First Details: Summoner

Freespace developer tries its hand at third-person fantasy RPGs with Summoner.

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You'd think that after developing both Freespace titles and a pair of Descent games, Champaign, Ill.-based Volition would stick with what it does best and work another space combat action/simulator. But Volition's third game has little to do with either outer space or fast-paced action. We were in Las Vegas, Nev. this weekend to take a hands-on look at Volition's latest project, an ambitious third-person fantasy RPG called Summoner.

Players take on the role of Joseph, a young man "cursed and blessed" with the ability to summon demons from their plane of existence. Aided by up to five other companions, Joseph will travel across two continents in search of answers regarding his powers. All the while he will be fleeing from an army out to capture him and use his summoning abilities as their own. To combat this seemingly unending horde of monsters and enemies, players must master a number of weapons and more than 50 spells in the game. Summoner will feature the skill- and experience-based system made standard by the likes of the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series.

To bring Summoner to life, Volition has developed an impressive 3D engine that excels at capturing the feel of the game's massive world. Even though games like Final Fantasy have made good use of their balanced combination of 3D objects and 2D backdrops, Summoner's world is completely three-dimensional and boasts detailed character models, skeletal animation, and gorgeous textures and skins. We were shown "flyby" demos of a European-style city, a town with a Japanese motif, and an underground dungeon. This presentation looked as though it could have easily been put together using prerendered sequences, even though it had been rendered in real time using the in-game engine. Take a look at the attached screenshots; we'll let you judge for yourself.

Why deviate so sharply from a genre that has given birth to four memorable games and two profitable licenses? After all, the segue from space combat into fantasy role-playing isn't exactly a seamless one. "We wanted to bring cutting edge technology into a genre that has historically lacked a lot of graphics flair and visual splendor," Volition's director of product development, Philip Holt, told GameSpot News. If cutting-edge technology is all Volition brings into the RPG genre, Summoner would still be one to watch. The game will be published by THQ. It is scheduled to hit shelves in the fall of 2000.

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