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Introduction
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photo Forth year in a row by now we made a trip to the Games Convention 2006 in Leipzig, Germany. To avoid the incredible masses of people at the weekend we selected the Wednesday 23th and Thursday 24th August as days for our visit. While I got my ticket from my work hexe got her ticket by the kind support of WOLFGaming.Net. For those who do not know, WOLFGaming.Net is a five year old, international gaming community playing many different games and we both are part of that bunch of awesome people. "we" in this case is a couple of two computer gaming nerds with the nicknames "hexe" and "T.T.H.".

With this review we'll try to give to you all the impressions we had ourselves at this endless fest of sensations and sensorical overflow. Please don't take any detail here for divine truth because our memory might fail us sometimes and please excuse the sometimes miserable quality of the pictures - it seems neither my photographing skills nor the light conditions at the convention have improved since last year.

Anyway, here we go, with a very personal review of two enthusiastic computer gamers at a computer games convention...
 
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The Witcher
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The Witcher Logo Oh, boy, is this bloody! Let's start our game reviews with the title having the biggest impact on us this year: The Witcher. It is a single player RPG hack'n'slay game in a very dark fantasy setting with simply awesome graphics...

Dj vu anyone?!? With exactly the same words I started our last year's review and since we had been so greatly impressed by The Witcher last year their booth was one of our first destinations this year. As soon as we entered the lady at the reception desk said "hello, nice to meet you again" and we both had to smile over the whole face. Obviously they did remember us just as we did remember them. Yes, that felt awesome. After all, they all are very friendly people and they did make a very cool game. Which they showed to us once more and which impressed us once more. We really, really hope The Witcher will get a big hit when it finally comes out - the game and the people really deserve that. The hardest hurdle still is to find a publisher but they sounded confident to be able to announce a publishing deal by the end of the Games Convention. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

I've written a lot last year, so if you're interested I suggest to go there and read the basics of the game. Here I will only write about the differences they have added since we last saw it, which are basically three:

More Movies. All in all they do have ten minutes of pre-rendered cutscenes, directed by an Oscar nominated director. They showed us two minutes of those, probably the very intro of the game and a game teaser video at the same time. Wow. Just wow. Perfectly done, not telling too many details, but just making you curious to the max. In addition to the pre-rendered cutscenes they do have scripted cut-scenes rendered just-in-time with their regular graphic engine. Even those are absolutely and totally impressive: the landscape is wide and lush, the buildings are detailed and the weather effects like rain create a very intense atmosphere.

photo Motion Capturing. All the characters did move very smooth while walking, running, fighting and especially during the cutscenes. At one moment the main character stands at a little elevated podest at the top of a castle wall and three of his friends appear. As soon as they came in sight they did look up at the main character and his prisoner, then they did step up the stairs while still looking at the same direction and during all of that they did swing their arms just as you and me would do that in such a situation. Maybe this all sounds a little strange, to be honest it is difficult to describe, but all in all the persons just moved very realistic in that and in the other cutscenes. Next to the human beings even the animals moved at the same high level of detail. At one cutscene while I starred at the dirty, smelly leather trousers of the marching men hexe had been very impressed by how realistic the wagon pulling horse looked and moved.

Consequences. Last year they emphasised how you can "solve" certain situations in very different ways, this year they emphasised how decisions you take in certain situations will have consequences throughout the rest of the game. They showed a scene where you got a captured bandit and need informations from him which you could get in several ways: releasing him, threatening him, torturing him, killing him or maybe even giving him some truth serum. All choices will let the prisoner give informations away at that very moment but the same choices will have several complex consequences at varying states of the following game - Nevertheless they did all sound quite logical.

photo Next to this three key points of the 30 minute presentation another thing got my attention while they showed the combat system: next to the fact that combat is very dynamic and very brutal your position regarding the enemy is quite important. You can evade swings and you can apply special swing combos by being at the right time in the right position. If you engage several enemies they will always try to surround you because more damage is dealt if you're hit from behind. Very clever, very cool in my opinion. But the best had been the archer firing at you, who moved away when you came close and who tried to get onto higher ground so his firing range is even larger. Actually the enemies showed some brains which I do heavily miss on some other games.

photo Some final words on graphics: The Witcher is based on the Aurora game engine from Bioware which has even been used e.x. in Neverwinter Nights. But it seems massively extended because between Neverwinter Nights and The Witcher is a lightyear of advancement at least regarding the look of the game. It is really, really convincing and creates in my opinion exactly the right atmosphere for this dark fantasy setting.

