Relic Hunters Legend – Four-Player Duck Hunt

What is up with ducks and their newfound desire to conquer the galaxy? Didn’t we feed them enough breadcrumbs or what? Whatever the reason may be, they aren’t happy and return as the main enemies in Relic Hunters Legend, the follow-up to the acclaimed indie game Relic Hunters Zero.

We were given the opportunity to play an early alpha build of Relic Hunters Legend and despite having most features and levels under development, it was enough to see where the game is going, which is Fast and Fun Shooter Land. No, that isn’t a real place, I just made that up to get the point across.

Relic Hunters Legend Co-op Jump Attack

Donald Duck Goes Rogue

Relic Hunters Legend is a four-player online co-op shooter created by a Brazilian studio called Rogue Snail. It represents an improvement to the first game in every level, starting with the graphics. Gone is the somewhat simplistic pixel art, replaced by a colorful cartoon style that conveys heaps of personality and emotion – mostly fierce determination – in such small characters.

There is no campaign right now, but a story mode with four acts is planned, with the first act coming during the beta. This act will offer four to five hours of time-traveling adventures with a mysterious character name Seven. In fact, the developers mention the fact that the game should take you 500 hours to complete everything. By that they really mean everything including unlocking and leveling characters, completing every dungeon and mission, and getting the best builds available.

To fully enjoy that, the shooting and looting should be as polished as they can be, right? You can rest assured that even at the current state, Relic Hunters Legend is a lot of fun. The small selection of characters, a couple of them without their unique skills, doesn’t get in the way of the fast and frantic gameplay one could expect from such a game. It’s like Killsquad on cute, fluffy steroids, with a lot of heavy-armored turtles and ducks wearing shades.

Relic Hunters Legend Co-op Boss Battle 2

The current build comes with four hunters: Ace, Jimmy, Pinkyy and Raff. For the sake of this alpha test, and apparently because I have discovered a weird liking for green computerized hair, I chose Pinkyy, the leader of the Relic Hunters. She is an extremely agile fighter and her shield is a godsend when it comes to protecting the team from the ceaseless bursts of enemy projectiles. She also has a dash and a jump ability that come in handy when her enemies are united in a small area.

As if it wasn’t enough for poor old Ace to be a donkey, he is currently missing some skills, but at least he can resort to his leap to hurt his enemies a bit. Raff, on the other hand, is missing… er, everything, so she isn’t the most appropriate choice when it comes to trying different tactics in the arena. Jimmy is described as the greatest shot in the galaxy and I believe it, with his grenade throwing skill surely playing a big part in his reputation. The roster is going to improve with the addition of Seven, Biu, Panzer and Red, most of them being familiar faces from Relic Hunters Zero.

Hunters level up in two ways: they gain experience levels by the regular means of progressing and shooting everything in sight, but they also have a gear level. This is inherently tied to your Hunter level, which means that you can only equip better gear if your current experience level allows you to do so. Then you have the option to enhance your gear via crafting materials that you find in your way or by recycling parts that you don’t need anymore. This alpha is limited to level 20 but the final game comes with a level cap of 100.

Relic Hunters Legend Co-op When Ducks Attack

There is so much under development for Relic Hunters Legend that I believe it will feel very different from the current build, when it enters beta by late 2019 or early 2020. A skill tree is in the works, which means that you’ll be able to improve abilities and unlock new skills, paving the way for more combat options. There is a rebel rank as well to track your account level based on your achievement completion rate.

A customization system is being developed for you to equip cosmetic items, change the colors of individual pieces to your liking, add a special effect here and there, and choose your favorite quips and emotes. This is where monetization will come barging in, although Rogue Snail promises to be completely fair and transparent in their regard. Judging by the frank way in that they advise caution to anyone who wants to purchase Relic Hunters Legend in its current state, they seem to be very serious about it.

Relic Hunters Legend Capture the Point

Ducks of War

There isn’t much in the way of content, but there are many hours of gameplay at your disposal if you like this kind of loot-driven shooter. This is a fun game with a friend, but it goes extreme when you have a full party of four players hunting ducks. There are a few intricacies that you must learn and let sink in, such as the lack of a jump button, which is something weird for a game that places such an emphasis on verticality.

You’ll be able to deal with slopes and gaps thanks to context-based leaps, something that feels natural and smooth after a few minutes. The AI relentlessly attacks and chases you, comfortably dealing with every obstacle that the tricky terrain throws its way. In fact, they can become a little bit unnerving with their constant climbing and descending, inadvertently avoiding our gunfire by sheer luck.

