Blade of Darkness Preview
We take a detailed look at Codemasters' and Rebel Act Studios' upcoming project that blends action and role-playing gameplay.
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While Blade of Darkness does have unique features, its story may not be one of them. It involves a pantheon of gods: Long ago, the Lord created the world of Blade of Darkness with both light and dark in the form of two offspring known as the Spirit of Light and the Prince of Darkness. The Prince of Darkness wanted to overthrow his father, so he learned the magic of creation. But the Prince of Darkness couldn't control his creation, so the Lord and the Spirit of Light were forced to fight this new danger together. The two gods eventually succeeded, but weary from battle, the Lord retired to another region of the universe. The younger god decided to finish his father's work while he was gone, and at the same time, the Prince of Darkness began to corrupt humans, which resulted in another conflict between light and dark. In order to put an end to this, Ianna, one of the younger daughters of the Lord, cast a powerful spell that banished all of the gods from their dwellings, leaving the humans to fight for themselves and the two gods to govern night and day. One warrior stood up to fight and push the evil back, but he died and was buried in the temple of Ianna with his sword. So once again, the evil has begun to encroach, but four warriors - a knight, a dwarf, an amazon, and a barbarian - are ready to take up their weapons and fight off the evil to protect the earth.
Choosing which warrior to play as requires consideration. Not only does each character in Blade of Darkness have different abilities, but each has a different story that unfolds as the game progresses, which extends the game's replay value.
Choose Your Warrior
Blade of Darkness lets you select from four different warriors to help fight the evil creations of the Prince of Darkness. However, in selecting a warrior, you must take into account that some warriors are more proficient with specific weapons than others. If you like long-range attacks, then one of the warriors is going to hold an advantage over the others, but if you want a warrior who has solid hand-to-hand skills and doesn't tire easily, then you have to choose differently. Here are the four warriors:
The knight, Sargon: Sargon appears to be the most balanced character because he doesn't tire quickly, he does a moderate amount of damage with his weapons, and he has good offensive and defensive skills. Sargon may be the best warrior to start out with because his weapons of choice are the sword and shield, and the weapons you come across early in the game are basic one-handed swords and small wooden shields. Though he lacks raw physical strength, Sargon makes up for it with a decent amount of stamina to perform more complicated combinations.
The dwarf, Nagflar: Regardless of the game, dwarves always seem to be the best at wielding axes, and Blade of Darkness is no different. Nagflar can wield a small hatchet and other axes better than any other character in the game, and as such, he appears to have the greatest amount of strength. However, that strength comes at a price: Nagflar is probably the slowest character in the game, and he tires easily. When you swing his massive ax, you better make sure that the hit connects, otherwise Nagflar will leave himself open for damaging counterattacks from enemies. Once you become familiar with the controls and you find higher-level axes, like the massive fire ax, Nagflar can become a nearly unstoppable force.
The amazon, Zoe: Not to be outdone by her male counterparts, Zoe is the quickest of the four warriors in Blade of Darkness, which is an incredibly valuable skill, especially in later areas. Oftentimes you encounter a group of enemies that are better dealt with individually than as a group. Zoe's speed lets you draw back quickly to an area where you can take on one creature at a time. Zoe can use staffs and lances better than the other warriors, which makes her a good choice if you prefer to take on an enemy at a distance.
The barbarian, Tukaram: If you prefer a balance of strength and speed, Tukaram is the best choice. The fact that he can use two-handed swords better than anyone else gives him the added strength that Sargon lacks, and though he's not as fast as Zoe, Tukaram has decent speed that lets you run away from packs of enemies to regroup. However, when wielding a two-handed sword, Tukaram cannot carry a shield, so it's easy for him to leave himself open for a devastating attack if he misses his mark.
Improving Your Skills
Once you select a warrior, you have an opportunity to test his or her skills and abilities in a tutorial mode. In the tutorial, you start off by learning the most basic of skills like walking, running, and jumping - seemingly simple tasks, but going through each of the sessions helps you become familiar with the timing and the motions of each character. As the tutorial progresses, you encounter an area with a weapon rack, a few lances, and other weapons, as well as a wooden dummy. This gives you an opportunity to practice your warrior's basic fighting skills and some of the basic combinations you can perform. This tutorial only teaches you the very basics. Once you've completed the tutorial, you'll find that your warrior quickly gains levels and new skills in the early stages of Blade of Darkness, and the only way to test out these skills is to find an enemy and just start swinging away.
The tutorial does give you a chance to become familiar with Blade of Darkness' surprisingly realistic physics. For instance, when you jump across a small pit, it actually feels like gravity is pulling your character down. You don't get the benefit of having the split second where you reach the peak of a jump, but rather you're immediately pulled down.