In case you do like singleplaye games with a brutal but complex male hero in a creepy fantasy setting we really suggest you have a look at this game.
 
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Guild Wars: Nightfall
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photo photo photo Because we play Guild Wars since its first public beta weekend the booth of NCsoft and ArenaNet had of course been the "place to be" for us. Without any chance to overlook this huge and fancy decorated booth it was one of the main attractions in hall 5, easily to find. Being outfitted with "business visitor tickets" we had the chance to get into the convention at the "not open to public" Wednesday and especially at the Guild Wars booth that payed out: we had the chance to play one mission of Guild Wars: Nightfall ourselves without any queues to wait in but with very humorful NCSoft employees to answer any questions.

photo photo photo When you sat down at one of those ten demo PCs you already had a premade level 20 character, with fixed professions based on the PC you had been sitting. Actually those got "auto-logged-in" somehow, didn't understand it really but didn't matter to me really. With the freedom to choose any PC we went for a Derwish/Mesmer and a Paragon/Ritualist with probably the same skillset as in the Nightfall PvP preview event.

photo photo First noticeable difference is the "Skills and Attributes" dialog which combined those two things in one uber huge dialog. In addition there had been the mysterious "Templates" button, which had been existent but grayed out and unusable. An unnamed source said there will not be any comment on that button from anyone but of course we should feel free to take pictures and start spreading rumors in the internet. Well, here they are, hehe.

photo photo photo Party size was four and henchmen selection showed obvious demo purposes: next to a group of level 8 henchmen there had been a group of level 20 henchmen. It seems that outpost called "Monolith" had been from a low-level area but for "play it safe with newbie players" reasons the reinforcements had been put to high-level standards. After a decent laugh at Gehraz, the Holy Henchman, aka the male elementalist in undyed starter armor and a huuuge scythe, we took the level 20 guys out for a little adventure. Or let me better say "steamroller excursion" because it was hard to use any skills when enemies died in one to three hits. We should have gone for the low-level henchies...

photo photo photo When asked how I did like that mission I answered two sentences: 1) the mission is nothing special and 2) it just looks as awesome as the rest of the game. Really, it's yet another prove that the coders and modelers and level designers of ArenaNet do a great job and deserve their place in the triple AAA games market. The landscape looks different than Tyria and Cantha and even the architecture is different. We really hope our photos can show you that but it's pretty sure there will be official screenshots emerging soon enough.

photo photo The enemies had been some sort of plants and later on skeletons and ghosts and the level included several "riddles" in the form of "death from above" smashers, fire traps, stone pedestals and opening doors when you got everything alright. That "greenish" screenshots had been some monster hex applied to my character, with a -2 health degen and that change of the screen color. No clue whether that green color will be applied to all health degen hexes or not, feel free to speculate. Another quite obvious fact was the look of the emerging damage numbers, heal numbers and energy gain and loss numbers: in contrary to the old, simply moving upwards style they now pop up, squiqqle around, move a little upwards and then vanish very fast again. Warning, personal opinion ahead, but we do not like them. hexe was instantly reminded of the old "Batman and Robin" series with that "BOOM" and "SMACK" painted over the movie. This "pop, squiqqle, fly" behaviour is just too "hyper Japanese comic style" for us. Well, we have to see, maybe we are just too accustomed to the way they are now.

photo photo photo At the end of the mission there had been some very nice cutscene during which I photographed the screen as often as possible and totaly neglected the storyline. The outfits of the participating characters had been very chic and very detailed and left a good impression on us.

photo photo When arriving at the next outpost we had been completely stunned: its name was "Bayou" and it really look like "Bayou", with its huts and its fireplaces and its boats and its trees and its vegetation. Aye Caramba! Unfortunately the NCsoft employee told us that he has to log us out now since this was the only mission everybody had been allowed to play and only due to superior distraction skills of hexe and due to unbelievable fast photographing skills of me and due to some very considerate "I haven't seen that" customer tolerance skills of the friendly guy I can present you two of our most favourite photos of the whole convention. Don't they just look gorgeous?!

