Genre: Action RPG
Developer: InterServ International
Release Date: Q1 2006
Mage Knight is a tactical collectible miniatures game, with the pre-painted miniatures sold in "packs" similar to the CCG booster packs that have eaten many a paycheck. Curiously, the Mage Knight universe will be represented not by a strategy or tactics game this spring, but by an Action RPG in the Diablo vein. In Mage Knight: Apocalypse, players can take one of five playable characters on an epic quest through the Mage Knight universe, fighting authentic villains from the tabletop version of the game.
The villain of Mage Knight: Apocalypse is an evil beast called the Apocalypse Dragon, and you'll have one of five heroes to choose from in order to quest against it. InterServ emphasized that the game's story would be less good vs. evil than grey vs. evil, with the various warriors each pursuing their own reasons in the fight against the Apocalypse Dragon.
Graphically, the game is definitely coming along if obviously unfinished. All of the character designs are geared to mimic the looks of the tabletop miniatures as closely as possible, which results in something of a detailed, yet cartoony look. The environments are designed to be as massive as possible, to allow for lots of enemies onscreen at once and the occasional moments of epic visual grandeur that fantasy games demand. The battles that take place in that world are something fans of the genre should be used to by now: clicking on enemies to make your characters attack them, and navigating menus and hotkey settings to use special skills and magic spells.
Each of the five characters has their own unique skill tree with hundreds of options, and taking all of the skills is intentionally possible. A goal of InterServ's with the game is to create so many viable options for developing the way the main five characters play, that ultimately no two players will be able to create identical builds of the same character. This is a truly ambitious goal, and it remains to be seen if InterServ can fully implement it.
Like so many PC games coming out these days, Mage Knight: Apocalypse is split into two game modes: single player, and online multi-player. The two campaigns are wholly distinct, with your other party members in single-player mode being controlled by game AI. In multi-player mode, a group of players work together to progress through the quest cooperatively, with each of the five characters controlled by a different player. There will also be special multi-player game modes, but what sorts of characters can access them wasn't discussed. What was pointed out was how the game would dynamically scale itself to match the levels and equipment carried by each player, growing more difficult as characters grew more powerful. This is a feature that could make multiplayer experiences truly interesting, as well as serving to reward compulsive power-gamers who over-level in the single player mode with bigger battles.
So exactly what are the five playable characters? The final version of the game will include a gun-toting dwarven fighter, succubus-like vampire, sword-slinging amazon, elven holy knight called a "guardian," and a wizard from the race of humanoid dragons called the draconum. This assortment appears to represent all of the core races of the Mage Knight tabletop game, and while miniatures of the player characters aren't available, you'll be able to buy miniatures that look pretty darn close to them. It also, conveniently, covers most of the basic play archetypes for your Diablo-like RPG. The character we saw most of was the Amazon, who was wearing a hilariously fanservicey thong, and seemed to handle more or less like your average RPG barbarian.
However, her skills worked in an interesting manner: each set of skills she used was initiated by entering a particular fighting "stance." A bear-like stance improved her ability with swords and other melee weapons, an "eagle" stance made her an expert archer, and a "jaguar" stance let her attack using stealth based moves. So, the character really can be built to reflect the individual style of the player, and does not necessarily dictate a particular pattern in order to be used well. Skills are improved by repeated use, rather than by spending skill points as in other Diablo-like systems, so whatever methods of dealing damage you most prefer will be the ones that improve.
The single-player campaign allows you to control one of the five heroes from their area of origin, and then hack n' slash your way through five more levels while recruiting the rest of the party. The total campaign for a single character will take about 25 hours according to InterServ. While adventuring you'll have the usual options open to you: an ability to teleport back to a home base area to buy and sell goods, and improve your weapons by socketing "magestone shards" into them. Most shards will have straightforward effects, but can be combined with other shards on multisocket weapons to create special combined effects. Imagine combining a fire and ice shard to create a sword that does Antipode damage; that sort of thing.
There's no word on how much you'll be able to customize your allies' equipment, but InterServ did assure us that players would be able to customize the AI of the allied fighters to a certain extent, as well as issue orders to AI allies during the heat of battle. So, if you're dying in the middle of a fight, you can quickly order your elf to toss a healing spell your way instead of hoping the AI notices that you're dying in time.
Right now Mage Knight: Apocalypse is in the content-adding phase, so the final touches are needed on graphics and some features are still up in the air. For instance, InterServ discussed a potential plan for PvP in the game that would allow teams of adventurers to challenge rival teams using their multiplayer builds, but might not make it into the final build. Regardless, Mage Knight: Apocalypse should turn out to be a light and entertaining outing for fans of the hack n' slash genre, with strong online and offline components to the adventure. It should show up in stores sometime in Q1 2006.
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