Killsquad – Bounty Hunters in Space

Is it still a Diablo-like game if it stars space bounty hunters? Probably not, but Killsquad certainly qualifies as a loot-driven action RPG. The latest game from Spanish developer Novarama is a far cry from its most popular series, the family friendly Invizimals.

Killsquad is a sci-fi co-op action game where you can take on contracts solo or in a team of up to four players. Going in by yourself is far from the ideal way to enjoy Killsquad. In fact, it is detrimental to the experience and could give you the wrong impression about the potential of this game. Do yourself a favor and make some friends before playing. You’ll thank me later.

Killsquad Night Two Player Co-op

Bounty Hunters of the Galaxy

In my ill-informed mind, Killsquad was this story-driven co-op game where players would explore new planets and discover exciting new alien species, and blow them to pieces. That much I knew, or so I thought. Reality came knocking and it turns out, Killsquad doesn’t feature a proper campaign, and most likely never will. This is a game about loot and leveling up your hero, paving the way for more challenging and ultimately more rewarding contracts.

After subverting my expectations, for better and for worse, I was able to enjoy Killsquad for what it is; a fast-paced action RPG where loot matters and grinding is key. It may feel light on content during Early Access, but the core mechanics are in place and the wheels are in motion. While the theme couldn’t be more dissimilar, Killsquad feels remarkably close to Pagan Online, right down to the way that enemy waves appear out of thin air. Not my favorite mechanic, I must confess.

Killsquad features four space bounty hunters for you to choose from: Troy, Kosmo, Cass and Zero. While the selection is sparse, the heroes are diversified enough to suit most playstyles. My favorite of this bad bunch is Zero, a medical combat robot gone haywire. So much for empathy, as it is now a reckless murder machine, using its laser attacks to deal with any creatures. I’m also a fan of its ability to drop a MedPack, making it the perfect healer unit on the battlefield.

Killsquad 2-Player Co-op Zero and Kosmo

On the other hand, if you prefer to get up close and personal, Kosmo may be the right man… er, dead man for that. Wielding a massive sledgehammer, he isn’t afraid to use it to crack some alien skulls. Troy is the gunslinger and natural gambler, shooting his way to better loot. Finally, there’s Cass, the warrior nun, with her sharp sword and invisibility powers.

The grind may be strong with this one, but it’s not entirely unforgiving. You can stick to your favorite hero without second thoughts as you won’t be forced to start from scratch when you want to try the others. The support gear and prototype gear that you purchase from the shop is shared through all your characters, so you’ll swiftly find your brand-new space bounty hunter starting from Vector 31 or so. Weapons, however, are bound to each hero, so this is another aspect entirely.

Vector is the fancy name given to experience levels in Killsquad. This is a calculation based on your current equipment, which includes weapon, support gear and prototype gear. To make it perfectly clear, your overall ranking is the sum of the three gear parts divided by three, in case you find your Vector number not to be an exact reflection of your stats. It took me a while to discover its inner workings.

Killsquad Palace of Pain Co-op

Contracts Make the World Go Round

With no campaign to sink your teeth into, you must pick one contract from the available selection. Contracts rotate in real time and are currently divided in three tiers: Recruit (Vector 1-30), Veteran (Vector 35-90) and Spec Ops (Vector 120-150). There is nothing preventing you from accepting contracts above your pay grade, but don’t get too cocky or you may end up seeing your mission cut short.

Killsquad’s Early Access features 12 contracts spread across three different planets. It’s a skimpy selection that is enhanced with day and night missions, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a game in desperate need for additional content. Luckily, the maps are randomly generated, which means that you’ll face slightly different challenges. Sometimes you’ll struggle to find the right path, especially in The Palace of Pain, with a narrow pathway or two being harder to find than it should. Killsquad doesn’t feature character transparency, so it’s not uncommon to lose track of your hero or an enemy in the heat of battle.

The Palace of Pain is one of the planets filled with riches and bugs of various sizes. It’s not my favorite place, due to the industrial complex design that leaves me somewhat cold, maybe due to the endless steel walkways, or the succession of vast, empty rooms. I much prefer my trips to planet Kemmekh, where the neat sound of crystals shattering is like music to my ears. Planet Wasteland 7A is exactly what is says in the box, a devastated place with traces of a long-destroyed civilization.

