Bethesda's attempt to enter the free-to-play PC space comes in the form of the stylised, fast-paced action game, Battlecry. At first glance, it looks like a wannabe Team Fortress 2, but a few key twists make for immediately unique gameplay. Battlecry's alternate history is one where gunpowder has been outlawed, so low-tech bows and melee weapons promote close-range, brutal engagements. Exaggerated movement allows each class to jump and dodge freely, whilst grappling hook points allow for even faster locomotion about the map. With no ammo and abilities on cooldowns, the game plays like a hybrid of TF2 and DOTA 2. Yet for all its uniqueness, Battlecry's current alpha state shows the game is lacking a few key elements, such as characters who actually speak. I spoke to Rich Vogel, executive producer, about how Battlecry studios (yes, the developer's name came first--it's a long story involving the Candy Crush Saga lawsuit) plans to address this.
"They will have taunts," says Vogel. "They will have battle cries, things like that. We looked a lot at Team Fortress 2 and how [Valve] developed their characters. Our characters will have personality. They'll have backstory. People will understand what their role is in the game by their silhouette."
Unlike Team Fortress 2, Battlecry is taking its cartoonish, stylised world seriously--which extends to the nature of the characters' associated fiction. "We wanted the world to be stylised in a sense that this is a war, and this is when you're going to die," Vogel says. "It's an allergory. Everything looks big, mysterious--things change, your perception changes in battle. That's why we did the bright colours. When you die, the sun turns red. In a time of war, that's what things are like--surreal."
So the studio has plans to address the depth of the characters. But what of the multiplayer gameplay itself? Though Battlecry's low-tech melee focus was initially fresh, the only mode I played was team deathmatch, which I have found stale for some time. "We will have modes with more objectives," says Vogel. "Some with creeps, and we'll possibly even add objectives to team deathmatch mode."
What should also help lend significance to every match is the a larger, strategic metagames called Wargames.
What should also help lend significance to every match is the a larger, strategic metagames called Wargames. Vogel was unwilling to elaborate on how Wargames function right now, but I was shown a world map and told I would be able to earn things for my faction (The British or the Cossacks), my character and my larger war effort.
Another part of the reason my team deathmatch experience felt stale was the fact that players were not really working together. This is common at events like E3, when a handful of journalists who don't know each other are suddenly thrown together on a team in a game they've never played before. Vogel says features will be in place to stop people aimlessly running around the map. "The Squads system is designed for that. After a few matches, you'll start seeing people spread out, understand their roles, and become more confident. They'll act as ranged characters, tanks, and assassins. When this happens, they can form separate squads to work together."
It's the same evolution I experienced over many hours of playing World of Tanks--you need to work for a good teamplay experience, and it doesn't come instantly. Vogel cites Wargaming's free-to-play juggernaut as a key source of inspiration for Battlecry. "It's short battles, and it's a lot of fun," he says. "You die, it's not a big deal, you go back to the garage, then go back and fight. But we didn't want to compete with World of Tanks. We didn't want to compete with MOBAs or shooters. We wanted to look for white space. The team action combat game is a white space that no one was doing. I have not seen anybody do what we're doing right now. We see people on the fringes, but not yet. This is definitely something different."
Battlecry is certainly different, yet its alpha state shows it's still not quite there. But there is plenty of time; the game's beta isn't scheduled to launch until 2015. With a metagames, more game modes, and more interesting characters, Battlecry could bring something to the free-to-play space that's not just new, but actually worth your time.