Sony Online Entertainment Booth Impressions

If it has not been made clear by our coverage from E3 2012 so far, massively multiple online games are here to stay, and almost all of them are going to be free-to-play. Hawken surprised us with its smooth gameplay and even smoother aesthetic, the integration between DUST 514 and EVE Online is mind-boggling, and Perfect World has two titles on the way influenced by some of the most popular fantasy franchises of all time (Dungeons & Dragons, Monster Hunter).

Not to be outdone, Sony Online Entertainment came prepared with three new MMOs, two from its publishing arm, and another from the development side. We have already given our impressions of the SOE-developed PlanetSide 2, but Wizardry Online and Bullet Run are worthy companions that deserve praise for turning their respective genres on their ears.

Wizardry Online

Wizardry Online Preview

The Wizardry series could be considered the grandfather of the modern role-playing game. The first Wizardry released in 1981, long before any final fantasies or elder scrolls reached the market. You won’t find many similarities between the original dungeon crawlers and this 3D MMORPG at first glance, but Gamepot, the developers of Wizardry Online, made sure to reinforce the fact that this game is indeed cut from the same cloth as the hard-as-nails, decades old series.

After initially sitting down to spend a few minutes with the game, it was admittedly difficult to differentiate Wizardry Online from the masses. It looked like a typical fantasy MMO, complete with a skill bar, dungeon crawling, chests full of goodies, respawning baddies – all of the tropes of the genre. After the developer began explaining what sets this game apart, the unique outlook of the free-to-play MMO became apparent.

Wizardry Online is a challenging game, constantly forcing the player to measure risk and reward as any encounter could end one’s quest prematurely. That includes not only spars with thieves and monsters, but even the aforementioned chests might be booby trapped, creating a tense and dangerous atmosphere for the player. When they say last, they mean it too: permadeath is a possibility after defeat. Players will appear as apparitions, giving them a chance to find their corpses, but resurrection is not assured, and if that fails, time to roll a new character.

A common syndrome of the modern MMO is to put players on autopilot. Much like a game of Pocket Planes, MMOs can turn into an exercise in time management rather than allowing gamers to get lost in an expansive, interactive world. Gamepot’s solution is to fully involve the player, from the biggest boss fights to the smallest cave explorations.

As if these morsels were not enough to worry even the hardest of the core, betrayal by other player characters is a constant concern. PKing (player killing) is allowed all throughout the world of Wizardry Online, with or without provocation. Once one player has murdered another player, they are free to steal from body and be on their way. Of course, there are always consequences, so once a player has murdered another player, they then become a target for everyone else. There is nowhere to hide in Wizardry Online.

Although I did not spend as much time with the title as I would have liked, I am anxious to see the successful transition of the game as it makes its way to the West. Wizardry Online will be released in North America later this year.

Bullet Run

Bullet Run Preview

Bullet Run turned out to be quite a surprise. Free-to-play shooters are not hard to come by lately, including several quality titles like Tribes: Ascend, or even SOE’s own PlanetSide 2. Bullet Run is also a fast-paced shooter, but the twist the game introduces is enough to make it feel fresh.

The conceit of Bullet Run is that the participants of each match are being filmed and broadcast to viewers all over the world. This carries over to all parts of the game – rather than gaining experience, players will gain fans as they take out their competitors. Depending on how interesting the kill is, and also if the player has time to taunt afterward, the in-game currency, Heat, will start to rack up.

The environments also reflect the game show backdrop. One match took place at an abandoned movie set, complete with props and backgrounds. A commentator also covers each match, congratulating the successful and condemning the dead. Although neither the graphics nor the narration were particularly inspired, the atmosphere was entertaining enough to engage me throughout the firefight.

Clearly, the most important aspect of an arcade shooter like Bullet Run is the shooting. Many free-to-play shooters manage to miss the mark when it comes to fun, fluid combat – exchanging solid gameplay for graphical flair, or failing to learn lessons from the most popular games currently on the market. Acony nailed the basic shooting mechanics, which might not sound like high praise, but in a sea of “almost there” shooters, it is a sigh of relief.

Rather than providing a set of classes to choose from, instead players will be able to pick from weapon loadouts at the beginning of the match, as well as after every death. There are also several skills available, four of which can be chosen at a time. These skills unlock as the match progresses, depending on how much Heat has been built up. Some of the skills I experimented with included a remote controlled spider bot, a turret, and an overpowered minigun that tore everyone else to shreds.

Bullet Run might not have the flair or the complexity of PlanetSide 2, but it serves its purpose well as a fun arcade shooter with a twist. Bullet Run will enter open beta this summer.

Follow me on Twitter @JacobSiegal.