photo photo photo photo photo Based on the fact that nobody had been waiting for our seats we were able to try out character generation. Actually that did work despite that "auto logging characters stuff" and we browsed through everything we could see in a considerable amount of time.

photo photo photo photo See for yourself, drool like we did and maybe start a global online petition that Elona born male Elementalists should not be forced to wear heavy, warm, uncomfortable moon boots the size of a medium wall prick. Anyway, login screen is "da bomb" again.

photo After parting from the game itself again we stayed at the booth and actually got into some chit-chats with several different VIPs of NCsoft and ArenaNet. It started with Michael Gills, head of tournament organization, with whom we exchanged some words on the booth and the event schedule.

photo A little later we got in contact with Isaiah Cartwright, head of skill balancing, and he shared some insights about technical issues. First of all ArenaNet does not have a lengthy QA procress as other companies regarding the application of patches for the game. He said they put a lot of pressure on the coders to just do things right the first time, but then they mostly apply the patch instantly. In the directly following time they do watch closely and in case they notice side effects they just patch again and see what now happens. Like it or not, all in all Guild Wars has a better uptime than any other MMORPG I know of. Another interesting detail is the existince of three so-called "stages", basically copies of the whole ingame world. One "stage" are the official servers where everybody is playing on. Another "stage" is the "right before live" one where all game patches get applied on for final testing purposes right before being applied to the official servers. This stage has even been duplicated for the convention so the demo PCs at the booth can connect to them. Last "stage" is the development one where everything is created and tried and refined and so on. All "stages" are reachable from the internet, means there are no real "internal network only" servers.

photo Final guy at Wednesday had been Alex Weekes, community coordinator for Europe. First thing to notice had been his eyes: based on the use of "black light" at the booth his eyes had been glowing screaming red, as if he'd been a vampire to bite you in the next minute. Luckily he's such a friendly guy that we got not scared and continued our conversation. We did talk about Nightfall mostly and he personally considers this the so far best chapter, business mumbo jumbo left aside. Yeah, we did believe him, actually he sprinkled of enthusiasm when talking about Nightfall, just the same way we do as we're writting down our review now. He said it's gonna be "very story driven" (quote), whatever that means. He mentioned several times that they do listen to what the fans said about Factions and Prophecies and the differences between them. We did believe even that, sorry, seems we're true fanboys, hihi. Anyway. Another thing we asked him regarded the "heroes", the customizable henchmen we picked up some rumors about. You can acquire them in the story line, level them up with you and equip them to your liking. How far this goes he didn't say but he said the choice of heroes for a mission is limited by the fact that some heroes are mutual exclusive due to storline elements (and maybe plain disliking?). Next to their use in PvE there will even be one new PvP mode: you and three of your heroes can start a battle with another player and his three heroes. Besides scrimmage matches this is the first place in Guild Wars where players fight 1-vs-1 in PvP. Sounds definitely interesting.

photo When hinted at the fact that some PvP players already started whining about the PvE focus of Nightfall he said there will even be incentives for PvP player to buy Nightfall. First of all there will be new arenas of course and in addition there will be more PvP training places, even while there already is all that Zaishen stuff. It seems they try to improve the entry of players the entry into PvP even more.

photo At Thursday after the ArenaNet crew and all tournament teams arrived we got that one thing that could not have been mission of course: a photo from Gaile Gray. Yeah, yeah, we know we are fanboys. Unfortunately it was the moment right after the very first tournament match got cancelled due to technical problems and everybody from the booth staff was obviously sad and busy the same time. Nevertheless she took the time for a quick picture before going off to what she had to do.

photo Another "drive-by shooting" had been Jeff Strain, founder and big guru at ArenaNet, who had been sitting at the tournament PCs himself making settings to the operation system. A smile we got anyway, thanks a lot.

photo Okeydokey, what else to say? All other news should be known to you by the official press release that got out that same day at 5:00pm local time. Actually in that very moment they played the Nightfall trailer once more at the big screen and then just popped the big release date announcement up. Cheering, applause, first exchange of opinions on the Collector's edition cover.

photo So, we have been there and we have seen a lot and we have talked a lot and we want to say a big "thank you" to all the crew who had been incredibly friendly and simply talked to us when they got the time for. It was a please to meet you and we wish you all the best with Guild Wars!

