Battlecry Is Bethesda's Stylish and Gun-Free Shot at Team Fortress 2

Multiplayer Online Crying Arena

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Back in 2012, Bethesda Softworks established a new development team called Battlecry Studios. Two years later, we finally know what this Austin outfit has been up to with the reveal of Battlecry. The game. Not the studio. It's...the same name.

So what is Battlecry? In short, it's a free-to-play multiplayer action game. Now, if you're still reading this after that "free-to-play" bit, you have my profound thanks. I certainly can't blame anyone for losing interest over the idea of yet another major publisher dipping its feet into the world of free-to-play. But there's nothing about this game that strikes me as a cynical cash grab; it's actually pretty interesting. In fact, there are a few things about it that have me genuinely excited.

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First, there's the overall aesthetic. Battlecry's creative director is Viktor Antonov, a talented visual artist whose work includes Half-Life 2's City 17 and Dishonored's Dunwall. Antonov's distinct touch was immediately apparent in the map I played on, an alternate-history take on an industrial English city that manages to feel both grimy and oddly beautiful at the same time. It's a run-down setting, but one rendered with a stylized, painterly quality that bears a strong resemblance to the bizarro Victorian world of Dishonored.

Equally stylish are the game's competing factions. See, Battlecry is like a military history lesson as viewed through the lens of a graphic novel--and without the slightest regard for historical authenticity. You've got the Cossack Empire, looking as though it has tumbled right out of an old propaganda poster, as well as the Royal Marines, all decked out in the reds and whites of the 18th-century British army. But the class-based characters are what really stand out. You need look no further than the Royal Marines' brawler, a bald, mustachioed brute who looks like what old-timey boxers would look like if they had mechanical arms with which to better pummel their opponents.

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In fact, there are no guns at all in Battlecry. This is an alternate history where nations have signed a peace treaty outlawing the use of gunpowder, leading to a proliferation of slick melee weapons and the occasional electrical super move. Therefore, there's a lot of up-close and personal combat, whether you're playing as the tanky enforcer who employs a massive broadsword, or the DPS-focused duelist, who can dash in and out of a fight with a handy cloaking ability. The exception, of course, is either team's tech archer, who is the ranged character of the bunch.

Those are pretty basic archetypes, but the type of stuff you generally find in role-playing games rather than competitive online action games. Add in a fluid movement system that lets you zip across big swaths of the map using a grapnel gun, and you've got a game that doesn't feel like all the shooters and multiplayer online battle arena games that have come to dominate the free-to-play space.

Now, it's still got a ways to go. In the handful of matches I got to play, the combat system tended to feel like more of a rugby scrum than a battleground. Anytime I ran into four or five players in close quarters, it immediately became a frenzied mess of blood splatter and dead bodies. Maybe that's just what happens when you've got people playing for the first time, but I hope battles wind up feeling a little less chaotic and a little more duel-like.

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The other thing that bothered me was the way that none of the game's visual character transferred over to the audio side. The world is so striking and the characters so lively that I would expect the game to sound a bit more interesting than it did. There was nothing wrong with the score; it just felt sparse. Battlecry feels like a game in need of an announcer or some clever banter between characters, but as is, the audio is merely serviceable.

There's still plenty of time to fix that stuff, though. Battlecry won't be going into open beta until 2015. I'm curious to see how it comes along, because I definitely enjoyed what I've played so far.

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