Nosgoth – Preview

Title   Nosgoth
Developer  Psyonix
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Free-To-Play Multiplayer Third-Person Shooter
Release Date  TBC
Official Site

Sometimes it feels like culture is parasitic. If a new craze or trend emerges in one medium, it’s only a matter of time before it ends up elsewhere. Saving Private Ryan was a massive success in cinemas, only for games set in World War Two to proliferate a couple of years later, each with their own attempt to make an iconic recreation of ‘that’ D-Day landing on Omaha Beach. Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake released to acclaim and – in the case of the former – cult status, then a couple of years later we got Dead Rising and the birth of a zombie craze we still haven’t seen the last of.

With that in mind, I’m not trying to say that the rise of Twilight is potentially responsible, but I certainly don’t remember seeing so many vampires until Bella and Edward (no relation) graced cinema screens. In any case, the story of Nosgoth is an intriguing one indeed. Born from the multiplayer aspect of an in-development return of the Legacy of Kain series (codenamed Dead Sun), it soon transpired that the single-player element wasn’t up to scratch. Fearing that it wouldn’t meet sales expectations, they cancelled the single-player portion and, instead, focused their attention on the far more robust multiplayer, renaming the project to Nosgoth.

Now releasing separately as a free-to-play team-based third-person competitive shooter (try saying that five times) and in closed beta, Nosgoth sees an enslaved human race rising up against their vampire overlords in a battle for supremacy. One side bids for freedom while the other is intent on quelling the rebellion and keeping their livestock subjugated. It may have been a long while since we last saw the Legacy of Kain series, but attempting to bring it back into the mainstream is one task that Psyonix must be relishing. Although they’ve yet to make their own definitive mark with their own titles, like Whizzle and Arc Squadron, they’ve had a hand in the multiplayer portion of Gears of War, Mass Effect 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, to name but a few.

The story takes place some eight-hundred years after the reign of Kain, with some vampires daring to evolve in his absence, causing a civil war between the all-dominant race. Taking advantage of the in-fighting, the humans slowly found a way to bound together in an attempt to regain their freedom. While it’s still heavily set within the Legacy of Kain universe, you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the series to understand what’s going on.

Knowing that there’d be a massive power disparity between the two sides, Psyonix have opted for an asymmetrical multiplayer experience, exploiting the natural differences in strength and abilities between the enslaved and their masters. The differences are such that not only do both sides require entirely different tactics and play-styles, but so do the classes within each faction. Divided into Scouts, Alchemists and the Hunter class, the human side consists of long-range specialists who require the use of weapons and potions to stand a chance against their slavers. While each class is distinct in its own way, Psyonix wanted them to be familiar enough to players who are familiar with other games in the genre, allowing them to pick up and play it with ease. To this end, the Scouts are similar to a Support class, while Alchemists are the equivalent of a Grenadier and the Hunter most resembles a Sniper. While the perks each character can select are the same, their weapons and special abilities are completely different, forcing you to rethink your tactics every time you select a new class.

After a while I found myself becoming most drawn to the Alchemist, owing to her grenade launcher-esque weapon, which compensated for inaccurate shots, and her powerful potions that provided a handy defence in close-combat. They’re also fairly useful for psychological warfare – enemies are far less willing to come near you if they know your go-to tactic is to accidentally repeatedly set yourself ablaze with your own fire-wall spells.

All of the human classes have the ability to sprint for extended periods of time – I frequently found myself able to dash from one side of the map to another without pausing – but aren’t able to naturally regenerate their health, instead relying on supply points at different areas on the map. These aren’t reusable either, so after one use each of these points on the map are unavailable to you until the next match, forcing you to think carefully about where and when to use them. They also have a neat risk versus reward element to them, as you could easily die while you’re making your way towards one, and they leave you susceptible to attack while you’re trying to use them.

Meanwhile, the vampire side are close-combat specialists, relying on their own strength and natural powers rather than weaponry to subdue their foes. Split into Reavers, Sentinels and Tyrants, these characters are more difficult to find genre counterparts for. The Tyrants most closely resemble your typical ‘tank’ – huge, powerful and with a bunch of health, but slow to the mark. Reavers can be quite a useful stealth character thanks to their ability to teleport short distances and pounce on their foes from a distance, but Sentinels are something else entirely. Able to take flight by running off any nearby ledge, they’re able to fly around the whole battlefield at speed, with one of their standard abilities allowing you to swoop down, grab a human and then fly as high up as you can before dropping them at a distance.

