E3 2006: NCSoft Opens Up
05.12.06 - 5:38 PM

NCSoft talked about a few of their upcoming MMORPGs at this year's show. The free-to-download and free-to-play MMO Dungeon Runners, a glimpse at a new campaign for Guild Wars, Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa, and a gander at Aion, their next-generation MMO.

Dungeon Runners isn't an MMO in the classical sense of the word, mainly because, well, it's an Action-RPG. While positioning is important in many MMORPGs, such as Final Fantasy XI, Dungeon Runners actually allows players to dodge attacks without the use of dice rolls. So while a player may do less damage while moving, not everything is left up to the whim of the computer. Dungeon Runners is all about getting up and at things with your friends without hassle. There's very little downtime, and characters aren't bound to any single server. Say your friend's playing on Server A, and you're on Server B. Both are full, but Server C is empty. You can both head on over to Server C and continue to kick some ass. Similarly, there's no penalty for death in Dungeon Runners, you'll simply appear back in town, fresh as whem you started. At the moment, Dungeon Runners does not contain PvP, but it's still being considered, as the game is in beta. Dungeon Runners will be available by the end of 2006 as a free download for the PlayNC service.

We had a chance to sit down and chat with the folks at ArenaNet, developers of Guild Wars and Guild Wars: Factions. Currently the company is set at developing two campaigns a year, but to create quality content, ArenaNet has set up two separate teams to work on campaigns so that the content will be top-notch. The newest campaign, while ArenaNet couldn't go into detail, will have both African and Mediterranean style artwork. The game will both expand on content, such as alliance-scale battles, seen in Factions, and see additional new content as well. The third campaign for Guild Wars still doesn't have a set release date, but for Guild Wars to see two campaigns a year, the newest will be due out by the end of the year.

Tabula Rasa was next on our list of NCSoft's games, and at first glance, it appears more like PlanetSide than an RPG. However, Destination Games was quick to tell us that there's dice-rolling going on behind the scenes, and that a great deal of the shooter style was to keep players in the style of the game. The near-future MMORPG is very focused on combat, and will have both instanced zones and public areas. Additionally, the focus will be on NPC allies who will help you through some of the content.

Players will be able to quickly switch between their weapon sets and abilities. Targetting will be sticky, so even if you aren't the best sniper in Counter-Strike and can't duck, shoot, and jump at the same time, you'll be able to keep the target in your sights. Death in Tabula Rasa is pretty painless. You can either be ressed by a teammate at a minimal loss or be sent back to the hospital just behind the front lines.

Another focus of Tabula Rasa is on dynamic monster AI. No longer will you be able to say "at 43%, stop the DoTs on Onyxia, she'll hit Phase 3, but monsters will act based on the positioning of players and the types of weapons or abilities they may be using. There are seven classes in Tabula Rasa, but everyone will start off as a non-specialized recruit. When levelling up, players will be able to clone themselves at a particular branch and play their clones as one of the other branches. It certainly saves a lot of work of levelling from 1-20 time and time again. Tabula Rasa also saves some time with its waypoint system. If you've been to a waypoint and want to go back, just zap to that waypoint instantly.

Players will be able to control areas like a giant game of Capture the Flag from Quake, much like in NCSoft's Guild Wars: Factions. PvP in Tabula Rasa will always be consentual, and will be oriented around clan-based PvP. To communicate with your clan members easily and effectively, Tabula Rasa will feature in-game voice chat, like Auto Assault. Tabula Rasa has not yet recieved an official release date.

Last, but certainly not least, is Aion, which comes out of their Korean studios. With music composed by Kunihiko Ryo, who scored the anime Twelve Kingdoms, the game is aurally impressive. Additionally, the game has a very unique visual style, and looks vaguely reminiscent of Legend of Dragoon for the PSOne. NCSoft's main draw for Aion is their PvPvE style content. The Player vs Player vs Environment content features two player factions, the demons and the angels, on top of a fully-NPC faction, the dragons. The dragons will function not only as an enemy, but as a balance for an overpowering faction. If the angels have accrued too much power on a server, the dragons will be much more readily aggressive toward the angels. When set to retail, the game will feature 8 different classes per race, though the early version we saw only had four implemented.

One of the other key features of Aion is the fact that players can fly. While in the early build, players were limited to flight paths, they say that the Crytek engine will allow them to fully implement flight. They weren't able to disclose, however, whether there would be any sort of air-based combat.

The world in Aion will be very moldable by players, and when certain encounters have been completed, the environments will be different. Additionally, say players camp a certain spot, the monsters there may become more and more powerful. NCSoft is looking at having Aion hitting open beta before the end of the year.

NCSoft's lineup was extremely strong this year, and with released games like Auto Assault and Guild Wars: Factions on the floor, NCSoft is ready to take on the juggernaut that has become World of Warcraft.


John McCarroll