It’s safe to say that Nosgothwas not what Legacy of Kain fans expected when Square Enix revealed the spinoff to the beloved action-adventure series late last year. Whereas the original series developed a legacy for its Shakespeare-inspired narratives and rich character development, Nosgoth removes any semblance of a traditional single-player campaign altogether. The moody, Gothic aesthetic and vampire versus humans conflict of typical LoKremain, but they’ve now been compressed to fit in the confines of a free-to-play, multiplayer-only shooter that aims for the e-sports crowd. It’s a jarring and totally modern shift, one that could alienate series fans and get overwhelmed by an already crowded PC multiplayer market if all goes wrong.
Fortunately, developer Psyonix seems to know what it’s doing. I went hands-on with Nosgoth at PAX East this past weekend, and while we did find some obvious causes for concern, the game is shaping up to be a perfectly enjoyable way to brawl with your buddies.
Still, on the surface, Nosgoth is bland. It’s much like every other third-person multiplayer game you’ve played lately – two teams of four fight against each other in modes like team deathmatch or capture and hold, running around moderately-sized stages and deploying a bunch of weapons and special abilities. After each match, you gain experience and money, which can be used to level up and buy new gear.
In this case, those teams are split into humans and vampires. Each of those team types have four respective classes, making for eight in total. Matches are made up of two separate rounds, and between them, you switch sides – so the team that was human the first round gets to be vampire the next.
Everything in our demo looked fine and ran smoothly enough. The one map we got to play was a dark, swampy wooded village that would fit in any other Legacy of Kain game, but doesn’t jump out in any notable way. It’s a place where you fight people. The menus are competent; the sounds are serviceable; the controls are simple and basic. It works, but it’s pretty unambitious, especially considering that this is all the game has got.
Thankfully, at the core of this blasé setup is an intriguing conceit. The key is in that mid-round switch from human to vampire, which in turn forces you to shift the basis of your play style in the middle of a match.
As a human, you play a relatively standard third-person shooter. Your classes include a Hunter, who operates best from mid-range and uses a bola to trap vampires in place; an Alchemist, who gets a few area of effect spells; and a Scout, who can rain down a volley of arrows from afar. A fourth class called the Prophet was just introduced, but it wasn’t available to play at the show. All of these classes work best when shooting from a distance.
Switch over to vampires, and Nosgothbecomes a faster-paced melee brawler. Their classes include a hulking, giant Tyrant; a quick and nimble Sentinel, who can fly above the map and slash down from the air; and a Reaver, a mixture of the two who can pounce onto others from afar. A fourth class called the Deciever was recently revealed, but again, it wasn’t available for our demo.
All of these vampires are the antithesis of humans in practice, as they can only attack from up close. They’re also vampires, so they can suck the blood of their enemies to regain health. (By contrast, humans get a dinky little altar they can stand in front of if they want to heal up.)
Mixing these two together creates a sort of Jekyll and Hyde scenario over the course of each match. Humans are slower and much more grounded than vampires, so playing as one effectively necessitates tight-knit teamwork. Trying trying to fend off a charging vampire alone almost always lead me to an early grave, regardless of which class I was, but getting a couple of partners to trap and poison enemies as they came by made them easy game. The skill sets of each class seem to complement each other well, and there’s an almost Left 4 Dead-style thrill to combating a monster that’s flying at you like a bat out of hell.
The concern here is that random online players are usually not the brightest bunch, so playing with a team that just wants to run around could get frustrating fast. It’ll be better with friends, but then again, every multiplayer game is better with friends.
Vampires, by contrast, feel like they’re given more room to lone wolf it. They can climb walls, run faster and leap farther than humans, so they’re allowed to work on a wider scale. The fact that they can hit harder makes them friendlier to less skilled players like yours truly, but they are far from invulnerable if you move around carelessly.
Vampires classes also complement each other, but they seem much more focused on all-out attacking, rather than more technical coordination. Picking up a human with a Sentinel and dropping him into my Tyrant teammate made me feel pretty slick, for instance, and properly highlighted the stylistic and tactical difference between the two sides. The side effect of all this, though, is that vampires are more immediately interesting to use. Hopefully Psyonix can spice up their human foes a bit more in the months ahead.
Nevertheless, the result of this mix is a game that feels balanced even while it pits two very distinct play styles against each other. It doesn’t feel a lick like Legacy of Kain, and it only have one trick, but it performs that trick well enough. It’s completely devoid of any Titanfall-stylegimmicks, favoring a setup where the better capital-t team will always win instead. Even if it has just about zero depth, I had fun with its simplicity, and that’s really what matters for a game so dependent on its mechanics.
The elephant in the room here how much it costs. Like League of Legends, Dota 2, and most of the other PC multiplayer games it’s gunning for, Nosgothwill be free to download and play, with plenty of opportunities to sink real-world cash into it if you’d like. That model will always alarm some, but lead designed Corey Davis stressed to me that none of the game’s weapons, abilities, or other power progression aspects can be bought or advanced with actual cash. Instead, Davis says the game will make its money from cosmetic items and sidegrades, which modify existing abilities.
Nosgothis currently in closed beta, with an open beta phase scheduled for later this year. Davis says that Psyonix plans to expand the game over time, with more classes, game modes (currently only team deathmatch and capture and hold are available), maps (only five have been announced thus far, but more vampire-themed ones are coming), and the like. How many more is still up in the air, he says. Davis was firm that the game won’t receive any direct narrative elements a la Legacy of Kain, but he did say that Psyonix wants to further Nosgoth’s connection to its LoK roots through ambient aspects of future maps and characters.
Another game like Nosgothdoesn’t need to exist, but Psyonix appear to be doing their best with it anyway. It’s bound to annoy LoKdiehards, and much of it could use some sprucing up, but I could see it carving out a decent little niche within the PC multiplayer crowd once it’s out for good. We’ll give it a fuller verdict when it is.
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