Nosgoth: Proof That Not Everything Is About Balance

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!


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  • Crevox

    Performance enhancing bonuses?

    Pay to win? A competitive multiplayer game with microtransactions that increase your power is not good.

    • rurifan

      It’s annoying enough playing normal multiplayer games with skill unlocks that feel unfair for less hardcore players.

      • Zarathos No Daimaōh

        I do miss “dumb” fps with no actual bonus beyond the choices and collecting of weapon , and a focus on acrobatics and aiming skills .

        Basically i miss a real successor to Quake 2 & 3 . Tired of so called team based fps with their perks and rushdown friendly mechanics

  • Göran Isacson

    “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”.

    You mean one of utter indifference to this games existence/success, considering that the connection to those other games was all it had going for us in our eyes? I guess that’s possible, but I can’t figure out why the game makers want us to do so.

    Like, seriously, what is the game plan here? There is nothing here for fans of the franchise (except I guess if they like team-based competetive games?), and for the people who don’t care about the franchise but who might want to check out a new competitive game, will they really welcome such an unbalanced game? Isn’t balance supposed to be a really big thing with these kind of games? You have a name that the people who’d just be interested in a shooter game don’t care about, and fans who are angry that the name of a game they really love isn’t even remotely what they wanted. This isn’t flipping a coin in the hope it lands on its edge, this is flipping a coin in the hope that air-resistance will somehow cut it into a square mid-air.

    • TheRealMalek

      I will resume how this happens at SquarEnix :

      Guy A : i have a great studio with an idea for a F2P game, but their universe is currently a little lacking

      Guy B : I think we can use one of our franchise !

      Guy A : Nah forget about Final Fantasy, fans will be too upset, and tombraider or deus ex didn’t sold enough.

      Guy B : oh, and what about that obscure licence that people keep asking ? Legacy of soulreaver or what it is ?

      Guy A : Legacy of kain… Great idea there are not enough fans to create an uproar if we use it for a f2p game. Moreover we just use the name, so we don’t have to hire her again.

      Guy B : Yeah she will ask for too much money as a writer, this is just a f2p game let’s take… the name, vampire versus human and that’s all !

      Guy A : Call the studio, they can now work on it

      That’s how i think it happens, like waaaayyyy too many times in video game industry.

    • Altin

      Instead of working on a new LoK, we get this. Man, Life can truly be hell sometimes…

  • Ngolem

    There are very, very few cases where microtransations are “unobtrusive” in team-based games. It isn’t just about selling overpowered weapons, or anything like that. Games built around the model from the start simply have less to offer than the full blooded multiplayer shooters of old. You pay cosmetic microtransactions to “support the development”, or something, but it never, ever materializes into something substantial because the core game mechanics aren’t going to get any better than the devs are already comfortable with at release.

    F2P didn’t do much to resurrect Tribes and that was with an entire legacy of gameplay mechanics to borrow from.

    • rurifan

      I briefly played Warframe on PS4 (little else to do) and immediately felt the “f2p atmosphere”. It was clear that nothing really fun was going to acquired without tons of tedious grinding. This pervasively pointless feeling about the gameplay had me quit in boredom after a handful of missions.

      F2P please DIAF.

      • Crevox

        Warframe honestly isn’t that bad. When you play it, it feels overwhelming and that crafting anything will take obsurd amounts of time due to all these random scary materials. But, if you actually look at where to get them and take a little bit of time, you can get anything you want easily. It’s just made to SEEM like it will take forever.

        The only exception to this is the fact that some things (Warframes) have a craft time of like 3 days, and CERTAIN Warframe pieces (the more expensive ones generally) come from stupid events/places.

        • Zeik56

          Yeah, I’ve been playing a lot of Warframe lately and it’s probably one of the most player friendly F2P games I’ve played. There’s surprisingly little actually locked behind a pay-wall and the drop rates are largely pretty reasonable. (Compare it to any MMO, even those with monthly fees, and they’re often way worse.) The build times felt harsh at the beginning, when I had so little, but eventually I was building so much stuff that waiting a couple days for another weapon or frame felt pretty insignificant.

