GIANT SPOILER WARNING - I go into plenty of detail about the mechanics, character progression system and mission basics in Kingsmouth so there will be plot spoilers.
So, thrust into the tender ministrations of the grizzled old Brigadier at the Templar Court, I'm to learn how to fight properly so as not to be a danger to myself and others. The brief confusing taster in the Tokyo Subway didn't count. I'm presented with a selection of melee and ranged weapons, and foci for magic. Sadly the explosives were only for show.
Grabbing some Blade claws I rip up a demon for a bit, to the strains of a classical singer and a piano, then suddenly a tutorial video of questionable quality and resolution pops up to explain the skill wheel. Finally, the much-vaunted character progression system!
At this point I should explain that TSW powers follow the current industry standard of being split into builders and consumers. Builders are lower damage moves that need to be repeated to build up power/energy/charge which in this game is (mostly) called Resources (usually to a maximum of 5), and consumers use up these Resources to do something bigger, often scaling with the number of Resources consumed. Some powers have an activation time but you don't have to stand still while it activates, which is a remarkable change from the usual ‘stand still and cast this spell’ mechanic.
Having to re-equip everything each time you try a new weapon in the combat training mission gets to be tedious. I do hope that’s one of the changes FC have in mind for launch, after they announced that the current Weekend Beta start-up is not the final version. After completing the two initial tests you also gain some points to spend on your stats (Skill points and Anima points) but it's not really clear what spending them will actually do for you, particularly at this early stage. I noticed that the claws holster on your belt badly by floating some distance from your body and clip through the arms horribly.
How this all works
Skills are simple enough: each of the 9 combat attack types has a pair of skills associate with it, and there are a further 3 skills relating to equipping talismans. Pick one of the skills in the Skill Point screen (for example Shotgun) and then pick which of the 2 paths within the skill you want to spend points in for a basic scaling effect (for example putting 1 each into Damage and Support). That effect is a passive boost to those skills (for example 1 into Damage gives Shotgun abilities extra damage).
The Abilities wheel at a glance doesn't explain how to spend Anima points and it took a bit of experimental clicking about to see what does what because the spurious tutorial video didn’t really cover that. If you click on the ring segment just outside the innermost one with the labels (Magic, Ranged, Melee) a sidebar will pop up to show you what powers you can spend Anima Points on within that tree. Each of the combat attack skills have 2 branches in which Anima Points can be spent, one offensive and one defensive/support. If you click the little down arrow under the AP cost of the ability you want to buy in the sidebar, the Buy button will appear as well as any equipped weapon restrictions on the power.
There is a Decks sidebar you can pop out for some preset combination ideas if you want inspiration on what sorts of skill trees and branches would synergise.
Abilities are either Active or Passive and you can have up to 7 of each equipped at any one time, only allowing 1 Elite Active and 1 Elite Passive (those are found at the very end of the skill trees).
Active abilities are your standard powers/moves on your hotbar and Passive abilities which remain turned on as long as they’re Equipped. Buffs in this game aren't a separate 'thing' you have to cast and refresh: either they're always on as Passives, or else they trigger when using an active ability. I noted that you cannot hotbar items from your inventory. Perhaps there is a separate item use interface I've not come across yet.
Onwards to glory and mystery
After faffing about in the Crucible training room, it was time to leave London and get to New England by a rather unusual means of transport. Agartha: the Hollow Earth. Steampunk magitech in a tree-city – floramechanical dontchaknow - with acceleration portals. Zooooming through Agartha is fun. Just jump off the side to get transported back to the main entrance too, and keep an eagle eye out for a couple more bits o’ Lore. Onwards to Kingsmouth! As a note, the loading time to log into the game in Kingsmouth is ridiculously long. I'm not sure if it's a local client issue or a remote server issue. I've chalked it up alongside the massive memory leak issues to poor Beta optimisation.
My first impressions of Kingsmouth were that it looked like Left 4 Dead meets Lovecraft. That’s pretty much exactly what it turned out to be. Full of nooks, crannies and more Lore related to the central theme of the local shenanigans.
Freshly made Zombies and mutated ground-crawling Wendigos are the first 'regular' enemies you come across, which make a change from the usual giant rat or spider which you must kill 10 of. The Wendigo corpse-eaters are particularly unfriendly and I discovered that as your health gets low, your vision goes blurry and red and the currently poor state of engine optimisation causes choppiness and freezing right at a point you really don’t need anything else making your life (what remains of it) harder.
