Game of Thrones MMORPG Preview

Winter is coming… this fall, actually. Fans of the George R.R. Martin magnum opus and the HBO series will find a lot to like in Bigpoint’s most ambitious MMORPG effort yet.

Jørgen Tharaldsen is no stranger to gritty, full-featured fantasy MMOGs. We first ran into Jørgen a during a smoke break at E3 2007 and soon found him to be a gracious and accommodating Product Director during the Age of Conan launch. We couldn’t have been more pleased to find him in the Bigpoint booth stumping for the browser-based developer’s biggest license yet, Game of Thrones.

If you inwardly groaned at the mention of “browser-based,” it might be time to check your assumptions. The photorealistic graphical quality of the gameplay footage we saw is easily comparable to that of the most recent major MMO launch. Unity 3.5 has taken us a long way from the blocky cartoonish stylings of 2009’s Fusion Fall, the first Unity MMO.

The feature set is equally ambitious. Want to be Hand for a week, reigning over a neutral King’s Landing? Perform 50v50 fort and castle sieges to control a castle with your guild and annex new territory for your house? Simply ride through Westeros exploring the Dreadfort or the Twins, or experience the dynamic weather and coming winter north to the Wall? According to Jørgen, these experiences and more will be yours when the Game of Thrones RPG launches later this year.

The Game of Thrones RPG is HBOÂ’s first foray into game licensing, not counting an abortive attempt at a Sopranos RPG in 2010. Set just after the death of King Robert, the Game of Thrones RPG (thatÂ’s a codename, by the way; BigpointÂ’s Alan Dunton tells us a final name for the project will arrive in about a month) will span Westeros up to the Wall in the north.

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While the doings of Daenerys Targaryen half a world away won’t cast a shadow over the Westeros-focused game for some time to come, Jørgen noted that the game will grow with the scope of the HBO series, both in gameplay (for example, the coming of magic) and in geography (e.g. the Ironbound and the Grey Isles – “They’re Vikings, we have to have them!” Jørgen (a Norwegian) quipped).

Equally important to note is what this title won’t offer. True to Westeros, the Game of Thrones RPG is predominantly focused on PvP, specifically open PvP in the contested territories between the House strongholds and Siege PvP. Don’t expect grand scale scripted PvE encounters, i.e. raids, fully voiced NPCs, and other nifties usually found in a more soloable MMOG. Jørgen contended that MMO staples such as raid bosses just doesn’t fit Westeros, and that Bigpoint would rather spend that time making a compelling PvP experience.

Jørgen offered us a quick glance at character creation. Unfortunately, budding Tyrion Lannisters will have to wait for a post-launch point release of the Unity engine. Giants and dwarves slowed the performance of the game by an unacceptable amount during early testing, Jørgen explained, so at launch all the characters will be of the same size.

You’ll also choose your character’s house affiliation (Stark, Barratheon, or Lannister) and who your father was (choosing a huntsman, for example, grants a ranged bonus). Facial features, hair color, and starting gear are also chosen at the start. Jørgen noted that all visuals, right down to the motley assortment of arms and armor visible on the characters, and all sound effects were either modeled on the HBO series or closely inspired by its visuals.

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We then got a brief glimpse of combat. Both click combat and the traditional WASD control schemes are represented Three basic strikes are available with a hotbar “finisher”, leading to some fairly intricate combos. The space bar triggers a shield block for sword-and-board users, and you can expect to see the blood and gore fly when you connect. The Game of Thrones RPG will have a 16+ rating, Jørgen explained, meaning blood and gibs are in, but nudity is out. Since Danaeys is on the other side of the world, I suppose we’ll let this slide.

While traveling mounts will be in for launch, mounted combat will have to wait for a post-release update. The aspiration is for knockback, knockdown, and trampling – no weapons from horseback, Jørgen explained.

The siege system and territory control is a big part of how youÂ’ll make your mark in the Game of Thrones RPG. Guilds must qualify to begin a siege by having the appropriate guild level for the scale of the siege (keep, fort, or castle). Castles control unique resources needed for crafting, but each level of stronghold garners some level of taxes for the guild.

Drawing upon his experience in Age of Conan, Jørgen explained that the loss of a castle, fort, or keep can be a crippling thing for the morale of a guild, causing some players to never log in again. To ease the sense of loss in the Game of Thrones RPG, guilds will take a big part of their hard work with them when they surrender a stronghold, enabling the guild to maintain their advancements and pick up where they stopped when the guild again has a stronghold to its credit.

The Game of Thrones RPG is an ambitious and worthy project, regardless of platform. In short, we entered the Bigpoint booth skeptics and left with a renewed understanding of Unity in the hands of a skilled and determined team. Keep it right here at Ten Ton Hammer as we track with the Game of Thrones RPG as it nears a fall 2012 release, and thanks to Bigpoint’s Jørgen Tharaldsen and Alan Dunton for showing us A Game of Thrones RPG at GDC 2012.

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