RPGamer Preview: Summoner

It's the most talked-about PS2 launch RPG
and easily the best-looking.
Platform: Sony PlayStation 2
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Rated Teen for violent content.

It's a new RPG from the creators of Descent and Freespace 2. While that in itself may leave a number of RPG gamers scratching their heads, there's no question that Summoner, the first RPG from Volition Software, looks fantastic. Since the game's announcement, Volition has provided a steady flow of screenshots and information about the game. For the most part, the screenshots speak for themselves and are enough to excite any RPG fan- but what kind of a game is Summoner?

On the surface, Summoner's storyline seems to resemble a mix of modern fantasy novels and Xenogears. The main character, Joseph, is a "summoner", a special kind of magician born with the ability to summon creatures to his aid -- powerful monsters such as demons and golems. In ancient times, a summoner was the deadliest weapon of any invading force, and had the power to change the course of battles. But when Joseph tries to use his summoning ability to save his village from impending destruction, the demon he summons goes on a rampage and destroys the village, killling his friends and family. From that day forward Joseph vowed never to summon again. But when his own homeland is threatened by outside invasion, Joseph has to take a stand. Together with four friends, Joseph searches for ancient, magical rings that, together with his Summoner's power, could save his homeland from total annihilation.

uses a powerful 3D engine to create its gameworld. Some screenshots of the game can be found here; believe it or not, all of those shots are taken from inside the game -- none are pre-rendered. The engine is also used to create cutscenes that occur in real-time, so as to preserve continuity. The detail in Summoner's environments, enemies, and characters is extremely impressive, whether you're traveling through the medieval-themed continent of Medeva, or the more Oriental-style architecture and environments or Oriena. Each area has its own enemies which are unique to that area.

Throughout the game you'll be journeying with up to four characters. During battle, Joseph can also summon monsters to help him, resulting in up to five characters per battle. Combat is somewhat reminscent of Secret of Mana; it occurs in real-time, and you can control one character at a time. The other characters will act depending on the settings you provide for them. For example, you can set a character to be aggressive, or to heal most of the time. You can also switch between your characters during battles to control them directly.

Each of the members of your party have special attacks that are unique to them. As you come out of a normal attack, you can hit a directional button to execute an extra attack, called a Chain Attack. Although you cannot execute the same Chain Attack twice in a row, theoretically you can use these attacks for as long a Chain as you like, allowing you to make quick work of enemies.

The Summoning ability is unique to Joseph, yet still has a good bit of depth. Each Ring that you will find corresponds to a different property, such as Flame, Light, Darkness, etc. Used alone or in conjunction with each other, the Rings will allow you to summon different creatures, such as Minotaurs, Imps, and more. During a battle, when Joseph summons a creature, you have control over that creature, until such a time as you banish it, the creature is killed, or Joseph is knocked unconscious; if the latter happens, you lose control over the creature and it attacks at random.

Although Summoner will be released as a PS2 launch title, it will also be released for Macintosh and Windows 98 early in 2001. The PC/Mac versions will include a multiplayer mode that will not be found in the PS2 version. Not much is known about this multiplayer mode at present, but likely it will be similar to games such as Diablo, in that other players will control other characters in a cooperative mode.

Summoner is scheduled for release on October 26 alongside the PlayStation2. A PC/Mac version will follow early next year.

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