Earlier this year, EA and Visceral took gamers to Hell with the well received Dante's Inferno. Soon after, the Dark Forest DLC was released that gave players an additional hour of campaign action. Since the game's release in February, another, far more ambitious DLC release has been touted. Known as The Trials of St. Lucia, this newest DLC for Dante's Inferno ushers in new ways to stay entertained in Hell.
St. Lucia & Trial Creation
Trials includes several very intriguing features, not the least of which is two player co-operative play. While some trials are designed to allow for both players to play as Dante, more often than not you will see Dante teaming up with the patron saint of the blind, St. Lucia. Lucia can also take on trials by herself -- it's all up to the trial's creator. Playing as Lucia is very much like controlling Dante. They share the same magic abilities, but Lucia moves with increased speed and has the ability to fly. It doesn't take any time at all to get familiar with her combos and tendencies and I quickly found myself wishing I could use her to replay the original campaign. Unfortunately, for now at least, her role is kept within Trials. On the other hand, I think Visceral did a great job of making her effective and fun to use. Whenever I go to play a trial, I never get concerned if I'll be playing as her or Dante because I enjoy using them both.
So, what are The Trials anyway? They're actually challenge arenas or challenge rooms. If you've played through the campaign, you might remember one of the final sequences on your descent into Hell that had players going through a series of back to back, combat-centric challenges. Some people loved them, others not so much. Personally, I wasn't a huge fan and felt it made that section of the game feel contrived. Now if you haven't played the campaign or don't have Dante leveled up, fear not -- in Trials, both Dante and St. Lucia are fully leveled up. That said, Trials is all about quick tests of skill and patience. In this context, it works, and I'm enjoying myself for the most part. There are variety of reasons for that, like the built in editor.
To get players started, EA has included about a dozen professional trials for you to sink your teeth into. An ever increasing number of user created challenges are at your disposal too, with well over a thousand available right now. The built in editor has taken as much of my time with Trials as playing other people's creations has. The editor is completely GUI driven and a snap to use.
As you may know, each trial consists of up to six arenas with a number of waves contained within each arena. A trial can have up to 150 waves, which is ridiculous, but it's nice to know it's there if you ever had several days to dedicate to making an incredibly long challenge. Generally, trials have about three arenas with anywhere from two to four waves. Each arena takes place in the same level, or stage. A dozen or so levels are available to choose from. A small picture and a description of the level gives you plenty of detail on how you might design your waves around the level layout. Each level is taken directly from or based off an area from the original campaign. About half of the levels are large enough and designed for two player co-op, which still leaves several with a single player in mind.
Each level has a set number of locations where creators can place aids (health and mana pools, explosive objects) and traps (think fire and sharp blades). Waves have a budget that cannot be exceeded, too. The allowable budget is always shown in the editor HUD. Your budget gets spent on things like traps, and the type and number of enemies. This keeps creators from building waves with an
excessive amount of difficult enemies and so forth. That's not to say you won't find some hellaciously difficult trials out there, though.
Editing your wave couldn't be much easier. Creators can tweak a variety of options, including the wave's mode. There are about a dozen modes available, including Kill'em All, Take No Damage, Health Drain, and others. Generally, the mode is chosen by the creator at the start of the wave and you build your wave around that concept. So for a Kill'em All wave, you're going to force the player or players to destroy all enemies before the wave can be cleared. In a wave with the 'Take No Damage' mode, the player(s) must defeat all enemies without taking any damage -- a substantial challenge. Other modes include forcing the player to kill the enemy with a skull icon above its head first before any other enemies, defeating all enemies in a certain time, using only explosives, reaching a specific combo count, and killing the Summoner.
