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Summer Game Fest: Throne and Liberty Hands-On Preview

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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During Summer Game Fest Play Days, we were able to go hands-on with an early build of the Western version of Throne and Liberty. The upcoming MMORPG from NCSOFT and Amazon Games aims to provide large-scale battles, cinematic visuals and a class-less system in a dynamic world. We played the first hour or so of the MMO, toying around with the character creator, tutorial and engaging in a large battle in a first look at the long-awaited MMORPG.

Character Creation

After sitting through an incredibly cinematic CG cutscene showing the evil witch Calanthia destroying the Children’s Island - an island inhabited by children orphaned by the many wars in the world of Solisium - I was taken to the character creation tool to build the avatar I would spend my time playing as.

I’m very happy with the sheer breadth of options here, as NCSOFT has spared no expense in the amount of sliders, color options and more you can use to truly create the character of your dreams. While it stops short of allowing you to customize the very curls of each lock of hair like Black Desert, it doesn’t disappoint on the whole.

Throne and Liberty Character Creator

There are presets to give a starting point, and from there you can adjust everything from cheekbone height to the very color and pattern of your irises. This is all stuff that should be standard in every MMORPG nowadays, but oftentimes we still see cookie-cutter character creation tools that just don’t offer the level of freedom of something like this. If I’m going to spend dozens of hours staring at my avatar, give me full control over its looks, and Throne and Liberty does not disappoint.

While I toyed around with the character creation tool (I could spend hours honing this down to the exact space between my nose and lips should I want to do so), I was on a time limit, so I crafted a character, named her and hopped right into the tutorial to get started.

First Steps

The opening of the MMO felt a bit like New World, where you’re transported into a rather linear path to teach the basics of character movement, combat and navigation in the game. While New World has a bit more story going on in those opening moments, here it felt just like another realm where my character was having an out-of-body experience.

While Throne and Liberty was playable on the Xbox Series console at the event, I played it on PC wanting to get a feel for the experience I would have when the MMO finally launches. Movement is standard fare - you use WASD to move around, the number keys are your skills during combat, and mouse is used as your camera movement. Throne and Liberty is a tab-targeting MMO, which is not necessarily the standard nowadays in the genre’s landscape with so many MMOs releasing with action combat. 

To that end, combat plays out like MMOs of old - for better or worse depending on your view point. Equipped with a two-handed sword at the outset, I had three skills to use: two offensive and one defensive.

While it’s a tab targeting MMO, it tries to weave some action combat elements into the fray in the form of Defensive Skills. These are skills you pop off in order to protect against what’s called Fury Strike. These are highlighted by a Mauve circle animation popping up in combat which required me to use my Defensive Skill at the right moment to protect myself from the damage. This does require a bit of timing to get use to, especially if you’re not paying attention like I was during a few of the larger fights later on in the demo. 

Throne and Liberty Defensive Skill

However, popping off the Defensive Skill properly nets you a buff in the fight, which is a nice reward for keeping on your toes. I’m interested to see how this mechanic works in a large-scale battle, especially a PvP one, and whether the tide would be turned by the side that is just better at timing these on the whole.

From there, I found myself rushing through a burning village, reminiscent to the one that was attacked during that opening cutscene. It seems that through the attack, I had become infused with one of the fragments of the Star of Silaves, whose power is being sought out in order to defeat the big bad of the MMO Kazar. This fragment gives me power unlike others in the world of Solisium, every character I met during the tutorial was quick to remind me. 

Beast Mode

One of the features that helps to set Throne and Liberty apart from other MMOs is the ability to morph into the various beasts in the world, including even bosses you fight later on in the story. These beast forms can help with traversal, such as taking flight in the form of an Eagle, or covering great distances at speed while transforming into a Wolf. 

In this short demo, I got to try out the Wolf and Eagle form, using the two to traverse the world itself. While other MMOs might have you duck under debris to move to a blocked-off area, Throne and Liberty saw me transform into a Wolf to escape pursuing enemies and get under obstacles. Other characters are able to do this as well, as I headed towards a checkpoint with the kind, yet a powerful member of the Resistance, Lottie. Transforming is as simple as moving while holding Shift, and getting hit in combat doesn’t break the morph, as I discovered when I stumbled upon a Wraith Wizard later on in the demo while running around as a wolf.

