PAX East 2014: Nosgoth brings new fans to Legacy of Kain
Talking to community director George Kelion, it’s hard to stay mad at Square Enix and the team at Psyonix for transforming Legacy of Kain into a 4v4 online, third-person shooter with their new game Nosgoth. It may not be where I personally wanted a new game in the series to go, but listening to Kelion ramble through obscure vampire factions, locations, and story beats throughout the Kain series, it was clear they have good intentions with their game.
Nosgoth’s multiplayer matches pit vampires vs. humans, in the time between the end of Kain’s presence in Nosgoth and Raziel’s return to the apocalyptic wastes in Soul Reaver. Humans were always sort of useless in the Legacy of Kain series -- subjugated and used as glorified health pickups in gameplay -- but here they’re capable warriors. Without Kain’s leadership, Kelion explained, the vampire factions fell into disarray, allowing the humans to gain a foothold and make a stand. With the vampires recognizing the humans as a real threat, they ban together again to put humanity back in its place. That’s the world where Nosgoth finds its competitive 4v4 gameplay.
“There’s so much unexplored history...huge gaps between Blood Omen and then Soul Reaver and the later events...it’s such a cool world and such an opportunity to bring vampires that aren’t sparkling and boring,” Design Director Bill Beacham told me during my demo with the game.
And he’s certainly right in that sense. The vampire faction in Nosgoth is made up of nasty, evil-looking vampire classes that are designed around ruining a human’s day. The Reaver class plays a lot like Left 4 Dead’s Hunter zombie, allowing you to launch in from a distance and pounce on enemies. The Tyrant, meanwhile, rushes into the fray with a charge attack and soaks up a ton of damage. Lastly, the Sentinel can fly around the map at will, swooping down to pick up human enemies and separate them from the group.
The Human side, conversely, focuses on ranged weaponry. High-powered bows, grenade launchers, and automatic crossbow contraptions let humans pick away at the vampires before they can get close. Meanwhile, gadgets include turrets, traps, and restraints that prevent the vampires from using their attacks. The differences in the two factions, when played to their strengths, make for some really interesting strategies.
Those strategies become even more interesting as you develop and expand each character class. Nosgoth is a free-to-play game, with abilities and equipment that can be rented with in-game currency or purchased for real money. “It’s a couple matches to get an ability to try for a week,” Beachem explained. “You can pay for those with money if you want to -- if you want to buy everything with real money permanently you can.”
Both Beacham and Kelion were quick to emphasis their philosophy in this regard, though. “We don’t want it to be pay-to-win,” said Beacham, and their FAQ on Nosgoth.com reinforces that notion. With Nosgoth currently in beta testing, creating a fair environment around their free-to-play model is a priority for the team. “We want to make sure that when we say we’re not pay-to-win that we are really delivering that,” added Kelion.
Psyonix refers to the abilities that cost money as “side-grades”, tools that add interesting wrinkles and dynamics without throwing off game balance. For example, the Reaver class can equip a more effective pounce attack, but it lacks the extra bit of auto-targetting that the stock pounce has, making it an expert-level tool.
I asked Beacham whether a player who doesn’t like free-to-play games could simply buy up everything and focus on playing the game. He cited Smite as an example of a free-to-play model the team liked, where players pay a one-time fee (currently $30), to get access to all characters classes including those added later on. Ultimately though, it will be up to Square Enix where the final pricing options land.
Playing the game, with its third-person shooter controls and simple key layout, it was easy to imagine Nosgoth as a console experience, and while nothing is set yet, Beacham didn’t shy away from the idea. “We have nothing to reveal at this time but we’re really interested in getting it onto consoles. We just added controller support to the PC version so you can use an Xbox or PS4 controller, so we think it’s going to be a pretty natural port, especially on something like PS4 where they make it pretty easy for free-to-play developers .”
While the game itself currently only tells its story through the world, classes, and lore posts on the game’s blog, more storytelling methods aren’t completely off the table. The goals for now with Nosgoth are to make the best asymmetrical 4v4 game they can, but if there are more ways to develop storyline in the future, they’re at least being discussed. “We have discussions around that all the time, but we have discussions around everything,” explained Kelion. “I’m reticent to say anything just yet. There’s loads of stuff we want to do.”
That said, it hasn’t stopped players from finding the story on their own, and coming at Nosgoth from some surprising angles.
“There are three main camps,” Kelion told me. “You’ve got your LoK guys, you’ve got your gameplay guys who aren’t so interesting in LoK but they’re staying because it’s a ton of fun. My favorite group, and it’s growing and growing, are the people who never knew about Legacy of Kain, came into Nosgoth because they liked the idea of humans vs. vampires, or melee vs. ranged, and they just wanted to have a good time...and now they’re going back and watching all the cutscenes, reading all the wikis and blogs. There’s this one guy who never played any of the previous games and through this he’s downloaded all the old games on Steam and in six months he was an expert.”
For Square Enix, Psyonix, and the Legacy of Kain franchise, that third group is key, and represents not only a wealth of possibility, but a pure justification for Nosgoth’s departure from the rest of the series. If this game can bring in a new wave of die-hard Legacy of Kain fans to the table, then maybe more story-driven adventures would start to make sense for the series again. For now, we’ve got a pretty fun multiplayer game, one that even the most bitter of Kain fans may want to give a shot.