Killsquad Wasteland 7A Battle

Apart from the randomized level design, Killsquad’s planets also feature a few neat touches. Environmental hazards are something you must deal with and  they come in different shapes and sizes. You have meteor storms dropping at the worst moments, or laser storms that sweep the screen and everything in their path. Both you and the enemies are affected by these hazards and taking advantage of them in an intelligent way will save you a lot of trouble and health.

Each contract unfolds in a similar manner, as the heroes earn experience up to level 10. In regular intervals you’ll unlock new upgrades, choosing a new skill from a few choices. Steadily you’ll learn the best skills for your playstyle and as soon as you reach level 10, the contract objective is activated. It may consist of destroying a boss, safely escorting a vehicle, protecting an antenna, destroying crystals, and so on. It all boils down to exterminating whatever gets in your way.

While Killsquad is described as featuring “short, adrenaline pumping missions”, these actually run for longer than I was expecting. I would say that your average mission length is around 30 minutes, with some of them going well past that. This isn’t an issue for me, but some players may be more interested in short bursts of gameplay. The addition of a few extra contracts that don’t exceed 10 or 15 minutes would be a welcome addition.

Killsquad Warrior Nun Hero

A Disconcerting Lack of Talking Raccoons

The DNA you collect during the missions is the in-game currency used to purchase a few specific items in the BioSystems Labs shop. If nothing tickles your fancy or you feel confident in your abilities, the acquired DNA will be converted to credits by the end of the mission. These credits will then be used in the main shop, where you gradually purchase better weapons and gear. Things get more expensive as you go, but in general the Vector level of each piece is superior to what you have previously acquired, so it is a good deal. This is the recurrent way for leveling your heroes and confidently taking on better contracts.

There is a secondary shop where you can purchase epic and legendary weapons. These come with significant attributes but also a heavier price. You need to grind additional materials and craft three special types of currencies if you want to lay your greasy fingers on one of those.

With my early game experience being mostly to blame, I had mixed feelings going solo with Killsquad. The pace was trite and the frequent need to destroy stationary mines to earn that little bit of experience made it feel a bit dull. It was an unexciting grind that slowly improved as I became suited for better contracts and more challenging foes.

Killsquad Vehicle Escort Co-op

Still, playing Killsquad alone is wasting the tremendous potential of the game. Playing with one friend is enough to lift the game to other standards, and the four-player mode is certain to raise the chaos and fun factor in equal measure. It gets so frantic at times that the battleground turns into a dazzling light show, and you’re left wondering how you managed to stay alive amidst all that spectacle.

Co-op is where Killsquad absolutely shines, making some of its shortcomings feel inconsequential. I didn’t care that much anymore about the repetitive enemies (30 at the moment), or the small number of environments. I was having fun handing out medkits to my partner, as he unabashedly dived headfirst into the chaotic enemy waves, while I took out the rest of them from a distance. We were having fun and boasting about our newfound abilities to survive in a deadly environment, against all odds.

I can’t fully recommend Killsquad for solo players, but it gets high marks if you plan on playing with a friend. As I said before, this is where the game truly shines. It was purely designed to be enjoyed in co-op and does quite a good job at it, too.

You should have a decent amount of fun in its current state, but Killsquad needs more content; more loot, more heroes, more planets, and more contracts, which it will certainly get in the future. I can only endure so many steel catwalks before I start longing for other, more alluring planets to scavenge. Isn’t there any lush tropical planet in need of a committed and reasonably priced bounty hunter?

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Torchlight Frontiers’ Horizontal Progression System is a Potential Game Changer

The first couple of Torchlight games were some of the best examples shaped by the Diablo school of action RPGs. As far as hack-and-slash titles go, you can’t go wrong with this series if you want a game that is easy to pick up, a blast to play, offers hours on end of content and plenty of exciting loot.

When Perfect World Entertainment announced the closure of Runic Games, I died a little inside. The developer of the acclaimed series was no more, and while there was some vague reassurance about future titles in this franchise, who would eventually carry the torch? As it turns out, Torchlight Frontiers was announced as the first game developed by a new studio, Echtra Games, founded by Max Schaefer, former co-founder of Runic Games. It all seems to come full circle.