In case you, dear reader, are a Guild Wars player yourself and want to share your opinion with us concerning Nightfall or this review, please feel free to contact "Noor Yamarchant" (hexe) or "Nandoon Yamarchant" (T.T.H.) from the Wolf Guard [WOLF] guild.
 
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Age of Conan
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To be honest, the best of Age of Conan had been the inflatable swords they gave out. Sorry to say, but this was a disappointment: the graphics just look mediocre, the movement of the characters could be from a Hulk sized hobbit with a fat ass and when he said those movements were motion captured I had troubles to recover from the shock. But they kept trying to shock me by saying that even that oogly-boogly moving polygon creature labeled "horse" was motion-captured, too.

photo The only moment with a smile on my face had been in the character generation screen: there is a hair style called "Vokuhila" which is some kind of abbrevation for the German term "vorne kurz, hinten lang" which means "short at front, long at back". Interesting name for a hair style in a fantasy RPG...

Some short facts: there is some kind of building construction phase where you build houses and walls and things and there is a war phase where you run around in that villages and use the defensive measures to combat enemies. You chop of heads in masses - as long as you do mighty swings against the hips of the enemy. You can fight from horseback - if you don't drop from your chair due to giggling while watching the polygon horse's butt. They are in internal beta now and do plan a release for March or May 2007.
 
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Spellborn
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photo Another MMORPG that tries to set foot in the hyped MMORPG business. First impressions are nice, looks quite good actually. A big difference to the rest is that Spellborn has no "servers" or "shards" in the traditional sense where you have to choose a server your character will play on. Instead everybody who starts playing Spellborn will start in the very same town. When asked about what happens if Spellborn gets a big hit and 50.000 people start playing the game at the very same day the person of the Spellborn team answered that this will indeed become a challenge, hihi. On the other hand if they get 50.000 people in one day, well, they made it into the real big business.

photo Nevertheless they do have something called "shards". Those are comparable to "continents" in a normal world since you can take a boat to travel between them but they are more like huge islands floating around in some kind of "warp space" and your boat will travel through that "warp space". It was nicely done, looked a little bit surreal and as a player you got two choices regarding boat travels: either you take a cabin and immediately arrive at your destination or you join the crew and really experience the whole journey - including attacks by "warp space monster" and special quests you only get on such journeys. Those "shards" itself do all look different and are persistent as in classic MMORPGs.

photo When confronted directly with the big question "...and what's different than in WoW?" he mentioned two key features: first of all the combat shall be way more active, with aiming and combos and movement, not as "target enemy, click a skill, go to the bathroom" as he described WoW. Unfortunately we haven't seen much ingame combat ourselfs so we can't confirm or deny that. The next key feature are the items which do not have inherent values: you find loot and you can wear and carry what you want, going just by the look of it, because in its basic form no item has real values. Instead all items get values by upgrades you apply to them and so you can build your personal equipment with your personal style where design and function are two different decisions. They to try to encounter that "endless tier 3 item hunting" they do not like in WoW.

Another noteworthy fact is about solo vs group play: whenever it's about leveling or questing the game is made for solo play. In my very personal opinion that is a little ridiculous for an online multiplayer game but they do not want the player to ever wait for a group creation when he just wants to fulfil some basic tasks or bash some heads. In contrary to that all other activities than leveling and easy bashing are designed as group challenges where you need a team to suceed. Regular group size shall be eight people, not those huge 40 men raids as in WoW, where you have to endlessy organize and wait. All in all he really tried to emphasise the differences to WoW but that is totally natural if you want your own piece of the MMORPG market cake.

In my personal opinion this game has some good and some bad sides: Good are the graphics, the chance that every Spellborn player can technically meet any other Spellborn player and the reduced dependency of "must have" items. Bad is the focus on solo playing in an MMO.

Final words: currently Spellborn is a fully PvE game where PvP might be introduced somewhat after release.
 
