Skyforge Preview – Is 2015 a year of Russian Gaming?

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A few things come to my mind when you say Russian to me: Red October, The Dude’s favourite drink, and the orchestral cover of that crap Sting song that Charlie Brooker uses in every Yearly/Weekly Wipe. You might not think gaming is a synonymous word but it really is. From every WW2 shooter under the sun, to Catherine in every Civilization game, Chernobyl in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro 2033/Last Light, Russia, its landscape, its literature and its history has quite the plethora of gaming inspiration.

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It also has one of the biggest captive markets outside of China for gamers. Whilst the console market isn’t as strong as the West, the PC market and browser based games are a huge draw. My.Com is part of a much larger communications giant in Russia with access to over 100 million users. At several points over the past year, we were invited to look at the three big draws the publisher has to offer. But now seems the right time to look at them, probably because you’ve already finished your second play through of Dragon Age by now.

But it’s not just Russian companies that are in for this market as My.Com have recruited some of the best to work on their titles. World of Speed, an online multiplayer arcade racing game with various real world locations and licensed cars to boot, is being developed by Slightly Mad Studios. You may know them for being the developer behind the much anticipated simulator Project Cars, and various Need for Speed games. It’s a fun game, especially in the 2v2 style of racing that isn’t just positional based but points based as well, leading to much tactical thinking. There’s also Armoured Warfare, which on the face of it is a World of Tanks clone. But the game has a lot more of an arcade “pick-up-and-play” feel to it. It doesn’t have the military history of the aforementioned Wargaming.net game but it is a fun tank shooter in the familiar vein, like a slightly less futuristic Battlezone.

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Armoured Warfare and Skyforge, the main game we’re going to look at here, have something in common. They are being co-developed and optimised for the Western audiences by Obsidian Entertainment. You should know Obsidian… Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity and the game you voted as your best RPG of 2014, South Park: The Stick of Truth. Along with Russian developer Allods Team, Skyforge is an MMORPG set in a mixed environment of fantasy and science fiction on the fictional world, Aelion. A very large and visually enthralling world at that. Skyforge represents an entire planet for you to explore with a mixture between the worlds you would imagine from a Iain M Banks novel mixed with visuals from a hodgepodge of Warcraft realms. It’s an incredible combination of a futuristic world mixed with ruins and nature that doesn’t resort to turning things in to a bland destroyed battlefield to give it some visual nuance. In the game’s story you are an immortal (quite convenient) who must rise to become a God and earn followers throughout Aelion.

Playing the game is incredibly open, and I don’t mean in the worlds but in the characters. The UI and combat system is pleasingly simple and is pleasantly just above spamming the keyboard all the time. This is mostly because your combat talents are actually pretty cool. There are lots of things depending on your class that you can do like fire a snowball that grows and collects all the enemies in its path. But the key in this is the character progression system and the ability to change your class. The progression tree, which is called the Ascension Atlas here, works in a very open way, much like a web. In fact, if you’ve played Civilization: Beyond Earth, the selection is very similar. Some things take longer to research and what you research opens up other classes and skills like a web. And, as long as you aren’t in combat, you can change your class. This is particularly intriguing as you can change what you are dependent to what you need, as can anyone in your party. It’ll make raids especially interesting. Just change from Paladin from Cryomancer in a couple of clicks. Easy.

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All of this is unlocked via prestige. And as in any MMORPG you unlock this via quests. Quite like Dragon Age Inquisition is at times, quests are attained locally rather than via a singular point. Which means instead of going to a quest giver, just entering an area will activate a quest. You’ll be able to see that quests are available in an area via the big sky globe map on the space station, called the Divine Observatory, circling Skyforge. Battling and killing enemies, will unlock prestiege, unlock levels, better attacks, more attack slots, etc, etc, etc. Normal fayre for your MMORPG. There’s no word yet on buy-to-play bonuses with this. But you can earn it in your standard PvE and PvP ways and if you can get a good group of people together it could be quite a fun distraction for those of you who seek new challenges after World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, ArchAge, etc. Something that will be interesting is the Guild PvP mode which will be coming in the future.

