These are my experiences of this first weekend, as a newbie Templar going through the startup. I was there at 5pm BST, albeit remotely.
GIANT SPOILER ALERT - I don't give too much away about plot, but I give a great deal away about the gameplay.
I shall tuck the entry away behind an LJ cut for this reason.
Firstly, the client itself. Looking sleek and with an impressive intro music track that I hope sets the themes of the game. The servers are up only a few minutes late and there isn't a particularly long wait to connect and create a character. Impressive from FC, all things considering - particularly their past track record.
On to Templar character creation. The first thing I notice is the somewhat rough look of the character models. The second thing I notice are the limited customisation and clothing options, but then again it is just a Beta and in my experience character model customisation has often been left to the bare minimum during testing. What bothered me was the very mixed quality: some of the textures are intricate and detailed, others look so rough as to suggest they are little more than a placeholder.
The background to creation squeezes in every Hollywood cliché about London and still gets the street furniture a bit off. The loading screen into the game itself is cute: it starts off as a hand-drawn black and white sketch of a murky market-like area underneath a railway bridge and as the client loads up, the image slowly seeps into colour.
The intro is done with in-game character graphics based on the character you have just created, rather than FMV. The trouble is, the quality is a bit weak for a 2012 game. Bad facial clipping and glitching, in particular. The plot exposé itself is... a little farfetched, shall we say.
After that, you spawn in a common area and can finally sort out the controls and interface. The options to do so are available in the launcher, except that they aren't because they're character-specific and you get an error message if you try to do anything with them in the launcher. Why list it there then, FC? Sheesh. The general user interface and control scheme is a mix of the usual FC approach and FC trying to be clever and do something new. I'm not instantly convinced. I noticed early on that the graphics engine doesn't seem too well optimised yet and both my CPU and my GTX 560 Ti were spiking all over the place. Disappointingly, I couldn't seem to find a way of rearranging the UI. My own HP bar is in a most inconvenient place.
As you move around, there's a motion blur effect on your surroundings, as if filmed in action cam. It can be disabled in the Video Options but it's kinda cute so I've left it on. The character also moves stiffly, with arms rigidly forced down while jumping. The environmental textures look good, which clashes with the rather mixed quality of the character models and their surprisingly bad animations. FC had its own motion capture studio many moons past and perhaps they don't any more. It's telling when character movement in Anarchy Online is around about the same level of realism and that game came out in 2001.
The game has a compass! Instead of just using a directional arrow in the minimap as many other games do, it actually has a compass in the centre of the top bar. Apparently I must be the only person in the world that gets frustrated when there's too many icons on the minimap where I am, clogging everything up so I can't see the arrow. Why else would most other games have got rid of them?
The London presented in the Templar startup area is fictional, which makes life a lot easier for players and Devs alike. There's some rather... questionably-names locations but I'll forgive it those foibles. The area map for London looks like an old paper map from the early part of the 20th century, which has its charms even if it is hard to distinguish between areas you can go to and areas with invisible wall syndrome. The ability to add markers on the map is useful and curiously overlooked by many current games. I was amused that the street signs show the postcode as being TSW1. Perhaps only Londoners will really get it. Whilst the loading screen has gone to great lengths to make rubbish bins look authentic, car number plates aren't even close. London appears to have swapped police sirens with New York to boot. I do wonder about the civilian casually selling bear traps from a market stall in an abandoned tube station, however... Still, the side swipe at Scientologists - or as they're called, the Morninglight, is funny.
Anyway, once I'd hammered my controls into shape I immediately got down to the srs bsns of exploring, ignoring the mission waypoint. The environment is nicely done and locations are generally more spacious than actual central London but hey, playability. I wandered into a bank and the game seemed to want to make sure I was absolutely clear that I was in Bartleby & Daughters Banking Co. LLC. It kept popping up my location in both the middle of the screen and in my chat channels. Constantly. Every time I moved so much as a footstep.
After exiting the spamming bank, I found some stairs leading down under the street with a glowing interactible at the end. It was a bit of Lore which added itself to a sort of lore journal interface that popped up. I've noticed that the NPCs aren't very chatty, and figure if I don't see my cursor flip to some sort of symbol, it's not worth bothering with. Another bit of lore in a dim-neon lit record shop. The world design itself very heavily implies supernatural stuff is real and fairly commonplace, which seems at odds with the intro whereby your sudden exposure to weird and freaky stuff is a total shock.
There's always a background chatter of people and human noise, even when the road is completely deserted. However the incidental music when going past shops with open doors, for example, is quite fitting. There's been an attempt to have directional sound, but it doesn't fade in properly, sort of 'popping up' suddenly when you cross a particular threshold.
Anyway I accidentally stumble into plot during my exploration and bam, combat! Movement feels a bit slow and clunky, especially turning while moving, which disconcerts me given mobility and positioning was pimped as being important in a fight. If I can't spin and zip about quickly then it makes things rather hard. I also didn't notice line of sight stopping enemy attacks, though it certainly stopped mine. Perhaps the enemies just have magic attacks that pass through pillars while my ol' shotgun pellets can't. At this point I can't express just how hard I wish I could move my UI elements around...
The voice acting is quite a mixed bag, it has to be said. Some of it is excellent (Zamira Vata for example), some of it is cringe-worthy (her compatriot Konrad Engel). There's probably an option to turn it off somewhere and it is subtitled in HUGE WHITE LETTERS... behind the chat window and your HP bar. Yeah, the default positioning isn't too clever there FC. But regardless there's a few NPCs who'll gladly monologue on and on about lore if you ask them to, which is nice for some setting and depth as well as hints about what's coming up next. It can be a bit buggy, trying to select the next item on the list to ask about though. Sometimes the list gets stuck and all you can do is leave the area and re-enter. If you walk away, the monologue continues in HUGE WHITE LETTERS on your screen, long after the voices have faded away. Now and then, the text seems to jump to a far more sensible location onscreen in the bottom centre.
The client's poor optimisations finally lead to a crash but it wasn't entirely unexpected. Another chance to listen to the quite frankly awesome intro music. I hope there's equally enthralling tunes lurking in the game.
Unsurprisingly to any modern gamer, there's Achievements to be had, from basic ones for exploring and ranking up as well as the more esoteric specialised ones. I haven't yet worked out if there's anything to be gained with them, other than some XP for the bigger ones and a congratulatory pat on the back. My achievement gaining exploration has led me to the conclusion that there is no fall damage in this game. Not a bad thing, given how buggy it's been for me in other games.
After exploring every nook and cranny in London and accidentally getting involved in Ragnar Tørnquist's masterful Storytelling, it was time to get serious and report to the templars like the good little foot soldier I'm going to be.
Part 2 after the break!
Favourite quotes so far include:
"WARNING: Holy radiation poisoning imminent."
"Initiate the Nietzsche syntax."
"We usually lose them to Elder Gods with a name like a mouth full of cornflakes."
"Dragon prefer the medium of Interpretative Terrorism. I hear it's the next biggest thing."