Torchlight Frontiers represents the next step in the series, learning from the previous games while venturing deeper into online territory. Torchlight 2 had amazing multiplayer co-op, and it’s no secret that, for years, Runic Games sought to take the series into MMO territory. The plan was eventually put on the back burner, but clearly it was never forgotten.

There is a fundamental reason for all the excitement surrounding Torchlight Frontiers. It’s not the accomplished art style, nor the exciting combat that it luckily has inherited from past titles; the real reason lies on the Torchlight Frontiers’ horizontal progression system that aims to change the way that players delve through content in an MMO.

In most MMOs, your challenge consists of going through the game in the customary means, a vertical system, let’s put it that way. You level up your character, become stronger and ultimately reach the endgame, the place where you belong from then on. Past content soon becomes obsolete, irrelevant, leaving you with no reason at all to return to old dungeons or raids and one-shot hordes of poor, defenseless enemies. Echtra Games wants to give you a good motive to go back to previously explored locations and have fun doing it, while still finding it somewhat challenging and, above all, picking up some valuable loot and gold along the way. As the developers said it, it’s not about sitting on top of a powerful mountain, but more about building different kinds of power that will have a purpose through the entire game and not just endgame.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system

But how will they achieve this? Through a system that focuses on each specific area – the Frontiers from the title – and the tools that are best suited to succeed in these areas. Dynamic gear scaling is the name of the ‘magic trick,’ and Guild Wars 2 players may be able to identify its inner workings. To put it simply, your gear is temporarily scaled down accordingly to the lower level zone that you will be tackling. This is made in a way that retains some sort of challenge as to not feel like a boring task, and you won’t be wasting your time as you can still earn some precious rewards such as gold and skill points – don’t expect any rare gear or materials, but there will be enough to keep you coming back for more.

Not only that, but this system is also a great way to team up with a friend that joined the game late and is still going through the earlier areas. This way, you can join your friend in zones where your characters behave in similar ways, despite you being way more powerful when all is said and done. Your friend levels up, you get some nice extra rewards – it’s a win-win situation.

However, it wouldn’t be fair if your superior character was reduced to the level of any other new Torchlight Frontiers player, and this is where the dynamic gear scaling system plays another interesting card. Each zone drops specific equipment and it is up to you to use it in your favor. For example, the gear that you earned playing in the Goblin Frontier is aligned to that frontier, so you will be scaled favorably against the creatures in that area. On the other hand, use that same gear in the Hyvid Frontier and it will scale worse, as the monsters in the area are aligned to a different set of equipment. The scaling differences are slight, but as you surely know by now they can make all the difference when you are facing a powerful boss. Changing gear is extremely simple, with the press of a button taking you through the various sets at your disposal.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system - classes

Torchlight Frontiers is a game with no levels, so your power relies on your equipment sets, your pet’s abilities, your active and passive skills and a couple of other things that Echtra Games is keeping close to its chest.

There are a few other things that the Torchlight Frontiers developers are keeping secret, including the highly anticipated character classes. Apart from some glimpses from the announcement trailer, there is very little to no info on the classes apart from the two that were officially shown: Dusk Mage and Forged. Fingers crossed for a reasonable number of classes at launch, as the meager four from Torchlight 2 simply won’t cut it in a game with MMO ambitions.

The Dusk Mage (apparently classes aren’t gender-locked, thankfully) is a magic-based character with powers split between light and dark. The former is comprised of accurate and sharp shots, while the latter lean towards a disordered area-of-effect style of attacks. As for the Forged, this is an inventive four-legged automaton and the first fully robotic class in the series. It is capable of firing missiles as well as using a sword to swipe enemies up close, and is able to change its parts just like the other classes change their equipment. The interesting bit comes with the heat gauge, which replaces the mana sphere from other classes. Using skills increases heat, and when it is full, you must vent steam with a scorching area-of-effect attack. It’s a curious mix of regular skills and releasing steam that needs to be carefully balanced to obtain the best results.

Torchlight Frontiers horizontal progression system - goblin with mount

With its resolute goal of finding a place in the ever tough MMO market, Torchlight Frontiers tries its best to bring something new to the genre. However, you can expect to find some tried-and-tested mechanics as well, including instanced dungeons where you will find the precious loot and deadly enemies. The definitive number of players that will compose a party is yet to be revealed, but four is the figure that is currently thrown around for good measure and to keep the playfield from becoming too cluttered. While in the persistent towns, the number of players radically increases in pure MMO fashion, with all the interactions that you can expect, including shopping around, gathering and crafting.