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Lord of The Rings Online
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photo Estimated number of "Legolas" elves on release: 23.587. Estimated number of "Aragon" humans on release: 18.942. Estimated number of "Gandalf" wizards on release: 21.588. Well, I guess you get the picture. We are a little in doubt if an online game comes out for an MMORPG game in such a famous fantasy setting with its distinct heroes. As the booth crew person told us you will at some points even cross the storyline of the ringbearer, not being able to change history completely but maybe helping him here and there, distracting an orc patrol so that Frodo can sneak by or so. Like it or leave it, we will probably leave it, it's just not appealing to us, especially to hexe who did start reading the books in the age of 14 and knows every detail inside out and instantly started bickering "no, that's not like it".

Since two weeks the game is in alpha state and some things look nice and some things look ugly. So far it is 100% PvE game and there will never be PvP between "good" and "evil" characters. To have some form of PvP nevertheless they do think about giving players the ability to play some special monsters in the PvE missions of other players which is a funny idea in my opinion. They are totally unsure whether this really gets implemented or whether you can gain some form of "achievement" and "tiny character development" by playing monsters but they'll try everything out. But still the focus will remain on "good players fight evil monsters".

photo The world is persistent and there will be 10% to 20% instances here and there. He said they estimate a play time of about 300 hours to have seen really every corner of the world. There will be a level cap of 50 - at the beginning. Warning, rant ahead: I could puke, either you do a level cap and stick to it or you don't do a level cap at all. That "buy the expansion, level further" trick really pisses me off. Because it will throw everything out of balance, the character's relative strength to the world and the character's relative strength to other characters.

A nice thing he mentioned is the "temporarily downgrading" when you repeat instances. Those instances seem to have some "intended level requirement" and in case you want to go "back in time" to help a friend with a mission or so your character will be downgraded to fit to your friend's strength and that instance's strength. The presentation guy really made it clear that you will always and ever be able to play together with your friends, no matter the differences in level or storyline progress. Details are not set in stone but the intention is clear.

The game engine is of course the one from Dungeons and Dragons Online but the combat system is totally different. Personal opinion of myself: absolutely necessary step since the D&D combat rules are pure crap. Anyway, no jumping over mazes of crates, no lens-powered investigation of the dungeon floor for traps, no hyperactive dodging in combat. Solo play is possible but groups of adventurers are preferred.

...and you can not play female dwarves.
 
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Archlord
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photo The MMORPG Archlord received some uproar in the gaming communities already since it features payment abos with different prices - for which you are allowed to play the game and in addition get you a bigger amount of ingame credits the more expensive your abo is. Some people fear that it will be possible to "buy power" in the game but nobody has seen whether that will really happen or not. Fact is that you do have a button on the lower right corner of your ingame GUI where you can instantly buy items for those credits. According to the guy who introduced us to Archlord there are two categories of items you can buy:

Time saving items. Stuff like town portals and ressurrection anks that will simply save you playing time. With those they try to close the gap between pupils and students who have time but no money and the working people who have money but no time.

Equipment items. Stuff like armors and swords, all the things you need for a bloody massacre and gaining XP and such. You can get those in any flavour and price, but only up to a certain "level". If your character is over that level (60 he said) buyable items simply don't give you more benefit than the stuff you find on your ingame journeys.

He mentioned several times that it will not be possible to "buy" the Archlord position, that one guy backed up by the most powerful guild who will then get the leader of the whole server for a certain amount of time, who can set rules and taxes to his liking. To achieve this position you have to play a lot and reallife money won't help you. Anyway, with or without money the idea that a 15 year old boy is setting up your taxes in the ingame world your character lives in does not appeal to me either...

It will even be possible to aquire all buyable items by regular gaming, means you can find all the very same somewhere in the game. But if you got the bucks, you just hit the button and buy them.

There will be mounts in the game and you can fight from their backs, there even are special attacks in case you wield a lance. When you got down from them they disappear and you get a little "horse in the box" in you inventory. Doublelick and, WHOOPS, horsie here. Little strange, but pretty simple. Unfortunately riding animations aren't that cute yet and you basically turn on the spot, not riding in a curve or such.

Another cool feature is a so called "metamorphosis" with which you can transform your character as soon as you reach level 10. There are different "metamorphosis" creatures, e.x. dragons which are certainly strongther than your normal character but you can transform into them not all the time. In addition there are some low-level "metamorphisis" creatures like pigs or chickens. You might ask yourself what those are good for, but the presentation person gave the idea of simply spying out the meeting of an enemy guild by transforming into a chicken and picking some corn right in front of their feet. From plain looking they won't get aware of you he said. Sounds funny. Boooock, boock, boooock, me da harmless chicken...

