned that there were a respectable six non-combat skills planned, which could span anything from pure dialogue skills (Charisma), skills that could be used both in dialogue and with objects in the world (Science), and skills that were mostly for non-dialogue interactions (Stealth), although they might occasionally have a dialogue use. Crucially, you would always be able to choose a skill-locked dialogue option, even if you did not meet the minimum skill requirement; in which case, you would simply fail and have to play through the consequences.

Of course, as an industry professional I was determined not to let myself get fooled by her pleasant words; the danger of a pop-a-mole action developer trying to rope in the old school crowd by paying lip service to hardcore elements is all too real in today's industry. So when the developers opened the floor to audience questions (and, as usual, the non-Codex attendees mostly twiddled their thumbs and waited for the gift bags to be handed out), I decided to spring a quickly improvised bullshit detector on them.

I asked: “It's strange to see something as old-fashioned as social skills in a modern RPG - don't they restrict the amount of choices for players who don't have the right skills? What made you decide for this option, as opposed to putting in minigames -- or just making all dialogue open to everybody, so we can all enjoy the game?”

The other presenter, who for most of the presentation had been dead silent, suddenly lurched forward, his eyes bulging out of their sockets, aflame with the fires of primal hatred. “No! We do not have minigames! No minigames! We don't do that! We have no minigames!” I shifted uncomfortably under his unrelenting gaze. Thankfully the CEO had understood my question a little better and intervened before anybody came to harm. “We don't have minigames because we come from a pen&paper background” she explained. “That's what we know and that's what we like – lots of character stats, not just player skill.” Well, who can argue with that?

I sensed the opportunity for another question: "List or grid based inventory?" "List based." At least they gave a straight answer.

As with any game, we won't know ifTechnomancer will be any decent until it's actually released. However, I found its presentation to be surprisingly convincing; the CEO was able to say all the right words to appeal to a hardcore audience, and apart from the button mashing third person action combat and the understandably simplistic tutorial footage, there was no evidence of mainsteam pandering on display. If this turns out to be a bargain-bin Witcher 2, but with multiple social skills - well, that would be a pretty decent outcome, wouldn't it? Thus, with a spring in our steps and with our hearts singing the hymns of Incline, we proceeded to our next scheduled presentation in the Pillars of Eternity booth.

Pillars of Eternity: The White March

Bubbles: Paradox had no presence in the business area of the fair, instead electing to hold all their meetings in the public area. I had assumed that the highly exclusive "trade visitor only day" would let us take a sedate stroll through clean, bright halls full of business people in smart suits, just like the organizers had promoted it on the website. Unfortunately, I had overlooked a crucial piece of information, buried in the fine print: "The organizers may grant special access to select members of the public." As soon as we stepped past the fortified barricades of the trade area, we ran into a yelping teenage boy who was jumping up and down with a "Free Fucks - Gay 4 Pay" sign in his hands. The halls were throbbing with select members of the cosplaying public, who shared with us their deep appreciation of Final Fantasy XII, Mad Max: The Game, and the brave resistance fighters from Homefront. More than a hundred people were standing in line at the Fallout 4 cinema to see the latest trailer and take a picture with PipBoy. I did not understand any of the things I was seeing, but I knew that I hated it all.

I could barely talk to JarlFrank through the din. I looked at the publisher's instructions again: "Paradox Interactive will be in Hall 9.1, at Booth A053. The actual demos will be given in private booths located at the end of the hall, following the aisle from our booth, outside the hall facing the hotel Dorint An der Messe Koln. " We flittered through hall 9.1 like carrier pigeons flying over a giant magnet, bouncing from wall to wall and looking out the exits in a futile attempt to figure out which side of a windowless hall was facing the hotel Dorint. Finally we turned around and asked one of the nameless interns at the Paradox booth, who told us to take the southwest exit and turn straight left. They might have just written that in the invitation to begin with. We staggered to the exit, half deaf and mentally scarred.

