But nostalgia can only go so far, and I'll admit I was somewhat nervous as I stepped up to the demo station. Would this new iteration in the PSO series live up to my rose-tinted memories of the title? I stepped into the boots of a Human Hunter to find out for myself.
Let me preface this by saying that my demo included only an adventure section of the game, so I won't be able to comment on character creation or any of the other details that I'm sure players are dying to hear about. What I did get to experience, however, was a healthy dose of combat with a four-player party, and I'll be honest: I'm a man of simple pleasures, and as long as I get to stab the blazes out of something, I'm pretty content. As I mentioned, I filled the role of my party's Hunter, which is a melee class with the capability to soak up damage and dish it out in equal measure. I was given the choice of three weapons: stupidly oversized sword, gunslash (it's exactly what it sounds like), and the wired lance. What the devil is a wired lance? Again, it's exactly what it says on the tin: a pair of blades tethered by a wire. Think Blades of Chaos from God of War.
I played my demo with an Xbox 360 controller, and it handles as if the game were designed around it (and maybe it was). The combat is very action-focused, and I have no problem comparing it to the aforementioned God of War or perhaps TERA. The X and Y buttons unleashed my normal and special weapon attacks, respectively, while the trigger buttons were used to dodge and cast hotbar abilities (which are selected using the controller's d-pad). The controls are tight and responsive, and that's very important because high reaction speed is necessary to succeed in some of the more difficult fights.
Rappies are fun and all, but the real challenge came with the first boss of the zone, a mob known as a rockbear, though to me it resembled a gargantuan ape hewn from solid stone. And rockbears, apparently, do not mess around. It had a number of large AoE attacks that required precision timing to avoid, and one wrong move meant being on the receiving end of a knuckle sandwich, only the knuckle is about the size of your head. Unlike many games that allow you to simply run in, zerg the everloving daylights out of whatever poor soul you're attacking, and walk away virtually unscathed, PSO2 demands that you calculate your moves and keep your reflexes sharp. One of my favorite abilities with the stupidly oversized sword involved jumping into the air (oh, by the way, previous PSO players, you can jump now; rejoice!), then somersaulting repeatedly like a human buzzsaw while striking with my sword with each rotation. Fancy, to be sure, but once you're in the middle of the animation, you can't break out.
There were more than a few occasions when I got overconfident, jumped in for my buzzsaw attack, and was promptly and contemptuously swatted away like a marginally annoying insect. Eventually I learned my lesson and began attacking more conservatively, ensuring that I was always ready to dodge at a moment's notice, and before long, the rockbear collapsed under the weight of my party's awesomeness/stupidly oversized swords.
Eventually, through our keen reflexes, sharp wits, and liberal use of the tried-and-true tactic of "run the hell away and heal," we brought the draconian giant to his knees. And unfortunately, that's where the demo ended. Frankly, I probably could have played for at least another hour or three. PSO2 may not be bringing anything strictly unique to the table, but it certainly is bringing a fast-paced, action-packed combat system that players of hack-and-slash titles such as God of War will find very much to their liking. I'm interested to see what kind of non-combat features the game brings, but until then, I'm satisfied knowing that soon I will have yet another MMO to scratch my action-craving itch.
Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!