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Battlecry review - Hands on with the 32-player brawler

Seth Barton
13 Jun 2014
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We get to play an early version of next year's free-to-play arena game

We've just seen a new free-to-play game, with different classes to play, lots of fighting and it's coming out next year - excited? Probably not. Now all that is true, but despite entering a packed market of largely forgettable games, Battlecry is worthy of your attention.

Battlecry

It's more a brawler than a shooter, with influence taken from third-person beat-em-ups such as Devil May Cry. The eponymous Battlecry team is a new one, but it has members who have worked on some great titles, and the art direction is by Victor Antonov, who created the look of both Dishonored and Half Life 2. Finally, it plays well today, giving the team lots of time to hone its various blades to a shiny, lethal perfection.

THE CRYING GAME

Battlecry is an arena-based 32-player game. There are two teams of 16, with each to be made up from a choice of five initial classes. We played a team deathmatch today on a map called Fracture (which you can see in the trailer below). There will be more game modes at launch, and the team plans to add even more, alongside more classes and more maps as time progresses.

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The game is set in an alternate world, one without gunpowder. It takes its visual cues from the turn of the 19th-to-20th Century. Most characters primarily use melee weapons such as swords, but there are some ranged weapons, such as bows and throwing knives. Its primary palette and arena of abandoned industrial buildings, immediately brings Team Fortress 2 to mind; as does its multiple class setup.

Battlecry

CLASS WARFARE

Of the five initial characters for launch only three were playable today. We got on best with the Enforcer, who carries a huge blade that can transform in to a big shield. All the characters have two 'attacks' in this case a massive swipe and a shield block, plus three specials, the Enforcer has a dash attack that helps him (or her, depending on which of the three factions you play as) close the distance to slippery opponents, a spin attack for hurting multiple foes, and a battlecry which boosts the stats (buffs) himself and nearby allies. All the abilities are fairly short cooldowns, so you can't spam them.

The other classes on offer were the Duellist, who does a lot of damage with her pair of swords and can be become temporarily invisible in order to get behind enemies. Then there was the Tech Archer, one of the few character to use a long range weapon. Her bow has to be charged before being fully effective, plus she has a special arrow which knocks back closing enemies, plus throwing knives for shorter range work.

Battlecry

It's worth noting that you can play on keyboard and mouse or a game controller. The game is only announced for PC at present, but we're certain it will also appear on one of the next-gen consoles if not both. Aiming is handled identically on both, with a heavy dose of aim assist, so pinpoint accuracy isn't required for victory.

What is required for victory is a little though as to when you have the upper hand and when to fall back. An Enforcer works best with others, but is pretty mean in close combat, while an archer would have the upper hand if they met at range. However, the developer is avoiding a rock-paper-scissors system where one class is dominant over another, so you'll always have a fighting chance.

Things are further mixed up by the adrenaline bar, tap a button to spend some of this to buff you character - hit harder, run fast, recharge quicker - or hold it down when full to make yourself temporarily superhuman.

We found the combat to work fine, but blows lack a sense of connection, as there's little reaction on the part of the receiver apart from spurts of stylised blood.

Battlecry

As most the characters must close to fight, there's a lot of movement in the game. Every character can perform a double jump, with the second part being more a dive for evasion than simply a way of gaining extra height. There's also grapple points, and launch pads, that you can use to move across the whole level in quick order. This is a fast game and you have to make decisions instantly or you're dead.

CROWDING OUT

We played a 16-player game, in a cut-down arena space, but the developer assured us that player density was roughly similar to the 32-player they test daily. The design is based around the idea of small groups fighting, 1 vs 2, 2 vs 2 2 vs 3 being about ideal. They have discovered a successful tactic of bunching all 16-players together into an almost unstoppable ball of death. However, the final two characters will add more area effect damage to make this tactic a very bad idea. it will be interesting to see how tactics adapt as new characters are launched post release.

Which brings us nicely around to the much-dreaded free-to-play part of the design. The economy is split between iron and gold. Iron is earned through playing only, and with it you can upgrade your characters via skill trees.Gold meanwhile must be bought with real cash, though this is only used to make changes to your appearance.

We really enjoyed out 16-player fights, and with only three of the five character types which the game will launch with. It's as hectic as a shooter, but makes a nice change from all the gun-centric games. It will need a good line-up of more team-based game modes, and good map design of course, to truly flourish, but all the parts look to be falling into place for Battlecry.

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