Destiny’s Sword Hands-On: A Certain Balance To the Universe

If you’re a fan of games that take a unique turn in storytelling, chances are you might have heard of 2Dogs Games’ Destiny’s Sword. We profiled the game back in April when we spoke with the company’s CEO, Ken Hall, about what made its approach so different from the others. A majority of that comes down to feeling.

It’s not just a matter of how a character is enraged in battle but instead how emotions can actually play a part in victory or defeat. At the time, Hall explained that characters can “suffer PTSD, anxiety, depression or addiction depending upon what happens in combat and on their unique background and personalities.” That can make a difference on the battlefield, because if someone enters in a bad state, it’s going to show with his or her actions. And that’s bad news if you’re already overwhelmed with enemies.

To give us a better idea of how this plays out over the course of the game, Hall and his team invited us to go hands-on with a new demo of Destiny’s Sword during PAX West 2019. Needless to say, there are layers to this game that fans are sure to appreciate, provided they take the time to dig deep and actually make a difference for their squad. If “instant action” is for you, then this game may not be a fit. However, if you’re looking to push the emotional gamut and watch its effects over the course of this adventure, this will suit you.

 

The Nature of Tactics

We’ll get to balancing squads in a moment. But in general, Destiny’s Sword is built upon the general rules of tactical combat. You’ll enter into a fight against a number of opponents, with your team on one side and theirs on another. It’s up to you to decide how you want attacks to go down, both with your general abilities on your team and a series of special cards, which appear at the bottom of the screen.

These skill cards are random, but each of them has different effects, depending how they play out. For instance, there are some heals that can be useful when your squad is running low on energy, even if it costs you a crucial turn as a result. There are also offense-based cards that you can use, like a burst damage strike that sends a laser firing down within the range of certain enemies. If you’re sharp enough with your aim, you can hit multiple foes at once with this and really make a difference.

You’ll want to use these cards sparingly, as their effects can make all the difference between victory and defeat. Keeping tabs on how your team’s energy lies can really be crucial here. But just understand, you’re going to face defeat at times. Situations sometimes have you overwhelmed by a tougher squad, and sometimes you can’t help that. That said, you can make decisions to try and make things up for the next time around. And that’s where the next factor of gameplay comes in.

 

Taking Care of Your Team

Destiny’s Sword has an emotional layer that few games don’t dare to touch, mainly because they’re so concerned with how the results will play out with some characters. However, 2Dogs has a system that plays out remarkably, at least based on the time we spent with the demo.

There are conversations you’ll have with crew mates over the course of the game. They won’t stay with you forever. They’ll last several battles before deciding to call it quits, either to move on to better things or simply having enough with losing, depending how you let things play out. It’s up to you to try and keep up their morale in a number of ways.

For example, I came across a very bad loss against a much superior team early on in the game. As a result, my team was crushed, with the captain accepting most of the blame. He proposed throwing a party to let people know how important they are, even though there was a slight risk when it came to letting it get out of hand. He assures that it won’t, but it’s totally up to you whether you want to play a hard-ass and say no, or simply let the crew have their fun. But keep in mind that even a small decision like this can have consequences you may not see coming.

Being the fun-loving guy that I am (I don’t care what anyone says, I am, damn it), I decided to let the party commence. Everyone loosened up and, thankfully, things didn’t get out of hand. The next day, morale did see a slight boost, but not everyone was perfect.

As the main captain of the team, you can talk to various teammates and see where their emotions lie, based on a chart that sits in the lower left hand corner of the screen. You can see where their feelings convey here, and try to zero in on certain problems if you feel compelled. You can choose to ignore them if you really don’t feel like being “chatty” and want to move on with the mission; but, again, consequences can rear their ugly head.

There’s also a Knowledge Inventory that you can utilize for each crew member. It’s located in the top left portion of the screen, and you can use it to find out more background on the crew member, should you feel compelled to learn more about them. You can see what kind of fights they got into with teammates, what kind of relationship or family problems they’re having, or even see how the last battle affected them personally. Each member is different from the last, making Destiny’s Sword a much heavier experience than the usual strategy title.

Talk To Me

Now let’s get down to conversations. As a crew member enters your circle, you can choose how you want the talk to go. You can dismiss it, as I mentioned, or you’re able to dig a little and find out what the problem is. They may be feeling trauma from the battle, or a personal loss with someone that died over the course of the last fight. You can assure them that they have someone to talk to and increase their confidence, which will make a difference in your next encounter – or the one you just lost, should you feel you’re ready to tackle it again.

Just remember – not every conversation has to happen. Some of your members may be a bit on the confrontational side, and better left to not have their hearts poured out. It can be a slight gamble, but sometimes having them on edge will give you the push you need to win your next match-up. Sometimes nurturing isn’t always the way to go – it just depends on the crew member.