Throne and Liberty Flight

Flying as a bird is a different matter altogether. While I was able to transform into a wolf wherever I wanted, it seems taking flight is only available in certain areas of the map. Later on in my demo when I met up with the powerful, yet affable wizard Clay Cartair (who, I might add, is doing one heck of an off-brand Harry Potter cosplay), the ability to fly was only available when I leaped from a height. This might be just restricted to the tutorial area, or NCSOFT might be trying to protect from players just flying wherever they want until they’ve unlocked it like in other MMOs, but it did feel a little limiting - especially when the trailers make a big deal of highlighting this feature.

Flight itself isn’t full-on free-mode flying either, instead, it’s more like a controlled glide. You can ascend with the spacebar, and plummet by holding S, but again it’s not like an actual flight mechanic where you can just take off wherever you want. This is a bit of a shame, but understandable in order to get the player to actually explore the vast open world that NCSOFT is building in Throne and Liberty.

Personally, I can’t wait to see more about how this mechanic evolves and is used in the full experience. During a short video presentation by franchise lead Merv Lee Kwai at Summer Games Fest, it was stated that you could even take the form of bosses you defeated along your journey, or take the form of monsters to hide from other players (and monsters for that matter), so I’m eager to see how this plays out with the creativity only MMO players can bring to the table.

The World of Solisium

One of the establishing shots upon exiting the tutorial area and waking up the Resistance Depot was stepping out of the central keep and seeing the flowering Great Tree of Whisperion in the distance. It’s such an incredible introduction to the world inside the game itself and helps to establish it as a truly beautiful area to explore, despite the land being ravaged by the forces of the evil Arkeum Legion. 

Throne and Liberty Whisperion

Visually, Throne and Liberty is up there as one of the prettiest MMOs I’ve ever played. While it’s not CG quality like some of the trailers have made it seem, it’s definitely leveraging Unreal Engine 4 to the max here. In motion, it looks incredible, with particles flying during combat, or when I would transform into a wolf to just roam the countryside. Traversal isn’t just through these morphs either, a section of road became blocked by a falling tower showed me (oh, and the trailers too). Using a grappling hook of predefined points, I was able to hookshot my way up the tower and continue on to the plain that sprawled out before the Great Tree of Whisperion to fight off the orcs and other monsters threatening the area. 

The few areas I saw were packed with detail, such as the small shanty town at the Resistance Depot, where buildings and more are cobbled together with no wasted space. It feels like a group of people moved into the crumbling ruins of a castle keep for protection and made it their own. I also appreciate all the little flourishes, from the NPCs wandering the town, to the gate warden transforming into a large stone monster in order to raise the town’s Portcullis. It all adds so much to the environment and visual storytelling on offer in Throne and Liberty. It’s also a reminder that you’re not the only one with a Star Fragment offering a bit of the Mauvessence.

The story itself does need to be established a bit better here, though I’ll admit it’s likely do to a very early translation from the original Korean. While I was playing a Western version of the MMO, with the UI elements and more in English, some of the text hadn’t been translated yet, and none of the voiceovers were in English. So hopefully things will be a little bit easier to follow once the full localization has happened here.

That said, the motivations of the Resistance fighters were easy to understand, especially when a connection with Clay and the player character is more fully established. Clay, it seems, is an exceptionally powerful wizard who has a history of saving the day - and people - when they need it most. 

Amitoi Helpie Throne and Liberty

Accompanying the hero character is more than just the various Resistance, as the Whispering Amitoi helps along the journey. Aptly named Helpie, this little creature acts as a guide and companion, and according to Jongok Ahn, the lead developer on Throne and Liberty from NCSOFT, the Amitoi were added as a way to inject a bit of light and humor into an otherwise bleak and dark story.

“When we first made this game, we had an internal playtest [with] our developers,” Ahn told me during an interview at Summer Games Fest through an interpreter from NCSOFT. “The primary feedback that we got from our internal people was that this game is too serious, too serious to the extent that we are already a little depressed while playing this game. But when we think about it, MMORPG is like a person’s life in a society with actual people. So there must be humor, some laughter can also happen in that community. So at first Amitoi can feel a little bit unbalanced to the game, but they actually wanted to put the Amitoi element as designed as a companion for the player to talk to, have some special interactions, give laughter, those kinds of conversations.”

All I know is my kid is going to want an Amitoi plushie when she sees Helpie, which according to Merv Lee Kwai, there are many different iterations of Amitoi in the MMO.