The Summoner is actually a new enemy for Trials. The Summoner can teleport, not unlike the Heretics and Pagans who can instantly zip across the arena, making it difficult for you to get a bead on them. The best strategy I found, at least with Dante, is to use L2 + Circle and pull nearby enemies in before sending them skyward with a ground smash from the cross. With the enemies up in the air, it's easy to dash over to the Summoner (assuming the level is small, like the Church Ruins). The Summoner will continually spawn in new enemies, and generally has a fairly stout amount of HP. The HP of the Summoner, and all other enemy types for that matter, is configurable by the trial creator. Creators are also able to tweak the aggression level of their enemies, as well as how much (if any) health and mana they drop when killed.
There are other details about trial creation I could get into, but suffice it to say the creator has a lot of control at his fingertips that can, and have, made for some interesting challenges. It's important to note that testing your own wave, arena, or entire trial takes no time at all -- there are no load times for testing your own trial and that's huge from a usability perspective. I also thought it really cool that players can actually remove a trial that they have uploaded to EA's servers if they decide to do so.
Clearly, developers that put creation tools in the hands of gamers, and make them at least reasonably easy to use, are making a wise decision. Numerous PC game franchises have thrived off of the very same model, and while I wouldn't say it's common with consoles, it's becoming at least a little bit more apparent (LBP, ModNation Racers). Imagine if Trials only included the dozen or so EA-created trials; they'd get old fast, so having hundreds upon hundreds of user trials and the ability to create your own makes this DLC a phenomenal value for anyone who can't get enough of these challenges.
Trials, Tribulations, & Triumphs
Creating and sharing trials is only half of the fun to be had here. The other half, obviously, is playing them. It's safe to say you'll never run out of new trials to play, but, it's no surprise that a lot of trials out there aren't that great. Fortunately, a five star rating system is included and anyone can vote on any trial. Ideally, that will filter out the crap trials from the good ones. Speaking of filters, players can specify a variety of parameters to narrow their list of available trials.
With a campaign, there's generally a story being told to keep the player motivated, but what about these trials? They're completely exclusive of one another so you might be wondering what the point is. Well, besides the challenge, it's all about points, and for many, Trophies. There are literally hundreds of maps designed with the express intent of netting players medals (points) and Trophies as fast as possible. Each trial has an associated score that comes from how difficult it is. The max score is 10,000, and each trial has to have at least a score of 1,000 (I think), to even be valid. Medals, including bronze, silver, gold, and platinum are awarded depending on the trials' point total (so 7,500-10,000 points equals a platinum, for example). For the hardcore, the ultimate goal is to move up the leaderboards by earning as many medals (and therefore points) as possible. For others, including myself, The Trials of St. Lucia are best played with a more casual goal in mind. The experience is more enjoyable in a co-op environment, but to date I've noticed a handful of issues.
My first "ruh roh" moment came during an online co-op session with one of EA's very own trials. One of the first waves was a Kill'em All one, and even though we had cleared every enemy in the level, the wave would not end. We were literally stuck and had to restart the trial. A second issue came later. This one was less of a technical glitch and more of a design problem. The mode for this wave required that both my partner and I achieve a twenty-five hit combo. The problem? There were a handful of basic minions and a single glutton. It's easy enough to get a twenty-five hit combo on the glutton, although St. Lucia's tendency to launch enemies into the air deserves some caution (it's easy to break your combo when she leaps into the air without an enemy). But, the HP for that glutton was never enough that both he and I could achieve our required combos. So twenty or thirty minutes into the trial, we get stuck in the worst way with this one wave. There was nothing to do but quit. And of course other times, like any random co-op encounter, you'll discover players far better and far worse than yourself. With wave modes like "Take No Damage," it may take a tremendous amount of patience on their part or yours to succeed.
To be sure, there are a lot of 'throw away' trials out there that can really waste your time. On the other hand, being able to create your own and find cool trials made by others is a lot of fun. The balance of the two, combined with the inclusion of St. Lucia, makes for a fine piece of DLC. Bottomline, if you're a fan of challenge rooms/arenas, you can't go wrong with The Trials of St. Lucia.
To the summary...