Instead of healing via supply points scattered across the map, vampires can slowly regenerate up to a quarter of their health as long as they’ve stayed out of harm’s way for a while. That’s not the only way to keep them going either, as vampires can drag enemy corpses out of immediate danger and feast on their blood for a greater health boost. Much like their human enemies, they’ll be totally vulnerable while they attempt to recover, allowing you to take advantage and score an easy kill – it wasn’t an uncommon tactic to follow a vampire dragging a body behind them and get the drop as they prepared to snack on your fallen comrade. That being said, it also turned into a meta-game between some players who would grab a corpse and attempt to run around until they were killed by the person they were lugging around with them in an attempt to cause some sort of paradox.

Rather than being bestowed with great sprinting prowess, vampires instead are able to climb up buildings and give themselves the higher ground, as well as being able to speedily traverse terrain and climb into areas where humans may have hidden themselves. The maps are designed with both sides in mind, providing plenty of places for vampires to fly and climb to, while giving humans plenty of lower ground to dash across and buildings in which to take cover.

Over time you’ll undoubtedly find a niche to fit in and a class and set-up that you overly favour, but it’s not entirely clear yet if the asymmetrical layout of each team makes the experience entirely balanced. As the build we played was in closed beta there’s still plenty of fine-tuning to be done.  Over time, it became hard to tell if one side was edging out the other or not; at times it did feel like the vampires were the ever so slightly better side, but the majority of my victories came from playing as a human. A vampire could feasibly run solo and rack up the points, but that’s an easy way to meet an early grave if you’re shooting for the other team, where you’re far less likely to come out on top if you don’t band together.

Vampires may have a bigger life-bar, far better reign of the battlefield and an easier method of regenerating health, but the human weapons often felt far more powerful. As a human it was easy to wound enemies at a distance, but unless you wiped most of their health beforehand then the close-combat action would see the vampires emerge victorious more often than not. Any potential balance issue was also mitigated by the fact that matches were split into two rounds, with the results from each aggregated into a final score. This meant that if you particularly favoured one faction over the other, you had plenty of time to score as many points as you could before you played as the side you felt less attuned to. Honestly though, I found that most of the matches were really close, with outcomes often being decided by a single point.

While each character and class has their own load-out, there’ll also be special unlockables made available to those taking part in community events, with unique guns or perks being bestowed upon a player if they take part. This is also a great opportunity for those who do particularly favour one side over the other to get involved, as this is when that loyalty is more likely to be rewarded. These events aren’t the only incoming content for Nosgoth either, as both factions are due to receive an extra class each. Humanity will gain the Prophet, a female-based class who use their tainted blood as a projectile weapon to stop vampires being able to use their powers. Meanwhile, their fanged foes will have the Deceiver, who uses disguises to fool the other team, can temporarily mind-control and create illusions to wage psychological warfare on his enemies.

While many of the features and classes were already worked out, one thing that wasn’t very clear was how the free-to-play aspect was going to be implemented. Admittedly, I couldn’t really think of a way it could be enacted either, unless it was for purely cosmetic reasons, such as new costumes or appearances. Otherwise, there’d be a risk of unbalance, especially with other free-to-play titles like World of Tanks having to rethink their micro-transaction model to avoid accusations of being ‘pay-to-win’.

As someone entirely new to the Legacy of Kain series, I have no idea how Nosgoth stacks up so far, but I’m sure that franchise fanatics won’t be entirely convinced by the shift in genre. Fortunately for them it doesn’t play too fast or loose with the established canon, and Square-Enix are doing whatever they can to assure fans that it’s going to be true to the series’ spirit and the world. What I particularly admired about it is that they’re also not trying to make Nosgoth in direct competition to anything else out there – instead, they feel that it’ll be a natural compliment or companion to many other titles on the market where it will find its own niche. There’s a lot of care and consideration being put into Nosgoth, but time will tell whether it will pay dividends or not.

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