While you can freely aim your weapon, verticality once again gets in the way of your task. Relic Hunters Legend has a weird way of dealing with ramps and slopes, one that will require some getting used to. Your shots may end up hitting an enemy standing on top of a ramp, or simply fail to reach him. Different approaches to distance and location may result in a better outcome, but it’s not always evident how things are going to turn out. Switching between no assist and auto-aim modes doesn’t seem to significantly alter how the shooting works.

Relic Hunters Legend Shield Skill

Relic Hunters Legend only has one location to explore for now, but you can rest assured that others are coming. The Galyno Desert is the first region, but at least six regions of similar size are planned. This area is divided into three eras, which equate to normal, hard and epic difficulty levels. Only normal and hard modes are available and not for every mission, with many “under construction” signs showing that this is very much a game in early alpha state. Even the Secret Market, which will act as the game’s social hub isn’t accessible, so there are a lot of expected dead ends in Relic Hunters Legend’s current build.

The same goes for game modes, with only a couple available. Skirmish is your standard mode where you drop from your ship and start shooting Ducans left and right, only to end up facing a boss in a small arena. Scavenge is the other game mode where it’s all about capturing random points in the map for a short time, resisting the relentless waves of enemies that try to push you out of the circle. Other game modes are planned, including Payload (escorting a slow-moving train), Defense (protecting a gate) or Distraction (survive for eight minutes while causing the most trouble), among others. There are four-player dungeons with unique mechanics, but it was under construction as well.

However, that is enough talking about technical details; onward to fun! Relic Hunters Legend is a lighthearted, gripping, no strings attached experience where your only goal is to shoot and loot. Beneath its deceivingly simple core gameplay mechanics beats a strong and charismatic heart, one that initially compels you with its looks and soon grabs you by sheer addictiveness. It’s a game where you are unwillingly forced to inspect every little detail, from the grimaces that the heroes make with every skill or move to the way that the empty bullet shells fall to the ground when you reload your weapon. You can’t help but smile at these almost invisible touches.

Relic Hunters Legend Co-op Boss Battle

Relic Hunters Legend still needs a lot of work and in its current state it isn’t anywhere near a proper beta build; I wasn’t even able to create a match with a friend. Luckily, I stumbled  across a few random players here and there, allowing me to appreciate the game for what it intends to be. It’s free-to-play, so it’s not like you’ll have to ask for a refund if you weren’t entertained when it launches.

Good games don’t need hundreds of hours of content for you to realize that they are worthy of your time. This is one such example and you can bet that it will be a huge success among the fans of the first game, as well as sheer enthusiasts of top-down co-op shooters. Unless a duck or two find a way to time travel and sabotage the grand scheme of things, Relic Hunters Legend is on the right track.

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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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Hands On With Anthem

Anthem is a game that has been utterly shrouded in mystery. From its development cycle to what is planned for a post-launch release, Bioware Edmonton’s newest creation has been a complete enigma up until its first demo several weeks ago. Even looking at its official social media pages, its hard to discern what the final form of Anthem is truly intended to be, with little focus on showcasing the game’s systems. Even now, after the first leg of its public demo, the discussion surrounding Anthem is more based on the failings of the demo than what the game actually is.


Developed by Bioware and published by Electronic Arts, Anthem is an always-online MMO-lite shooter in a similar vein of Destiny 2 and features a persistent open world with drop-in-drop-out co-op gameplay. While there are certainly comparisons to be drawn between Bungie’s MMO shooter and the newest addition to the Bioware catalog, each game exists in its own circle of influence and certainly stands on its own.

On the planet of Bastion, Elder Gods once shaped the world with great machines and a force known as the Anthem of Creation. A wild and untamed elemental force, the Anthem and its melodies could create life from inanimate objects while shaping the world at its whim. Long before the rise of humanity, these gods left, leaving their relics and instruments behind on a volatile world. Now these powers threaten the very land of Bastion, and heroes have risen to meet them. Known as Freelancers, these contract-soldiers take flight in their Javelin mech suits to defend humanity from threats based on the Anthem, and those that encroach from within the very ranks of humanity itself.

This, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting and under-utilized narrative conflicts that we just haven’t seen in western game development over the last decade. Too often do we see heroes backed against a wall by an unseen or omnipotent enemy force, when sometimes the best opposition can come from nature itself. Anthem certainly has that on full display at its onset with the melodies of Bastion ripping horrific monsters into being in an instant or glassing a plain with savage licks of fire. However, this quickly turns into the introduction of a big-bad villain who attempts to weaponize the Anthem and things quickly begin to hit a tired story beat.

