Summoner 2 Preview

THQ and Volition are summoning a sequel to the PlayStation 2 RPG.

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When it was released two years ago, the original Summoner shouldered a rather demanding burden. Given the anemic offerings in the RPG genre for the PlayStation 2 at launch, the game underwent quite a bit of scrutiny from RPG fans who were looking for a meaty offering on the PlayStation 2. To Summoner's credit it did manage to offer players quite a bit to explore and enjoy, despite some flaws in its execution. For the sequel, Illinois-based developer Volition has focused on doing more than just addressing the original game's shortcomings. We got our hands on a previewable copy of the game and have come away pleased by the overhaul that's well under way.

Maia is the new hero of the game.
Maia is the new hero of the game.

Summoner 2's story is set roughly 20 years after its predecessor on the other side of the world. You'll take on the role of Maia, the young ruler of a kingdom called Halassar, who, according to nine out of 10 prophets, is believed to be the reincarnation of a goddess called Laharah. As if the pressures of being a reincarnated goddess and ruling a kingdom aren't bad enough, the prophecies also mention that Maia is to fulfill a great destiny of some kind. Sadly the exact nature of her great destiny isn't covered in the prophecies, leaving Maia to her own devices. Fortunately Maia's innate spunk sends her off to look for more information on her impending greatness. Maia's quest of self-discovery is complicated a bit by a declaration of war against Halassar from the priests of Urath who aren't really behind anything associated with the goddess Laharah. Krobelus, leader of the priests, is pretty much set on completely wiping out Maia and her people, which rules out any kind of peaceful negotiation. While this all spells trouble for Maia, it's narrative gold for players looking for a meaty story.

You'll be able to control any member of the party at any time.
You'll be able to control any member of the party at any time.

If you're familiar with the original Summoner's gameplay, forget what you know. Summoner 2 provides a very different experience from its predecessor. The game's basic structure is still somewhat linear--you'll head out to different locales as the story unfolds--but you'll also have some opportunities to go about your own business and revisit areas if you want. You'll go through the game with a party of three characters: Maia and two others. At the start of the game your sole companion will be Sangaril, a Munari assassin originally assigned to kill Maia but who ended up becoming her friend and confidant. As you progress through the game you'll meet and be able to swap in Taurgis, Maia's mentor who helped raise her and now serves as her bodyguard; Neru, a former Urath priest who now leads a band of pirates; Iari, a machine created by an ancient race called the unseen; and Morbazan, a fighter who brings Maia information on Krobelus. You'll also cross paths with Yago, whose daughter Rosalind, one of the main characters in the original Summoner, has gone missing. Each character will have unique abilities that can be very useful in specific situations, so choosing the right mix of characters is key to making it through the game.

Combat in Summoner 2 has taken a change for the better. You'll actually be able to swap between controlling Maia and her party members during a battle. When you're actively controlling one of the characters, the game handles like a standard 3D action game. You'll attack with the square button and block with R1. You'll find that you'll even be able to pull off multihit combos if you time your blows correctly. An onscreen meter will show the number of action points you currently have. The action points function a bit like mana or magic points do in a standard RPG. You'll use action points by using certain items or performing a character's special attack, which is done by pressing triangle. Maia differs a bit from the rest of the group because of her ability to transform into a variety of different creatures for periods of time. Whereas Joseph summoned creatures to fight for him in the original game, Maia gains the ability to turn into them as she finds runes in the game. It's a nice addition that gives the gameplay some variety. The time limit, which you can increase as Maia gains experience, adds a strategic element to combat that keeps you from relying too heavily on her transformations.

There's nothing like smacking around some evil doers with friends.
There's nothing like smacking around some evil doers with friends.

Exploration in the game is pretty standard. Every time you travel to a new location you'll interact with characters who will usually offer some information and hints as to what you'll have to do. As in any RPG, you'll encounter a solid array of puzzles to wrap your brain around, ranging from basic "find the key" challenges to more intricate ones.

Graphically the game is a sharp improvement over the original game. The look of the characters stays true to the art style of the original, but they boast improved detail. Most characters have clothing or hair that moves and animates well. In addition, the overall design of the characters seems to draw on a wider pool of influences, and the end result is a richer look that goes beyond the previous game. The same can be said of the game's environments, which are expansive and sport a great deal of variety. For example, Maia's castle in Halassar has a Middle Eastern look conveyed by ornate tapestries and its architecture. The enemies you'll face are equally varied and share the same level of detail and design as the main characters. You'll find quite a bit of special effects eye candy--thanks to a host of new lighting and particle effects--which is most often seen when you're using magic and during Maya's transformations. In spite of the new additions to the game's graphics engine, the frame rate has actually improved. Our preview build managed to run at a fairly solid 30 frames per second and rarely slowed down, which bodes well for the game's performance.

Maia will be able to turn into some sick, but useful, creatures.
Maia will be able to turn into some sick, but useful, creatures.

From what we've played so far, Summoner 2 is coming together pretty well. Featuring improved graphics, overhauled gameplay, and an intriguing story, the game has quite a bit to offer. Fans of the original and gamers looking for some RPG action should keep an eye out for it when it ships this fall.

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