Conan the Barbarian Preview
When Conan the Barbarian was first introduced to the world 25 years ago, it made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name and the movie-going public began its love affair with the brawny hero. It seems that Conan truly is a part of popular culture, now and forever, and publisher THQ and developer Nihilistic are working to continue the fictional character's popularity and appeal. They're working on a new action/adventure game, just recently announced, and they showed it off at a press event, much to the delight of those in attendance. Unfortunately, it wasn't a playable demo, but hey, at least it offered some sweet new information we didn't previously have.
As far as third-person action games go, this one ought to be plenty engrossing. By seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor environments, the player should get the epic, sweeping feel of Conan's world, complete with dense forests and dank dungeons. We'll supposedly encounter all kinds of bosses - one of which was on display in the demo - and it appears they can just pop up unexpectedly throughout your adventure. But to accompany your medieval ass-kicking, you must also flex your humanity muscle, as caring for innocents will be a big part of the game. The demo showed off one area where Conan had to rescue a bunch of villagers, so don't think for a second it's all about blood and gore. The combat system seems relatively straightforward, but you can also pick things up and chuck them at the enemy...and given Conan's size, we're thinking he can pick up a great many things.
Your diverse fighting environments will even take you out to sea, as one part of the demo featured Conan versus a giant squid while on a large boat. The nasty slimy sucker would attack from all sides with multiple limbs and suckers, spewing ink on anything that moves while Conan desperately tried to fend it off. Obviously, you'd have to deal with the arms to defeat this thing, which may sound somewhat clichéd, but considering the combat fluidity, it should still be fun. Then, once you're done battling the denizen of the deep, the next area on display was a windswept plain that should ring a bell with Conan fans. It also appears you'll deal with other enemies, like natural predators of the environment...that's right, you might be throwing down with lions, so be prepared for some seriously intimidating encounters.
Nihilistic reps have gone on record saying the combat system will reward those who spend enough time with the combat system, and come to understand the system's intricacies. We're looking at more than 100 different moves in Conan, and the large variety of enemies will force you to use more than just a couple moves and combos. If you can find a way to string some super insane attacks together, and experiment to see which moves work best against certain enemies, you'll be well equipped to progress through the quest. The key is going to rely on how accessible the combos are, and how much they rely on things like enemy defense; i.e., how many of our foes will respond intelligently with blocks and evasive maneuvers? And if they do, how much will we be forced to adapt? These are the questions that have yet to be answered, and those answers are going to matter a great deal as to how good this game could be...
We know about some of the abilities, though. We know Conan can take advantage of his brute strength and perform grapples and throws in addition to normal sword attacks, and as you go, you'll earn access to some special moves. An on-screen meter will measure your success with combo attacks, and the more momentum you build, the better chance you have of flying into the "song of death" mode. It's kinda like a Rage mode of sorts that will lend your attacks more power. And don't worry one bit about what you can and can't equip; Conan will be able to pick up any weapon or shield an enemy might drop. Heck, you can even wrench them out of their hands while they're still alive! Best of all, the game takes a cue from recent FPSs and lets Conan dual-wield certain weapons, which, given the deep combo system, is plenty intriguing.
Many action games in the past have been adopting more and more elements of RPGs, as they've included character advancement systems that include a kind of experience to learn and build abilities. Conan is no different, as you'll gain experience that allows you to create and enhance your fighting abilities, much like God of War or Devil May Cry. We'll be very interested to see just how much this impacts the gameplay as a whole; can we run around and "level up" much like we do in RPGs? Will enemies respawn and allow for this, or will we only get experience by beating them once? Also, will we get more experience for delivering top-notch combos or dispatching enemies in a particular way? Much of the game's appeal will likely revolve around the action, though, so we'll just hope that more fighting = more experience, no matter what.
The game is scheduled for release some time in 2008 for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and for now, the game seems to be shaping up quite nicely. It has a lot of potential, but it's all going to hinge upon the ultimate deciding factor: execution. ‘crosses fingers'
3/3/2007 Ben Dutka