Exiting the rather tepid theatre presentation outlining the character classes and fundamental mechanics of the game, anticipation was rather low as I walked towards the hands-on multiplayer demo of BattleCry, the first and eponymous title from Bethesda’s new Austin-based Battlecry Studios. After going through two rounds, however, I came away optimistic, though not as much as I’d hoped.
The set up is quite interesting and lends itself to creative designer Viktor Antonov’s (of Dishonored fame) particular brand of visual flair. It is the early 20th century and the world is in full-on war mode with itself. However, due to a treaty, the countries fight not with guns and bombs but with swords and fists and arrows. More over, they do so in specially sanctioned “war zones,” setting up the idea of citizenless arenas for players.
While eventually you’ll have access to five different character classes (each one mimicked across the different factions), the demo only afforded us three. The first is the Enforcer, a character focused on using its massive sword and its transformative capabilities as a shield to get in close and do tons of damage. The Duelist rocks two quick and snappy blades while the Tech Archer fires arrows from afar and throws daggers in close quarters.
Each character also has a special ability in addition to their regular class abilities. Cooldowns limit the use of skills like the Enforcer’s dashing and smashing abilities but accumulated adrenaline allows for the specials to be unleashed. Adrenaline can also be used to simply amplify all damage output and reduce damage intake, offering a nice counterbalance between amplitude and frequency of devastation.
The key to the game, however, is mobility. While we played in a setup of six on six, the game actually supports 32 total players. And getting around these accommodating maps is important, with automatic sprinting, quicker dodge-rolls with a double tap of the jump button, and hitting grapnel points on and round buildings. Remaining mobile allows you to avoid overwhelming encounters and engage in tactically advisable ones.
It was, though, that the game actually became much easier once I switched to the Tech Archer, the one ranged class in the demo. So long as I was able to keep my distance, I could contend with two or three melee-bound opponents at a time, and keeping my distance was easy with the aforementioned traversal mechanics. Getting in the mix with the Enforcer and the Duelist was novel compared to the usual online shooter experience, but both were far less effective when it came to actually killing other people.
Not to mention that with the reduced number of players on this map, it was a nuisance trying to find where the action was. I’d say about 80% of my time was actually spent running around, simply poking my head into every building and alley just to see if an enemy was there to fight. I’m sure there will be more appropriately sized maps later, but it’s worth noting anyways.
What’s interesting, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a direct one-to-one correlation of character classes to each faction. Yes, every Enforcer is basically the same as the other, but the implementation seems to differ slightly. For instance, the Tech Archer of the Royal Marines has a longbow while the Cossack Empire’s Tech Archer has two crossbows. Gender, perhaps, could also alter how a class plays per instance.
It’s worth noting, too, that the game is free-to-play, Bethesda’s first of the sort. Playing the game earns iron, and iron unlocks skills and can be used to craft new items like armor and skins. This obviously lends itself to the F2P model, but given the short time with the game, there wasn’t much to glean as to how treacherous this structure goes in BattleCry.
Most interesting, however, is that the game concludes each match with a post-round bit similar to Team Fortress 2, but instead of being based on the idea of shaming your fallen opponents, it is about respecting your battlefield brethren. You’ll run around and salute those that you wish. Some designated MVPs, others just people you had solid scraps with, each time doling out medals as well. Of course, you could not do it at all and leave respect for another day.
Visually, BattleCry looks great and definitely fits the strange pseudo-history of its setting. Mechanically, it’s sound, moving nimbly and decisively and allowing for intuitive and responsive tracking even up close with swords and fists. However, the imbalance of ranged players is worrying, as is the unaccommodating map for our small demo. Both can be dealt with, but it’s not certain they will be.
Find out for yourself when it comes out in 2015 with a beta coming sometime before that.