A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
Soul Calibur: Lost Swords decided to cooperate this morning! Despite some absolutely miserabe load times for basic things like navigating between the quest and character screens (always online, remember!), I found myself kind of enjoying it.
That said, I think a large part of this is simply because I enjoy Soul Calibur, and haven’t really played any in a while. The fight mechanics are the same solid mix of carefully blocking, avoiding and parrying your opponent’s high, medium and low horizontal and vertical strikes whilst trying to find time to land some of your own, with only minor alterations to the winning formula. At the beginning of the match you pick an Ally from three randomly-selected other players’ characters who you can summon to temporarily use in your own character’s place, and equipped items and weapons confer bonuses to one of three different types of elemental damage and protection, but besides this, everything is more or less exactly what you’d expect from the series. Oh, and equipped weapons have unique attacks which have special properties like guard breaks and so on. Those are kinda lame, though, because all you do to trigger them is hit R1 when a bar’s fully charged. You get a little cinematic, but as far as I can tell they’re nothing special besides being flashy high-risk, high-reward type affairs. The Ally thing is kinda interesting because they come in with a fully restored life bar which gradually drains. In tight fights, even landing a single solid hit with them before the vanish can swing things in your favour.
Breaking armour/clothing’s back from Soul Calibur IV too, although it’s more of a binary thing than it was before. Either you’re fully clothed, or your clothes all get smashed and you’re left in your pants. You usually get this right at the end of a fight, just before someone’s defeated, so quite often you’ll be left with your opponent unconscious and half-naked on the floor on front of you, which is a bit.. weird. Ring outs have been removed, presumably to stop you from winning fights too easily.
The plot stringing the chapters of the ‘Quests’ together is throwaway stuff, as was probably to be expected. First one’s something about you waking up in a forest, fighting some bandits, then it’s meeting a merc company, fighting them to prove yourself, then going on a mission with them.. I usually just go back and read it afterwards once all of the chapters are clear. I’d call it a letdown, but it’s not exactly like any of the games ever offered much reason behind why you travel from place to place being attacked by people.
What has been a letdown so far is the variety of the battles. I finished the first two Quests, each consisting of 3-4 matches, and every single one was simply a case of beating multiple opponents in a row, with the one at the end wearing fancier trousers. No special conditions, besides that they all used a single element, and no noticeable increase in challenge between them. The third Quest’s looking to be the same, rounding off the game’s three different elements, so perhaps these first three are designed simply to introduce you to the concept of elemental damage and resistance, like the first Gym of Pokemon Black and White. I really hope this is the case, because although these matches are good for farming loot chests, what I really want out of this game are more fun, special challenges.
Speaking of loot chests, I rather like the system they have in place for the free chests. Each opponent you beat drops one, and they can contain random weapons, armour, accessories or gems. Weapons are not guaranteed to be for your character, and some armour and accessories will only be for the opposite sex, but everything can be crafted to upgrade other items, or sold for the gold needed to pay for upgrades. Items do have a maximum number of upgrades which they can receive, though, so it seems like it’s only really worth using the more efficient gems, rather than merging all your rubbish swords into one slightly less-rubbish one. I’m not buying premium crates, but the pace I’ve been finding items at has seemed alright. I’ve only found one sword I can use, but have loads for other characters, and though I’ve not got many customisation options open to me, Siggy’s at least dressed now.
Strangely, the colours of the items in the chests have so far corresponded to the element of the enemies I’ve been fighting. Green from the wind dudes in the first quest, blue from the water ones in the second, and presumably the fire ones in the third will give me some red stuff. I guess this’ll change too, but it’ll be unfortunate if there’s no chance to recolour your gear and you have to end up dressed like a clown. You aren’t exactly forced to equip anything, but in Soul Calibur IV it eventually got to the point where you’d rather have the stat bonuses than forgo them, so you were pressured to fill every single item slot with junk. Belts, bracelets, scarves, tiaras, monocles.. you’d barely recognise Voldo when you were done. I guess this’ll end up the same more or less.
Besides the chests, the other free-to-play element of the game is AP. Every time you start a chapter of a quest you have to spend these points from a pool of 32 which automatically replenish over time and increases gradually as you level up. The chapters of the first quest take something like 3 each, but special events like the ones required to unlock characters start at 8. You get two free potions to instantly replenish them all, two tickets to let you continue mid-chapter at full health if you lose a match to an opponent, and can of course always pay for more. I think levelling up my account level, which is separate from Siegfried’s character level also replenished all my points. This happened just after I’d used my potion, so there’s a bit of a trap there to get you to waste resource. All things considered, it doesn’t feel too bad. Like most F2P systems it plays you against your own impatience. I ran out of points after a few defeats whilst trying to unlock Taki, and had to catch myself before I did something stupid. It’s weird how having your main character dangled just out of reach fucks with your mind. I was almost tempted to pay for Hwoarang in Tekken Revolution, too.
On characters, the basic selection is rather awful. You pick from Siegfried, Sophitia and Mitsurugi to begin with, and this choice is then permanent. Currently you can only unlock the two you didn’t pick, Nightmare, Hilda, Pyrrha, Ivy, and Taki, but the idea is that they’re going to put quests online for more characters over the course of the year. The method of unlocking seems to be kinda happenstance.. First you’ve gotta fight some grunts to get to them, then when you face them you’ve gotta break their armour as part of your win. This gives you a chance of receiving their unlock key, which is increased if you play again at a higher difficulty with a higher buy-in cost. You can almost hear the carnie shouting “Better luck next time!” from the side of the stage. I had been strolling through the regular quests, but the AI of Taki’s minions quickly put me down. It’s at least two steps ahead of the rest of the game.
It’s an interesting thing, though, really. If you know one of the three available characters inside-out and have managed to maintain your mad Guard Impact skillz from the last Soul Calibur game you played, you’re naturally gonna have a far better chance of beating the harder challenges and getting the better loot. No doubt it’s been balanced in such a way that even if you never lost you’d still be on a treadmill with a coin-operated carrot-dangler in front of you, but there’s definitely fun to be had still. Maybe the basic Quests are a little easy and the more advanced ones are a little hard.. but it’s still free Soul Calibur. That’ll be enough to bring me back a few more times at least, though I don’t see myself spending any money further down the line. If I want to fight as Taki that badly I’ll just put my Soul Calibur V disk back in and be done with it.