Summoner Preview

Summoner tells the story of Joseph, a novice summoner who must hone his powers and quest for ancient rings that will help him defeat the game's villain.

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Each generation, there is one person born with the innate ability to summon powerful monsters to do his bidding. This generation that power resides in a drifter named Joseph. When Joseph was very young he accidentally summoned an evil demon that ravaged his village and killed everyone he loved. This tragic event still haunts him, and he was so scarred by the memory that he chose to abandon his calling and is hesitant to use his powers. But an evil has fallen upon the land, and Joseph quickly starts to find himself in situations where he's forced to use his summoning power. This leads him on an adventurous quest to find the five sacred summoning rings scattered throughout the land in order to challenge the armies that had invaded his continent, Medeva. Summoner not only involves the search for the rings but also the use of these rings to free Medeva.

On this quest Joseph meets his companions - Jekhar, Flece, and Rosalind - and the four of them make up the traditional "party" of role-playing adventurers. Joseph will also be able to add an additional summoned monster to the party's roster. Each party member has his or her own strengths, corresponding roughly to different character classes, and each will develop differently in terms of skills and abilities when gaining levels. Jekhar is a warrior who is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and he will do much of the down-and-dirty fighting. Flece, as her name suggests, is a thief, while Rosalind is a healer and magic user. The four aren't a completely traditional adventuring party, however. Intraparty dynamics are a feature of the game. For example, Rosalind has agreed to join Joseph on his search even though she is jealous of his summoning powers. This kind of tension will add to the complexity and depth of the game, which you will find surprising and engaging, the team says. And while you can only add four preset characters to your party, certain events and choices in the game could lead to members of your team parting ways with Joseph. Joseph is the main character, but you can view the game from the perspective of any of the four travelers. You can zoom the game camera in and out, with the pitch being determined by whether or not combat is taking place (one fixed pitch is for adventuring and another is for combat).

Each summoner's power is harnessed through the five sacred summoner rings. The rings reflect the different elements - each ring will have different capabilities that you will discover, and each summoning will have its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Thus, mastering the summoning system will be a gradual process for you and will parallel Joseph's development of his ability. Once Joseph has collected all the rings and mastered his summoning powers, he'll be able to summon any of the 20 creatures in the game. All of the summonings will have unique animations, once again showing off the game's graphics engine.

Volition is set on making Summoner different from traditional RPGs. Summoner relies heavily on Asian mythology and culture, and the influence on the completely original storyline is apparent. While the continent of Medeva has a medieval England feel to it, the continent of Orenia is more reminiscent of a medieval Japan. One of Volition's main goals is to make you feel as if you're really in the environment - enemies who are indigenous to Orenia feel as if they truly belong in the environments. This theme is carried through the careful character design. Summoner's enemies are extremely creative, using monster types not found in other games. Undead monsters that look like pieced-together corpses sport heads for arms, while lizardlike creatures indigenous to Medeva sport four legs and two arms.One of the more interesting aspects of Summoner is the complex AI system. For your party, the robust AI will let you give orders to party members without having to micromanage every move. You'll be able to set an aggression level for different party members and control what kind of attacks they engage in. Jekhar, as a fighter, will mostly likely wade in with his broadsword, while Rosalind will want to stay in the rear and cast spells of attack or healing. However, situations will vary, and the game's sophisticated combat system will also be flexible enough to make tactical decisions or implement those made by you. The AI is just as smart for enemies. Stronger enemies will charge your party, while weaker enemies with long-range attacks will attempt to flank your party. If you cast spells that affect areas, such as the wall-of-fire spell, weaker enemies are smart enough to find a path around the effect, while stronger enemies may choose to simply charge through the flame and shrug off the damage.

The real-time combat system is heavily influenced by games like Diablo. While the combat system is in real time, it incorporates more strategy and tactical aspects - such as pathfinding and controlling individual troops to give them commands. You can cycle through your character list and tell your characters exactly what to do, or you can simply let your preset AI levels determine how your party will behave in a fight. Because Summoner takes place in a completely 3D environment, the combat is greatly affected by the terrain. Climbing a hill to get a height advantage on your enemies will deliver a 25 percent bonus to your attacks, while attacking from below will deliver a 15 percent penalty. This adds to the tactical aspect of combat and gives you a great sense of realism while in a conflict scenario. One of the nicer elements of Summoner's combat system is the action stops while you're selecting what your characters should do. This makes managing a larger party more realistic and fair than in games that feature a purely real-time system.

Though the game takes place in a fictional setting, a strong sense of realism is one of Volition's primary goals with Summoner. One of the ways Volition is accomplishing this is through in-game rendering for all its cinematic sequences. While the graphics may not be as pretty as a CG sequence, the use of in-game cutscenes helps keep the game flowing seamlessly from act to act. Additionally, the environments are vast and more detailed than any RPG yet. Forests actually have individual trees and shrubbery, all of which go a great way to showcase the PS2's graphical prowess. Though Volition is shooting for a final product that runs at a smooth 60fps, the company stated it would rather see the game slow down a bit than limit the possibilities of realistic gameplay.

Not satisfied with a static gameworld, the Volition team sees a changing environment as central to the role-playing experience. As the game progresses, the world of Summoner will change just as dramatically as the characters found within it do. Events that happen within the game will affect the gameworld - it's possible to return to a peaceful village only to find that it's been burned to the ground. Additionally, the game reflects the passage of time - environments change with the season, and characters age.

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