The narrative of Anthem is, oddly enough, one of its weaker points. Despite being known for their fantastic storytelling and wonderful narrative construction, Bioware’s strongest skill set firmly falls flat in this department, at least within the first few hours. While the introductory missions are incredibly well written and serve to inject action into the world of Bastion there is a two year time-jump immediately after this plot-line, cutting any emotional attachment to the characters we just struggled with. From there things merely chug along in Anthem, hitting story beats until the introduction of the game’s main villain.

The Monitor, leader of the Dominion and intent on wielding the fury of the Anthem.

What’s slightly more disappointing, however, is how well written the game’s wide variety of characters truly are. From your co-pilot Owen, who’s neurotically charming to a fault, to one of the Sentinels who is standoffish and uncomfortable but warms up to your character over time. Each character has a wonderful amount of time and energy put into them, with their own development arcs and unique quirks. There is a living, breathing world in Anthem, but it simply feels as if the, “why,” in existing in it doesn’t build until later in the game.

Despite the lack of why, the “How do you play in Anthem,” is incredibly fun and well worth the purchase price of the game. Most of your play time will be spent inside a Javelin, one of the Freelancer’s exo-suits. Each one is unique in its design and playstyle, fitting a different role in a traditional RPG role. Each has six unlockable equipment slots, as well as a host of unique interchangeable abilities.

The first players will have access to is the Ranger, a medium armor class Javelin. Focusing heavily on gunplay, the Ranger features abilities that veterans of Halo or Gears of War may find familiar. Starting with several artillery abilities such as grenades and missiles, this particular suit is the best for those unfamiliar with RPGs or Anthem in general; much like Soldier 76 of Overwatch, the Ranger is a great introduction for FPS players and the most versatile of each javelin. After completing the tutorial players will be able to select one of the other remaining Javelins, unlocking the others as they level up their pilot.

The Colossus is the de-facto tank of the Freelancer fleet, originally a large construction suit intended to protect workers from hazardous materials. Now the pilots of Fort Tarsis equip them as mobile siege weapons, using their bulk as an advantage in combat. Each Colossus comes equipped with a large ballistic shield, which compensates for their lack of standard energy shield. Unable to wield pistols or sub-machine gun weapons, this Javelin instead can equip heavy weapons such as rocket launchers and gatling guns. This suit is a walking siege weapon, equipped to maximize damage and come up with blunt force solutions to otherwise complicated problems.

The Interceptor is the Javelin for those looking to unlock sheer speed, being the most nimble and deadly melee combatant on the battlefield. While it boasts smaller shields than any other suit available, it recharges its shield through constant moment and speed. Standing still for the Interceptor is not the way to play. Specializing in pure damage and one-on-one combat, the Interceptor cleaves through the battlefield at lightning speed.

Hands on Anthem

New Javelins can be unlocked at pilot levels 2, 8, 16, and 24.

The final suit, and the one I spent the most playtime with, is the Storm. Wielding the elemental fury of Bastion, Storm is the casting powerhouse of the Freelancers. Boasting wide-spread area spells and effects, gunplay is used as a back-up for the destructive powers of the Anthem. Whereas other Javelins do best flitting in and out of melee combat, the Storm is best suited to hover at a distance and unleashing its fury upon the hapless enemies of the Freelancers.

Any time you step outside of the safety of Fort Tarsis, the main hub of Anthem, you’ll be loaded into one of your Javelins. Each comes loaded with several firearms be they rifles, submachine guns, pistols, shotguns or heavy ordnance. Each also has a jump-booster, a system that players can utilize to hover, glide or fly over Bastion. These jets can be activated at any time, indoors or out, but can only run for a certain amount of time; as with any flame-propulsion system it will eventually overheat.

Players can instead maximize their flight time by soaring beneath or over bodies of water, using gravity to assist their flight (such as tilting downwards or even straight down), or by flying in water-related weather patterns. This is one of Anthem’s more rewarding systems, as it simply feels good to fly and pull off various maneuvers with each Javelin especially when you can manipulate your flight pattern and stay aloft indefinitely. Each suit handles a little differently from each other based on its armor class; the beefy Colossus is sluggish and takes artillery on directly while the Interceptor rolls in and out of combat and flies as daintily as a bird.

While customization is limited when it comes to the player-character (with only one voice per sex and roughly 24 pre-rendered faces to choose from), Javelin customization is incredibly wild and varied. While each Javelin not only has replaceable parts and armaments, attainable through in-game vendors and currencies, every single color and texture of the Javelin can be customized or altered to your specifics. Leather under-linings can be changed to an all-metal super suit, capes and cloaks can be altered to be leather of any variety. Even the loadouts for your mechs can be utterly unique, turning a tanky Colossus into a long-ranged assassin or a Storm into a front-line psycher.

Hands on Anthem

The Ranger

When it comes to the gameplay of Anthem everything just feels right. Gunplay is tight and fun to engage with, flight feels great, and even simply exploring the world is fun. However, this is where the cracks in Anthem’s designs really begin to show.