The tutorial also demonstrates how combat in Blade of Darkness is different than in most games of this type. Unlike in a game like Diablo, and to a lesser extent Rune, Blade of Darkness requires much more than repeated clicking of the mouse. The combat system is similar to console fighting games in that different combinations of directional keys, along with a click of the mouse, perform a different kind of swing. For example, you perform Zoe's basic swing simply by clicking the mouse. The result is a quick but weak hit on an enemy and quicker regeneration of stamina. If you press forward twice and then click the mouse, Zoe deals a more devastating overhead attack with her staff, which causes more damage, but this takes away some of her stamina and opens her up for a quick counterattack if the enemy blocks the hit with a shield or dodges the swing.
Thanks to Blade of Darkness' lock-on mode, where you automatically lock onto enemies and strafe around them, executing moves successfully is a little less difficult. In addition, your character can actually level much faster and learn new skills quicker if you use more special techniques to defeat your enemies.
Walk Toward the Light
Blade of Darkness is a good looking game. Many of the special effects in Blade of Darkness are impressive, and the textures are crisp and clean. Torches flicker and cast eerily realistic shadows on the wall. In the early stages of Tukaram's quest, you come across a building with a small fire inside. Walking closer to the doorway of the building reveals a massive shadow on the wall of the enemy inside. Not only do shadow effects look great, but they also serve a valuable function: You can sneak up on enemies from out of the shadows and strike them with your weapon. You'll see the same shadow effects in Sargon's stage. In the first level an armored knight walks past your cell with a torch, and the shadow and lighting effects heighten the sense that you're in a dark and dangerous dungeon. At another point in Sargon's quest, you'll come across tiny gremlin-like creatures sitting near a fire in a cave, and you'll see their massive shadows cast on the wall. Unfortunately, the lighting isn't always perfect. When your character is holding a torch, you won't see a shadow of it on the wall. Additionally, your torch occasionally clips through walls, which causes you to lose that light source.
Water effects are also impressive in the game, though not quite as realistic. The water produces reflections of the surrounding scenery and makes them shimmer. Even the reflection of your character is clearly visible. However, as you walk through the water, it actually doesn't react as you'd expect - it looks too flat. There are waterfalls that give off mist as the stream connects with the water below, but the water below the waterfall doesn't actually move or give any indication that a waterfall is nearby. But the water does produce a dense mist. Blade of Darkness is one of the few games that actually uses fog as an excellent environmental effect, rather than a tool for masking shortcomings with the 3D engine.
There is also a battle-damage effect that shows your character's injuries. The stronger the attack, the worse the injuries appear on your character. A few quick blows from an enemy weapon will produce a few bruises on your character's head and legs, but a more damaging attack will cause massive lacerations around the chest, arms, and legs.
All these special effects demand a powerful computer. On a system equipped with a Pentium III and a GeForce video card, Blade of Darkness struggled to maintain a solid frame rate even at 640x480 resolution. It's important to note that the game still looks excellent at this relatively low resolution, and various options such as mip mapping and texture quality can be adjusted to accommodate relatively lower-end systems. Still, the texture quality takes a significant hit if lowered even to the medium level, and there really isn't that much improvement in performance. Hopefully these issues will be addressed before the game's final release.
There are many aspects of Blade of Darkness that seem to make it a solid game that should appeal to a wide audience. The four character classes offer added replay value with their branching stories and different skills. The fact that some characters can level more quickly and use different weapons better than other characters in the game should appeal to fans of the Diablo series. Additionally, the deep hand-to-hand combat system should quell any fears that Blade of Darkness is just a simple action game. For those who are worried about the lack of ranged weapons, just about any object from bowls to stools to axes can be thrown at an opponent. Because of the game's realistic physics, the distance you can throw an item depends on its weight and size. A small wooden bowl flies much farther than a heavy battle-ax that travels only a few feet when thrown. There's even a bow-and-arrow weapon that can be fired from a first-person view. The used arrows can be recovered from fallen enemies or from walls, tables, or other objects.
The artificial intelligence in Blade of Darkness does have its share of problems in the current build of the game. For instance, in one of Sargon's early levels, you can continually attack one of the knights in the castle without the knight ever fighting back. One of the level bosses, a duo of disfigured creatures, initially attacks with great ferocity, but if you run over to and climb up on a table located in the corner of the immediate area, the creatures cease their attack. For the most part, the rest of the game's enemies fight as you'd expect them to. The control in Blade of Darkness is a little sluggish though, and it's often difficult to move your character in a precise direction. For instance, when you turn off the lock-on mode and try to fight enemies without any kind of assist feature, it's difficult to hit an enemy with a basic attack let alone with a special move. The collision detection also seems to be a little inaccurate such as when characters walk up and down stairs almost like the stairs aren't even there or when you get caught on walls in small rooms and entrance ways. The current build is only 90 percent complete, so Rebel Act Studios may still be working to fix these problems. And hopefully they'll be fixed, as otherwise, Blade of Darkness is shaping up to be an impressive game because of its great graphics and its combination of action and role-playing elements.
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