Bethesda’s first Free-to-Play game BattleCry was playable at this year’s E3 conference. I got a chance to try out the 32 man action brawler and have returned, bloodied and beaten, but with a clear indication of where the studio intends to take this new IP. These are my impressions.
Developed by BattleCry Studios, Bethesda’s newly formed studio devoted to producing AAA Free-to-Play titles, Battlecry represents the developer’s first flagship title and judging by what we saw at E3, it’s certainly is on a path to live up to those expectations.
For those unaware, BattleCry takes place in an alternate universe at the turn of the 20th century in which -after a particularly bloody World War- the worlds rulers have banned the use of gunpowder. The removal of guns and other gunpowder fueled weaponry means battles are fought for the most part up close and personal with players fighting more with swords and daggers and the occasional bow.
As a player in BattleCry you act as a Warrior, fighting on behalf of one of three visually distinct nations two of which have been revealed thus far, the stiff upper lipped Royal Marines and the headstrong Cossacks. In this universe, battles are handled in one of various Warzones which act as a sanctioned area where nations go to settle their political disputes through more manageable acts of violence.
During a match BattleCry gives players the option of selecting from one of five currently available classes three of which were playable at E3, the tank-like Enforcer, the nimble Duelist and the Archer, one of BattleCry’s few ranged based classes.
During my 20 minute play session I fared the best with the Duelist, stealthing out of sight and springing from behind with a flurry of blade dashes. To my delight, killing enemies usually resulted in the Duelist performing a quick execution move which rendered the target without a head, or at the very least sans an appendage or two. Each class appears to have its own unique finishing animations which happen quickly and don’t lock you into an overly long animation.
In addition to basic attacks bound to the left and right mouse button, each class has access to three main skills which Bethesda says can be swapped out for new abilities as the player progresses. Players also have access to an ultimate ability which in the E3 build temporarily granted players immunity when activated.
In order to activate your ultimate ability though, you have to use a resource called adrenaline. Adrenaline is presented as a resource bar which fills during basic combat and can be activated in either short bursts to empower your abilities with additional damage, or saved and unleashed all at once in order to activate your ultimate.
In practice building adrenaline was fairly easy, but filling up your entire bar took some time even when you were doing well which meant you couldn’t pop your ultimate, decimate a group of enemies and then immediately use it again.
The combination of fast paced basic attacks and powerful complementary abilities means head-to-head combat between two players is usually over within 10 seconds or so, making every connecting blow count.
Mobility in BattleCry is also surprisingly fast. Characters automatically sprint while out of combat making traversing the medium-sized E3 demo map Fracture a quick affair. Players also have access to a magnetic grappling hook ala Bioshock Infinite which propels them across the sky and onto the map’s more vertical locations.
Double tapping the spacebar gives players the ability to dodge roll away from danger although in practice I found the system a bit clunky. Hitting space once causes the character to jump which meant in combat I often found myself jumping up in the air first and then rolling, making for some rather awkward escape attempts.I would have preferred Bethesda gave players a dedicated evade key.
Currently, Bethesda was only showing off BattleCry’s TDM mode which gives us a good idea of the games combat, but highlights the desperate need for more indepth modes to take advantage of the game’s diverse class roster.
Luckily the studio has said they plan on adding more modes before release which hopefully will allow players to make better use of some of BattleCry’s more specialized characters such as the Gadgeteer which is said to employ a number of traps and gadgets to assist his team in a more supportive role.
Overall I left Bethesda’s booth feeling upbeat about BattleCry’s potential. Even in its Pre-Alpha state, BattleCry already has a surprising level of polish with each faction having their own unique models and animations. If I was to have one overall complaint though, it would have to be how characters reacted to taking damage.
Maybe it was because of how fast paced your character delivers his blows, but while your character delivered his attacks with weight, enemies really didn’t react to major blows from a two handed sword or four arrows fired into their backside simultaneously.
The only time I witnessed a character reel from my relentless blows was after an Enforcer shielded himself from an onslaught of attacks before finally staggering back a bit and dropping his guard. That and when I cut them in two and watched as their body bits crumpled to the floor. Perhaps this was necessary in order to keep combat feeling fast-paced in a 32 man environment, but I feel even slight reactions to incoming damage would go a long ways towards improving that.
Still, the complaint is a minor one, especially for a game which isn’t due to start its beta until 2015. For now BattleCry remains a title I’m anxiously waiting to spend more time with so that I may explore even more of the game’s interesting classes, hopefully across multiple modes which promote a more coordinated team environment.
By Michael Dunaway