Developer Stormfront Studios' hack-and-slash action game The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was based on the exciting Peter Jackson motion picture (which was, in turn, based on JRR Tolkien's classic high-fantasy novel). Following the success of The Two Towers, the Northern California-based developer opted to work on a brand-new project for Atari Games, tentatively titled Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, which is a new fantasy-themed hack-and-slash adventure for the PlayStation 2 that has the official Dungeons & Dragons license.
As its name suggests, Demon Stone will take place in the Forgotten Realms fantasy universe created for the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game. As design director Jay Epps explained, the Forgotten Realms universe lends itself extremely well to a colorful hack-and-slash action game like this because it's both extremely diverse and very well developed. This is a result of its constant evolution in tabletop Dungeons & Dragons adventures, fantasy novels, and computer and video games, such as Stormfront's own classic "gold box" role-playing games for home computers. We watched a brief introduction sequence with a map that hinted at such diverse locations as the Moonsea, the Spine of the World, and the jungles of Chult, where the demonstration level took place.
Demon Stone will be powered by the same engine that Stormfront used for its Lord of the Rings action game, but it will feature numerous improvements that the studio has made thanks to its considerable experience. Enhancements such as higher-resolution character heads, improved specular lighting on glossy floor areas, improved particle effects on torches and magic spells, and streaming technology (which allows the team to create larger environments to explore) will be included.
The game will also have an all-new cast of characters, including a stout warrior who's armed with a sword, a sorcerer who carries a magic staff, and a swift rogue. Each will play extremely differently, and each will have abilities that mirror those found in the Dungeons & Dragons rules, though the game will not be overly complex. As Epps explained, Stormfront Studios communicates regularly with Wizards of the Coast (the publisher that holds the Dungeons & Dragons license) to make sure that the game remains accessible and fun, as well as true to its source material. As such, your characters will be able to gain experience levels and will also be able to use "feats," which are powerful abilities that characters receive every few levels. However, they won't have ability scores (for strength, dexterity, and others). Furthermore, you personally won't have to deal with any complicated dice-rolling or number-crunching.
In the demonstration level that we played, the trio had just finished their trek through the steaming jungles of Chult to find a temple of evil yuan-ti--intelligent, reptilian creatures with humanoid torsos that end in a snake's tail. The yuan-ti were apparently engaged in a ritual to summon an evil demon into the Forgotten Realms--something our band of intrepid heroes wouldn't stand for. After the in-engine cutscene, the game cut straight to the action, which involved a chaotic battle in the temple against many angry broadsword-wielding yuan-ti. We controlled the warrior by default.
The warrior is equipped with a huge sword, and you can make him perform simple three-hit combination attacks by repeatedly pressing the X button. However, he and his companions also have additional combination attacks, as well as charged-up superattacks that damage all nearby enemies. An example of an additional combination attack (from the warrior) involves pressing X, circle, circle, which causes the warrior to take a single swing at his enemy; then he viciously impales the enemy's throat on his sword. The warrior and his companions can finish off downed enemies with a quick press of the R1 button.
The swift rogue is armed with dual short swords, and though she can put up a decent fight in a pinch, she's much more effective using her other abilities. Specifically, she can use stealth to sneak up behind enemies to assassinate them by locking her arms and legs around their bodies and slitting their throats. The rogue also has acrobatic abilities, which enable her to clamber over pits on ropes and negotiate columns hand over hand, in addition to being able to make huge leaps. Furthermore, she is able to use traditional Dungeons & Dragons rogue abilities, like picking locked doors and hiding in the shadows to perform stealth missions.
The sorcerer is the ranged-attack specialist of the party and has such Dungeons & Dragons standby spells as fireball, lightning bolt, and magic missile at his disposal, though he is able to hold down the attack buttons to charge up his spells to more-powerful levels. As the sorcerer, you can press and hold L1 to lock onto your targets, which we did later on in the battle when we were attacked by a series of tiny, flying demons that were released by the yuan-ti's summoning spell. Once the last of these creatures was defeated, the demon itself--a huge, snarling beast--attempted to claw its way out of the portal. However, since the sorcery had ultimately failed, the monster was sucked back in.
While our demo of the game gave us a brief sample of what to expect, Stormfront is working to ensure that the title is more than a simple hack-and-slash. Your ability to switch between characters will play an integral part of the experience, and it will keep the pace brisk. The action will be complemented by a varied selection of more than 10 levels that will take you on a scenic tour of the Forgotten Realms world. The whole experience will be tied together by an original story by RA Salvatore and a script by Bob Goodwin. Fans of Salvatore's work will be pleased to see that a cameo by Drizzt D'ourden, a familiar face from many books, has found its way into the game. Even though Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is still a ways off from release, the game looks impressive at this point. The game is scheduled to ship for the PlayStation 2 this fall. Until then, check out an exclusive interview on the game, along with the first footage of it in motion, on our media page.