The game was certainly fun to play when we were playing it although it does have a very big audience to try and capture in the West. The Russian end will certainly warm to it quickly as long as they have a fairly good PC so it certainly won’t be a dead server zone. There’s no specs yet that are confirmed but it looks like it’ll need a decent package at least athough MY.Com promise to keep it as technically accessible as possible. The game is currently in Beta which you can sign up for now at their website. It’s PC only at the moment but as most players are PC based that’s probably a good thing. Obsidian are working mostly on “Westernizing” the game. We’re pretty sure that doesn’t just mean language translation but optimisation of where things should be on a UI, how stories are communicated in quests, etc. It’s quite amazing, when you look at how universal a lot of games are (WoW, LoL, and other Upper case-Lower case-Upper case acronyms, for example). Our recommendation? Give it a go. After all it will be Free-To-Play, so why not?

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Total War Arena – Hands On Preview

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CRY HAVOC! AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR! These were words I did not scream at the top of my lungs to my teammates as I flanked my way around a mountain pass. But they were in my head rather poetically as the hoards of Roman armies powered forward. As I took command of Leonidas of Sparta, my little army of an archer unit and two spearmen units charged their way forward to take the enemies base.

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Total War Arena is the new venture into the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre from Creative Assembly and the Total War team. In fact, a completely separate and dedicated Total War team. This real time strategy MOBA, like the rest of them, will be free to play but will give the big scale of the historic battles that the franchise is known for and the accuracy in the units and commanders it uses. So as you would expect, it excels at this. There’s a great levelling system which rewards your battles with unit upgrades, a tech tree, fancy hats (they aren’t just hats they are actual upgrades) and unit customisation. You’ll also unlock special attacks that you can use during the battle between cooldowns.

Battles, battles, battles. The 10v10 real time strategy is very effective and forces you to do a few things. Firstly, it makes think about where you places your troops and how you move them. Much like the Total War games, the ability to flank and hold your archers back to get some good shots on the opposing troops, is essential. How you play the map environment is equally as important as how you play. Charging is a fools errand but being stuck down hill with a unit of archers above you is equally foolhardy. All of this really makes you think about how you approach your movement. Secondly it makes you communicate with your players. This is very much needed with such a large amount of teams and battles commencing and with two different ways to win a game. Having tactics is one thing but talking with others to make sure they work is equally important and using the in game pen drawing system works very well… As long as you understand what the person is saying.

This game follows in a similar vein as World of Tanks in creating a player controlled set up that makes you work with others and using historical military gaming as its set up. The maps we played were very challenging with their own quirks, sneaky ways to base capture or ways to funnel the enemy in to certain death. Which, if we’re honest, is half the fun of these things. The actual combat is easy and smooth and it works very well. Although it can be hard to pull your troops out of a situation if they’re bedded in to a ground skirmish. Well, it would be hard in real life when people are jabbing spears around you and others are smashing their shields in to your buddies. So in this way the game plays very real and in quite the epic scale.

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The upgrading system is privy to in-game purchases, despite the game being free to play. Whilst we are not fully sure how this will work yet, you can use your commander XP to upgrade your units as well as your commander. So we’re guessing the purchases would work in a similar way but we’ll see. The commanders range from the most historically notorious to the entertainment-friendly generals Hollywood has made us love. The aforementioned Spartan is joined by Julius Ceaser, Alexander the Great, Germanicus and their units all have the relevant and correct attire and tools from their period of history. Much of Total War has been their unerring attention to historical detail and with Arena, you get it for free and with a very accessible and dynamic feel thanks to the smooth multiplayer.

The game will be on PC and is currently in Closed Alpha, which means a Beta is surely on the horizon and it would certainly be fun to try. So keep your eyes open. We enjoyed what we played and it’s certainly something that serves the Total War fans and the community very well, as well as the MOBA players and curious minds. Although it might feel a little too refined for the die hard Total War players, it might also allow them to experience something new in either the ingenious way that other humans play, or find themselves some easy cannon fodder for them to destroy.

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