Let It Die still lives on, but like many things hard to kill, it’s back in a new form: Deathverse: Let It Die. Where the previous game was a sort of hybrid of single-player action game and a “roguelite” run-based dungeon-crawler, this one’s squarely focused on multiplayer. They’re also both free-to-play, though upon cursory examination Deathverse‘s model is a much better fit, informed by several years of testing what works and what doesn’t in the live-game space. I got some time with an in-progress multiplayer build of the game, and played a few sessions with members of the dev team at Supertrick Games and staff at GungHo Online Entertainment recently. Though I came in with few expectations, I came away from the experience appreciating its lively aesthetic and even a bit of hope for its chances in a crowded field.
In essence, Deathverse is a battle royal game. Its structure will be familiar to anyone who’s brushed up against a PUBG or a Fortnite. Players jump into a session, and are deposited on the map to try to survive to become the last one standing. Various mechanisms shrink the play area over time, forcing players to confront each other, eventually resulting in a winner. Sprinkle in some RPG-style progression and you’ve got a game that folks can play for many sessions. Unlike the PUBGs and Fortnites of the world, though, Deathverse is focused on melee combat. Its combat distance and general model are derived from the original Let It Die, but the controls are a bit simplified. You pick one of five types of weapons, and are fully armed when you drop in. In the build we played, every weapon was unlocked, with a total of 15 weapons (3 variations on 5 archetypes) available at launch. When the game launches fully, more weapons will need unlocking via progression.
The selection was pretty eclectic. Each weapon variant has a special attack and an “ultimate”, and these are different between individual variants, allowing for diversity even within weapons of the same basic type. You had a machete, which chops and stabs in short, easily controlled strikes, or a Katana, which has a long reach and can counter enemy attacks. Gauntlets can deliver rapid attacks, while heavy hammers can sweep large areas. Finally, the buzzsaws can rev up to deliver damage, and can even be used to “ride” up vertical walls for quick traversal. You can also equip sub-abilities picked up on the field to grant special powers, like invisibility. Everyone also has an energy shield they can use to defend from attacks, or to send out a ranged bolt of energy. I gave each weapon a try, and gravitated a lot to the hammers thanks to their wide areas of effect. They’re particularly useful because the third-person melee combat can get pretty hectic once more than two players are in the mix, so it’s nice to be able to just yell “Screw it!” and start spinning around in a huge circle, hurting everything in reach.
Each map in Deathverse is divided into zones, which become “corrupted” over time. The zones are kind of like nodes, so rather than a smoothly collapsing circle of territory like in Fortnite, Deathverse puts each area on a countdown before it becomes uninhabitable, funneling players towards a “Showdown Zone”. The Showdown Zone is a pretty exciting place to end a match. Once it gets closed in with a few players remaining, the walls fall away to reveal a huge arena full of cheering spectators. Everyone in Deathverse is participating in a game show called “Death Jamboree”, competing for glory and prizes. The tone of the presentation is slick and cynical, combining a glossy retro-futurism with a grindhouse world of rusty blades and polished ray-guns. It works for me, and Deathverse‘s twisted world felt like Smash TV for serial killers from the Gilded Age. It helps that the character models look slick and nicely realized. The game is, narratively speaking, a sequel to Let It Die, technically taking place centuries after the original game, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t play enough of Let It Die to even remember what that game’s story was, so I can’t really speak as to any narrative connections.
In a given match, your enemies are more than just the 15 other contestants in the arena with you. The areas are also filled with Cryptids, wandering creatures that range from harmless to intimidating. You’ll want to fight a few to build up your “Voltage” (your health), but be careful about getting distracted – a player might take the chance to sneak up on you for a quick kill.
And then there are the Hunters. At once per match, Deathverse unleashes a Hunter: A very powerful NPC that targets players in an attempt to spice things up for the audience. There are three Hunters available at launch: Codename Q, G, and M. Each also behaves entirely differently. Hunter Q is a standard melee-ranged beast. She chases down any player she finds and lays into them with custom fist weapons. The other two Hunters are more unique. Hunter G is a sniper, and targets one player alone with a highly visible target marker and laser sight. Let the marker count down, and G executes you with a precision gunshot. But you can lose your mark by attacking the other player, kind of like playing “Tag, you’re It!”. Time things right and you can get G to execute someone else instead.
Hunter M is the most entertaining. M starts in a match as a harmless floating UFO creature that players can shoot down. Shoot M down and you become the Hunter, your face covered with an alien tentacle slug and your body bulked up like a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure character, posing constantly to deflect weapon attacks. As M, you have almost unlimited health, but a very limited countdown. Your job is to kill another player before the countdown ends, or else you explode instead. Hunters will rotate on a weekly basis throughout Deathverse‘s seasons, and more will be added over time.
The big question mark remains over the economy of Deathverse as a free-to-play game. Developer Supertrick and GungHo are leaning into a battlepass-like system called a “Jamboree Pass”, that unlocks cosmetics like weapon and character skins with progression. There are lots of cosmetic options available, with many interesting costumes , projections to put a decoration on your energy shield, accessories for your little “Wilson” buddy-drone, and even items for your personal room. Players can also earn a number of unlocks freely, through a crafting system that uses materials scavenged in the arena. Deathverse supports matchmade competitive multiplayer, a no-progression exhibition mode, and “room code”-based matches. The room code system seems useful if you’re planning to stream, as it’ll allow you to play with selected people like a group of friends or viewers. That said, you’ll need to purchase the “Platinum”-tier Jamboree Pass to host room-coded games.
All in all, Deathverse: Let It Die is an easy game to pick up as an alternative to overly gun-focused battle royal titles. It’s also got a unique sense of style and humor that makes it stand out against the drab hyperrealism and the somewhat sanitized cartoon aesthetic of the leading players. Only time will tell if it’s got the legs to make it in the long-term, but my own (very) short time with it felt like a welcome change of pace.
Deathverse is due for PS4 and PS5 on September 28, 2022, and October 5 on PC via Steam.