Like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Anthem moves through its narrative beats and story-progression via a mission system. While this does piece out the story and lore into palatable chunks, it also makes exploring Bastion incredibly jarring. After the completion of each mission the player will be thrust out of their Javelin and into Fort Tarsis to manage their Javelin and pick up quests. While this allows players progressing quickly to optimize their loadout this does not negate the issue for players enjoying the free-roaming aspects of Bastion. If you even want to change your firearms you will have to return Fort Tarsis, enter your loadout, adjust your guns and sit through two more loading screens to return to that open world.

It’s also clear that hovering was not entirely fleshed out in regard to combat; while the Storm is built around the concept of flying high and avoiding damage, every other Javelin can also do just that as well, minimizing the threat of any enemy encounter especially in group scenarios. This reaches a paramount point towards Anthem’s endgame, which players of more recent MMO-Lite franchises may find familiar.

As the Freelancers rebuild their forces and begin to wage war on some of the deadliest parts of the Anthem, players will earn the ability to fight against Strongholds. These multiplayer encounters revolve around silencing a dangerous relic, fighting off waves of often negligible enemies and fighting off a large boss-version of those enemies, which feels again like a large bullet sponge. As bosses have no set loot table, rewards can range from low-tier uncommon items, which I received during my time at EA Redwood, to blueprints. These blueprints can be used to create Masterwork weapons, requiring players to use Anthem’s crafting system to target and develop specific end-game pieces they want, making the end-game less a targeted experience and more of a wide-sprawling attempt to find exactly what you need blindly.

 

Hands on Anthem

Anthem’s Loadout Screen, only accessible through the Forge at Fort Tarsis.

There also doesn’t appear to be much direction in terms of what happens after the story campaign. While there have been promises from both Electronic Arts and Bioware that there will be additional content beyond the end-game, and a confirmation from producer Scylla Costa that Bioware Houston will take over the live-service aspects of Anthem, there’s no direction into what that’s going to be. For now, running Stronghold’s appears to be the entire post end-game content, meaning that this live service will be relatively deceased after players hit the end of this RPG.

So that leaves us with one major question: where does this leave Anthem? Frankly, Anthem is an incredibly fun game when you don’t look too far past the veneer and finish. While player agency isn’t as prevalent as in other Bioware games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, neither is Anthem truly intended as a full-scale MMO nor a full-level RPG. Instead this game melds genres far more successfully than other more recent entries in the AAA sphere.

However, in comparison to those other entries, there are also quite a few gaps simply due to the setting of Bastion and the legacy of Bioware; players are used to complete agency in the designs of their characters, instead of the armor they wield. Other entries keep this customization out in the world instead of relying on older system concepts to force player evolution, allowing them to make basic adjustments on the fly instead of resetting their world to tweak a firearm. Anthem has a lot of heart, love and ingenuity baked into its very artistic essence, but the defects do stand out otherwise; some for the cracks in the façade, and others simply because Bioware has dominated this space for years.

For those interested, Anthem launches into the world on February 22nd, 2018

Disclaimer: Writer was flown out to EA’s Redwood, California Campus to preview Anthem at no cost.

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Anthem Interview: Taking Flight with the Development of Anthem

The wide world of Anthem has long since been in the works by Bioware’s ambitious Edmonton, Canada studio. Boasting a wide open reactive world, engaging gunplay and a story true to the grandeur of Bioware titles past, Anthem is a game destined for greatness. Despite this, however, information on the world of Bastion and its Freelancer defenders has been incredibly scarce, and questions from players have long since gone unanswered. I got the opportunity to travel to EA’s California offices and sit down with Scylla Costa, one of the Producers working on Anthem to talk about its development, player co-operation and the road map for launch and beyond.

 

With Bioware we have seen a bit of a change when it comes to Anthem in it being an always-online live service game, where as we’ve had strict multiplayer modes with other games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Why the transition to a live service game?

That’s a very good question. If you look at the history of Bioware you can see that we have been trying different stuff for a long time. We had Baldur’s Gate which was an isometric game that you could play in multiplayer if you had a LAN. Then we went to Neverwinter Nights which also had multiplayer but also had the mod aspect with user generated content. Then we jumped into the console with say Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Then from there we went to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, so we had a sci-fi cover shooter and a fantasy RPG with very different styles. Then finally Star Wars: The Old Republic which is an MMO for PC. So actually, if you look around you can see that we have been always trying something different and doing different things.

