E3 2014: The Punishing, Brutal World of Natural Doctrine

Only the strong survive.

Only the fittest can survive. That's a terrible truth considering how infrequently I exercise, and how much I enjoy fast food, and one that would give me less than a fighting chance during an apocalypse. Luckily, I don't have to worry about the situations that mark the sad reality for the people in Natural Doctrine. As the name implies, Natural Doctrine references natural selection, so we see Darwinian principles play out before our eyes. That's pretty heavy stuff. With dwindling resources and lots of people (and creatures) vying for control of the few remaining fuel sources left (sounds a little like real life, no?), everyone is in a constant battle to stay alive. I'm happy that I can experience this grim reality on my couch while I force others to claw and spit to stay alive just one more day.

The representative showing off Natural Doctrine had a quick pitch to succinctly sum up the game: XCOM meets Dark Souls. It amazes me how many games are now being compared to Dark Souls in some capacity, but it shouldn't be surprising. In many ways, Dark Souls (alongside Spelunky) is the poster child for how to properly implement difficult within a game. Sure, surviving Lordran serves as a feat that is worthy of bragging about (Oh, I should mention here that I totally finished Dark Souls), but there is so much more to enjoy beyond the unrepentant challenge. And I hope that everyone who uses that comparison understands just what it means to say you're similar to Dark Souls. Now, I haven't actually played Natural Doctrine (the developer was playing it instead), but from what I saw, I'm not sure there's much beyond the raw combat, even though that looks particularly well done.

So maybe we should instead focus on the XCOM aspect of that description. It's not humans versus aliens here. Instead, it's humans versus humans (humans are the worst!), goblins, orcs, giant spiders, and who knows what else. Like I said, it's a terrible world, one in which resources are almost gone but giant spiders roam the land. If I had to exist in this universe, I would die of a heart attack right away, or live with the perpetual feeling of a spider touching my arm. Just writing that sounds like torture. It's a good thing that you're aligned with humans (the good humans, presumably) because I couldn't stand a lengthy adventure partnered with spiders.

Combat is a turn-based, tactical test of your strategic cunning. Place your characters wisely around the battlefield to mount an attack without endangering your allies. Keep your sniper far away lest you want her to meet an early end, and push your tank toward the front to engage the baddies. It's all pretty standard sounding, right? Not that there's anything wrong with smart planning, but, if you're the demanding type (like me), you probably want a reason to play Natural Doctrine over other tactical role-playing games. Well, you're in luck, because there is a twist to this basic formula that adds a lot of complexity to your actions.

You can link up characters on the battlefield. This isn't like Fire Emblem Awakening where you can only pair two people together for a quick buff. No, this goes much deeper than that, so much so that I have only a vague idea of what it all means. You see, linking characters together gives you various attribute boosts. You may raise an ally's defense or heal the party, among other things. Still with me? The most important part of linking is that you can switch a character's turn order. Instead of alternating between you and your enemy attacking, maybe you can get everyone on your team to swing away in succession. Of course, your enemies can do that, too, so if you aren't vigilant, you will die. Often. Hence the Dark Souls comparison.

There's also multiplayer for those who don't like to fight alone. Team up against the artificial intelligence, or go toe-to-toe with another person. If you're competitive, you have cards that represent characters (this is before fights, not mid-battle). You earn more powerful cards by winning. Sounds fair, right? And the best part is, you can't buy cards with real money. It's all about skill. I'm so glad this game doesn't have lame microtransactions. And I'm also glad this is going to all three Sony systems. Not too shabby. Check it out for yourself later this year.

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