Tactical role-playing game fans have always dreamed of a multiplayer version of a game like Final Fantasy Tactics. Getting it on a browser never even crossed our minds.
While the developers of those specific franchises have yet realize them in more competitive play, a new independent team is doing its best to make this happen, with its Duelyst game on Kickstarter. We spoke with Keith Lee, the team lead at Counterplay Games and a veteran of the Ratchet and Clank and Diablo franchises, about how it was going to bring strategic warfare to browsers.
You shouldn’t expect tacked-on multiplayer with Duelyst. It started as an unpublished tabletop game of math charts and figurines, with ranked competitive play guiding the design philosophy from the beginning. Players recruit teams from over 100 classes, split between faction-based units and a shared pool of neutral units. Matches come in four different flavors: Ranked, Normal, Practice, and Single-Player.
Ranked and Normal are Duelyst’s defining matches. Counterplay describes Ranked as similar to Blizzard’s collectible card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. It’s a free-for-all match with all units and abilities instantly available. Normal is a more linear collection of bouts with players limited to classes that they have unlocked. In both types, turns are live and last a maximum of 90 seconds. You can use up to 30 units per battle, with a handful appearing onscreen and the rest relegated to a cycling deck similar to collectible card games like Hearthstone.
Practice and Single-Player are still in development and should be done by launch, but you shouldn’t expect an epic tale of swords and shields. According to Lee, both modes are being designed to feed back into the multiplayer. The single-player campaign in particular is currently planned as a series of combat challenges to familiarize players with the complexities of Duelyst’s battle system. The fight between for leaderboard supremacy is all that matters, although Lee did hint at the possibility of approaching renown sci-fi authors to help shape the narrative arc.
Counterplay envisions Duelyst as a long-lasting game service, with a tiered competitive ranking system constantly recalibrated based on player feedback and gameplay data. It will launch with approximately eight maps, each with unique features like a cover system or temporary boosts. Unlike some games Duelyst resembles, however, only a one-time charge is required for play. Pay for the game once, and you own it. Lee was adamant that Duelyst will not succumb to a freemium or free-to-play model of microtransactions and fees.
A single payment will grant you access to all of Duelyst’s compatible platforms. The tactical role-playing game will be available through Steam, but it’s designed specifically for browsers first. Our brief demo with the prealpha build ran in a standard Chrome window, without any add-on programs or even Flash. Effectively, if you are reading this article in a desktop/laptop browser, you can play Duelyst.
In our hands-off demonstration, one person played both sides, so we can’t currently speak on how the game will hold up across multiple machines. But even in this early stage, everything we saw — like the streamlined interface or unit movements — ran without a visible hitch. Given the detailed pixel art (the lead artist behind the roguelike dungeon crawler Rogue Legacy is on the project) with real-time 3D shadows, Duelyst can already manage a few moments of quiet spectacle.
Duelyst isn’t concerned with selling you on a sweeping tale or grand design philosophy. Counterplay Games just wants to give you an army and get you on the leaderboards as soon as possible. Designed for multiplayer before the first line of code was even written, Duelyst is about making nuanced virtual combat as immediate and available as possible. If it succeeds, 90 seconds will be all that is between you and your opponent on the battlefield. It will be hard to go back to the good old days after that.
Counterplay Games plans to have Duelyst in the early alpha stage on PC and browsers by September of this year. If the Kickstarter is successful, a closed beta will soon to follow, with the final retail version launching by the end of 2014.