The world is persistent per server, otherwise the Archlord position would make no sense anyway, and there are some quests in some instances only. PvP will be possible from level 10 on and to heat up the battlefield you can freely distribute a bounty on the head of your most hated enemy. Despite some special PvP battlegrounds the PvP system basically is "meet them everywhere and hit them hard and kill them down and fetch the loot and collect the bounty". The poor victim will loose 10% of his whole XP but he can't lose his current level. If he's a filthy rich dude he can lower that death penalty be drinking potions with temporary effects regarding that death loss. There will be no bodyblocking and you can simply walk through everybody everywhere.

The Beta Phase 3 will start at 30. August and when nothing huge goes horribly wrong they will release the game at 29. September.
 
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Warhammer Online
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photo Huge booth, huge video screen, lengthy pre-rendered trailer made by Blur Studios (those guys who made "Rockfish" and the intro of the Warhammer 40k RTS game), typical Orkze vs Dwarves battles, uberlong queue to play the game yourself in an way-before-alpha-state. We did skip that and just talked to some PR lady. It's gonna be PvE and PvP, both in the same persistent world, but you can't be attacked below level 10 and over that you have to enter a special place to get flagged for PvP and then you can get attacked everywhere for the next 10 minutes or so. I mentioned that this will create some strange situations where hatred to the blood enemies will stand next to each other but can not do anything - but she said that's just the way it will work. Anyway, there will be competative PvE quests where e.x. one dwarf player can try to finish off the heavily injured orcs and one orc player can try to patch them up by bringing more beer for them. Not direct PvP but nevertheless player vs player competative somehow. Even noteworthy is the fact that one side can technically wipe out the complete other side and then plunder and sack the enemy towns before some "divine event" happens and the intruders are driven back into the initial state of the server. Nevertheless they do keep their loot and prestige and it all starts from the beginning.
 
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Neverwinter Nights 2
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photo photo photo It's prequel had been a big hit in the WOLFGaming.Net community so we definitely wanted to check out the new game at the convention. It started with the character creation where you could either pick premade templates or do everything yourself. In the later case you better know all published Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks and take a whole weekend of time since there are so many different big and small things to decide. Unfortunately every single bad choice will make you pay the whole rest of the game but that is Dungeons and Dragons as we know it. Sorry, I just hate those rules. I personally only have a look at this game because hexe does like its style and its visual part of the character creation and the world and the stories and mostly the fact that many other WOLFers will probably play it.

photo photo The game itself looks cute, not that "square blocky" map layout as in the first part, everything is smooth and round and randomly arranged. If you like fantasy role playing games I assume you will like Neverwinter Nights 2. In my personal case it will depend whether I can swallow down my aversion against the horrible ruleset and just start playing together with friends because playing with friends is always the best part in computer games.
 
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Elveon
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Decent graphics, low combatant number scrimmages, supersmooth fighting moves, console steering, epic storyline, singleplayer, maybe multiplayer. Dunno, was not possible to see much except the "fight three guards with a stick on the bridge", at least if you were not able to defeat them and proceed further in the mission map. Console key layout had not really been intuitive and we both had been slaughtered down by Joe Average enemy pretty fast.
 
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EA 360 Degree Cinema
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photo photo photo photo It's big, it's loud, it's the pure sensoric overflow - and you have to leave it again after 5 minutes or you'll get deaf. Really strange. Really dumb. So cool booth and they ruin it all by turning the music so loud that it hurts. I did fetch some shots of Spore and Crysis, then I left. I just value my hearing too much over impressive trailers in a 360 degree cinema.
 
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Crysis
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photo photo Well, yeah, uhm, right. Please don't lynch me if I now say "Crysis looks pretty". That palm tree definitely looks super realistic and it's awesome that it breaks and falls down if you shoot its trunk, but you wonder whether there are any other trees except palm trees. Same with the all so famous bush, it waves in the wind and it moves it leaves and it's all great and such but I guess the bush said "there shall be no other bushes beside me". Same for the dirt track road, bump mapped tire tracks in the dirt, but you just don't have the impression that there will come by a car the next three months.

photo photo I don't know, Crysis is a hyper realistic graphics orgy but it just does not have that "woa" effect on me. Even more when I think of the lack of innovative gameplay it will have when it comes out: yet another team deathmatch first person shooter. Who cares about super duper DirectX 10 realism graphics when there's nothing more than run and gun (and shooting a palm tree once in a while)? Not me...
 