Perfect World Entertainment has a catalogue where free-to-play games abound, but also operates some buy-to-play games such as Livelock. When asked about the business model for Torchlight Frontiers, the publisher wasn’t ready to reveal any details, postponing such info for a later date. I can see Torchlight Frontiers working with any of the business models, if the inevitable cash shop is faultlessly tailored to each scenario.

Torchlight Frontiers is scheduled for 2019 on PC first and soon followed by PS4 and Xbox One releases.

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What Is Lost Ark Getting Up To?

Lost Ark is regarded by many as one of the most promising MMORPGs currently in development, and with good reason, I might add. It’s not easy to capture the minds of so many players, a feat that very few MMOs ever manage to accomplish. The hype meter is reaching remarkable levels of anticipation, and more than a few players have expressed their desire to pack their bags and move to South Korea for a couple of years.

They are obviously exaggerating wildly, but the point comes across clearly. It’s impossible not to compare Lost Ark to Blizzard’s Diablo – here we have an MMORPG with exciting combat, a sprawling and surprising world where you can even become microscopic and turn into a ladybug during a magical bug-filled journey reminiscent of a reverse “Gulliver’s Travels” – but these are the good kind of bugs.

Lost Ark took seven years to create with 200 staff working on the game and nearly 90 million dollars invested in its development. Smilegate developed this game specifically for PC, aiming to prove that despite the unrelenting rise of mobile gaming, this remains as the undisputed best platform for MMORPGs. Once a studio on the verge of closing down, it achieved incredible success with the multiplayer online shooter CrossFire, which still remains as one of the most profitable games in the entire world.

Now that the introduction is out of the way for those who have been distracted, what is Lost Ark getting up to? Announced by Smilegate by the end of 2014, this game has gone through three closed betas – logically restricted to Korean players, unless you could work your way around this limitation – and every single one brought a host of improvements, fixes, class balancing, graphical revamps, and a lot more. It was magnificent to look at the patch notes after each beta and realizing that there was a never-ending list of updates based on player feedback.

At this point we are less than a month away from the Lost Ark open beta, being scheduled for November 7, 2018. In case you didn’t know, South Korea usually considers an open beta as the equivalent to launch (or soft-launch, if you prefer), so the time is coming for every Lost Ark player to fully enjoy the game without regrets. Of course, Lost Ark is in continuous development just like any other MMORPG worthy of such a name, so you can expect a nonstop flurry of updates with additional content, fixes and more.

What Is Lost Ark Getting Up To - Town

In fact, we already know exactly what is planned for Lost Ark concerning future updates. These are divided into three types: Season, Episode and Middle Update. The Season updates are intended to be the largest of the bunch, adding tons of fixes and setting up the game for future updates. The Episode updates bring the kind of content that many of us are eagerly waiting for, such as new regions, character classes, stories, and events. As for Middle Updates, these will add more endgame content such as high tier raids, dungeons, and gear, as well as field bosses. The frequency of these updates remains unknown, but my guess is that we will get one of these every few months.

For the open beta, Smilegate is clearly working extremely hard as to not disappoint a large community that has placed a lot of expectations in Lost Ark. The changes and improvements range from several combat upgrades to a graphical overhaul, and it’s not often that a studio cares so much about the game as to upgrade the visuals before the open beta, with the promise of more improvements further down the road. Years and years go by and many other MMOs remain untouched, still offering the same graphics as when they were released, so this accomplishment is worthy of praise. Blade & Soul is one of the very few that are going to receive a visual overhaul, with the Vision update upgrading the engine to Unreal Engine 4.

The combat system received a lot of attention, with the aim to make it more impactful and meatier. The AI was reworked, and new movement patterns were added for the enemies, so that players aren’t tempted into repeating the same attacks. The reintroduction of blood effects is also intended to give a better feel of the battles and the devastating skills of your character. The Identity skill, which is a special skill unique to each character, was either balanced or overhauled according to each character, with the purpose of becoming more distinctive and effective.