Anthem, maybe if you just look back one game or two, it may look like a big change but we have been changing [over time]. And the reason is also every time we’re creating a new [intellectual property] we need to look into the future. A new IP doesn’t get made in one year it takes maybe five years or more. When we finished Mass Effect 3 we started to think about Anthem and what was going to be Anthem and what kind of game we were going to do in five years. Just to remember now, five years ago we didn’t have Fortnite, Twitch wasn’t what it is today, so the way the players and consumers consumer their entertainment has changed a lot. Even Netflix has changed a lot! So you kind of have to try and project in that time-frame of five years, what kind of game do we want to make, what kind of game do we need to be playing in five years?

We wanted, going back to your question, to make a game that was an open world, that was also easy for me to jump in and out of so a seamless co-op experience with my friends, I could play by myself if I wanted to and we wanted to tell a story that wasn’t science nor fantasy but kind of sci-fantasy. We wanted to have a world that you could go outside and see a jungle and you go, “Oh, yeah, that looks like Earth!” But suddenly you have a Shaper ruin and there’s Ursics in your face trying to kill you and you go, “Woah this is NOT Earth! Where am I? What is that ruin? What activates these relics? What mysteries are hidden out there in the world?” Specifically, for the game of Anthem, we wanted to create also an antagonist, so we have The Monitor who leads the Dominion coming in from the north. That’s the enemy you need to protect humanity from.

What has Bioware, as a studio, faced in terms of difficulties and challenges in developing a live-service game like this?

Well first of all it’s a new IP. Creating a new IP is always hard because you don’t know the right answer or the wrong answer. If you’re doing a sequel, like we did with Mass Effect for example or Dragon Age, you can reach out to your consumer base; you can ask what they like, you can see the interviews, see the reviews of the game and try to build on the strengths you have while fixing the weaknesses. In our case, with a new IP, there is no right or wrong answer and that’s the biggest challenge. How do we create a new world that is fantastic and at the same time you want to explore but it’s super dangerous? How do you make people want to be there? How do we make people feel when they have a Javelin that they’re controlling they have all those super powers that make you feel very different from any other game? All the verticality that we have in the game as well, that’s something we tried really hard to make so that when you fly it simply feels really good to fly. We wanted you to have fun just traversing and exploring the world as well.

 

With [Anthem] being a multiplayer game, there are certain features that players expect going into it. One of them, which was confirmed by a tweet from one of the Executive Producers several weeks ago, was that [item] trading was not going to be available at launch. Was this an oversight or was this more due to focusing on single-player aspects of the game?

It was a design decision not having trade at launch. We wanted to make sure that progression wasn’t going to be short-cut. Let’s say that I’m playing with you and another two friends and you give me a super powerful Masterwork weapon. Let’s say I’m level 2 and you’re level 30 and suddenly I’ve got a level 30 weapon, it’s really going to short-cut everything. We’ve seen that happen with other games and we wanted to avoid that problem. We wanted to make sure that everybody would have meaningful loot every time they play. So, if I’m a Level 2 and you’re playing with me as a Level 30 every time I go out I’m going to find loot that is reasonable for my level just as you will find loot that is reasonable for yours. You can still help me level up and you’re still going to find stuff that is reasonable for you, even on the same mission.

 

With that ability to drop in and drop out, with people of different levels, is that more of the loot is set at that that player’s particular level?

Yes, it’s set based off of the player’s Pilot Level.

So character power isn’t dynamically scaled in such a sense?

Well, we scale the game in many different ways. If you’re playing together, we try to scale the [encounter] based on how many players are in your group, so you can play it alone if you want. The number of enemies you’d expect to be different if you were playing with a four player group, otherwise it would simply be too easy for the four player group. We can scale the waves of enemies, how tough they are, the types of enemies; so a group of four may see an Elite where as a [solo player] may not. We can also play around with the dynamic of the world as well, with how depending on the area of the world and the weather we can change what kind of creatures can spawn. If you’re playing in a group you may come across a bigger enemy like an Ash Titan for example, but if you’re playing alone we’re not going to make you fight that Ash Titan by yourself. We can play with many different variables so as to always make a challenge for you without making it completely punishing.

 

With a lot of live service games, especially with the introduction of the Steam Early Access model and development continuing post launch, there are some concerns among consumers that Anthem will be light on some features at launch, particularly with character customization and agency. What will players have access to personalize their character and immerse themselves into the world?

Let’s go first to personalization. For us, that is changing the materials of everything that you have [to customize your Javelin]. You can change the type of material which will give you a different look, the color of those materials, you can apply vinyls over them. You can also have different pieces of armor, for example different shoulders, helmets, legs. For the Storm you can have a different cape. There are many different things you can change about your character, even the animations you can use in the world or as a victory pose animation. We give you all of those personalization options and they are all cosmetic. You can acquire all of them just by playing the game and using the in-game currency. The more you play, the more you get, and you can spend it on whatever you want.