The Paradox booths were housed in a large white block made of sheet metal sitting on stilts above the convention grounds, so that all visitors might bask in its majesty. Unfortunately, that also meant stepping outside into the blazing sun, which our delicate German temperaments could not withstand for long. We resolved to flee to safety as soon as humanly possible. The greeters at the entance were busy with another pair of visitors, so we swiftly snuck in behind their backs and climbed up the great set of stairs to the top. Up there, we were immediately caught by a bunch of guys sitting in a cramped room resembling a cargo container, who questioned us on our credentials. Thankfully, they were just PR people, so we verbally identified ourselves as serious journalists and were promptly presented with cooled bottles of water. Now we had to wait for "the Pillars of Eternity guys", who were "just coming from dinner".

We still didn't know who exactly we were meeting, so it was pointless to speculate about the wonders that might await us. Instead we struck up a conversation with another attendee, a sweet guy from Munich whose company made children's games. He had a personal interest in Hearts of Iron 4, and had decided to come visit the devs in his spare time. He also, inexcplicably, thought that we were Dutch. He seemed an innocent man with an untarnished soul, but we eventually got to talking about hardcore turn based games, the word "grognards" was mentioned, and before he knew it, we'd exchanged business cards (ours was just a handwritten scribble of our front page address - maybe we should do a community contest for a proper Codex Calling Card). In retrospect, I feel rather bad about sending any mentally stable person to the Codex front page, so I want to mention his company (Studio 100 Media) here to give him some exposure in recompense. He would ultimately prove to be the most interesting person we'd meet during our stay at Paradox.

Finally, we were summoned by one of the interchangable PR drones crawling about the place and shuffled into another darkened room right next door. Here, we came face to face with "Josh" and "Adam", two middle aged guys with drooping eyelids who seemed to be in the middle of digesting an opulent meal. After we had sifted into a vaguely comfortable position on our seats (Jarl had the privilege of sitting right next to Josh, an experience which he will hopefully describe to you in detail below), Adam started playing a new game of PoE: The White March. The air in the room was stuffy, the lights were dimmed down, and Adam was playing on Normal mode with the combat speed set to slow. Josh was narrating the game in a continuous drone; he told us that The White March was an expansion to Pillars of Eternity, that it was unlocked by becoming the ruler of the fortress of Caed Nua, that it would take place in a region with a lot of snow, and look, there's some snow right there on the screen. I noticed that one of the new companions had a unique background (Dyrwood - Trapper), and Josh confirmed: "Yes, she has a unique background." Adam initiated a lengthy combat sequence where he paused after every action to show off the new party AI feature. Some of the characters were doing things on their own, without any human input. Josh explained that some of the enemies could now leap into your group in the middle of combat to make positioning more interesting. Right on cue, one of the enemy barbarians started jumping forward a meter and then backward a meter at regular intervals. Josh said: "Look. That's one of the new animations we've put in." Some blue lights flickered on the screen. The tattoos on his arms began to dance. I noticed that engagement indicators were starting to stretch across half the screen, and wondered aloud if that bug had been fixed in a newer build. Nobody said anything for a while. I concentrated on the combat log. "Oh look! Aloth has Minor Backstab!" A voice trickled into my right ear, coming from many miles away. "Yes, this is one of the new features we've put in. You can now take versions of certain talents that used to be exclusive to other classes. Aloth has taken Minor Backstab here."

Eventually, combat ended, and the atmosphere is the room became livelier. We scrolled around one of the new maps and marveled at all the pretty pictures of houses and such. We scrolled past an abandoned table and Josh piped up in surprise, sounding very natural and not at all practised. "Oh no! Adam, you've taken out the dice players!" Adam had taken out the card players, who were supposed to be sitting around the table. We spent a bit more time scrolling around the map, and noticed that there seemed to be a lot of patrolling monsters around. The screen now conveyed a sense of movement that served as a pleasant distraction from our real life surroundings. What more can you expect from a video game?