          More than anything though, I’ve been impressed at how often they’ve been updating the game and trying to make notable improvements. The game has come a long way since its initial release and they seem to have some to have some big plans for the future. I’m generally pretty skeptical and dismissive of F2P games, but if more games followed Warframe’s example I’d be much more interested in the business model.

  • Ngolem

    There are very, very few cases where microtransations are “unobtrusive” in team-based games. It isn’t just about selling overpowered weapons, or anything like that. Games built around the model from the start simply have less to offer than the full blooded multiplayer shooters of old. You pay cosmetic microtransactions to “support the development”, or something, but it never, ever materializes into something substantial because the core game mechanics aren’t going to get any better than the devs are already comfortable with at release.

    F2P didn’t do much to resurrect Tribes and that was with an entire legacy of gameplay mechanics to borrow from.

  • Happy Gamer

    One of my favorite series of all time. It’s ridiculous I played the first game at a friend’s house and beat it over the weekend sleep over at 8th grade…8th Grade!!!! Still yet to see a “conclusion.”

  • Umar

    “and I think it’s probably best that fans adopt the same attitude.”

    Fans are not going to play this, this has got nothing going on that appeals to fans of the series…I think fans will probably just stay away than adopt a new attitude.

  • dragoon_slayer12

    I still think LoK is one of the best series ever made, from gameplay styles, story point of views, and as a whole. I’m still waiting to see how Kain fixes everything. I hope this releases to the ps3 or ps4, I would play the hell out of this just to play “as Kain” again (don’t care what people say, Blood Omen 2 is fun as hell)

    • TrevHead

      It looks like those Square really doesn’t know what to do with it’s EIDOS IPs due to the collapse of the middle market, they’ve gone big with AAA but only Tomb Raider and Duex Ex were successful. Atm they’re trying something else, but this is dumb.

      They would have been much better doing what Bloodrayne did, go small budget and make a 2D ARPG, atleast they can continue with the story of Soul Reaver which finished at the end of an arc making it easier for newcomers to jump in.

      • dragoon_slayer12

        Exactly. All the prelude has to say is “Kain ruined the world, and after millenias of regret, he undid what was done, but consequently, a new threat has arrived, and it’s up to him to stop it. Want to know how it got to this point, purchase the series on [insert market here]“. Fans of the series would know what happened, new comers will get the gist, and further knowledge SHOULD be optional (as in no major plot points requiring series knowledge, but do throw in mentions of events of the previous titles, like Kain calling the Soul Reaver Raziel instead)

  • Shady Shariest

    One of the most intriguing tidbits for me is the fact that closed beta was originally planned for Scandivania (+ Fenno-Scandinavia) only.

  • malek86

    A multiplayer game where the two sides are not equal doesn’t sound like a great idea to me. It’s one thing to do it in L4D, but in a team deathmatch game? Imagine if Counterstrike had the counter-terrorists supplied with machine guns and grenades, while the terrorists only get pistols. Someone might say it’s only realistic that the military is better equipped, but that wouldn’t be particularly fun.

    • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

      I like the idea here. Instead of playing like the standard deathmatch, the hunted play more in the boots of, say, a (medieval-fantasy) horror movie victim. And then the roles are reversed. I mean, the current equal-balance team match formula can’t be the only possible format for multiplayer, right?

      Of course, I’ll admit that it wouldn’t appeal to people just want to win every match.

      • malek86

        No, but this is not a survival horror or something, it’s a competitive game, so any player’s final objective is to try and win the match. Therefore you need some kind of balance. For example, if vampires are stronger, the human side should have more players.

        • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

          I did think about that, yes. The vampire side could use fewer numbers, lest the match becomes one-sided and too short. But as far as winning the match is concerned, both teams will get the same opportunities upon playing two matches with roles reversed; from what I understand of Ethan’s descriptions, a single match is only half of the full picture.

          • malek86

            That doesn’t mean the game is balanced that way. It just means you’ll lose one half of the match and win the other half.

