We begin our second day of E3 2010 after another $30 for parking. We couldn’t help but notice the huge sign draped over the entrance for DC Universe, so we decided to visit Sony’s booth to start our day. These guys know how to do E3 right. Their booth was comprised of a public gaming area for all of their online games, as well as private areas for media to get more intimate hands on. They also have a second floor balcony lounge and free drinks, which is a huge plus! Due to our own stupidity, we missed the DC Universe presentation, and had to reschedule, but we got to check out some of the other cool online games Sony has to offer in the private area. While all the usual Everquests and associated spin-offs were there, Free Realms and The Agency: Covert Ops were two that stood out.

We also got a chance to see Star Wars: The Old Republic, Lord of the Rings Online, End of Nations, and some of the new Imports from Asia, so read on for our impressions.

Free Realms

This free-to-play game from Sony has been around for over a year and has experienced almost weekly updates ever since. This year, the makers of Free Realms are showing off all the new housing mechanics that have been recently added to the game. At first, they modeled the housing system off other online games where they gave you an apartment, and then you decorated it with items from a library. This worked out well, however, what they soon realized is that not everyone in Free Realms really wants a traditional apartment. After all, this game appeals to kids and those that are kids at heart. As such, they increased player customizability by providing each player with an instanced lot that can be turned in just about anything.

The developer for our E3 demonstration proceeded to take us to a few player homes that she is actually friends with in the current live game. As each lot is instanced, a player has to selectively allow you to enter his home for you to view the lot. One place she showed us had a stable full of 1500 chickens (because that is the limit). Another home had a flying pirate ship home and trampolines to get into said ship. The flexibility and customization options are tremendous. Decorating your home in Free Realms is a mini-game of its own.

The Agency: Covert Ops

While we had a few more moments in the Sony private viewing area, we decided to take a look at the upcoming game called The Agency: Covert Ops. This spy-themed massively multiplayer online shooter is still in the mid-stages of development so the developers were very tight lipped about a number of the games features. For example, as with any shooter, there will be pvp and co-op play. However, which types of maps is still left to be seen. There will probably be all the classic pvp encounters, like the Deathmatch, team vs. team, etc., but they also promise some new twists that can only be found in a game with depth like an MMO.

Character progression and equipment is very important in The Agency. As you level up, you get access to more gear that helps your character focus on what he does best. We didn’t get a chance to get our hands on The Agency, but the gentleman demonstrating was playing with some type of sniper class. The fluid graphic engine used in The Agency really shined as he continually ducked behind cover and lined up his scope for the distant headshot. The only playable map at E3 was a 6-on-6 skirmish area that appears to be taking place inside some type of warehouse building.

While there is still a lot of information we are interested in hearing about this shooter, and most of all, what justifies paying a monthly subscription for a style of game that is normally a onetime charge still remains to be seen. But as far as running around and shooting up your friends, The Agency: Covert Ops looks to be tons of fun.


Star Wars: the Old Republic

The new Star Wars: the Old Republic E3 “Hope” trailer was absolutely amazing and immediately made us excited for this game all over again. We haven’t learned a whole heck of a lot since our last E3, and the demonstration really didn’t add much to the knowledge we already have, but we were still excited. Star Wars: the Old Republic takes place in a time when a lot of Jedi and Sith still exist. This is important for balance reasons. If you were the only Jedi alive, wouldn’t that be akin to being a level 50 in a level 10 dungeon?

One thing that they did reveal is that every player will have their own starship! This will serve as your base of operations in the game. Of course they wouldn’t tell us a thing about space combat or how it would work. Our demonstrator spent a few minutes talking about the PvP system and war zones. These will be faction vs. faction encounters that encourage teams to accomplish goals in an instanced area. The only war zone announce so far is Alderaan. While the game is designed to be very soloable, the developers are trying to focus on group combat as well. The demonstration they showed involved a team of four Jedi fighting their way through what appeared to be a Sith starship with a heavy emphasis on group play. While there will be some solo play allowed, Star Wars: The Old Republic really shines when played in small groups.

As excited as we are, we were a bit let down by the demonstration. We really, really wanted to get our hands on the game, but it just isn’t ready for that yet.

Lord of the Rings Online

The huge announcement from Turbine’s online MMO, Lord of the Rings Online, besides the recent acquisition by Warner Brothers is the new free-to-play model. This model, while new to Tolkien’s creation, is not new to Turbine at all. Dungeon and Dragons Online just recently went free-to-play, and Turbine is touting it as a huge success. So successful in fact, that they are taking their other flagship IP and making it free-to-play as well!