There’s a delicate balance to Destiny’s Sword’s conversations that’s really something, and will keep players busy for hours on end. I didn’t see anything that would introduce any kind of relationship angle, but that could change before the game’s introduction next year. It would certainly introduce a fun complication that could anger a few other staff members on board, ready to accuse you of favoritism. Let’s see what 2Dogs has planned.

 

Enter the Boss Battle

After you get done with your conversations, you can choose to go back into action and see how you fare against the opponents. This is where your work into balancing your team pays off, as their performance improves. You still need to play cards properly and time the attacks just right so you can wipe out enemies without losing it.

That’s where Hall and company introduced us to the new boss battle in the game, against a well-armed Ravager. It’s here we faced off against a much strengthened adversary that wasn’t afraid to unleash devastating attacks on my squad. Fortunately, I was more than ready, as I had talked to two of them well before the fight. After a few rounds, I was able to take on this skirmish with ease, and even score some precious loot to help them out the next time around, including a few extra skill cards. Just make sure to save them for the right time, or you’ve had it.

Something For Everyone

Along with a single player campaign that involves you taking care of others on your ship and engaging in a number of battles, Destiny’s Sword will also come with multiplayer features. In that, players will be able to take on one another in a PvP-based war setting, in which factions go at it for all out supremacy. More than likely, this will be a “quick” set-up where players can just get into a skirmish without talking about their feelings. It’s sure to be fun and give those experienced with the system something to do when they’re tired of making decisions with their own squad. Plus think of the loot you’ll be able to snag as well.

In addition, more missions will also be added over the course of the game, though 2Dogs is still laying out the groundwork for the open beta, which is set to kick off sometime next year. They didn’t provide specific dates just yet, but Hall and the team assured that it’s moving right along.

 

A Solid Presentation For a New Indie Fave

Considering that Destiny’s Sword doesn’t have a AAA budget on hand, 2Dogs has done a splendid job with the game’s presentation thus far. The 3D battles look nifty and have a great sci-fi based flair to them, and the attacks shine when it comes to execution. What’s more, it’s easy to see what’s happening from the perspective that’s given, so you don’t miss a single hit.

As for the gameplay, it definitely leans on the tactical side of things, but it’s fairly simple to see what abilities you have available, and how long they may be in “cooldown” phase after you’ve unleashed them. The cards, again, are scattered across the bottom of the page, and are simple to pick and choose from. Just try not to play too much of your hand too soon – you’ve got to save some of these for later on in the battle.

As for the sequences involving your teammates, these play out in a cinematic style fashion. They’re not highly animated, nor do they need to be. Your team members enter the frame, and you’re able to see just what kind of condition they’re in. Some are battle scarred, licking their wounds and just trying to stand. Others, however, don’t make it so easy to see what’s happening. They’ll hide behind a brave face and require a bit of shell cracking to dig deeper into the problem. Combine that with the emotional readouts that appear on the side of the screen, and you have a system that works beautifully, without needing any over-the-top animations to give it heft.

 

Plans For the Future

At the moment, the open beta is currently only planned for PC next year, but Hall made it clear that “crossplay is a big part of our vision” when we spoke to him previously, and that we should “expect to see us on the consoles not too long after we get the PC version up and running!”

With so many staff members to balance, battles to take part in, cards to play and decisions to make, Destiny’s Sword may be a little top-heavy for some when it comes to keeping things from getting out of hand. It’s with this approach that 2Dogs could very well have a winner, based upon what it’s put into development thus far.

The hands-on left a very good impression on me, even if I didn’t always make the right decisions; and the mere depth of missions and team conversations you can have means hours worth of gameplay, with a number of new complications to face around every corner. That, combined with a multiplayer PvP mode, should keep players coming back for more.

We’ll see how Destiny’s Sword fares when it launches into beta over the next few months! In the meantime, be sure to check out our interview with Ken Hall here!

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Interview: Sharpening the Emotional Reach of Destiny’s Sword

The MMORPG game Destiny’s Sword had some huge presence at PAX East recently, introducing a bevy of new audience members to the classic adventure. But this isn’t your typical tale. It’s one that utilizes a great deal of emotions. In fact, you can “feel” up to 80 over the course of the game, and your character could even “suffer PTSD, anxiety, depression or addiction depending upon what happens in combat and on their unique background and personalities,” according to the game’s description.

Destiny’s Sword

To give you an idea of what the game is all about, we had a chance to chat with Ken Hall, CEO for the developers at 2DogsGames, about what makes the game special. Chances are it might even take dedicated fans of MMORPGs for a ride.

 

First off, for those that are unfamiliar with Destiny’s Sword, how would you best describe it? We know that it’s a game that revolves around tactics, but it goes a little deeper than that thanks to the narrative.

Destiny’s Sword is a strategy/combat MMORPG – with a twist.  Rather than simply crunching numbers in pursuit of dominance, players will work together to manage the psychology and mental health of their team throughout the game. Players will have to get to know their characters, to understand what makes them tick, in order to get the most out of them.

