Battlecry Preview: No gun powder, no problem
Imagine a world in which gun powder has been banned. Wars between the most powerful Empires are fought not on open battlefields, but instead in established Warzones by elite teams of chosen warriors. This is the world established in Battlecry, Bethesda’s new free-to-play third-person arena-based multiplayer game from the newly-established Battlecry Studios.
"In the world of BattleCry, a World War has broken out hundreds of years ahead of its time. The result of this is what we call a 'black powder treaty,’ banning the use of gunpowder in warfare," explained design director Lucas Davis at the event.
"Additionally, nations have formed what we call 'Warzones’, and in these Warzones your warriors come and fight for their factions." Warzones essentially serve as maps in which the battles take place.
As a result of the Black Powder Treaty, the world went through the Pansophic Revolution, a golden age of industrial manufacturing and design that led to the creation of advanced technology. With old tensions reignited, this technology now serves as the force in which disputes are settled.
Battlecry’s backstory is an intriguing one that, if anything, gives some reason behind the seemingly random battles that take place. I’m not used to seeing such story in multiplayer battle-arena based games, but Battlecry’s -- even if just filler to provide some context -- lends itself to some fascinating and unique gameplay.
Battlecry features three “Factions,” two of which were revealed to us at Bethesda’s pre-E3 event. The Royal Marines had a British-inspired look to them, while the Cossack Empire had Russian influence to their design. The only real difference between these two factions, however, were their appearance. Both offered the same set of playable characters, of which there are five to choose from. Each class, of course, offers their own unique playstyle and set of abilities.
The Enforcer is strong tank character armed with a big sword capable of also transforming into a giant shield. While wielding his weapon in sword form, the Enforcer could perform a powerful spinning attack.
The Duelist class plays similar to a rogue in most MMOs. It comes with a cloaking ability that allows you to sneak up on your enemies and perform devastating attacks with blades that can store energy.
The Tech Archer, as the name suggests, is a ranged class. With no gun powder, this class wields a special bow that you can shoot multiple arrows rapidly with or charge up for a single, more powerful long ranged attack. The Tech Archer is also equipped with daggers for some close range damage.
Those were the three playable classes, but Davis revealed that there are still two more classes to come at a later date. The Gadgeteer is a support class with “a host of sophisticated gadgets,” while the Brawler is a melee class with a giant mechanic that deals heavy damage at close range.
Though each class has its own unique abilities, they all have an Adrenalin system in place. As you get kills, your Adrenalin meter will fill, eventually allowing you to activate it and become “super human” for a limited time. This essentially increases your character’s strength and speed. Those skillful enough to raise their Adrenalin quickly became the most dominant player on the map.
The map in which our demo was played on was “Fracture,” an old and abandoned English mining town that has been “devastated and fractured apart by an experimental Panosophic drill.” Now abandoned, it has been turned into a Warzone.
At its core, Battlecry is a fast-paced team-based arena action game. Though the mode we played was a standard deathmatch, Davis promises additional gameplay options at launch. To put it simply, Battlecry looks and plays a lot like Team Fortress, but without guns. Movement is quick; combat is fast, but smooth. Combat in Battlecry relies on your ability to work as a team, carefully position yourself in the arena, and skillfully time your abilities and actions. As I learned early on, it’s imperative that you stick with your team. The lone wolf approach will likely end in your death very quickly.
If there’s one thing I picked up on while playing, it’s that positioning is imperative to your survival. Battlecry encourages fast-paced movement and agility as evidenced by the zip lines and grappling points that allow you to traverse the Warzone more efficiently. The emphasis on movement led to some fun cat-and-mouse chases as one-one-one duels quickly turned into giant team battles.
Combat is definitely raw at this point of development. At times, it felt like a chaotic hack and slash, though that could be because this was literally our first time playing the game. Even so, the gameplay could definitely use some polishing and balancing, the latter which could perhaps be achieved through the introduction of the two additional classes. There were some noticeable frame rate issues when too many characters were on screen at once, resulting in some lag which in the middle of combat wasn’t too conducive to my survival. Despite a few hiccups, the game was still enjoyable. Each class felt unique and, more importantly, was fun to play.
What I found most appealing about the game, was the system Battlecry has in place that encourages good behavior and sportsmanship. Anyone who plays games knows the online community can be dicks. So to help combat this, Battlecry has implemented several features that encourage positive community behavior. When a match ends, rather than simply taking you to a stats screen, you have a limited time to run around the map and salute people for a battle well-fought. Following this, newspaper moments will fly across the screen showing off the top-performing warriors. This, again, presents an opportunity to give medals or salute them. “These kind of features help us develop a really strong community,” Davis explained.
Looking to offer this community something to do, Battlecry also has a “war effort.” This is a persistent game that you can play with friends, guilds, or factions in which you can “watch the tides of battle move back and forth weekly across factions.” Though the developer will talk more about this later on, Davis did explain that the war effort will reward you and your teams’ participation to your factions’ success. Winning battles in the game will also earn you Iron, the in-game currency used to unlock “multiple tiers” for your warriors, new skills that enhance their abilities. There’s also an extensive armor customization system that allows you to switch out your armor, helmets, skin, and more. I’m assuming many of these customizable options will be available through microtransactions.
Contrasting the brutality of the Battlecry's combat is the game's art style, inspired by comics and illustrations. Even with this cartoonish look, the world in which Battlecry is set is quite beautiful. "Details of the foreground dissolve into essential shapes in the background," Davis explained, and the highly-stylized environments will change depending on whether you are winning or losing the match.
Battlecry isn't due out until 2015, so there's still plenty of time to address the issues concerning framerate and balance. I love the highly-stylized look of the game, but would like to see how other maps differ both in design and gameplay strategy. It's hard to get a real feel of a game in four-or-so matches, but Battlecry has the core to be a really fun and entertaining online battle arena game. We know it'll be free-to-play, but it wasn't explained how microtransactions will fit into the game. I'm assuming it'll be purely cosmetic, but we'll have to wait for official confirmation from Bethesda.