MageKnight is one of those franchises, much like GURPS or Rifts, that hasn't quite caught on in the mainstream, but is well respected within its own niche. The WizKids miniatures game has gained some success, and much like Rifts, will be receiving its own title come this September. Developed by IS Games, we had a chance to talk to the senior producers at Namco Bandai Games, Dave Georgeson and Chris Wren, this past week. While our tape recorder gave us about an hour of static, we've got a lengthy rundown of the game for you below.
MageKnight: Apocalypse was developed from the ground up as a pure action-RPG, and Mr. Georgeson assured us that the game would have the two staples of action-RPGs at heart: hacking and slashing and collecting new loot for your toon. MageKnight: Apocalypse isn't just about huge battles and skill trees, however, and the team at Namco Bandai is utilizing a good majority of the background stories and characters to create an epic drama in the game. The drama's not just limited to the cutscenes, either, as IS Games has added combat elements like ambushes to tie combat into story.
Our talk with the producers mainly focused on the single player mode, which Mr. Georgeson and Mr. Wren assured us would play much like the multiplayer segment. All five playable characters, ranging from an Amazonian-style warrior to a half-dragon creature, will find themselves fighting by your side, no matter which character you choose. All five characters' stories are intertwined, and the game will span six chapters. The first five will explore the backstories of the PCs, but the last chapter is the grand finale, bringing all of the individual threads together. Don't think that the AI will just go off and do what they want on their own, however; players will be able to issue orders to the NPCs, but they will be free-thinking enough so that micromanagement no longer becomes an issue.
The game's team had originally hoped for twenty-five hours of gameplay for one playthrough of the single-player game. IS Games and Namco Bandai seem to have taken that number far beyond, and nearing the end of the development cycle, the team says the game is closer to forty hours, and it takes nearly three playthroughs to max your character, if you're into that sort of thing. Even without the multiplayer aspect, there's a fair chunk to MageKnight: Apocalypse, and based on the popularity of games like Diablo II, online multiplayer will extend the game's value tenfold.
During these twenty-five to forty hours of gameplay, there are approximately two hours of cutscenes, all of which provide major information. More minor dialogue is delivered through text dialogue, and provides bits and pieces of MageKnight's world to the player. Things that may have remained static in the lore of MageKnight will come to life in Apocalypse. Players who have little or no experience with the MageKnight universe won't find themselves at a loss, though, as Mr. Georgeson informed us the game has a strong feeling of "MageKnight-ness" attached to it.
The power of the monsters is relative to those in the miniatures game. For example, in the tabletop game, undead characters have a wide range of abilities. So for the PC release, each of those major skills has been distilled into a single type of monster, creating an iconic representation of every major power. All of the ratios of strength from the lowliest dwarf to the most powerful dragon are as close as possible to the tabletop game while still keeping a fun atmosphere for the game. Within the statistical view of the games, players will be able to min/max their characters however they like, as each click for an attack or use of a particular ability will go toward a stat or skill level for that skill. When you use a skill a significant amount or get a certain statistic to a predetermined level, a new skill will become available to the character. Using this system, the characters will naturally gravitate to any player's play style.
While min/maxing is possible, players won't be able to create ultimate twinks. The gear system is based on individual statistics, not a level. So a character with a smaller power level who has used his strength to overpower enemies more will be able to use strength-based weaponry even sooner. Players won't run into the issue that they did in Diablo II where they end up with a lot of loot they can't use, as every monster's loot table will be tailored to the characters currently in the game. Tougher monsters will drop better loot, so going back through an earlier area won't scale loot up to the higher powered character.
There are three difficulty levels for the game, though the monsters will scale to the character's power level no matter what the difficulty. Harder difficulties will cull better loot for the player, but it remains scaled to the monsters fought. Most drops should be an upgrade for the character, no matter what the difficulty, as long as you're fighting monsters in a zone appropriate to your level and your progress in the game's main story.
The control scheme in MageKnight: Apocalypse is extremely versatile. Players familiar with Diablo will be able to play the click-click-click mouse-driven control scheme, and players more familiar with FPS titles and MMORPGs will be able to use WASD control schemes. While the producers said that there were no current plans for joypads, the control is flexible enough on the keyboard and mouse that it should not be an issue upon the game's release. The camera is dynamic and can be changed from the standard isometric viewpoint to a behind-the-player or to just about any angle with which the player is familiar.
On the aural side of the coin, dSonic is handling both the sound effects and the music for the game. The game's soundtrack ebbs in and out based on the current action in-game, and Namco Bandai is incredibly happy with dSonic's work. When inquired about a possible OST release, Mr. Georgeson said that because of the nature of the soundtrack, it was unlikely that there would be a printed disc release, but that it wouldn't be outside the realm of reason for there to be track downloads, should there be enough interest.
MageKnight: Apocalypse is currently slated for a September release, and we should have one more chance to chat with the MageKnight team about the multiplayer aspect of the game. RPGFan recently received a beta version of the title, and you should be able to read some hands-on impressions of the game early next month.