E3 2014: Shouting a Battlecry From the Rooftops
A long time ago, in a world very much like our own, the first world war was much, much earlier than it was here. Casualties were higher than any country was truly prepared to suffer. As such, the landscape of future conflicts changed drastically. Rather than engaging in full-blown escalations, the world's biggest military powers signed the Blackpowder Treaty, thus banning the use of gunpowder in combat. Instead, disputes would be settled on specific battlegrounds dubbed WarZones, where a chosen few would fight for their country.
If the world of Battlecry looks familiar, it should. Under the creative direction of Viktor Antonov (Half-Life 2, Dishonored), Battlecry's world has a very stylized industrial age look about it. The combination of more traditional brick and mortar buildings with the sharp angles of modern metal work makes Battlecry's WarZones appear reminiscent and real, even though we've never been there before. That vibe continues through to the characters, each of which is representative of the waring nation he or she hails from. Only two of the three planned (so far) factions were on display--the Royal Marines and the Cossack Empire. Even though all countries will have the same classes, the members of the various armies are drastically different, and offer personality visually, and eventually, narratively, too. Though the developers on hand weren't talking story specifics, design director Lucas Davis said Battlecry would feature "a strong fiction players can get behind."
Playable at the show were three of the five planned classes. Enforcer is the damage-dealing tank of the group, and also happens to be the best to play when first learning how to play. There's also the stealthy and agile Duelist, another melee specialist strikes quick but can be easily outmatched. The only ranged character on hand at E3 was the Tech Archer, whose bow offers impressive accuracy and cover to the other close-quarters combatants. The Gadgeteer (another ranged fighter) and Brawler (the name says it all) are due to arrive sometime down the line, and will flesh out the 16 versus 16 matches even further. Beyond standard attacks, every solider also has three abilities specific to that class that offer some tactical possibilities for the strategic mind. Kills also will earn you adrenaline, which can be used to boost your characters strength and speed in a short burst, giving you a tremendous advantage over the opposition if you can time your usage right.
I'll make one thing abundantly clear: playing a cooperative multiplayer game at a major event like E3 is quite possibly the least optimal way to do so. Communication between your teammates is almost non-existent, and everyone is more interested in fooling around with what the different characters can do, rather than trying to win as a team. That's no fault of the developers or the players; there's only so much you can do in fifteen minutes. That said, our quick 6-on-6 skirmish was incredibly enjoyable. I fooled around with each of the classes, but as I tend to prefer tank characters (especially when no support/medic class is available), a large portion of my game was played as the Enforcer. He's strong, and can fend off smaller foes with ease. However, going toe-to-toe with a handful of other Enforcers is not optimal for winning. Controller and keyboard/mouse support is integrated rather seamlessly, but in an action game like this, it's all about the controller for me. My skills with more traditional PC controls aren't up to snuff, but neither really provided any advantage over the other. At least in such a short segment of time.
The trailers and images released so far have shown a very violent game, but the stylized deaths fit well within the world Battlecry Studios has created. The Enforcer's kills are just brutal, though the Duelist has a nice finishing flurry, too. Though I enjoyed the combat, what really stuck out was the level itself. Since these arenas are built specifically for wartime, there are flourishes all around that hint at the previous victors and the fallen. It's not propaganda of any kind, but there are notes scrawled on the walls and monuments erected around the map that hint at just how attitudes towards war have shifted. There are no unwilling participants in Battlecry's scenarios, but you can sense the vibe just from this one map, that these conflicts are about more than just borders. There's potential to explore war from a whole new perspective, and that promise holds a lot of intrigue.
At an E3 where almost every major developer was showing off the shiniest and shootiest guns, it was refreshing to play a game that has completely written ballistics out of the equation. The action is fast and furious, and the learning curve isn't so steep that players unfamiliar with massive team combat like this will get left behind. It's only in a pre-alpha state at the moment, but Battlecry is a stylishly good time already.
Battlecry will be available on PC in 2015.