Silverfall Preview: Livin' Like A Refugee
Naming your game after a city destroyed in the opening tutorial seems like an odd decision, but the name of the fallen city of Silverfall hangs heavily over the game world. Your character is but one of a legion of refugees struggling to make her way in the world, and the decisions they make along the way affect everyone around them, including the land itself.
As with most RPGs, there's the whole "fate of the world" thing hovering in the background, but in this case, your character actually influences the world itself: the rocks, the trees, the streams, and so on, as one of the central features of Silverfall is the struggle between nature and technology. The choices you make and the quests you complete may lead the world into a lush garden of Eden or into a smog-filled paradise of progress.
Confronted with the racial selection (elves, trolls, goblins, and humans), I did the only logical thing I could do and rolled up a cool goblin. Silverfall is a classless game and, fortunately, there are a ton of different skills, magic, abilities, and technology/nature choices to build your ideal character. I decided my goblin would be an ice-slinging, gun-wielding industrialist, and in the space of a few levels, it was so. I was impressed. Indeed, while the nature line was the usual fantasy stuff, working the technology side of the street was awesome. Quest NPCs talked like shady 1920s businessmen, wheezing about progress in the smoggy air. In one quest, rather than clearing out twisted monsters because it's the right thing to do, you have to do it to put in some swamp gas extractors to power cool machines. You can also destroy scenic waterfalls to build zeppelin ports. You're paving paradise to put up a parking lot. It's like a Texas Oilman Simulator. With zeppelins.
While the nature-oriented cities are your usual fantasy fare-quite lovely, green-the ones run by technologists are steampunk havens of whirling gears, smokestacks belching blackness, and shady types muttering about building inhuman creations out of flesh, magic, and gears. The enemies around them are bizarre steampunk creations, "dragons" that look like reptiles, until you get to the wheels and mechanical bits, for example. While I'm sure the Nature side has many fun and exciting career opportunities, let's be fair here, before Level 10 my goblin was already a budding industrialist who dressed like Indiana Jones, shot ice and lightning from his fingertips, carried a high-powered rifle, and was busy making deals with shady characters in the name of progress. That, friends, is the kind of role-playing I like to see.
At its core, Silverfall is a 3D hack-and-slasher in the Diablo vein, with several improvements since the last time Blizzard graced us with their presence. For one thing, there's a 3D engine, and it's nice enough, but the cool little flourishes here and there actually make it three-dimensional. For example, I was shooting at some demons across a bridge in the tutorial sequence and couldn't manage to hit them. Through a series of logical deductions, I discovered that the way the bridge arched up was preventing me from hitting my targets, rather than the fireball clipping through, or just ignoring, the obstacle. My character was in a bizarre world where the third dimension actually mattered.
I kept noticing this, finding cool little touches that I hadn't noticed in prior games, like tromping through a swamp to fight monsters and finding that my short little goblin was standing in a deep puddle. He wasn't standing on the puddle, he was actually neck-deep in swamp water. I also noticed I could hide behind trees and pop out to fire my freeze spell, then dive back down a hill so the zombie archers couldn't get me. That's just cool. Add in the music, the croaking frogs in the background, the trees (lots of trees), and the zombies rising out of the ground with a groan, and I felt like I was genuinely adventuring for the first time in a long time; my Indiana Jones-looking goblin frantically firing freezing balls of ice to hold back the zombie hordes. In another little graphical flourish, every time I clicked on a patch of dirt, there was a little puff of dust, as if I'd actually hit the dirt with something.
While they aren't graphical, I stumbled on several other nice little flourishes. For one thing, there's a skill that makes regeneration of health and mana go faster, meaning it's possible to carry a few potions for emergencies, and continue adventuring. It's almost like they figured out people want to spend their hacking and slashing time killing monsters, not running back and forth to town to do some shopping. For the rich adventurer, a life insurance policy ensures you won't lose anything, and for those truly looking for first class service, it's possible to pay the banker to bring it back to you. You drop your equipped gear when you die (but not your inventory, thankfully), but with Life Insurance, you don't come back in your underpants. And then there's the map-based travel. Visit one dungeon or town or whatever and you can always teleport back. No more trudging out to get a quest, then trudging back to town. It's pretty cool. I'd play the game just to encourage the feature set, especially considering the fun I had with my companions.
It's possible to pick up allies-those companions-and not only do they fight pretty well, they can be equipped, fed potions, and most importantly, interacted with. You can chat with them and massage their egos or, the option I preferred, abuse them and terrorize them while they still beg for your attention. The AI for them is pretty good and, once you've got your two companions set, the gameplay feels a lot like Guild Wars, where you pick your particular role and let your associates handle the other tasks. Debating whether to stick by your long-suffering healer and take up the reins yourself to swap in another fighter can be a fun little part of the game, and it lets you define your character a lot more. I found it much easier to be a spell-casting, gun-shooting goblin industrialist with a fighter and a healer in my starting lineup.
Adding to this balancing act is the Diablo Shuffle of gear, which Silverfall has in spades. Do I want the helmet with the cold bonus and not the HP bonus, or do I take the higher HP bonus and have a lowe armor class? Now, imagine this for your weapons and armor and your companions' weapons and armor on a near-constant basis.
While Silverfall follows the classic Diablo model-arrive in a town or other "safe" area, talk to NPCs with indicators hovering over their head, go out into the world and kill things-it has enough little upgrades and refinements to make it an interesting game in its own right. I've seldom played a game where I can be a gun-slinging, dead-raising, ice-flinging, industrial tycoon/goblin adventurer, and for that alone, Silverfall was intriguing. The hours of dungeon crawling and cutting down hordes of monsters, well, that was just a fun little bonus.