The Left 4 Dead analogy holds as hordes of zombies start to show up. AoE attacks are your friend and thankfully the out-of-combat health regeneration is pretty quick. Movement in a fight is extremely important because of the large number of ground-targeted or facing attacks that the mobs use, telegraphed in white on the ground. If you simply stand there and take in on the chin, you go down quickly in this game. The fact that movement in combat is slow makes this tricky and a bit mediocre at present. But, for more Left 4 Dead fun, try setting off car alarms...
Kingsmouth Sheriff’s office is the first 'quest hub' you encounter, so to speak. There are a few missions you can pick up, with what seem to be fairly arbitrary difficulty ratings allegedly based on the number of Skill/Anima points you’ve accumulated, and a couple of vendors to sell trash to and buy some basic equipment from.
The Vendors sell generic starter gear: in this game you don't have armour as such, you simply have talismans and of course weapons. Everything has a durability rating and thus will need upkeep and repair, I assume to give crafters something to do or else to provide a currency sink. There appear to be several currencies in this game, and different currencies will get you different sorts of items from different vendors. I hope this doesn’t turn into another zone-unique currency grind - I've had my fill of that from Rift.
Loot is mostly crafting materials with the occasional consumable such as a regeneration health drink or a damage-absorb barrier, and equippable item like a weapon or a belt chain. Equip requirements for non-weapons are based on your ranks in the 3 Talisman skills.
Not being one to follow the plot from point A to point B without making sure I’ve seen the highlights of L, M, N, O and P in between, I went wandering and ran into some rather higher powered mobs than I bargained for, who decided to call in more high powered friends just to rub it in. Frustratingly, I again found my client froze a great deal as I dropped lower in health for reasons I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it's the change in display that causes the sudden spikes of CPU, RAM and GPU use. Either way, I wasn't able to do anything until it unfroze when I died. And so it was then that I learned what happens when you die. You assume an Anima Form - like a ghost - to get back to your body from a respawn point which can be miles away from where you died. You resurrect when near your corpse at half HP. Fairly standard fare. I have the suspicion that the ghost world will become relevant later on in the game and it could be an interesting take on the theme of world-hopping if you have to die in order to continue a mission.
More issues and observations I noted: FC like their god rays, for sure. I'm told that the bad animations are just place holders while FC works on the final animations and I sincerely hope that this is the case. I noticed that shadows 'hover' by casting against angled objects and failing to have the shadow's feet stretch to meet your own. It could be intentional, of course. Strange things are afoot in Kingsmouth after all. Chat channels, and particularly Group chat are buggy. The chat system is based off the AO one, which in my opinion is the best chat system I’ve seen in any MMO, but it seems with half the good bits missing. Group chats are tied to the unique group ID of that particular session, so if you change groups you have to unsubscribe and then resubscribe. They’d better squash that bug for release. FC's classic geometry issues are present, including getting stuck in crevices and invisible walls a lot. The /stuck command is exceptionally fussy and mostly won't work, telling you to warp yourself back to Agratha instead. Except that if you're stuck perpetually 'falling' inside geometry you can't do that. Disheartening to see FC hasn’t learned that lesson in the last decade. The only thing you can do is relog in the hopes it’ll place your character on solid ground. There doesn’t seem to be a way to exit to login, for example to switch characters: only to close the whole client. There is no grace period upon logging in, so you can find yourself down to half health before your screen has even loaded, and of course whilst in combat you cannot change your equipment or teleport away. Woes betide you if your game crashed anywhere other than a safe place. On a related note, the world in hazy black and while Anima Walking makes obstacles hard to see and whilst you can't interact with the world and it can't interact with you, that only works for living/undead objects, not static environmental pieces. It also makes for fun and games when you choose to resurrect because you can't see if your corpse is swarming with mobs or not.
That covers the basics of Kingsmouth and tomorrow for my final instalment I will go into more detail over the mission system as the game’s primary PvE activity, and the crafting system straight outta Minecraft.
Funniest game quote of the day:
"This underground realm, like the great British railway system, is the very model of efficiency."
* Yes, that is an actual URL to an actual website FunCom made for the purposes of the game. The information it contains will come in handy when solving the various puzzles and investigations presented...