I must admit that I brought some negative preconceptions of the Skylanders franchise with me to the gamescom preview session I attended for Skylanders: Swap Force. Having never played a game in the series, I assumed that Skylanders was merely a money making scheme which was built around the concept that you only got the full experience if you spent hundreds of dollars on Skylanders toys which would then unlock new characters and areas in the game. However, by the end of the session I was wishing that Skylanders had been around when I was a kid because I finally understood how the series appealed to children’s vivid imaginations and affinity for play.
The Skylander: Swap Force preview session with a bit of background information on the franchise. The original Skylanders came out in 2011 and allowed gamers to upgrade and customise their characters which were modelled on real-life toys which could be placed on the ‘Portal of Power’. The Skylanders franchise is now worth over $1.5 billion and Swap Force represents the third entry in the series. Swap Force is set on Cloudbreak Island which has a magical volcano, and the villain of the game is your evil nemesis Chaos.
We were then shown Swap Force running on a PS4 in native 1080p. Besides appearing on current-gen consoles, Swap Force will be a launch title for the PS4 and Xbox One, and it’s clear from what I saw that the next-gen version’s visuals will be far superior in every way. The game features improved animation on next-gen hardware, and the character models we saw looked incredibly close to CGI. If a Skylanders CGI movie is currently being worked on then I don’t think it will require too much work to transfer the character models from the PS4 version of Swap Force into the film.
The presenter confirmed that all Skylanders figurines from the previous two games will work in Swap Force, and all characters can now jump to improve the feel of navigation. The sixteen confirmed Swap Force characters are bigger and more complex in design than previous Skylanders figurines, and each of them separate into two halves which gives you an incredible 256 total character combinations if you combine each top piece with each bottom piece. The presenter passed some Swap Force figurines around the room so we were able to see how easy it was to pull apart the magnets holding the two parts together, and then form new combinations with other figurine halves. Apart from the new figurine design, the Portal of Power comes with the game this time around and is wired following complaints from parents that the batteries used for the old model were constantly running out, much to their children’s dismay.
The presenter then took us through a snowy section of Swap Force where he explained that eating food is how your characters replenish their health, and that loot forms the basic currency of the game. You can combine two characters’ abilities by connecting their bottom and top halves, and there is a separate upgrade path for the top half of a character and their bottom half. Furthermore, each character base has a symbol on it which corresponds to certain areas of the map which can only be explored by characters bearing that specific symbol. The presenter also mentioned that roughly 60% of gameplay in Swap Force is combat, while the remaining 40% consists of exploration. Hats make a return in the game, with over 150 to earn and each one featuring buffs to boost your characters’ stats in a variety of ways.
After the presentation we got some hands-on time with the PS4 version of Swap Force. The controls felt responsive and my character’s movement and attacks were very fluid. I would guess that the game is running at around 30 frames per second, and it looks glorious with all its assets being rendered at native 1080p. The section I played was quite combat-heavy, and it only really got exciting when I started to combine different characters and play around with their unique range of abilities. Forming new characters by combining two figurine halves is truly a flawless process, and the game immediately identifies the new character and plays an introductory clip showing what he or she looks like.
Overall, I think Swap Force is going to be another major hit in the Skylanders franchise and take the series in an interesting new direction by encouraging kids to use their imaginations and combine their favourite characters to create all-new Skylanders which they can then gush about to their friends. Swap Force’s figurines also represent greater value for money for parents because buying two additional characters is essentially like buying four since they can be combined.
Skylanders: Swap Force will be released for PS3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and 3DS on October 13th in North America and October 18th in European territories. The game will also be a launch title on PS4 and Xbox One.