If you are anything like me, when you hear free-to-play, you immediately ask yourself, what is the catch? In Middle Earth, players will have the option of being a VIP subscriber that gets access to all content no matter what for the usual monthly fee, or a free-to-play player that gets much of the core game and epic quest lines, but has to pay on a micro-transaction model to venture off the beaten path and explore optional quests.

Of course the most powerful items and armor will not be available in the online store, only enhancements and perks for now. For example, if you only have a few hours to play one night, you could spend time running to your destination before starting your adventure, or you can click your mouse a few times in game and purchase a stone that would teleport you immediately to your destination. Or if you hate the color of a hat you just found, you can pop into the online store and purchase dye to change its appearance.

Our hands-off demonstration of actual gameplay took place in the new area that they are announcing along with the micro-transaction subscription model called Enedwaith. This entire area will be introduced in a new book and will be going in beta very soon. There is an epic storyline in this area that ALL players will have access to as well as some optional 80 side quests that will cost an extra $5 to $10 dollars (they haven’t decided exactly yet). They have also updated the character generator and rebalanced a number of the old instances for level 65 (the current cap). The game engine has also been updated to support DirectX 11 as well. Our demonstration ended with a visual horse ride through the grassy areas of Enedwaith. Player feedback on the last Mirkwood expansion was that it was a very unhappy place, as such, Enedwaith is bright and beautiful everywhere you look.

With the new free-to-play model, there really is no reason at all not to download and try Lord of the Rings Online when it is rereleased, and that is exactly what Turbine and Warner Brothers is banking on.

End of Nations

From the makers of Rift Online comes this new upcoming RTS meets MMO called End of Nations. While still in the earlier stages of development, we were given a guided hands-on demonstration of the game in one of the most recent builds. There are two factions, blue and red for now, and they struggle to control the entire world map by engaging in huge multiplayer RTS skirmishes.

This RTS has a number of the usual elements you would expect from an MMO to give it long term re-playability. You as a player level up, and get options for more vehicles and weapons. Each encounter you enter appears to have a “point limit” and each of your vehicles are rated with a “point value”. This keeps you from just purchasing a boatload of units and overwhelming any encounter in your path. The developers also talk about how this is great if you have a friend just starting. You can go with them and help them complete their quests without just dominating the encounter for them and robbing them of all the experience points. You can choose to spend your limited points on one or two powerhouse vehicles, or you can down-rank to lesser units and play the game on the same level.

End of Nations looks to be a fun RTS, but a lot of the elements of gameplay aren’t really completed yet. They were able to show us the home base that everyone starts off with. Each person has an instanced area that they house their units, perform crafting, and setup structures. You even get to show off various achievements you have in this area by unlocking and building statues. My personal favorite was the small runway that we built that enabled us to call in airstrikes while in battle. There is nothing more satisfying than calling in destruction on your enemies and denying them the front-line.

Like many of the new MMOs popping up in recent years, it still remains to be seen how this particular game can justify a subscription model for what typically is a one-time purchase, but with so little information currently available, all we can do right now is speculate.

Imports

Our afternoon wouldn’t be complete without wandering into the section of games where we feel right at home, yet struggle to read a number of the messages. We first stumbled upon a game that is successful in Asia, and is therefore going to be ported to the North American population in 2011. We got a chance to speak with one of the demonstrators in the Magic World 2 booth to ask him what this MMO brings to the genre. He replied, “Do you know World of Warcraft? It is like that.” He went on to explain that Magic World II Online has the Panda race that players wanted, and also has an extensive system in which you are able to collect metal to create your own weapons. We weren’t very impressed with this game, so we moved on to others that visually looked quite similar…

Our next game in this category is called Loong, the Power of the Dragon. This MMO was released back in January in China and boosts over 40 million players. Gamigo is bringing this game, as well as many other games, from the Asian market to the North American market. The relatively low cost to do this allows for a sizeable profit margin even if reception is low. Another such game is King of Kings III, which focuses heavily on pvp battle and extensive guild features. This free-to-play MMO is currently in beta and is expected to release soon after localization is complete. Our hands-on play was completely in Chinese and, as such, very short-lived.

Gamigo is really looking to bring a number of popular Asian, yet unique games to the North American market as well. One such game that is garnering some attention is Forsaken Worlds due to one of the five playable races being the Kindred, or Vampire. Our demonstrator mentioned that one of the large concerns that players in the United States seem to have is players farming in-game currency. Players will instead earn Soul Currency for killing creatures and completing quests. This currency is bound to the player and can be used to purchase potions, armor, and other items.

And that wasn’t even all for Gamigo and their rather large booth, but I’ll have to be honest, that was about all of the untranslated MMOs that we could handle in an afternoon. We may have to return here tomorrow, or depending on our schedule, we may not.

We hope you enjoyed day 2 of our E3 2010 coverage. Good night!