For an explanation of the Lord of Arcana universe, as well as an overview of the characters and basic mechanics, check out our recent first look at the game here. The last time we saw the title, we were given a brief hands-off demonstration of single-player content, but this time around, we were given the chance to pick up the handheld and swing the sword in Lord of Arcana’s expansive multiplayer mode.
Solo play sees you taking control of a single character, but in multiplayer, your role becomes that of a cog in a larger four-person team machine. There’s no online play supported in the title, and Square Enix reps at our play session said that this was because they want to foster an offline community where players meet and do battle, which removes the need for in-game voice chat. Because the game is so heavily bound in strategy and the ability to adapt as situations change, bosses are attempted and loot rewarded is core to the experience.
Your weapon of choice will play a marked role in the way you approach combat. One-handed swordsmen are able to wield a shield, while two-handed swords deal additional damage but rely on adept dodging rather than blocking with a board. Lord of Arcana avoids the hassles and confusions of picking a class type when you create a new character, and while it means each avatar will play similarly on a functional level, it also removes the inevitable disappointment that comes when you loot items that your character can’t use. Customization of both the cosmetic and functional variety can be performed by chatting with townsfolk at quest hubs as you equip and upgrade weapons, as well as alter loadouts before you hit the bloody trail.
Once all four players have entered a designated multiplayer area, the group leader can initiate the party. Objectives take between 30 minutes and an hour and include finding objects, killing a set number of a particular enemy type, and tackling the nastiest boss creatures in the world of Horodyn. You’ll want to stay within a reasonable range of each other as you explore, though, as players who lag behind or stray from the group can quickly become sucked into their own instanced fights and forced to fight their way back to the team. It’s a slightly unusual mechanic, as we found that the boss we were hunting roamed the underground cavern setting and switched rooms regularly. Against better judgment, we split up to divide and conquer; each player becoming embroiled in a solo one-on-several fight with spawning monsters. Unfortunately, while on some occasions, we blasted through these random encounters quickly and managed to catch up with other players in our squad who had also gone lone wolf, there was no way to assist them in their instance, which left the rest of the group members to sit around waiting as they eliminated targets until they stopped spawning.
Combat requires patience and strategy, with deft potion use needed to top up depleted health while managing evading and blocking. Though the lines between Lord of Arcana and the hugely successful Monster Hunter series are clear, LoA has a more overt feedback system for players, which shows scrolling numbers onscreen for the damage you’re dealing. The camera gave us reason for concern, and while you can manually adjust it using the D pad, the left-shoulder button press that helps refocus the camera on the action wasn’t always as responsive as we would have liked.
Splitting up to cover more ground, each member of the group went looking for our target, Bahamut. Instances are split into rooms, and passing through to the next area necessitates a load screen. They vary in length with some lasting only a few seconds and others running considerably longer. It’s worth noting that we were playing on test hardware, so we’ll be interested to see whether these delays are eliminated in the shipping version of the game.
Locating the boss, we grouped up and charged in; war cries howling and swords glinting. Blades flew as the demonic winged lizard rose high into the air, stomping down and sending shockwaves around the room. Unable to get out of the way of an incoming dash move, things turned from bad to worse, downing one of our fellow fighters. Unable to orchestrate a focused team effort, our attempt ended almost as quickly as we started. Our only recourse for revenge on the failed quest was to start over by creating a fresh lobby from scratch because there was no option to retry without disbanding the group. Though we didn’t have a chance to see them in action, Square Enix reps explained that the same quick-time events found in the single-player mode will be used to similar effect in multiplayer, showing flashy cinematic acrobatics as you bury your weapon deep into the adversaries you seek.
With egos bruised and broken swords trailing behind us, we headed back to town. Fans of action role-playing games don’t have too much longer to wait, with the game launching stateside and in Europe, both as standard editions and with collector’s versions in spring of 2011.