The stakes are high for Activision moving forward. Call of Duty: Ghosts will be in a dogfight for sales supremacy this fall with Grand Theft Auto V and Battlefield 4, while the Skylanders franchise will face its stiffest test yet from Disney Infinite. There are high hopes for Destiny as well as for the console versions of Diablo III.
While I didn’t get to see Skylanders SWAP Force at the Activision booth this year, I did get to spend a few minutes playing Diablo III on the PlayStation 3 and got to see demonstrations of Destiny and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Playing Diablo III was a lot of fun. It’s the first Diablo game that I’ve played, as I’m almost exclusively a console guy, and using the PS3 controller to battle with my barbarian character was a breeze. The game is easy to control, with combat, dodging, and quick equipment changes all accessible and intuitive from the controller. The game moved at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second, even with four-player local co-op. That’s good news and puts Diablo III on par with some of the great console hack & slash games from the 128-bit generation, such as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath. There will be quests and plenty of loot to chase down as players progress, and the PS3 version of the game will have special loot to collect including items relating to popular Sony franchises like Journey and Uncharted. Perhaps most importantly, Diablo III will be playable offline for consoles. This also means that the Auction House will also be history. This means somewhat less loot will be available, but the loot that remains will be a bit more valuable. I’m really looking forward to this.
Next up was a closed-door demonstration of Destiny, the latest game from Bungie. This game is absolutely stunning, with an expansive world in which players can visit any location. One part of the scripted demo pointed the player’s perspective to a beautiful sunset from a raised cliff, looking down on a vast area. The mission that the players participate in is in “old Russia”, and takes place inside of a facility. Once inside, combat begins before long and comparisons to Borderlands are hard to ignore as players and enemies have distinct experience levels and life bars. Combat weapons such as rifles, revolvers, and grenades were used. Unlike Borderlands, however, the visual style was much more realistic with impressive lighting and particle effects as opposed to the cel-shaded games that Gearbox put together. One other thing that separated Destiny from Borderlands was the addition of something called a public event, in which multiple players dropped into a battle zone, all trying to take on a more substantial enemy threat. All in all, while the Borderlands comparisons were tough to overcome, there was no denying that Bungie’s effort has jaw-dropping looks, comfortably familiar gameplay, a huge world, and seems to offer plenty for players when it debuts in 2014.
Finally, Call of Duty: Ghosts was shown behind closed doors. Two levels from the game were in the demonstration: a land level called No Man’s Land and a fully underwater level called Into The Deep. No Man’s Land was more a demonstration of what Riley, the canine member of the Ghosts team, can do. Riley can be used as a stealth tool, as an advance attacker to gain an early advantage in combat, and as a scout. Controlling Riley for combat is much like a computer-controlled missile as the player guided Riley to a specific location and then commanded him to attack, painfully dispatching enemy troops in his path. Into The Deep takes place underwater as the Ghosts team sets out to take down an enemy missile platform. Underwater combat takes place for the first time in the series, complete with special (and authentic) weapons built for such a theatre. While underwater, the team must take down enemies, avoid sonar detection and depth charges, and survive falling structures and chaos. Into The Deep was the more tense of the two stages, with lots going on and a sense of always having to keep moving in order to avoid being found or killed.
The graphics and lighting have been improved here, and the addition of Riley as an asset has potential as it’s promised that the dog is a key member of the team. What’s most important is that the gameplay seems to maintain the level of accessibility and familiarity that has made the Call of Duty games so successful for many years now. If Ghosts will indeed be challenged for the top spot in unit sales this year, it’s not going to go down without a fight.
There’s definitely a lot for Activision to be excited about, despite significant challenges from competition. Diablo III debuts for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in September. Skylanders: SWAP Force lands for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and Wii U in October. Call of Duty: Ghosts is targeted for both last-gen and new-gen platforms in November. Finally, Destiny arrives in 2014.