For all intents and purposes, the demo we played at the pre-TGS event was the same one available at Gamescom. They have slightly changed a few minor things, but it wasn't mentioned by the developers. Their presence at this small exhibition was to show off their new trailer, talk about the new characters, show off their new key visual (which is the box art as well) and stress that the story was appealing to all gamers and not just fans who closely follow the anime or manga. In particular, this is the first time that Luffy would have to face off against a powerful "boss" that used technology instead of Devil Fruit abilities.
Here are what we know of the story so far. There are two major characters that were created specifically for this game, Jeanne and Isaac. Jeanne leads the anti-naval faction that wants to restore the island to a more peaceful and self-governed way of living. Isaac is the warden of Prison Island. It was through his efforts that Jewel Island was put under the control of the military. He was able to do so because of a large-scale war that took place on the island over natural resources. The people on the island are divided as well.
There are people that find the military's protection and order comforting, while others are against their presence and want to have control over their own island. We don't know why exactly Luffy and the Straw Hat crew arrived on this island. But of course, wherever Luffy says oppression and the military he's sure to butt in and make a mess of things.
Let's talk about the action and gameplay since that's what our focus was on during the event. We were surprised to see that Luffy is able to reach opponents from very far away thanks to his Sharpshooter Mode. First, he can aim his fist for a high speed ranged attack. You can spam this several times in succession for quick damage from afar. However, there's a meter attached to this ability so you can't spam it indefinitely. Second, can do an arm extend which grabs an enemy and allows Luffy to pulls himself in their direction. Although this grapple ability often puts you past your intended target with your back towards them, so you've essentially opened yourself up to attacks. It probably isn't intended to work this way, so expect this move to work better in future demos.
Luffy can use Busoshoku to harden his arm and then put it in front of him as a way to deflect minor attacks coming his way. This is done by pressing the guard button. If you time your guard animation just before an attack hits you, you can briefly slow down time and land attacks on your opponent without them being able to react. Of course, Luffy can use this same technique in conjunction with Gear Third to enlarge his arms or legs to create devastating attacks.
Speaking of unleashing devastating attacks, you need to expend stocks of energy in order to do so. You have a yellow meter on the lower left side of the screen. You fill it up by landing regular attacks on enemies. As it fills up a yellow dot appears just to the right of that gauge to let you know that you now have one stock available for use. You can hold a maximum of three stocks at a time (at least in the demo). In the demo we played, there were two abilities that used up these stocks. Red Hawk took up one stock while Eagle Storm took up two.
Observation Haki will allow you to sense the presence of nearby enemies. You can see an outline of their figure within your field of view. It's especially useful for planning out which enemies you can deal with immediately without being seen by snipers or enemies on the higher ground. Once you pinpoint soldiers you can sneak around and setup instant takedowns that are quiet and don't alert nearby enemies of your presence. We're sure this will probably be important in stealth missions or areas where you don't want to force a fight against multiple enemies in a closed-off space.
Luffy has two different "modes". One is suited for faster movement and quick attacks. The second is for Busoshoku empowered attacks and charged abilities that deal high amounts of damage. Earlier we mentioned that you could time your guard with an oncoming attack to "just-defend" it (we're borrowing this term from the KOF franchise). Well, the agile mode has a similar ability. If you dodge an ability, with the evade button (same button as guard in the other mode), just as it's about to hit you, you can temporarily slow down time to reposition yourself for a quick attack or switch to the heavy attack mode and unleash some serious punishment.
As a quick aside, utilizing these instances of counter-attacking is at times made needlessly difficult because the attack animations have a large area of effect with particles flying around that make it nearly impossible to see what's happening.
The Lock-on System
The lock-on system with one piece was nonexistent which made it very hard to hand attacks on enemies. There's a small indicator icon in the middle of the screen at all times, but Luffy isn't always facing forward so it's difficult to line up abilities. Attacks don't track the opponent either. So you can start a combo string with every hit whiffing and taking you further away from your intended target. There were times where you'd hold down a button to charge up a powerful ability, this would, in turn, move the camera around for a more "cinematic" angle but it also moved the indicator on the screen. At that point, hitting enemy soldiers was about making sure Luffy was looking towards his enemy as opposed to where the indicator was.
The producer, Rei Hirata, acknowledged that fans had voiced their opinions about the current lock-on system. He made it clear that the final build would have some way for players to lock onto specific enemies or that camera angles could be more consistent during gameplay. The team didn't have a solution yet, but they were working on something that would please players and create a more fluid combat experience.
The current build for One Piece: World Seeker is a ton of fun and combat is exciting. Attacks feel powerful, they're visually stunning, and the mechanics seem deep. We would have loved to traverse other areas since it appears as if it will have an open world experience. The small story details we have so far set the stage for a formidable foe and a narrative about a nation finding its voice in a post-war environment. Overall, we're incredibly hopeful about what this game has to offer can't wait for more news and footage of this game to be made available.