E3 2008: Akella
One of the goals of my E3 trip was to get away from the larger booths of Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, and focus instead on some of the smaller companies here at the convention to see what they’re bringing to the table. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, Wii Music, and DeadSpace, but I also did head to the back of the room to check out the upcoming lineup of Akella, a Russian company that made the trip to the show. While you might not have looked at them before, some of their games might be worth your attention, including the upcoming Disciples III: Renaissance, which I was extensively shown.
I honestly didn’t know how to prepare for meeting with Akella. I glanced through their press kit briefly before the meeting, but with conferences with Nintendo, Capcom, Ubisoft and Activision, plus meetings with Sega, Warner Bros. and other companies, Akella got lost in the shuffle admittedly. Hopefully turn-based strategy fans won’t lose Disciples III in that same shuffle come next year when the game is released.
Boris Tolkachev, who showed me Akella’s products during my meeting, told me that the company “did their best to [live up to] fan expectations” with the game and in order to do so employed the same artists that worked on Disciples II. And I’m happy to say that they did a phenomenal job. Visually, the game looks incredible. Admittedly, I don’t play a whole lot of games like this, but I do keep track of them, and I’ve never seen a game in this genre with graphics this sharp. The character models are superb, with excellent animations. The environments were extremely detailed. I was very surprised, to say the least.
In Disciples III, you play as a character named Lambert. In your traveling party are a squire, mage and an archer. Lambert can be customized through experience points to become more proficient in whatever suits you fancy. Additionally, you can enhance your character’s capabilities by building certain buildings in your city. If you want to go for fighting, you can build certain buildings in your city that will enhance it. But beware – if you choose to go with a path, you appear to be stuck with your choice.
While the world is viewed from far above in a 3D isometric style, battles are more personal. Boris showed me a bit of the combat and it seemed very straight-forward. Characters can move around the battlefield into grid spaces or “nodes” as Boris referred to them. To encourage the player to move around, certain nodes will give the player special bonuses when stepped on. Combat looked much faster than I expected from a turn-based game and only required a few clicks of the mouse to perform. The whole game seemed very streamlined and accessible to new comers, but the three campaigns and four races should keep hardcore fans entertained. Boris told me that the game should take about 20 or so hours to complete and once gamers are done with that, they’ll be well prepared to play the game’s multiplayer portion.
After my 20 or so minutes with Disciples III, Boris then showed me PT Boats, a naval simulator. I can’t say too much on the game because I honestly don’t know anything about this genre. I’ve always avoided naval simulators because they seem very intricate and complex, but I will say that PT Boats seemed very accessible. Set in WWII, the game allows you to control the navies of Russia, Britain, Germany and the United States and each nation will have about 6-10 missions each.
While you can control the game in a top-down commander style mode, you can also head to the battlefield where a full 3D engine renders the action on screen. You can still steer your boats around, but what I thought was most intriguing is that you can actually man the guns in some boats and shoot at your enemies directly in a first-person mode. This seems a little more casual gamer friendly than the commander mode, which looked more like a traditional naval simulator. Graphically, small touches like sailors jumping into the water should help immerse players into the experience.
E3 is a huge event where small companies like Akella can get lost in the mix, but I was very happy that I stopped by their booth. While I might not be an expert on turn-based strategy games or naval simulators, I appreciated the dedication to Akella’s products that Boris demonstrated and him taking the time to explain them to me. While I might not have otherwise checked out their products, I’m fairly certain that I’ll take the time to play some of Disciples III when it is released this February.