It's mid-June in Los Angeles, and there are crowds of people in the Staples Center area, and that can mean only one thing: the Electronic Entertainment Expo is here, with such games as the medieval-era action adventure game The First Templar. This new game will take place at the tail end of the Dark Ages in Europe and will chronicle the rise of the fabled secret society known as the Knights Templar as they continue their search for the legendary Holy Grail while also facing an encroaching threat from the ambitious Spanish Inquisition--a powerful faction whose chief weapon is fear (or...fear and surprise) and that seeks to oppress the peoples of Europe with intimidation, paranoia, and sudden executions on the grounds of heresy.
In the game, you'll play as a noble French knight armed with sword and shield who is a puissant swordsman and a crusader for the cause of right, or so he thinks. The game will actually support cooperative play for two players, either online or on the same console for the Xbox 360 version, and therefore will feature two playable characters in action pretty much the whole time. If you decide to play the game all by your lonesome, your companion will be computer-controlled, and you can change control to the other character at any time, though you can also have a friend drop in or drop out at any time (similar to the co-op play in the later Lego Star Wars games and Resident Evil 5). While our hero starts out the game alongside his mentor, the cynical veteran knight Roland, the two men later rescue an Inquisition captive--a young noblewoman who is handy with a bow and arrow and just as skillful at using short swords and daggers. The lady becomes our hero's primary companion while Roland appears to ride off in the sunset, though publisher Kalypso Media suggests that the embittered veteran may return later in the game in a very different role.
We watched both a promotional trailer for the game and a brief demonstration of live gameplay in an early pre-alpha version. Apparently, the game will draw strongly on recorded history, and with the exception of a few huge, mutant humanoid monsters, your friends and foes will all be human, and no one will have any magic powers. The play session we watched showed the noble knight and his mentor investigate a village of terrified peasants who claim to have seen a monster prowling the nearby wood. We headed out into the forest to see whether there was trouble at the mill, first encountering a handful of angry Inquisitors dressed in the order's trademark red robes. We dispatched them with a series of melee combination attacks that can be performed with a series of button presses (as you'd expect from a third-person melee action game), though different characters will also have special abilities. Roland, for instance, can grapple and subdue an enemy character, leaving him wide open to his companion's attack. In addition, each character has three power icons that gradually fill up as you perform normal attacks. As your characters grow in power over time (using the game's extensive skill tree), you'll learn new attacks that cost one, two, or three power points, such as a knockdown attack that costs a single point and sends most enemies sprawling.
Though our path to our quarry was clearly marked, we followed the sound of barking dogs and cries for help to a side quest, which amounted to a brief battle against an Inquisitor and his trained attack dogs (which were capable of tackling us clean off our feet). After a brief and bloody engagement, we dispatched the cleric and his troublesome hounds to find their captive, a harmless monk who divulged new information about the beast we hunted, as well as their treasure, a small box that, when opened, granted us a new combat ability. We then pressed on to the clearing to see a stony structure built into the side of a foothill in which our beast most likely lived. To draw it out, we first hid in the nearby brush, signaled to another one of our men positioned above the hillside to emerge and grab the big, ugly brute's attention. We then jumped into combat and attacked him from behind. Unfortunately, the game is still in a very early state, so this boss battle didn't look quite as climactic as it probably should, but the game itself has a long way to go before it's complete. The First Templar is scheduled for release early next year.