But Destiny’s Sword is about social interaction and communication between players, too.  Whether it’s participating in the ongoing PvP faction war, coordinating with your guild members in a 20-player, cooperative PvE boss battle, or working together to help your teams recover from physical and mental injuries.  As an MMO, we’re all about creating shared experiences in an immersive environment.

Our innovative social game mechanics ensure that all players in Destiny’s Sword are valued and can contribute in a meaningful way, regardless of their achievement level or intensity of play.  This makes it a lot easier to form relationships with other players and continue to play together, and makes the game less daunting for new players.

 

Tell us how the conversations within the game work. Apparently you can have more than one conversation at a time, and it can have an effect on your character? How’s that work?

Sometimes conversations will just be relationship-building tools – shooting the breeze and enhancing trust and comradery.  At other times they will be more like a detective story – players will have to question multiple sources to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes.  How players interact with their characters can certainly affect their relationships and the character’s psyche.

 

How you hold a conversation can actually affect how your character works in the battlefield, correct? Like, one thing could see a critical push, but another could also be negatively affected?

What happens to characters in battle affects how they think and feel, and how they think and feel affects their performance in combat.  Players have to engage with their characters and understand what motivates them and what they’re going through in order to put them in the best place to succeed.

 

Could this eventually evolve into some kind of “beef” with fellow characters that may affect how the team works as a whole?

Absolutely – thanks to our Insight Engine technology (essentially the AI that drives our emergent world), every character has a unique backstory and personality.  They have a web of complex relationships with other characters and the players. Characters can form a synergy and work really well together, but they can also start to distrust each other and cohesion can break down.

Your squad’s morale can even affect other players’ characters within your guild.  In this way, players are incentivized to work together and help each other to manage issues, with more experienced players mentoring and guiding newer players.

Destiny’s Sword

How’s the battle portion of the game work? Turn-based? Team tactics? Or is it ever changing depending on the synchronization of your team?

The battles are real-time, and while players can influence events, they can’t direct them.  The player is the commander of the whole squad, not just a single member of the unit.

There’s a lot of strategy in how the team is assembled, matching the right personnel and equipment for the task at hand.  Then, during battle, players maintain an overwatch of their squad from an orbital support ship. They can coordinate with other players’ squads to score combination attacks, and they can steer the course of events by playing action cards, such as shielding their troops or calling in an orbital strike.

 

How long has Destiny’s Sword been in development? We understand you may be running a Kickstarter to help push it further?

Destiny’s Sword is halfway through development, and we plan to launch our open beta at PAX East next year (2020).  Although we have our production funding already in place, and the core game can be made with what we have at our disposal, we really want to take things further for players.  Our vision is to add exciting features: fully dynamic environments, more cinematic content with voice acting, guild customization. Those are things that the Kickstarter campaign will be able to help us provide.

 

What did you think of the reception of the game at PAX East? Did attendees have some creative criticism to provide? Feedback that could possibly affect the game’s development?

PAX East was awesome – it was so great to see our prototypes in the hands of our audience!  This is the first time they’ve seen a playable version, and it was rewarding to see how quickly they ‘got it’.  We thought people would sit and play like a 3-minute demo, but we were amazed by how many people sat down for over 20 minutes, playing through every line of dialogue we had!

It was very moving to have people turn to us and say – “this is just what I feel like dealing with my anxiety”, or “I have a friend who’s struggling with addiction, and these are the kind of things they say”.  It really validates our concept and shows us we’re on the right track. Now we have to get to work and deliver!

 

Are there any issues in the game that you haven’t explored yet? Like, perhaps, consistent defeats having an effect on a character in the midst of battle?

There are tons of ideas we want to dive into and explore more deeply.  That’s one of the reasons we’ve partnered with some amazing organizations: Take This,Spartan Wellness and Alda Communication Training.

They’re consulting with us to make sure we get the core experience right, and then we can branch out from there.  As a small indie studio, we have to start with a narrow scope, but we will continue to broaden the game experience throughout its future.

 

How many characters are you looking to include in the game overall?

Players will manage a squad of up to 20 different characters, but thanks to our Insight Engine, there will be an infinite number of unique characters in our universe, and no two will react the same way.  As new characters come into the squad and old characters go, the entire dynamic of the group will evolve. War does change, despite what Ron Perlman says in Fallout 3, and Destiny’s Sword is going to offer not only a constantly changing world but characters that grow and change with their experiences and with players’ actions.

Destiny’s Sword

Finally, is the game only coming to the PC front, or do you have console ports figured out as well?

We’re going to initially launch on PC through Steam, but crossplay is a big part of our vision, so expect to see us on the consoles not too long after we get the PC version up and running!

Destiny’s Sword doesn’t currently have a release date, but its open beta is set to open sometime during 2020.

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