Coming to Xbox One and PC on March 24, Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge is a melee-focused action multiplayer game that is definitely MOBA-inspired.
I'm a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed playing Ninja Theory's Bleeding Edge given my preference for multiplayer games that are shooters--I'm just not a big fan of melee-focused action games. At a press preview event, I played the hero-focused multiplayer game for the first time (I missed chances at E3 and the open beta weekends) and Bleeding Edge impressed me with its satisfying combat and surprising attention to sound design.
After spending 90 minutes with the game, it's so immediately apparent that Bleeding Edge started out as a multiplayer online battle arena game. Success is almost totally dependent on teammates communicating with each other and fulfilling the established roles of a balanced unit.
Might Be Too Role-Focused For Its Own Good
Every character in Bleeding Edge fits into one of three classes: damage, support, or tank. Bleeding Edge seems entirely dependent on a team fulfilling an exact quota: one damage, one tank, one support, and a fourth player who changes their role to fulfill the needs of the team. Bleeding Edge's meta allows for experimentation (in that you can pair different damage, support, and tank characters with one another), but it's a rigid level of choice--going without any individual class will screw over your team.
Speaking to the team, we learned Ninja Theory originally designed Bleeding Edge to exclusively appeal to those who already enjoy MOBA-like games. However, after the developer was acquired by Microsoft and turned into an Xbox Game Studio, Ninja Theory realized they had to reconsider who Bleeding Edge's audience is, given that the game would now be launching day one on Xbox Game Pass.
"[Xbox Game Pass] hasn't really changed the core of the game that much," Bleeding Edge creative director Rahni Tucker told GameSpot in an interview. "The main thing it has had an impact on is onboarding. We didn't have that much in terms of tutorials or ways that you could learn how to play the game before your first match. Before we were acquired by Microsoft, we found out that we were going to go on Game Pass and we said, 'Man, there's going to be all these people in the game that maybe have never played a class-based game before. Maybe they don't know what objective mod is. Maybe they have never played in a team before and they don't get the importance of the healer role or the role of a tank.'"
The tutorials are helpful, but the nuances of Bleeding Edge's mechanics are still somewhat difficult to pick-up without a veteran at the helm, on mic, directing newcomers into how to best play each role. Bleeding Edge does have a ping system, but it's very basic and doesn't convey much in terms of information beyond an enemy or item's location.
In Bleeding Edge, you need someone on comms directing the team, offering up strategies on which lanes to push, keeping everyone together (if you wander from your group, you're as good as dead if at least two enemy players find you), calling out objective changes, and letting allies know when the current squad loadout is flawed and needs adjusting. If you're unfamiliar with team-based games, there's an extremely punishing learning curve to Bleeding Edge--one which could dissuade newcomers.
A Controlled Chaos
Those worries aside though, Bleeding Edge is satisfying to play when everyone knows what they're doing--largely because the game does such a good job at communicating in-match information to players. Both in terms of visuals and sound design, Bleeding Edge constantly feeds you information that makes it possible to understand what's going on even within the twirling chaos of its melee-focused brawls.
For example, every character in Bleeding Edge has a unique footstep sound, allowing you to identify someone who's hidden behind a wall or sneaking up on you without actually seeing them. "The goal is that, if you're playing and someone gets behind you--if you know the game well enough--you should know who is coming towards you," Bleeding Edge senior sound designer Daniele Galante said in an interview with GameSpot.
Of course, you don't always need to know that someone is sneaking up on you. Sometimes it's far more important to know which attack you're about to be hit with or whether the person you're fighting is being healed--but you could easily become disoriented hearing all of these sounds at full volume, all at once. To account for this, Ninja Theory has designed the sound in Bleeding Edge to work off of a tier system where noises fluctuate in volume based on their importance to you.
The sound of an enemy's attack will trump pretty much any other noise, for instance, but ones specifically directed towards you will be louder. Based on how loud something is in comparison to the other sounds, you can audibly determine how to react--allowing you to understand a situation with more than just your eyes. "So each single sound changes dynamically based on how important it is for you to hear [that] specific sound in that moment," Galante said. If there are two players--one with headphones, one without--with the same level of skill, the player with headphones should be stronger because they know what is going on more."
Sound complements the vibrant visual style of Bleeding Edge as well. I only had a few minutes to try out a handful of characters before getting thrown into a match, but the design of each one--both in how they move and sound--provides insight into what type of threat they pose.
"[Daemon is] very stealthy, he's very squishy, so we tried to use elements that reminds you of that," Galante said, as an example. "So we use whisper-like sounds [when] he dodges or evades. We put a lot of wind sounds to give the sensation that he's floating around and is very hard to catch--even when he's attacking."
"A lot of it also comes down to readability," Bleeding Edge principal animator Warwick Mellow added, speaking to how the animation works with the sound to inform the player. "So some of it is just quality animation, making sure that the character is indicative of the style that they are--that's just good animation. But secondary to that is the gameplay component, which is readability. At any given moment in the game, you want to know who you're fighting against. Every character's gait is different. They all run differently with different postures or have different [idle animations]."
It Will Probably Come Down To That Learning Curve
I did enjoy my time with Bleeding Edge and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product on March 24, but my overall impression of Ninja Theory's game is that it might be in for a rocky start. There's a fair bit of complexity to this game and not much in the way of teaching you how to play beyond just jumping into a match and figuring it out as you go, which could be frustrating for some folks. But we'll just have to wait and see.
To Ninja Theory's credit, the team seems committed to addressing concerns in regards to possible gaps in skill level, as well as providing continued content updates to keep Bleeding Edge's players coming back. "We're working on new fighters, different features," Tucker said. "We'll be looking to the community a lot to see what type of stuff they're requesting as a priority. In the most recent beta, a lot of players were asking for ranked mode, so that's shot up to the top of our priority list. A lot of players are asking for music in the game. I didn't expect that at all. But that's cool, that's something that people want. Maybe we can try and do that. So that's another thing that we're looking into."