I spent a fair chunk o’ Sunday afternoon playing the sadly underrated X-Men Legends II for the Classic XBox with my boys (aged 6 and 9). It’s a great game when you want a multi-player masher of a game where you can beat up reams of bad guys without caring too much about the admitedly ropey storyline.
So far, I’d shown the boys how to kick and punch with the best of ‘em by hammering on the A and B keys, and I decided to ramp up their knowledge a little by introducing them to the Skills section of the game. This is where you can allocate powers and special abilities to each of the four buttons that can be used when the right trigger is pressed. They grok the concept immediately, and have a whale of a time picking each character’s abilities from a list of about 160 powers – most of which are tantalizingly locked until higher level. We’ve got Toad with Toxic Spit and Colossus maxin’ out with Demolition, and everything in between.
The game takes on a new dimension with our heroes burning Power Points like there’s no tomorrow, and my boys are hungry for more and bigger battles. Then their tactics change, and they start to use the powers that aid the whole party rather than the ones that make the biggest BOOM. P’s playing Sunfire, and his favourite tactic is to use the ability which sets all the character’s fists aflame, causing additional fire damage with every hit. H is playing Iceman, and he favours freezing the foes so they shatter when I (as Colossus) pound them hard.
That’s when I realize.
Holy crap, we’re playing 4th Edition D&D.
The boys had graduated from hit-then-hit-them-again to thinking tactically. At first, they were using Powers in every battle with the right trigger permanently down and attacking foes with their most expensive attacks, much like that first 4e D&D encounter where you burn your Daily Power against Kobolds (I’m looking at you, Mark!). They realize their mistake quickly enough, and favour the cheaper Powers to pound the bad guys without burning too many Power Points, even reverting back to their (zero cost) basic attack to finish off the rank-and-file. This is 4e’s at-will Powers at work, where they’re using their per encounter abilities to either soften up a tough foe, affect all of their enemies or empower the whole team. My boys are thinking tactically, saving up the biggest, most costly effects for the best moment. I’m ordered to use Colossus’ Demolition Power when we’re surrounded by mooks and the tide of battle changes. Sunfire goes Nova against a particularly tough foe. We’re playing as a team, rather than individual combatants.
Wizards’ have done a terrific job of translating this facet of computer games into a role-playing game. The look on the boys’ faces when they moved from simple combat to Power-based battles is akin to the look on my gamer’s faces when they realized the impact that the new Powers system has on the game.
It’s the future of D&D, and I love it.