Soon after, the demo ended. We thanked the developers for their hard work, and began to ask questions. I asked Josh a question I was mildly proud of: With the level cap being raised on one hand, and with general AI improvements on the other, how would he say that endgame balance had been affected? He replied that they were still working on that.

We had decided to visit the booth incognito to get an undiluted impression of the typical PoE presentation, but by now we had started to aggressively mention our site's obsession with PoE and the many, many reviews we had published. Eventually, Adam asked where we came from. We said "we are from the RPG Codex". He said "ah, the Codex." There was nothing more to talk about. Suddenly, Jarl found himself gripped by the kind of cruel and mischievous impulse that sometimes asserts itself in the deepest recesses of our psyche. "Let's take a picture!" he said. The men from Obsidian inched towards the PR guy, who had been sitting in the darkest corner of the room, hidden from human eyes. "Do we still have time for this?" one of them asked, his voice cracking as if under an impossible strain. "Yeah, sure," said the PR guy.

Jarl asked us to go outside. It was too bright to take a picture. We went back inside. Where would we stand? The game was under an NDA after all; we had to avoid accidentally leaking important information about the demo. We started rearranging chairs. Finally, we resolved to bundle ourselves into the middle of the room and take pictures in groups of three. I am not proud of it, but I was starting to derive some sort of base enjoyment from all the discomfort on display. I said: "Thank you for doing this. In exchange, we won't ask about Mr. Avellone." The rest was silence. We took two pictures, me with the guys and Jarl with the guys. The PR man gave us his card for any further questions we might have. Then we said goodbye and slunk out of the room, down the stairs, and back into the main hall, never looking back. We had been in the PoE booth for slightly less than 20 minutes.

Jarl: Well, this presentation was the most underwhelming of the day. Bubbles already said most that was to be said: they showed us some of the gameplay from the expansion area, and that was pretty much it. As Bubbles has mentioned, I sat right next to Josh Sawyer. I thought, hey, let's see what they show us and drop some Codex references later. I thought they already knew we were the Codex guys, so they'd make the presentation interesting for us. And then we could ask Sawyer why he doesn't like fun. Well, turns out they didn't know, and I wonder whether that would've changed the atmosphere a little. Had they knows we were guys familiar with the game, who came to hound them with questions rather than just wanting a standard "here's some gameplay now go away" presentation, they might have been a little more enthusiastic.

It was hardly possible to be any less enthusiastic. They just went through the motions, showing us the new gameplay elements, telling us what's new, with little passion for their own product. It seemed they were quite bored, and I can understand that. I would be worn out after showing the very same 10 minutes of gameplay over and over again to a bunch of journalists - some of which are probably not even truly interested - too. When Josh said there's going to be a high level dungeon on the original map, a challenge for experienced characters, I mentioned "sounds like Durlag's Tower", and that was one of the few moments when he perked up. I think this might've gone much better if we had focused more on having a dialogue with the devs, as the presentation seemed to bore them. When it was over, Bubbles asked a question, we said we're the guys from the Codex - which, apparently, they hadn't known - then I took some pics and we were gone.

This was the one presentation that showed me how stressful a day on Gamescom can be for the presenters. You basically just show the same shit over and over again to a mildly interested audience, and you get lucky when they ask a few questions or make a comment on your game. It's not something I envy them for.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Bubbles: Throughout the day, I had been wondering when I would finally get to see my very first "hype, pretty pictures, and gift bags" presentation. The previous two bookings had not been perfect, but you couldn't claim that they had been running on empty hype and ill-defined buzzwords either. The Kingdom Come presentation, however, presented a textbook example of that much-maligned type of PR event. The presenter started by turning to the screen and presenting pretty "in-game shots" of bloom-drenched meadows for the assembled masses (about 8 people, similar to the Technomancer audience) to gawp at. True enough, you could see every blade of grass in those screens. We spent quite a lot of time looking at them. Then he informed us that all of this had been created with the Cryengine, and made a meaningful pause. The Cryengine! Wow.

