Fighting Legends Preview

We travel to Denver to take a look at this upcoming role-playing strategy game.

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Just outside Denver, Colorado lie the offices of Maximum Charisma. With some of the nicest slopes in the US just yards away, you'd think that the staff of fewer than two dozen would frequently take days off to go skiing. They would, if they weren't diligently working on their debut game, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that incorporates classic strategy elements called Fighting Legends. The company was founded in November 1999 and has been formally working on the game since January 2000. Originally conceived in a casual conversation about how current online games can be improved upon, Fighting Legends has since grown into a near-alpha build. Inspiration for the company's name came from a line from The Simpsons, where the nerdy Martin describes his role-playing character--the title fits well. Many of the employees knew each other before the company's founding, so there's a genuine feeling of trust and friendless among the coworkers in the office. The founders of Maximum Charisma are no strangers to MMORPGs, having played EverQuest and Ultima Online feverishly, so they feel confident that they know what works and what doesn't in this genre. They are banking on that knowledge, as well as the desire to do something different with the genre, to have Fighting Legends become a hit among gamers.

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Maximum Charisma recently invited GameSpot to its offices to take a look at the latest pre-alpha build of Fighting Legends. The build we played wasn't quite complete, as the combat and magic systems hadn't been fully implemented yet, but the designers at Maximum Charisma hope to have a fully functional alpha build completed in one to two months for in-house testing. After the alpha stage is over, they will progress through several closed beta tests to tweak the game before its target launch date in late 2001.

Like other online games in the genre, Fighting Legends will be a subscription-based service of $9.95 per month, with the first month free. Once the game launches, you can expect to find several servers across the country, each with its own self-contained gameworld--your character won't be able to jump between worlds, so once you commit to a server, you're stuck on it. The world of Fighting Legends is called Exisle, and it's split into three shards: the Underplane, the Surface World, and the Sky Realm. These shards are further broken down into 153 smaller zones. Additionally, there will also be several hidden zones for you to find and explore. You'll be able to travel between the different shards and zones via the game's gate system.

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There are a total of nine playable clans in the game, all of which are spread across the three different shards. When you first start a game, you'll be asked to choose from one of the following clans: Arachin, Wee, BONE, Human, BioMecha, Pyron, RIN, BearKat, and M Clan (a mysterious clan that hasn't been named yet). You start with only one unit, the avatar, who is your main character in the game. However, Fighting Legends will have up to 81 distinct units and five character classes. Melee units are strictly hand-to-hand combat units, and they are the best in this area. Technique units aren't quite as strong as melee units in hand-to-hand combat, but they have the ability to heal others. Missile units have ranged attacks, while Mpower units can use magic. Speed units, as the name implies, are the fastest of the five classes.

In the Game

You begin the game in the first zone of your clan with only your avatar and a base. The base is mobile, which means that you can dismantle it, move it to another location, and erect a new base. The main part of the base is the core where you research new abilities, upgrade units, and construct buildings. The core itself can be upgraded three times. With each upgrade, your units will gain strength and learn new abilities. You can also construct unit-producing buildings and defensive structures at the core. Walls and towers are also available to you, but these get left behind when you pack up your base to move. Fortunately, these structures are cheap to build. The game has three construction resources--power oar, wind crystals, and shadow magma--all of which automatically accumulate when you build your base.

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Your first character, the avatar, is your strongest unit. It receives a 20 percent bonus on all stat points. You can have a total of 16 units in your base, and if you become pleased with their progressions through the game, you can promote them to hero status. You can have three heroes total, and both the heroes and the avatar are immortal, so when they die they turn into a ghost that can be resurrected at the base. All the other units are gone for good when they die, so protecting the units is a priority. Of course you can always build more at the base, but losing a high-level character in your army can be devastating.

Units level up by gaining experience from defeating NPCs and enemy players as well as by completing quests. Quests will be a major factor in the game because in addition to the experience gained from them, completing quests will also give you the ability to build monuments and receive relics. Monuments are bragging rights that let others know that you completed a certain task, and they remain in the world permanently. A relic increases the stats of your units, and there is a relic type corresponding to the unit type it enhances. For example a missile relic only affects missile units and can improve stats like the range of missile attacks. A relic must be brought back to your base, and only one of each type can be active at a time. If the structure housing the relic is destroyed, the relic is lost. Naturally, some relics are rarer than others, so some of the stronger ones will be sought after by players in the game.

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New players start in a beginning core zone for their clan. These areas are player-vs.-player (PVP) free zones, so people can't attack each other. These are good areas to learn about the game, build up your forces, or lick your wounds after battle. As you move away from the core zones, NPCs get harder and PVP battles are eventually allowed. The benefit of moving toward the outer areas is not only to gain more experience but to have access to more resources. The game also encourages people to spread out by imposing penalties on players who prey on significantly weaker ones. Fighting Legends' interface features a bar called the Unk meter. If you constantly attack people who are ten levels lower than you, your Unk meter rises. High Unk causes your units to miss more often and do less damage. It's basically the equivalent of troops losing morale for having to kill innocents or losing skills by attacking people who are unskilled. Twinking, or the practice of giving new players high-level of items, will also be regulated; players can't trade high-level troops to a newbie with a level one avatar.

Final Thoughts

While these role-playing elements form a basis for the game, strategy remains the most important aspect of Fighting Legends. Controlling your army is fairly simple, as the game uses standard action-movement keys. When moving units, you can select your whole army, a smaller squad, or even individual characters. Formations are also available to your army. Units will have aggression settings, so you can make sure that they won't run off in the heat of battle. If you get tired of your avatar or heroes, you can just decide to not resurrect them when they die. You have five minutes per unit level to resurrect the character or else they disappear forever. You can then choose another unit to become your avatar, even if it's from a different clan. This doesn't let you build units from that clan, however. You can only build units from the clan you started as.

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The game will also have strategic and tactical advantages such as elevated positions that give archers bonuses for range and accuracy. Melee units will be the main assault force with healers right behind them. Spellcasters need to be careful because some spells affect entire areas and can, therefore, damage friendly units. The position of your base is also an important strategic decision. If a base is placed close to a resource, it will gather those resources much quicker. But this is prime real estate, and you can expect to be attacked frequently. If you place the base in a high-traffic area, a higher-level player may decide to wipe you out as a help to others. You can place your base right next to another person's base so interesting tactics can result from this. Allies can build a wall around enemy bases and force them to move. Those players would be forced to move because the base is the most important item in the game. If the core base is destroyed, you lose everything and need to start over. This is not easy to do thankfully, so you need to either not care or get attacked by a huge number of enemies because the base dismantles relatively quickly.

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As you can tell from the attached screenshots, Fighting Legends' visuals look hand drawn. The colors are bright and vivid, and landscapes are aesthetically pleasing. The zones are representative of the clan that lives there. For example, the Arachin zones have spider webs and egg sacks dangling from the land. There are also environmental effects like weather and lighting. The game will randomly cause precipitation like snow to fall. Even though this won't affect gameplay in any area, it can help prevent the world from becoming too static. In the background, you'll be able to see the sun and moon rise and fall as the days progress. The build we played was pre-alpha, so unit animations often skipped some frames, but this will obviously be addressed before the final version of Fighting Legends.

Considering that there are no fewer than 45 upcoming MMORPGs on the horizon, Fighting Legends' unique visual flair and its focus on strategy elements should bring a welcome change into the crowded genre once it is released later this year. We'll have more impressions on this game once it enters beta testing.

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