Harbinger Preview

We take a hands-on look at this upcoming futuristic action RPG.

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Hacking and slashing have been integral to role-playing games for as long as role-playing games have been around. Action RPGs like Diablo II and Dungeon Siege pit players against huge groups of enemies in real-time hack-and-slash battles--a formula that many fans have found to be both accessible and addictive. But while these games have all taken place in fantasy worlds, DreamCatcher's upcoming game Harbinger will take place in a sci-fi setting. The game will feature cyborgs and aliens in place of wizards and barbarians, and it will also have a surprisingly complex plot supported by an equally complex background story.

Harbinger will combine hack-and-slash battles with a detailed background story.
Harbinger will combine hack-and-slash battles with a detailed background story.

And in this upcoming game, rather than exploring a haunted castle or a medieval countryside, you'll travel through various levels of a gigantic and mysterious slave ship known only as Harbinger. For as long as anyone can remember, the starship, which is larger than most small planets, has traveled the galaxy, capturing slaves from many different races. Most prisoners are either sent to the ship's grueling work camps or used as test subjects for gruesome experiments. But there are a few who have managed to slip past their captors and escape to the deserted recesses of the enormous ship. These escaped prisoners of various races have gradually formed their own sort of society by settling in different areas of the vessel connected by umbilicals--transport booths that whisk their passengers to and from different parts of Harbinger.

However, many of the more paranoid life-forms on the ship refuse coexist peacefully with their fellow captives and have been known to attack others on sight. Exploring Harbinger will be a dangerous business, especially considering the fact that the ship is also regularly patrolled by the Vantir--ruthless guards with heavy armor, heavier artillery, and orders to gun down any escapees on sight. Then there are the environmental hazards to deal with, such as radiation zones that will continuously damage adventurers who happen to be passing through.

This plasma rifle works well as a ranged weapon.
This plasma rifle works well as a ranged weapon.

In Harbinger, you'll control a single character by choosing from one of three playable types: the human, the gladiator (a huge robot infused with the consciousness of a human being), or the culibine (a member of an alien race with innate regenerative abilities). As you might expect from an action RPG, Harbinger will have plenty of different weapons, armor, and miscellaneous items to choose from. However, each of the game's playable characters will be able to make use of ranged weapons to attack from a distance, as well as lay traps on the ground to damage and ensnare enemies. This will all be done through Harbinger's streamlined interface. Like any good action RPG since Diablo II, you point and click to move your character, and the game will also let you click and hold your mouse button to continuously walk or attack, rather than forcing you to click repeatedly.

And as you might expect, each of the three races not only looks different, but also has different strengths and weaknesses that will factor into the gameplay. For instance, the human character isn't the most powerful race in a straight fight, but he is able to use the most powerful sorts of traps, such as electromagnetic pulse mines, to lay ambushes for enemies. Each of the three characters will eventually recover specific equipment that they can use by looting items from their fallen enemies, digging them out of abandoned equipment lockers, or purchasing them from the few merchants that dare to dabble in the black market. Like in any good action RPG, equipped items will clearly appear on the characters.

Depending on which character you play, you'll receive different quests.
Depending on which character you play, you'll receive different quests.

In addition, the different characters have different stories, different dialogue, different interactions with other characters, and different quests. Harbinger's dialogue seems decidedly melodramatic, and the game will offer different kinds of quests that involve tasks like finding missing persons and replenishing dwindling supplies, which seem appropriate for game's dark, bleak setting. Depending on which race you play, some non-player characters may offer additional quests, or refuse to even speak with you.

Harbinger will attempt to take the hack-and-slash gameplay of Diablo II and combine it with a complex background story and a series of quests that will vary depending on which of the game's three characters you're playing as. We'll see if the game measures up to its forebears when Harbinger is released in February.

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