Breach still has some kinks to iron out. That should be obvious by its being in early access, especially coming as soon as it did after an “open alpha” weekend in January. Sure, you still need to pay to get into it right now, though QC Games is doing everything it can to bring in more players, as evidenced by this, this, and this.
None of us know what the financial situation is at QC Games, and it would be fair to look at the different ways that the developer is trying to bring people into Breach as something of a desperate “please play our game!” kind of act. I was leaning in that direction too, before a play session and interview with Game Director/Chief Creative Director Gabe Amantangelo last week.
One thing I’ve always groused about with regards to early access is how developers say “we need you to test” on the one hand and “please give us money” on the other. If you need us so badly, why are you charging us to work for you? Why not let us in for free? All the free access QC Games is tossing around, as well as my conversation with Amantangelo last week, have me thinking that QC might actually be the rare company that actually does need its testers and is willing – to a point – to let them have free reign to do their thing.
That Ra-Ra attitude
First things first, though: Breach had a big content update recently, adding a new area to the game, the surprisingly-chilly-for-Egypt Valley of Kings, which brings with it the Egyptian Goddess of War, Sekhmet, and a new hero class, the Medic. Sekhmet’s signature attack has her hoisting a character up in the air and chaining them to two obelisks which the other players have to knock down to free their ally.
The new hero class, the Medic, utilizes pistols in combat, as well as nanobots that can heal allies over time and also be used to deal burst damage to enemies. For whatever reason, I could never quite get the hang of the Arcane Mender, but the little time I’ve spent with the Medic feels much better.
Among the other features the patch added was the very highly requested ability to queue only as a hero or as a Veil Demon. A ranking system, similar to Hearthstone’s ranked play, is also now in place, so you can track how you match up against the rest of the world in PvP matches. While still in beta, the team plans to add rewards for highly ranked players, and the entire system is optional on a per-match basis, so if you want to experiment with a new build, you can switch it off so that it doesn’t mess with your ranking. Story elements are also being added with each update, giving greater context to the world.
Breaching for the sky
Phrases like “are being added with each update” and “while still in beta, the team plans to add” are ubiquitous in gaming these days. Everything’s in early access or closed beta or open beta, sometimes for years. It can be especially irksome in games that insist they’ll be free-to-play when they launch fully, but please pay us now for the privilege of fixing our game, OK?
On the surface, Breach is no different, and players seem to know that. Its reviews on Steam are “Mixed” (54% positive as of this writing), with a lot of them – even some of the positive ones – boiling down to some form of “This game isn’t worth the money yet, don’t pay for it.” That’s generally been my approach to early access, and despite my initial enthusiasm for Breach, its hasty move from alpha to paid closed beta had me shaking my head. Why would QC Games do that, risking its signature title by exposing it to the wild and asking people to pay for a buggy, unfinished product?
I posed that question to Amantangelo, who said simply that the game needed testing. I know, I know, that’s what early access is supposed to be for, and what everyone who releases such a product says, but I thought there was a difference in the way he answered my question.
Breach is a different beast than nearly anything else out there: a “Super Smash Bros. of RPGs,” as Amantangelo put it, with the wide roster of characters and asymmetrical PvP gameplay. As something of a risky venture, gameplay-wise, a similar sense of risk had to apply to how the game was developed.
“We’re a small company, and at the end of the day, it’s a multiplayer game and we needed to get it out there in the wild,” he told me. “When we’re doing something that’s so new and different, it’s just part and parcel to that. Sure, we could have taken on a game that you’ve seen a million times, and there would have been a lot more known quantities. But we intentionally wanted to do something different, add something new to the industry, and we don’t have the ability to do thousand-people tests or that sort of thing.”
QC Games has been “as transparent as we can” about what it’s offering in early access and the struggles it will face during development. “If it was a single-player game, we wouldn’t need to do that … a massive multiplayer PvP game, it has to get out there. A whole new genre, it has to get out there. There’s just no other way around it.”
To me, this represents a key difference between what Breach is looking for in early access and what other games’ early access often represent. Yes, there’s still a fee to get in, though, as mentioned earlier, there are ways around that. (Speaking of which, I still have four keys. Anyone want one?) Yes, QC Games is happy to get some income from those packages. No, there’s no firm date for when the game will exit early access and go free-to-play. And yes, you could still argue that it exited alpha and opened itself up to the masses before it was really ready.
But as Amantangelo said, they didn’t have much choice in the matter. Breach offers a different style of gameplay – maybe not unique, as it draws inspiration from other 4v1 asymmetrical PvP games, like Evolve, but still rare. That requires testing on a wide scale, and QC Games didn’t see any other way forward than to make it available to the public. If it was another run-of-the-mill MMORPG, it would still have bugs to fix and systems to optimize, but the core mechanics would be familiar enough, both to players and developers, as to require a shorter development loop. There was just no other way to do it than to throw the game out into the wilderness, and hope it survives.
My rule of early access still applies: If you like the game, right now, go ahead and get it. Don’t pay for what you think a game will be. Breach is probably deserving of that “Mixed” rating it has on Steam right now; it’s about half-finished and still needs a good bit of work to get across the finish line. QC Games knows this and is willing to go to take some chances and go to unusual lengths to get more people in the game, either for free or at a bargain rate. That’s something in today’s environment, and it may or may not work in their favor. I’m at least willing to cut them a little slack for trying.