The game was set in medieval Bohemia, and it just so happened that Warhorse was based in Prague. Their technical staff could just go out into the wild and take pictures of forests, of castles, of virtually everything that is technically impressive in nature, and put it straight into the game. Just – plonk! – straight in. He showed another in-game shot of a forest. That's what the forest really looked like, today. In real life! He pointed at a brook. That brook, the way it wound its way between the trees – that was a real brook! Every bend of it, taken straight from real life. He went on like this for a while.

Then he transitioned to the second most important part of the game, the in-game map. It was a very pretty piece of 2D art, with vaguely authentic looking illuminated drawings illustrating the different regions of Bohemia. As you uncovered the map, you could zoom in and see the details of the landscape. The presenter smiled, paused for effect again and sprung the big shocker on us: this map we were seeing? Transposed straight from satellite imagery. 60 square kilometres of real land, of real places, right there for the virtual you to walk around in. Every mountain in its real place, every river running in its real bed, every blade of grass swaying in its ancestral homeland. Everything was fully and completely realistic to achieve maximum authenticity, as if you were really there, right in the Middle Ages. "If walk through a forest, you should have the smell of forest in your nose. If you are hit in the face, you should taste blood in your mouth. The Cryengine allows us to do this." There's a quote you can take to the bank. What other game offers anything even close to this experience? I couldn't name a single one. When you ride your horse through the landscape, it has "road-magnetism" – his words again – to allow you to look around and marvel at the scenery without riding straight into an obstacle. I could tell that they had put a lot of thought into all of this. Only the settlements had been moved around, merged, and transformed to make the content more interesting for the player. Well, that's understandable.

The presenter also had a few words about the game's story conceit; the year is 1403, the season is Spring, and you're a blacksmith's son in Bohemia. Your identity is preconfigured, but there is nothing special or heroic to your nature. You're just a normal person, an everyman trying to make his way in the real, beautiful Middle Ages, presumably counting the leaves of grass in your spare time. Until you suffer a horrible tragedy that will change your life forever. The presenter was being very coy about what that tragedy might entail, but it will end up pulling you into a historical war that will feature lots of sword fighting. Or maybe not – he promised that combat could be “minimized” in the final release. I do not know what “minimized” means in this context; I'm not sure if he knew either. Intriguingly, the whole story will only span two months of historical time. The presenter was very specific about this fact. Although, practically, I'm not sure how the game would enforce this. What if you just stood around in the sun all day looking at the scenery? Would there be a hard game over timer, Fallout 1 style? Would history just pause from time to time and wait for you to advance the main quest? Jarl was the one who did the interview, so maybe he'll be able to tell us more.

Next up, our friend from Prague presented Warhorse's version of Radiant AI. I'm referring to the version shown in the old E3 demo of Oblivion, where everybody in Chorrol reacts to the player in a fully dynamic and realistic fashion that is just mind bogglingly authentic. Back then, Bethesda had to cut the AI back due to console limitations, but now, Warhorse is here to pick up the slack. Every NPC in the game has their own, fully unique and dynamic life and “they treat you as just another NPC.” Your interactions with them are fully natural and fully dynamic, on equal ground. I didn't really understand what the presenter meant by that. Thankfully, he had a few examples to share. Take a smith's hammer away, and he might walk to a merchant to buy a new one. Or maybe the tragedy will result in unintended consequences, changing his life forever. Maybe he will grow fond of booze and become a drunkard; maybe he will never touch booze at all. The man from Warhorse called this system "dynamic preferences". This kind of mechanic could potentially produce some hilarious youtube videos, which could then, potentially, go viral. What more do you want from a game?

