Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions

We get hands-on with Stormfront Studios' new hack-and-slash game, set in the Forgotten Realms.

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Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone
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Last fall, Atari released Dungeons & Dragons Heroes, a hack-and-slash role-playing game that ultimately met with mixed reviews. This year, the publisher is keeping the hack-and-slash, while omitting the role-playing elements with another D&D game, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone. The game is being developed at Stormfront Studios, the experienced team behind the more highly lauded The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers game. Like The Two Towers, Demon Stone will allow you to fight your way through legions of monsters in a high-fantasy setting. We had a chance to get hands-on with the game at a recent pre-E3 press event.

As in Stormfront's previous game, you'll be able to play as one of three different characters as you make your way through Demon Stone's ten missions. You'll also be able to fight using combination moves that are very similar to the ones used in The Two Towers. You'll have single-button combos and multibutton combos at your disposal, as well as powerful counterattacks that can be executed off of successful parries. From our play testing, the combo timing seemed somewhat more forgiving than it was in Stormfront's previous game.

What's new in Demon Stone is that you'll be able to switch between the three characters instantly within each mission by simply tapping on the D pad. This means you'll always be traveling and fighting through the missions in a party with the ability to swap control between any of the characters on the fly. The three playable characters include: a burly fighter, a female drow rogue, and a staff-carrying sorcerer.

The fighter, as you might expect, will act as a melee combat specialist. Using slashes, punches, and combination attacks, he can deal significant damage to enemies with his weapon. While all three characters are fairly capable, the fighter is the most ideally suited for that type of work because he's the strongest, and he can absorb the most punishment.

The rogue's primary strength is in stealth. She has the unique ability of being able to see dark areas where she can hide from sight. While playing as the rogue, these special areas will be made obvious to you with a graphical effect. By simply getting out of the sight lines of nearby enemies and ducking into a dark spot, the rogue becomes hidden, which is represented on-screen by her body turning gray and translucent. In this stealth state, the rogue's attacks become much more powerful, and you can even execute backstabs which can kill enemies in just one strike. You need to be careful while in stealth mode, though. If you move carelessly and quickly in the sight lines of enemies, you'll lose your hidden status and be forced to hide again or go into regular combat. Aside from stealth, the rogue is capable of jumping up to ledges, and other interesting, but hard-to-reach areas, to find hidden treasure.

Rounding out the three characters is the sorcerer. Though he can attack using his staff as a bludgeoning device, the sorcerer excels primarily at ranged spells. Eventually you'll have up to 10 spells to use, including such D&D favorites as magic missile, chain lightning, and meteor swarm. If, while playing as the sorcerer, you ever find yourself swarmed by enemies, you can simply tap one of the shoulder buttons to call for help. Either the fighter or the rogue will break away from their current engagement to come help you out.

The game is being designed for you to take advantage of all the players' specific strengths. Jay Epps, design director of Stormfront Studios, demonstrated for us how an advanced Demon Stone player might approach an engagement. First, he ran into the thick of a group of slaad lizards with the fighter, where he executed a few quick combos. He then swapped control over to the sorcerer, backing out of the melee to a safe spot and firing a few volleys of magic missiles into the fray before finally switching to the rogue. Using the lithe drow, Epps skulked away from the brunt of the fighting, ducked into some nearby shadows to gain stealth, and immediately backstabbed the remaining enemies to finish the fight. Throughout the fracas, the computer was able to seamlessly take control of the characters as Epps abandoned them, and it continued to fight in a reasonably efficient manner.

As you play through the campaign, you'll earn both experience and gold. The former can be exchanged for new abilities and combos for your character. These include feats taken directly from the D&D players' handbook, such as throwing axe specialization for the fighter, and "manyshot" for the rogue, which allows her to throw a fan of knives. Gold can be traded for new items such as "plus" weapons, amulets, and enchantment power-ups, like venom blade and flaming swords.

Aside from trying to remain true to the D&D source material, Atari and Stormfront are also taking steps to ensure the quality of the game's story as well. The best-selling D&D author R.A. Salvatore is helping pen Demon Stone's script, which will be told mostly through short, 30-second to one-minute dialogue exchanges. The designers are keenly aware that the game will primarily be played by action gamers who aren't necessarily interested in sitting through long, expository cutscenes. By keeping the vignettes shorter, but perhaps a little more frequent, the designers hope to relate a good background for each character and still keep the focus squarely on the action. Nonetheless, you can expect excellent voice acting, as the cast includes the likes of Patrick Stewart (best known for his role as Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Michael Clarke Duncan, who starred opposite Tom Hanks in The Green Mile.

Overall, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is shaping up nicely. Those who enjoyed The Two Towers, or hack-and-slash games in general, will probably want to keep an eye on the game as it goes into the final stages of development. While its lack of a cooperative multiplayer component may disappoint some, the ability to switch between any of the characters in the party, on the fly, is a nice twist and one which the developers hope will contribute to the game's replay value. Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone is expected to ship this fall on the PlayStation 2 platform.

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