You also have player agency in terms of the equipment loadouts. You can have the same Javelin, say a Colossus for example, that can work as a tank. You can pull aggro, pull enemies to you, use your shield have a flamethrower. But you can also, because you want to, have a loadout that has a Sniper Rifle with an artillery gear slot that can fire from really far away to act as a support for your group. So we’re really giving the player the agency to choose how does he want to play with whatever Javelin suit he has.

 

Now let’s jump tracks for a moment and talk about the economy in Anthem. Now one of the Executive Producers, Mark Darrah, has said that the economy that players are going to see in the public demo for Anthem is going to be vastly different than what we’ll see in the final game. What are players going to see in that final release in February?

So for Anthem in terms of the economy, the demo was created quite a few weeks ago and therefore while it is a slice of the final game, we have been tweaking and iterating on the economy since then. We did find out that we need to make some changes in regards to the curve in which you gain experience. We also made changes to the amount of in-game currency you get, the prices of items in the store. We had to balance those out so that we could have a better experience overall. We always have the philosophy that we want to be fair to the consumer, to the player, making sure that, as long as they play, they always feel rewarded by playing because you’re going to have enough coins to get that cosmetic you wanted to buy. It’s not going to be like, “You’ve gotta play forever to buy that one thing.” We wanted to make sure it’s always fair for the player to do so. Of course there are different items, with different rarities and different prices but we have been tweaking a lot. That’s what Mark Darrah meant when he said the economy from the demo is different, because we’ve been tweaking it a lot over the last few weeks.

Right now we are aware of the fact there is a premium currency in Anthem. Are we going to see any other potential revenue streams introduced into Anthem post-launch?

At launch we’re just gonna have the cosmetic stuff. Post-launch it will really depend on the feedback we get from our consumers and from the players. We have a team in Austin that has been working on an MMO the last six years, Star Wars: The Old Republic. We developed Anthem with Bioware Edmonton and Bioware Austin. Bioware Austin is going to be responsible for taking the live service further, so I’m very comfortable about that, I’m very happy about that. I know they have the experience to listen to the feedback and change the plans according to that feedback. So according to what the players want to see in the game, we may have different stuff.

What’s the road-map for Anthem looking like post-launch?

There are a lot of things coming post-launch. We have many different teams who have been working on that stuff for a few weeks already, so you can see different cosmetic items, different creatures, maybe a new region to explore! You’ll have different events, different weather states. Anthem is a dynamic world; if you have rain right now it applies to your jets you can fly for longer as it cools down your jets. You can use electricity and therefore create larger effects. Try to imagine that we can create different weather states and apply that so not only are new parts of the world going to behave differently, but old parts of the world as well. If it’s day or if it’s night some creatures may show up or may be more powerful. We can play with all of these variables and create a new narrative for the game.

There was a lot of disappointment in the potential playerbase when it was announced that Anthem would not contain any Player vs. Player content at launch. Is that something that’s going to be incorporated into the game post-launch?

Like you said, PvP is not available for launch but it’s going to depend on the feedback that we get from the playerbase.

 

Bosses in Anthem don’t have a set loot table. When it comes to endgame player progression, particularly in gearing up your Javelin, is there a method for players to target specific pieces of equipment they are looking for?

Yes. In Anthem, specifically for the endgame, we want to give players the ability to craft their own weapons and gear. The way that we do that is you have Challenges, which will give you the blueprints for those Masterwork items. Now you can craft those masterwork items and in order to craft them you’re going to have to collect those resources through missions or freeplay, which will give you more resources. Once you have those items you can go back, craft your Masterwork items and now that you’re more powerful you can go into those missions and get even more powerful rewards.

There’s been discussion about Pilot Skill Trees and further progression after the end-game. Can you explain that a little bit and what impact that will have in terms of player power at the end of the game?

This is a very good question, but honestly I would prefer to keep that one for live. There are some things we want to do in live, exactly for the end-game and how we want Pilot Skills to show up. So we’re gonna keep that one for live for now.

 

Many thanks to Scylla Costa for sitting down with us to talk about Anthem and its development cycle beyond its upcoming release on February 22nd.

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Is Breach Finally 4v1 Done Right?

The idea of asymmetric PvP has a long history in the online gaming world that has never achieved its full potential. Back in the early MMORPG days of EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, developers actually spawned into the online words as raid bosses. Due to the unbalanced nature and resource constraints, these types of events haven’t been implemented in more recent MMOs. A few years ago, we had a small-scale take on players controlling raid bosses with Evolve while Shadow Realms attempted to recreate the Dungeon Master experience from Dungeons & Dragons. Now Breach is trying its hand at the asymmetric PvP subgenre as a 4v1, third-person action RPG that puts a twist on ancient mythology.