What Is Lost Ark Getting Up To - Tripod System

One of the Lost Ark highlights is the Tripod system. With this system you can customize your skills and make the combinations feel unique to your character class. This must feel right, or it will turn into an unfulfilled promise that has no place in any game. The revamp’s objective is to make each new tier feel like a natural progression of the previous skills, creating a rewarding and natural chain effect, instead of just feeling like a separate progression. Mastering your tripod skills is going to make all the difference between regular players and Lost Ark pros.

If you like speeding through your games, then you’ll just love the latest addition, again based on player feedback: mounts in towns. That’s right, players were asking for ways to increase movement in town and one of the things to solve this was the addition of mounts. Sounds like a perfectly logical step – it would be an absurd oversight if it didn’t happen. And let’s all give a warm round of applause to the option to skip cutscenes!

So, you like having a cozy home in every MMORPG that you step in? I can relate to that; after all, even the boldest heroes need the occasional breather. However, Lost Ark takes the housing system a step further with the option to build not just your own house, but your entire island! Since Lost Ark has an NPC affinity system, you can invite some of your preferred characters to your island, play dress-up and all that jazz.

All this and still no Battle Royale mode in sight, for better or for worse. And before you think that this sounds utterly ridiculous to even allude to, let me remind you that both MapleStory 2 and Moonlight Blade, two MMORPGs, did get the unlikely Battle Royale mode. We’ll see what the future holds for Lost Ark.

This is only a short piece focusing on the more important points that the Lost Ark open beta is bringing, but Smilegate is already working on four new classes (there are 12 available right now), new islands and additional quests.

Lost Ark isn’t a sandbox open world MMORPG, instead being more of a theme park MMO – the kind where you go along for the ride, there is always a lot to see and do, but not much in the way of choices with memorable consequences. But it sure is one hell of an exciting journey, with a wonderful world to explore and a sailing system that has some unexpected depth to it.

While you may show some worries when you realize that Lost Ark runs on the Unreal Engine 3, a quick look at some closed beta gameplay should be enough to dispel those fears. Smilegate has tweaked the engine in many ways so that it remains relevant in a day and age when the Unreal Engine 4 seems to support every other game, from Fortnite to Sea of Thieves. But the best news of all is that according to general player feedback, Lost Ark’s optimization is already top-notch, with no signs of frame rate drops, even in highly populated areas.

What Is Lost Ark Getting Up To - Dungeon

The business model is one of the things that can’t go unnoticed. Lost Ark is going to be free-to-play – in Korea, at least. You can purchase some things in the cash shop such as mounts, costumes, items for housing decoration and others for convenience (pets, storage expansion and more). There is the option to purchase gear to level up faster, but before you begin shouting “pay-to-win!” you should know that you can’t acquire high-end gear from the shop. Is it still pay-to-win? You decide.

This is all fine and dandy, but most of you aren’t living in South Korea and are left scratching your heads, wondering when you can play an English release of Lost Ark. According to Smilegate, the plan is to focus on existing markets first – which translates into Korea and possibly China for now – and then work on the global market. You can rest assured, however; Lost Ark is absolutely, positively, unquestionably coming to North America and Europe sooner or later, as there are too many details hinting at it.

For one, Smilegate representatives have already hinted at their desire to release Lost Ark globally, going as far as mentioning an international release as soon as the game service is stable enough in Korea. But the more interesting piece of info comes from the closed beta client, which includes a very telling “English (US)” folder. If that is no indication of the desire to release Lost Ark in western territories, then I don’t know what is.

What Is Lost Ark Getting Up To - Crowd

2019 is going to be a crucial year for Lost Ark. The first few months after the Korean release will be revealing of the true potential of this highly anticipated MMORPG, and Smilegate will have to make good on its promises to deliver quality content at regular intervals. With a political crisis leading to a China ban on new licenses for video games created in South Korea, there is some uncertainty about the fate of Tencent’s Lost Ark release. Some are saying that Lost Ark already has a license, so it won’t be affected by this ban, while others are convinced that this decision will represent a significant hurdle for Lost Ark’s Chinese release. Truth is, we haven’t heard much about China’s Lost Ark for over a year, so it’s not looking good.

Hopefully, by early 2019 we should finally get some official news on English localization, as I doubt that the Korean studio will back up on its ambitious plans for a global release. If Lost Ark is a huge success in South Korea – and everything points to that, including the huge investment that it represents for Smilegate – then it’s very likely that we may get this game sooner than expected, just as it happened with Black Desert Online. We can only hope.

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