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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
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photo At the Activision booth, one floor above the Lego Star Wars demo stations, they did have a large showroom with 16 PCs to try out Enemy Territory: Quake Wars for yourself. It was a wise decision to go there at Wednesday because at Thursday there was a lengthy queue in front of it, no wonder why, new round of presentation every 30 minutes. But we had been business visitors and at Wedneyday it was more of a problem to get 16 players together for a full sized match. Luckily the whole crew of a neighboring booth arrived at once and we got two teams together after a couple of minutes.

photo They had two big screens at the ends of the room and the presentation started with a training video. It was quite long, 5 minutes of so, and explained "Quake Wars for Dummies" to get really everybody and his mother ready for the following fast paced action. Funnily enough there had been two different videos, one for each team, where the objectives of the upcoming mission had been explained from the team's view. Big commendation here, those training videos really made the later gaming pretty easy and focused on the fun itself, not a map objective detail research.

photo When all people had been at their PCs a warmup phase started. Basically you could run around and try stuff out and even shoot at the enemy but it did not really "count" for the later game. After getting myself, a "cursor keyer", customised to the WASD steering I was already running and jumping around here and there. Finding hexe was easy, she was the guy banging his head constantly against the only tank in that military base we started in. I did ask the demo crew guy behind me how to enter vehicles and, WHOOPS, had she and me be in the tank. With a little sad voice he said to me "uhm, you are not really driving the tank now" but I just answered "yeah, yeah, sure, she drives, I shoot". There definitely was some astonished look in his face, hihi. But hexe is called "tankgirl" for a reason.

photo Oookay, left mouse button check, WHAAM, BOOOM, SPLATTER, DEBRIS, checked, main gun works. After figuring out which of the four sides of the tank is considered "front" and some structural damage due to rapid approaches of nearby concrete buildings we headed for the camp exit. You really know you are a former Sldner Secret Wars player when your only thought in that moment is "RAM THAT THING!". But we are in the future and even fence gates are intelligent and so it slided open right before we drove through it. We headed down the road, we gunned some guys down, we got damage, I jumped out and fixed the tank. I just can't deny it: I am the greasemonkey, by heart. A couple of minutes later the game restarted anyway.

photo We had been on the "GDF" side, among all those human marines with their shiny armor and their big guns and their cool vehicles. From a graphic engine perspective the game is really state of the art but my personal fascination came from a modelling and texturing perspective: all the vehicles and buildings and the landscape had been just looking "cool" and "vivid" and "impressive". It is that undescribeable, magical "edge" this game has which makes it so appealing. It really looks great. The gameplay is objective based with different soldier roles and it really is the sequel of Enemy Territory - in a positive way. I was instantly familiar with the menus and the HUD and it even had the same "pacing" as the old Enemy Territory. Just that you now shoot no Nazis but Stroggs and that you can can fly jet powered helicopter like vehicles. Apropos flying, in some brave but dumb attempt I entered such an air vehicle and flew around a little bit. Actually I was able to stay in the air for a couple of minutes so it must have some "pilot noob tolerant auto hovering system" built in somewhere. When the horizon stopped turning like my clothes in the washing machine I even was able to shoot some rockets at a wicked looking Strogg walking mech. Not that the mech was really impressed by that, but its returning fire was even perfectly dodged by my totally unpredictable flying style. Anyway, just for notice: you can't enter enemy vehicles at all and when you enter a friendly vehicle as the second person the driver has to explicitely grant you rights to use the vehicle's guns - otherwise he can use those guns himself only.

photo When the game restarted for that final, competative, 15 minute long mission I realised once more how much I like that objective driven mission design with its moving spawn points and selectable soldier classes based on necessity of tasks to be done. It plays fast and smooth and you run and gun and you drive and shoot and you repair that bridge and you hack that satellite station and you blast away that power generator and you place that buildings. During the training video they showed the ability that different soldier classes can build different structures and buildings at special places, e.x. artillery guns, radar stations, sentry guns, anti vehicle launchers, etc. I was not really able to try that out myself but the training videos left a nice impression regarding tasks beyond pure shooting.