Breach Veil Demon

 

In Shadow Realms’ Shadow

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Dallas Dickinson (President) and Gabe Amatangelo (Chief Creative Director) of QC Games to get a hands-on demonstration of Breach. If those names sound familiar, it’s because they were previously part of Bioware’s Shadow Realms development team.

A few minutes into the game, I was instantly reminded of my time with Shadow Realm back at PAX 2014. The idea of taking over the Dungeon Master, or Shadowlord, role definitely intrigued me, especially as someone who very much enjoys PvP focused games. Setting traps, taking over monsters, and picking off heroes one by one was great in concept, but what was presented at the time lacked a special something. It could have been the generic characters, settings, and skills or the combat just not feeling quite right. It felt like the team had great ideas with Shadow Realms but wasn’t able to quite build the gameplay to deliver on them.

Already having those ideas to pull from, it seems as if the QC Games team has been able to spend more time building the core game mechanics such as combat, setting, and character progression . With that in mind, let’s look at what Breach is doing to set itself apart.

Breach gameplay

 

What is Breach?

In the short time that I spent with Breach, it was very apparent that the game does not simply fit into one category. It’s clearly a lobby-based, co-op third-person action RPG, but it also embraces pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons and pulls parts from the MOBA genre. Breach can be played solo as a hero or Veil Demon, co-op, or in full 4v1 PvP mode.

These varying game modes have the ability to draw in all kinds of different gamers and not just those interested in PvP; you can dungeon crawl with your friends or torment AI heroes as the Veil Demon. The standard game mode will have four heroes face off against a single Veil Demon that can manipulate the battleground and control hordes of monsters, but the number of players can be modified in the custom game mode.

There are the typical roles that one would expect from a team-based RPG: Mage, physical DPS, healer, and tank with a wide-variety of classes ranging from Necromancer to Nighthawk. Currently, there are 18 classes for the Heroes and 6 for the Veil Demon, with more on the way. Furthermore, players can mix and match skills between certain classes to tailor their own unique playstyle. Unlike traditional MMORPGs or MOBAs, players aren’t locked into a single class or hero but instead can customize an avatar that can change or modify classes before any match. In a way, it’s similar to Final Fantasy XIV where players can access every class on their main character and are granted extra ability options based on the number of unlocked jobs.

Breach God

Before a match starts, players will hang out in a central hub similar to Destiny or most other current lobby-centric games. This is where they can modify their equipment, talents, skills and practice on the training dummies. When a match begins, the two teams will take turns drafting. The heroes will draft their classes while the Veil Demon first chooses their class and then two elite monsters. In the current build, players aren’t forced to fill certain roles, and this can lead to some interesting team compositions. However, as I experienced in one of the play sessions, a team of all Demon Hunters isn’t the best choice and a good balance of roles will likely be optimal in most situations.

After the draft ends, players will be transported to the battleground and be required to complete various objectives as they move forward. These include missions such as killing a certain number of enemies before the timer expires or capturing points. While this seems simple enough, the Veil Demon is doing its best to stop the heroes from succeeding. The Veil Demon this omnipresent entity that can’t directly engage or be engaged by the heroes but it can spawn traps, take control of minions, or summon powerful elite monsters. At the end of each map there is a powerful boss that the Veil Demon can either take control of or work together with as a final attempt to stop the heroes.

 

Atmosphere

According to the story, 70,000 years ago humans lived alongside mythological creatures where they were enslaved and hunted. Taking pity on the humans, a group of Immortals split the Earth into two realities by creating the Veil. The humans were separated from the other mythological creatures and allowed to live in relative peace. However, the Veil is starting to collapse and the worlds are colliding. This has simultaneously allowed demons to invade the human world while also providing certain individuals with a power called “The Spark,” which grants them magical abilities.

Breach Environment

There are a lot of legendary myths from around the world and not focusing on a single one, such as Roman or Greek, allows the QC team a huge amount of freedom in level and enemy design. Each of the battlegrounds embodies a different culture from Egypt to Japan, and the final boss represents one of their gods or mythical beings.

This initially made me think back to SMITE, which currently has close to 100 gods from 12 different pantheons. Hopefully, this will give the development team a lot of inspiration to draw from and continue to create new content while allowing players to experience cultures from a multitude of backgrounds.

 

Game Mechanics and Features

Before meeting with QC Games, I had the opportunity to play through the tutorial on my own. One of the first things I noticed was how smooth and responsive the combat was. When you press a button, there’s no awkward delay or animation before the attack or skill initiates. The overall control and feeling of combat reminded me a lot of Neverwinter, albeit with better visuals , and specifically playing the Assassin was reminiscent of the Trickster Rogue.

