Bethesda Softworks is unveiling a new online game called Battlecry today that enables players to engage in stylistically bloody combat that will leave them laughing after every blood-soaked match. That was my reaction after playing, or rather slaughtering, a bunch of press colleagues at a recent event.
This free-to-play multiplayer-only game has so much blood that you have to laugh; it’s akin to the experience of watching Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill with its rivers of gore. But the comic-inspired art is stylistic, with Battlecry’s warriors outfitted in Victorian-era regalia. I found the game to be fun. But the question is for how long will gamers play something like this.
The Victorian art style is no surprise since the game’s art director is Viktor Antonov, who created the look of Half-Life 2 and Dishonored. The game is a rare bet on a new intellectual property with its own backstory and environments.
“It’s a world where beauty and brutality collide,” said Lucas Davis, the lead game designer of Battlecry, at a press event.
Battlecry comes from new development studio Battlecry Studios, headed by president Rich Vogel, the designer of massively multiplayer online games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Wars: Galaxies. Bethesda’s financing Battecry. It was created for this PC game, which debuts in 2015.
BattleCry Studios was founded in 2012 to focus on free-to-play online games that lifted the quality level beyond most games in the PC online space, Davis said.
“We wanted animation driven like a single-player game, fast and frenetic, and easy to jump into,” Davis said.
Davis described Battlecry as a third-person online team action combat game. It’s similar to Valve’s Team Fortress 2, but with many more players. Up to 32 players can battle each other across fields of battle known as WarZones.
The game takes place after a cataclysmic World War at the dawn of the 20th century. The most powerful empires left standing have come together to ban gunpowder under the Black Powder Treaty. That’s why it has no guns. Elite warriors settle all disagreements, and they fight only in the authorized WarZones. The chosen few risk all in ritualized combat.
After a short peace, the Pansophic Revolution took place, creating a golden age of industrial manufacturing and design. Technology took great leaps forward, and the Pansophic advancements produce sophisticated melee and ranged weapons. The tech gives you abilities like stealth invisibility.
In the game, you choose one of four types of warriors, each with unique weapons. I played on the Royal Marines, a British faction decked out in majestic redcoat gear. Among these warriors, “vengeance is honor and death is duty.”
You can choose from classes of characters like The Enforcer, a tank-like character who wields a giant sword; a Tech Archer, who can unleash a bunch of arrows from afar; or the Duelist, who uses two blades and has stealth invisibility capabilities to pick off isolated soldiers. The opposing Cossacks have similar characters with either female or male.
The gameplay is designed for smooth controls and fast-action combo attacks previously associated only with offline brawlers. It features dynamic movement, which enables you to press a button on a controller and seamlessly glide on a grapple or mantle over big obstacles.
You can use the “adrenaline system” to unlock special powers for a short time or conserve it so that you can invoke a lethal power when the time is right.
Each WarZone is a unique environment with spacious squares, multiple-story buildings, and tactical traps like narrow bridges. When you kill your opponents, the final blow is delivered with a cinematic flourish. You can behead someone with a sword and watch the head fly 50 feet, accompanied by swaths of red. Arrows can punch right through an armored skull.
The developers have worked hard on death animations and making movement through the terrain more fluid.
I found the guitar music to be a little anachronistic, until I remembered it was part of an alternate history.
You can level up your character and customize it or level up warriors across multiple types. You can pay real money for new weapons, armor, and skins.
As a principle, players should stick together, since there are as many as 16 enemies coming after you. But that’s easier said than done, as I found myself isolated after getting killed once. You can run toward the action since you can see indicators of where the enemies and friends are.
You can level up your powers, but there’s a cool-down period once you use them. I found that the Tech Archer wasn’t that deadly. I would fire three arrows into a character as he was running up to me. And then he beheaded me. So you really do have to use the special powers to get a good kill. When you stick an arrow into somebody’s skull, it’s quite satisfying. But most of the time, the archer’s targets are more distant.
The Enforcer, however, deals death up close. I was on the receiving end of a lot of slicing and dicing by the enemy, as my team had no sense of ethics for protecting its precious archers.
The end of the match was fairly unique. Davis said the team wanted to create more rapport and respect in online matches. When a match ends, the players can go to opponents and congratulate each other. You can salute a rival or offer a medal. A newspaper clipping shows who had the highest achievements in the match. But it flashed by too quickly for me to be able to read anything.
“We’re trying to have a positive community,” Davis said.
That is, after you’re done killing each other.