With games available through more channels than ever at the moment, being a blockbuster game's becoming more important than ever. With huge advertising campaigns surrounding every Call of Duty, and every Halo, and sites falling over themselves to cover them, it can be difficult for the smaller games to make an impact - regardless of their quality. When we saw The First Templar at German gaming festival, Gamescom last year, we were convinced we'd found one of those games that was going to slip beneath the radar - something that certainly had the potential to be something of a diamond in the rough. A co-operative, medieval action game, steeped in history and legend, the game certainly has all the pieces to make an amazing game. Only time will tell if they've fallen in the right places. To find out a bit more about the game, we sat down with game designer Bissar Dynakov to ask him a few questions about a game we've been looking forward to for almost a year.
Let’s start by setting the scene – what’s the First Templar all about?
The First Templar is about swords, knights, fights and the Grail. It's a tale about trust and betrayal, about friendship, hardship and mystery, about hidden truth and self-sacrifice. That said, it's a Templar action adventure game we hope the players will enjoy.
As a story point, the Templars are obviously an intriguing choice, as they’re an organisation that’s steeped in mystery and conspiracy. Is this something you’ve tried to capture in the game?
In a word - absolutely. The Templar mythos of half-truths and secrets kept for centuries served as great inspiration for the story told by The First Templar.
Presumably, the Holy Grail will come into play at some point?
Of course. The Templars believed in the Holy Grail, and it's only natural that it is a central story point in the game. However, it is also a point of controversy. Just as in the real world, not everyone believes in it. Imaginative or real, it plays a different role for different characters [in the game].
The game lets you play through 20 historically accurate locations, from countries around the world. Which are some of the ones you’re most proud of, and how accurate are they? How do you go about creating a city to mirror what it was like around 800 years ago?
My personal favourites are the ruined city of Ascalon in the Holy Lands, and several locations in France, such as the Village of Montsegur and the City of La Rochelle.
However, there is no such thing as a completely preserved medieval city which we could use as a perfect model. On the other hand, there are abundant materials to be found. One thing is certain - we had to do an extensive research. We hope that the players will share our excitement in discovering the medieval world in The First Templar.
I’d guess the game’s development’s involved a lot of trips to a lot of castles?
Have you tried to keep the story, and game, historically accurate, or is it more of a fantastical interpretation of history?
The game is historically accurate in the sense that there are no fire-breathing dragons, fireballs and the like. The story itself - as any story - is based on historical events but includes also fantastical interpretation - just as long as you think that the rumours about the Templar Order are fantasy. The truth itself could very well surprise us.
One of the most interesting parts of this game is its full, same console co-op support. Was this an important consideration from the start?
Of course co-op support was considered from the very start of the project. It was also one of the best features to test. We want to give the players of The First Templar not only a good time with the game itself, but a good time shared with a friend. The players can switch their roles at any moment which allows [each player] to experience a different story perspective. Or the players can chose a more casual approach, and just call in a friend to help with a nasty boss.
Are both characters essential to the gameplay? Will they both be able to make choices to influence the story, and have to team up to solve puzzles together, or will the second player simply be there to help slay monsters?
Both characters have distinct gameplay roles. There are certain puzzles, obstacles and events which cannot be resolved by only one character. To handle these situations in single player, we added the option to give orders to the other character.
In terms of achievements, do both players have their own saves, and can they both earn achievements?
There are character-specific achievements which can be unlocked by a single player and specifically designed co-op achievements, which can only be unlocked in multiplayer mode. There is a host and guest system, as the guest only helps the progress of the host. The two players can switch between the characters; irrelevant of whom is host and who is guest. Every player can play with each character, but the host is the one who keeps the progress.
In terms of accessibility, what lengths have you gone to make the game easy to get into?
We have put a lot of effort into the tutorial and the first location, gradually adding the elements of gameplay to provide time for the player to adapt. The player will venture into battles almost immediately, yet the first opponents he or she will encounter can be quickly dispatched with intuitive controls. The first location functions as a seamless tutorial which guides the player through the basics of the gameplay. Only afterwards the player will discover traps, puzzles, different opponents and more.
How easy is the combat to get the hang of?
The combat is easy on the lower difficulty settings. We designed it specifically to allow for casual players to experience the game and give them the opportunity to get engaged in the story. The harder difficulty settings are for the more hardcore players. To truly master the combat - unlock all skills, master all combos, and to progress on harder difficulties, the player will have to put on a lot of effort.
The first pictures and trailers we’ve seen seem to make the game look quite gory – is there an option to disable the gore and make the game more suitable for younger players?
No, the game does not include such an option. The game is targeted for teen and adult players not only because of the gore, but because of the concepts it touches. Therefore, we deem it is best suited for players of age 16 and up.
For us, the First Templar has been one of the games we’ve been most looking forward to since we saw it at Gamescom last year. Is there more still to come? Will we be seeing story-expanding DLC, or perhaps even a sequel?
There will be day-one DLC available where the players will be able to explore an illegal Arena ran by a mysterious character calling himself the Byzantine. This will be available in the Special Edition versions for both PC and Xbox 360.
As for sequel information, we have sworn Oaths of Secrecy to the Templar Order and we remain true to our vows of silence on the subject.
The First Templar will be available on Xbox 360 on the 6th of May. Make sure you check back in a few days for our full review.