Fending Off The Invaders

The Resistance Depot’s area - and the Great Tree of Whisperion itself - is under attack by the forces of Kazar, eager to get their hands on Whisperion’s Star Fragment. While I briefly mentioned combat before, this is where the meat and potatoes of the combat came into play. While in the Resistance Depot, I grabbed a set of each weapon type in the MMO, from Sword and Shield, double daggers, staff, and more. 

Throne and Liberty eschews a traditional class system and instead ties your skills and combat style to the weapon itself. This means you’ll be leveling up your weapon skill rather than an overall class skill.

While this was still the tutorial, it meant I didn’t get full access to all the weapon skills in the MMO, only the basic first three for each archetype. Sword and Shield were exactly as you’d expect, a bit more of a tanky role, while the dual-wielding daggers saw high DPS and poison DOTs added to the enemies I would fight. 

Throne and Liberty combat

While I don’t mind the combat overall -  a good tab targeting MMO can hold my interest, as long as it’s good, there are some stress points I noticed so far in my playthrough. 

I do appreciate that you can swap your weapons whenever you want - even during combat I found. However, I did find the fact that there is no real auto-attack while moving very frustrating. I’m used to my character in a tab targeting MMO keeping up the attack even when repositioning in combat, keeping up the DPS despite what I was doing. 

I’m all for induction timers on some skills that require being stationary while casting, but I can’t understand why my character didn’t keep firing arrows with the Bow when I was simply backing up to put space between myself and the enemy. 

While it wasn’t a limiting factor in this tutorial area - the monsters themselves didn’t pose much of a threat, I do think this could be a problem long-term, especially with tanks that will require ever-changing positioning to keep the party protected, but also still need to generate threat by keeping up the attack. DPS players might see their damage output fall if they are constantly needing to move as well and the MMO doesn’t really do much to facilitate damage in those moments. 

I’m also wondering how kiting - a very traditional tactic in MMOs will work here. Will it even exist? Can you kite a boss to help take some pressure off your party members while a healer tries to bring back up the Tank, or is that just not possible? What about in PvP? How do you keep the pressure on fleeing players who can simply move out of the way to stay alive?

It’s such a simple thing - auto-attack while moving, but it adds so many questions when it’s not there in a tab-targeting game.

I do love the combat animations, however. Everything felt impactful, especially the Defensive Skills when they would get pulled off at the right time. Seeing a monsters topple backwards while hitting my outraised staff to block a blow was satisfying each time I used them. I like the idea of Fury Attacks keeping everyone on their toes as well - it breaks up a regular rotation by requiring everyone to pay attention at all times. 

Throne and Liberty combat

While I could equip two weapons at a time, during my gameplay I was only able to equip weapons of the same type. Later on in the MMO, you’ll be able to equip two different types of weapons, like a Dagger and Crossbow, with skills from both on the skill bar to pull from. This could create some interesting combinations that provide different ways to play and shake up the meta in combat. It can also help fulfill the standard roles you need in an MMO, Tank, DPS, and Heals, more easily. It’ll be interesting to see just how robust this system is when I go hands-on again down the road.

While I only got to play the MMO for about 40 minutes, I came away optimistic about the MMO’s future. It should be said the demo I played didn’t have any of the cash shop items available to check out, nor did I see anything allowing for auto-play and the auto-combat that became a controversy during the recent Korean beta test. That isn’t to say that these features won’t be in the final Western release (the cash shop most definitely will be there, just what form it’ll take here in the West remains to be seen), but they just weren’t featured in the build I played.

That said, it was a solid first impression from Summer Games Fest, and I’m interested in learning more and playing more of the MMO as we move into the Technical Test coming in the near future. The developers also assured me that they were already taking the feedback given by not just the Korean audience from the recent CBT, but the global audience as well - namely combat concerns and progression - and iterating on this, so the next test should reflect this some as well. 

All in all, it’s a good start on the road to launch for an MMO that has been in the works for years by NCSOFT. Hopefully as we learn more in the coming months, the full picture becomes clearer. In the end, I’m still looking forward to Throne and Liberty and if the team truly incorporates the feedback players have given, it could shape up to be something of a contender here in the West. 

Also, please make a Helpie Plushie, NCSOFT. I’ll buy it.


lotrlore

Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore