By Ethan . February 16, 2014 . 4:59pm
If I told you that Square Enix was bringing back the Legacy of Kain franchise, but in the form of an online multiplayer shooter without any storytelling, what would you think?
If I told you that Square Enix was building on their shooter legacy (that includes such genre leading titles as Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII and Mindjack) with a free-to-play online-only shooter monetized via micro transactions, what would you think?
If I told you that these two games were one and the same and that this game was being developed by Psyonix, a largely unknown studio that began as an Unreal Tournament mod team, would that do anything to inspire additional confidence?
The game I described above is called Nosgoth, and it’s moving into open beta in a matter of weeks. I’ve been participating in the closed alpha test and am here to report that the game is excellent. Really.
Nosgoth is trying to break into a busy field. The competition between free-to-play multiplayer games is fierce these days. Nosgoth doesn’t have the international eSports appeal of StarCraft, nor the incredible infrastructure of the Steam-based Dota 2. So, in order to stand out from the crowd, Nosgoth is an asymmetrically designed multiplayer deathmatch, splitting teams between hunting vampires and hunted humans.
Each faction has a few class options (with more still being added) but there are some basic differences that all classes within a race share. Vampires can climb over any terrain, leap long distances, and regenerate their health both passively and by draining human blood. They move faster than humans, deal more damage than humans, and are rewarded for aggressive play. Vampires are always looking to jump humans from behind, from above, from below, and from wherever else they aren’t looking.
The human kit is comparatively meager. They have bows and crude explosive devices that hurt friend as well as foe if used unwisely. Their tools all revolve around defending ground and limiting a vampire’s available angles of attack. Humans must always travel in a pack to have any chance of survival. Humans can only heal at supply caches, and these caches deplete quickly. This forces the humans to move from point to point across the map, trying to secure a location for as long as they can before either being flushed out by enemy action or because they’re out of supplies.
I realize that this doesn’t sound terribly fair, and it isn’t. In my experience, humans win very few rounds. However, the system is really smartly built around this concept. When matchmaking puts a team onto the map, the match is split in half. Once the round concludes the teams switch sides and do it all again on the same map. So, however the balance between these asymmetrically designed forces changes, the game will always be fair in that each team is given equal opportunity to exploit the current design. The overall round winner is determined by combining total kills each team secured as vampire and human.
And honestly, I like having things a little unbalanced in this game. Since both teams get a turn to be both sides, there’s really no reason to fuss about one side being stronger than the other. There’s a real sense of empowerment when playing as a vampire, and there can be some real fear when playing as a human. Sometimes, you just need to cut and run to the nearest spawn and pray there isn’t a vampire idly watching you scurry helplessly.
(That said, there’s almost always a vampire just watching you scurry helplessly. Did I mention they can see you through walls?)
I’ve found that I enjoy playing as a human the most. Yes the vampires are the aggressors and usually the victors, but they kind of have it easy. The question as a Vampire is not “can I win,” so much as “by how large of a margin can I win”. In the context of how the matches are scored it actually is important to do well as the hunter and rack up the kills. Of course, the challenge to win by a lot doesn’t carry the same intensity as the question the human players are asking: “How long can I survive?”
I find myself much more focused when playing as a human because I have to constantly be checking corners and rooftops and making sure that none of my teammates are inaccessible to the rest of the team. Things get pretty intense when you hear the animalistic growls of hunters nearby but you can’t see them.
Sometimes, a work of art transcends reasonable expectation. When Disney decided to make a movie based on their Pirates of the Carribean theme park ride starring Johnny Depp of all people, the resulting movie should have been just awful. When Squaresoft decided that the best way to leverage their booming Final Fantasy brand was to release an action RPG crossover with Disney Cartoons of all things, it would not have been unreasonable to question their sanity. Nosgoth may not find the audience those two ill-advised success stories did, but it deserves to. Here’s hoping that the game can overcome the narratives that precede it.
Food for thought:
1. This is set in the Legacy of Kain universe in name only. There are a couple paragraphs of lore describing each class in the game that name check a term or two, but there’s nothing here a Legacy of Kain fan needs to see for the sake of the franchise. The game doesn’t seem to be much concerned with its supposed connection to those old RPGs, and I think it’s probably best that fans adopt the same attitude.
2. Micro transactions are present, but largely unobtrusive. It is possible to pay for performance enhancing bonuses, but there’s also a free daily bonus available so everyone goes into battle with some sort of extra boost. Money can also be spent on cosmetics, but in what game can’t you spend money on cosmetics these days?
3. I recognize that making the humans reload is important from a design perspective (keeps humans from just filling choke points with arrows) but these are bows. Couldn’t we at least say that I need to restring my longbow after 6 shots or something? Reloading is just silly.
4. By the time the game hits open beta there will be at least four more classes, a persistent leveling system, more loot drops after matches, a game mode called Siege, and some more maps. I’ll definitely be checking back in when they open the servers up to see how they hold up and to sample the new content. I hope to see you out there!