          • Ethan_Twain

            Once each side has played as both Vampire and Human, their kill totals are added up and the winner is the team with the higher combined kill score. So no, it’s not just a matter of “you win, then I win”. Performance matters in every phase of the game.

          • Zarathos No Daimaōh

            Of course perfs and personal skills matter . But it does in every other games under the sun too , it doesnt make Nosgoth balanced . The nosgoth system still feel like a waiting game , checking who will “sucks” less as a human , and come on top in the end . Personally i dont see it as a thrilling matter , when other games can and did provide that rush of escaping a single powerful hunter or a rabid pack , while still giving you better chances of defending yourself , like again AVP

          • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

            The game most likely sounds that way – if you’re looking at it in the context of the multiplayer norms. But “winning” here doesn’t have to mean KO-ing all the opponents; points and scores could be assigned for, say, more survival-minded actions for the human team. At the end of the session, both sides would have ended up being given equal opportunities anyway.

            Admittedly, it may not be an easy sell, since most multiplayer matches today are more about exerting supremacy over the opposing team; but as far as ideas go, I’m down for it. The catch here is to make the survivor side interesting.

          • Zarathos No Daimaōh

            What i struggle with , beyond the competitive aspect i’m not that into , is the lack imo of positive trade off . I’ve seen nothing yet indicating that the hunt , and survival aspect is made more thrilling by such a design choice …

            I keep refering back to AVP , but i feel it’s for a good reason , as the two previous games did succeed at pulling two aspect of hunter vs prey without leaving things as a “masochist’ wet dream” on the human side . To survive against a few very powerful predator foes , or packs of swift aliens , or mixes of both .

            And most of all , the games managed to make being a hunter very satisfactory , without it being so easy and a “sure win” .

            I sense nothing of the sort from Nosgoth . Mostly very one sided challenges with waiting turns . But i guess i just can’t be convinced ultimately , and am not the target for it .

          • Zarathos No Daimaōh

            Then doesnt this just make it , half the time , a boring wait ? Getting slaughtered mostly while waiting to play the actually competent side and actual meat of the game ?

            I could get making one side look cooler and appealing , but that unbalanced ? No thanks . I’d rather they follow the formula of the aliens VS predator games (the old pc ones ) where humans actually stood a good chance and had their own edge

            Then of course , i’ll admit i biased against Nosgoth anyway , as i see it like some other , as an horrible use of such a great franchise .

          • Bablioteca

            From what I’ve seen, humans don’t just ‘get slaughtered’ so long as they do not split up. Every vampire is more or less a one trick pony, fly guys will fly, sneaks will sneak and try to pounce, and buff dudes gonna buff.

            The human classes on the other hand are like a team of batmen. They have all kinds of gadgets, and they shoot. If a vampire is playing like a dummy they get it bad, generally through firebombs and light grenades and concentrated massacre fire. If you’ve ever seen the end of ninja assassin thats what a good human team will do to a bad vampire one.

  • Landale

    I think this is one of the few times I’ve regretted defending anything. When this was announced I was pretty sure they’d at least do something, having chosen a time frame within the setting with plenty of opportunities for the overall story, and tried to get people to calm down and not just declare it to be irrelevant and disrespectful garbage. That there’s pretty much nothing there is kind of sickening given that one of the main points to the series was the plot, and I really hope they fix that mistake.
    The lack of balance between the two sides is rather disappointing when compared to the initial announcement. What happened to “The humans are just as vicious and deadly as any vampire. They can slaughter any vampire before they even get close.”?

  • Boebie

    This isn’t the first time an online, 1st-person, team deathmatch game was unbalanced in favor of 1 side or another. Primal Carnage did the same thing, but with dinosaurs instead of vampires. Playing that game I found that, like Ethan says, it can be more fun to play the “weaker” side. It was more fun to play as a human and try to work together than as a dinosaur, where winning was easier and more boring. My only question is how good the voice-chat system is. If you are on the weaker side, co-operation is a must so the voice chat must be very good.

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