Attacks have a nice ‘snap’ to them and you can feel the impact on enemies. Standard attacks can be performed without a target, but there’s a sort of soft-lock when correctly aiming at an enemy and using certain skills. This aspect is also similar to Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online, but the controls are much less floaty.

According to the development team, the game will be free-to-play once released and there will be no pay-to-win aspects. For monetization, Breach will be using a League of Legends style where players can pay to unlock new classes faster or purchase cosmetics.

For the most part, the game will feature horizontal progression, which should also decrease chances for pay-to-win features. Unlocking new gear won’t provide a direct power bonus but will instead increase options available to the players. For example, each item for a class provides access to certain talents that are unlocked during a mission. Swapping out that item won’t make you instantly stronger but it could provide talents more suited to your play style. Furthermore, classes can mix and match certain skills, which means that unlocking more classes provides more cross-class combination options.

Breach Elementalist

 

What it Needs

I feel like the elephant in the room is the lack of a map editor. With Shadow Realms likely never seeing the light of day, Breach is the closest we’re getting to that Dungeon Master experience. And while it’s fun to spawn traps and monsters on the fly, getting to create and setup an entire campaign ahead of time is exactly what this type of game needs. Player created content has a history of driving longevity in games and it often spawns entirely different ways to play or even creates new genres.

To answer my initial question of whether Breach is finally the 4v1 game we need… the answer is maybe. For being in Alpha state, the game already feels great mechanically and the tools are there, but it just needs a few more features and to give players a bit more control over design.

Breach Heroes

In its current state, Breach is a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to what QC Games has in store for its future. For those of you interested in trying out Breach, it will enter paid Early Access on Steam later this year with an expected free-to-play launch in 2019.

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Dauntless Shares Details of The Coming Storm Update

The folks at Dauntless have kind of teased the fact that The Coming Storm update for the online multiplayer critter slasher is coming, but that’s kind of it. Now, however, the team has pulled back a bit of the curtain on what’s next for the reported 2 million fans of the game.

the coming storm update

The Coming Storm will arrive, apparently, with a rather literal bang as a massive Ostian Dreadnaught will crash into the gathering hub city of Ramsgate. Along with essentially changing the face of the location, this new arrival will bring new NPCs with new stories and quests for players.

Of course, in a game about hunting Behemoths, no update would be complete without a fresh terror to attack and The Coming Storm is providing with the arrival of Koshai, the Sovereign of Thorns. This creature’s arrival is so dramatic that it will even have some effect on the other Behemoths of the game, with promise of new forms of classic beasts to keep Slayers on their toes.

Facing down these new threats will require new gear, but mercifully the arrival of the Ostian Dreadnaught will bring plenty of new equipment for players to use. The Coming Storm will introduce new Grenades for players to huck at Behemoths, new weaponry and armor, and the all-new Ostian Repeaters ranged weapon.

All of this is due to arrive to Dauntless’ open beta on Thursday, August 9th.

Our Thoughts

Well, smashing a huge airship into your primary hub town is definitely one way to let players know the new content has arrived! We’re definitely looking forward to seeing more of what this new update will offer and expect further details as the weeks press on towards this release.

Source: press release

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Fallout 76 Gameplay Details Surface from Anonymous Sources

Yesterday’s tease of Fallout 76 lit up all sorts of speculation about the game, but the sourced report mentioned that Fallout 76 gameplay would be online-based. Today, we’ve got additional information on just what that gameplay is as reported by some anonymous sources.

fallout 76 gameplay

According to three people who are close to the Fallout 76 project, the game will be an online survival title in the same vein as DayZ and Rust. Fallout 76 will indeed have quests and a story line, but will also add online survival mechanics seen in similar titles as well as the base-building features seen in Fallout 4.

The gameplay described lines up with the setting of Fallout 76, which references Vault 76 – the first Vault that was opened after the end of the nuclear apocalypse. The lore of the game states that these Vault dwellers were the ones tasked with rebuilding human civilization, and so it would appear that Fallout 76 will let players slip into those Vault suits to do just that.

According to these sources, the game started life as a prototype to see whether an online Fallout title would work and evolved into its apparently current form from there. However, the gameplay mechanics have gone through a number of “rapid” changes up to this point and could do so again.

Our Thoughts

So perhaps it’s best to use this information to temper expectations instead of outright deciding the game is or is not for you. At least until the Bethesda E3 showcase, anyway. That said, we’re certainly intrigued by the idea of an online survival game set in the Fallout universe and would like to learn more specifics.

Source: Kotaku

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