At the end, he talked a bit about the game's combat system, the most important gameplay element of Kingdom Come. He called it "the most authentic depiction of European Martial Arts today." I pondered this for a bit, and thought it sounded pretty cool. He invited us all to have a hands-on in the booth next door, and then started handing out four-packs of Kingdom Come-branded Kickstarter beer to everybody in attendance (full disclosure: I hate beer). As soon as the other attendants had received their beers, they skedaddled out of the booth, never to be seen again. In the end, it was up to the Codex to humour the poor presenter and to take our places in the combat presentation. To make a long and repetitive story short; it turns out that the most authentic depiction of European Martial Arts today boils down to looking at a large reticule in the middle of your screen and using your gamepad (or, alternatively, swishing your mouse around the screen) to activate directional combos. Top right, bottom left, top, might be “blind”, while middle left, bottom right, center stab might be “cripple”. That's how they fought in the Middle Ages. After a while, I decided to leave the combat arena and explore the game a bit further. I looked at the inventory, which also had quite pretty 2D-art and featured a gorgeous looking paper doll. The inventory was list based, of course, with every weapon or armor having a number for damage or armor value, one for weight, and one for condition. Pressing “X” summons your horse out of its horsey little pocket plane, Witcher 3-style, and then you put it on a road, wait for the horse magnet to kick in, and let it ride along the road while you marvel at the scenery. I have to say that the grass didn't look quite as impressive as it did in the presentation – the hands-on demo must have been based on an outdated build.

Jarl: Well, this was actually the one I was looking forward the most that day. As a historian, I'm very interested in how Warhorse Studios manages to pull off the setting, and as an explorefag I like the first person exploration-focused RPG subgenre. Will it live up to the hype? I don't know. All I know is that the hype is massive. The presentation started off with a little history lesson, followed by showing us how realistic the environments in the game are. Yeah, they look pretty nice. They picked a region of Bohemia and decided to remodel everything as it was at the beginning of the 15th century: castles, churches, villages, probably even every barn if they could find archaeological evidence for it. I have to admit that I'm a little hyped for that, but since I'm a historian, I have an excuse for that.

The presentation didn't show us anything that we couldn't have seen in the trailers, really. Bubbles wrote a good summary of what we've seen, so I won't bother to repeat it. Just watch the trailers, and you'll see as much as we've seen. When the hype-filled presentation ended, we were given a couple of beers - Dan Vavra's own label, as he proudly told me during the interview - and could play the game for a bit. It was pretty good. The combat felt just as the buzzwords described it, but I found parrying to be a bit too powerful. Wait for an enemy to start his attack, parry just in time, and you get a free hit on his ass. This has something of the typical modern "press counter button to win" AAA action games, which left a sour aftertaste in my mouth. Other than an overpowered block button, I have no complaints about the combat. It certainly feels more tactical than anything Skyrim could ever do. The pace was closer to Dark Souls, slow and deliberate, where every move you make counts. It was still an early build, and combat was only one-on-one, with no group fights implemented yet. Random NPCs couldn't be attacked either - yes, I tried that. The employees there told us "yeah you should do the combat thing, that's the part we want you to see", but after three fights I decided to fuck it and go exploring. The graphics sure look nice, NPCs have schedules, you can mantle and climb on low obstacles... and that's pretty much it for this early alpha version. There wasn't any interaction with NPCs yet, and I couldn't pick up anything.

But the very fact that you can mantle and climb on obstacles makes this better than most other action RPGs out there. It's really refreshing being able to just climb over a fence that reaches up to your hips, rather than having to run around it because there's no climbing.

The presentation and the hands-on weren't bad. There was hype. There was an early alpha with half-implemented features. Great. Then I went into Vavra's room, while Bubbles got on his way to meet Brother None.

Coming up next: I conduct an intimate interview with an inXile insider while Jarl and Mr. Vávra unite in their hatred of social justice. Also: a pulse-pounding multiplayer session of Sword Coast Legends, and a Codex Exclusive™ interview with Ubisoft about the Might and Magic franchise.

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