After a really intense and action filled and close match we, the GDF, did reach our objectives and did win that round, with a timer of one minute somewhat left. Woa. Hyper total uber cool! Cheering, applause, great impressions. The only question is: do we need new PCs when we buy that game?
 
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Hellgate London
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photo The head behind this game is Bill Roper, former Blizzard member, maker of big hits like Diablo and Star Craft and founder of Flagship Studios, the developers of Hellgate London. We were able to hear a speech from him and when he wanted to describe Hellgate London in one senctence he said "Half Life 2 meets Diablo 2". Indeed the basic game mechanism closely remind to the Diablo series, just that there are no towns but fortified subway stations with a weapon dealer in the former newspaper kiosk and that there are not green landscapes around but demolished and wrecked down sceneries of a former capital city like London. With demons sitting on porches, you know, and poisonous gases emerging from gully caps.

photo photo photo The interesting thing is that each time you enter the game those explorable areas are newly created for you, with randomly generated map layouts and monster placements. Just like in Diablo, only that it's a urban area with a huge bunch of details and roads and houses and carwrecks and lanterns and debris lying around. Those random generation scheme shall increase replayability just as it did in the Diablo series: some levels might do have the same look and feel, but their map layout is always different. From what we have seen those levels look really, really cool and their random generation can not really be noticed. Instead you'd think this all was handcrafted by a skilled level designer.

photo photo photo Other things do remind of Diablo, too: you level up, you have a skill tree, you collect items and carry them around in huge backpacks, just that you have skills like "elemental summoning" and "assault rifles" next to each other in the skill trees. One of the photos shows it nice, a girl wielding a huge gun and a fiery sword, and when you see the trailer we have seen you get the picture: fireball first, then 50 rounds of high velocity metal from a submachine gun. Wicked combination. Looks totally strange. But interesting. Hellgate London could be a very fresh part in the genre of hack and slay games. Because that it seems to be about, kickin' demon butts, with a style. Personally I hope this game gets our "next big LAN party hit" due to it's simply yet appealing hack and slay gameplay combined with multiplayer capabilities we know of Diablo.

photo Some words again on graphics: the game engine might not be as powerful as the one from Crysis or Quake Wars, but what the modelers and level designers have produced it it is plain breathtaking.
 
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Lego Star Wars
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photo photo Yeah, yeah, yeah, little men with big heads and huuuge guns. You have no clue how awesome character animations and facial animations can look like on Lego shaped figures on a PSP screen: they are a blast! When I figured out the right button and started the "draw out my gun, WHOOPS, where is my gun, oh, THERE is my gun" animation of that rebel soldier in one of my two photos I just had to laugh out loud. If you only got a slight sympathy for Lego and a slight sympathy for Star Wars then you'll gonna love it. Damn, it really seems I need to buy a console in the next months, just for that game. It seems to come out for nearly every console there is.
 
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Miscellaneous
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photo photo photo photo Here comes what fits nowhere else but is nevertheless worthy to show.

photo photo photo photo World of Warcraft, trading card game and Burning Crusade expansion.

photo photo Pong. Yes, Pong. There had been a special "exhibition" of various interesting, funny, strange, wicked and of course classic versions of the good ol' Pong.

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Babes
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photo photo photo Everybody knows that Sex sells and that boys like girls and so it was no wonder that the Games Convention will feature a fine selection of so called "booth babes" even this year. Unfortunately it seems I had been at the wrong time at the wrong place and if I had been at the right place at the right time I had just been too slow to pull the camera out. Long story short: three babe pictures only. Beg you pardon.
 
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Loot
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photo photo As it is the pure joy of every convention visitor we of course tried to sack as much loot as possible. While we did not try to get into the first rows of that screaming teenager hordes in front of booths with "sheer endless item into the crowd throwing" shows going on we still managed to get some fine items, like the Guild Wars skill pins or the Archlord beta access CDs or the really cool Warhammer Online bag. Take it all, give nothing back!
 
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Comments? Questions?
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We really hope we had been able to share some insights and impressions with this review. If you do have comments or questions feel free to contact as in the forum of WOLFGaming.Net

Thanks and Bye,
see you online,

hexe & T.T.H.
 
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