I intend to give an honest and in-depth review of Summoner after the UK games release on the 6th of April (Or so we're told). But for now I'm going to settle for giving you a hands on preview.
Summoner is a graphically rich and fairly immersive RPG from the vaults of Volition Software, who gave us such games as Freespace and Freespace 2.
Summoner takes place on Khosos and according to their history in game and in the manual this is what happened to create the world. Ghuval the Maker of all things created a world known as Khosos and Urath the god of one of the races stuck his sword into the earth and split it into many islands and continents. Summoner's action takes place in two of these continents.
Orenia and Medeva.
Into this story steps Joseph. A young farmer who was born with the mark of the Summoner. The Summoners can call forth elementals, demons, golems and other supernatural servitors with the aid of magical rings. The young Joseph was in his home village when raiders attacked it, as a child he lacked the power to control the demon he unleashed from the ring. It turned on his home and destroyed it, killing almost everyone.
As the story begins Joseph has grown into a young man, still haunted by what he did all those years ago to his home, he has taken root in another place. A farming village called Masad. The Emperor of Orenia hates and fears the Summoner and the prophecy that one day Joseph will destroy him. He invades Medeva and attacks Masad trying to destroy Joseph before he can make good on the prophecy.
Throughout your many quests Joseph will gain allies who will join his cause, the interesting thing about these allies is that unlike a lot of the other RPG's where they join the quest for noble and good causes, in this game they have their own reasons. Your allies do not trust you and you don't really trust them from what I have seen in game. Which is a fairly cool idea. I'll be interested to see how these relationships develop in game and over time.
Ok, it's time to look at the game itself and some of the elements. I'm only going to gloss over the facts here because I want to get my teeth into the game itself in the full review.
Summoner is a RPG and has all the things that I want from an RPG, like a skill system, spells and weapons. It features some very nice graphics and some interesting gameplay. It is full of large locations that are extremely detailed and very well realised, the character models and the various monsters are very well done. The heroes are nicely animated and modelled, clothing and weapons change on the model as you equip and un-equip them.
Faces are nice and detailed, eyes move and blink and the lip-synch movements in the cut-scenes are neatly done as well, the overall use of sound and voices is pretty good, utilising some very decent voice actors to bring the various characters to life.
You explore most of the world in third person with your co-horts and any summoned creature you might have brought into the location with you. The game will block you from using certain magics/skills/summons in certain locations so it's not wholly freeform. The same with cities and weapons. Still that's not a great detriment because they do have a world map, chock full of random encounters as you travel from one place to the next. On the world map, the currently controlled person is displayed as the icon for the party, if you encounter a monster or event the game switches to the 3d world again. Controlling the characters in Summoner is fairly easy once you get used to it, the action pauses when you go to an inventory screen or bring up your spell list to cast or summon a creature. The Npc's with you can be controlled at any time or set to do a particular action such as Healer/Caster, which means that they'll cast offensive spells until someone drops too low on Hit Points and then they'll concentrate on healing magic until that problem is sorted. I was pretty impressed the way they handle themselves in a fight. There were very few AI problems that I could see.
One word of warning though Summoner does have the odd glitch in the graphics that can cause slowdown and does suffer from the dreaded Pop Up in places. I was in a particularly nasty boss-fight and the game ground to a stuttering halt as the boss was summoning undead, and I was summoning the Blackfire Elemental. It cleared after my elemental was brought into the field but still I wouldn't expect that from a Ps2 title. However I urge those of you who have the patience to put up with something like that happening to keep going with Summoner because it's one of the most refreshing RPG's I've played to date.
It's definitely one to watch out for and rest assured it'll keep you going with enough side quests and main plot to grab you and hold you in.
I'll give you a tip though, when you get it, watch the credits and as they're playing through just hit the X button on your PS2 joypad at any time for a hidden, highly amusing skit on Dungeon's and Dragons.