Jeff Stolarcyk

As the New York Comic Con opened to the public on Friday, Activision publically announced the mystery Marvel superhero project on their 2008 slate – Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. On the floor of the con, I chatted with Graham Fuchs, the game’s producer. While Graham’s just off of the totally underwhelming Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, he does have a quality pedigree – his resume includes two installments of the Jedi Knight trilogy, for instance. READ MORE

Over the past few months, there have been some rumblings about a mystery superhero project being developed by Activision (or Activision Blizzard or whatever the Vivendi-owned juggernaut is calling itself these days) in the Marvel universe.  There’s been some crazy speculation about what the title could be (with the safe bet seeming to be Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, but hey – it could be Millie the Model or a US1 driving game), but tomorrow, Activision will finally make a formal announcement.  Expect word around 10:00 am PST, and look for expanded coverage from Snackbar next week after I hook up with the Activision crew in New York City.

Valhalla Knights

April 13, 2007

XSEED has an inconsistent, albeit brief, history as a game publisher. Shadow Hearts: From the New World is stellar, but Wild Arms 4 leaves a lot to be desired. So Valhalla Knights, the latest XSEED-published game, is a bit of a cipher, at least in terms of predicting its quality. After playing the PSP action/role-playing game, though, it becomes clear that Knights is a missed opportunity.

Between real-time combat, a job system, and a highly customizable party of adventurers, Valhalla Knights finds itself cribbing from too many other, more established franchises. Even the visual design of the game seems lifted from Vagrant Story in some spots, in others Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. And with a title that evokes Norse mythology, well, I shouldn’t have to spell that out. Valhalla Knights feels so much like a hodgepodge of other games’ ideas that it never manages to define its own identity.

The story of Valhalla Knights focuses on a reticent young adventurer with amnesia trying to remember his (or her) past. Your hero can be any one of the starting classes. Players progress through the game by interacting with the Guild and taking on missions. The Guild is also where you can purchase new characters to fight alongside you, either elf, dwarf, human, hobbit, or machine. Expanding the party whenever possible is integral to progressing through the game; certain encounters simply cannot be done without a big group. It is always better to hire a new party member than it is to upgrade the existing party’s gear, which is an uncomfortable change of pace from the norm. That mentality takes a lot of getting used to, which isn’t necessarily a negative, but is worth noting.

Combat, by the way, is a total chore. Thankfully, Valhalla Knights doesn’t indulge in random battles, opting to let players see monsters roaming on the field. Ally AI is generally good, but combat is a dull affair sometimes broken up by bouts of frustration. If you’re not traveling with a big enough party, you’re dead, as stated earlier, but the real annoyance is the behind-your-back camera perspective, which makes it difficult to judge distances accurately.

This same camera angle proves just as vexing in the field, and can only be moved by toggling the first-person view and turning. In cities, and especially in dungeons, having to do this frequently is not fun. The tendency for sameness that runs through the environments doesn’t help matters, either.

Of all the things Valhalla Knights tries to be, though, it feels like it tries to be like an MMO game first and foremost. Leading a large party through a dungeon to grind levels, anyone? Like the .Hack games, though, the gameplay model seems lifeless without other people to truly interact with. The game does offer ad hoc multiplayer, though, in both co-op and vs. flavors.

Valhalla Knights is certainly not a bad game, but it’s nothing to get excited about, either. If you have an RPG itch and have the few superior role-players already on the platform, it might be worth checking out to you, at least as a rental. If you can overlook the game’s shortcomings there’s enough customization to keep you occupied for a few hours.