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PREVIEW

BattleCry - Hands-On Impressions

What if gunpowder wasn't allowed? That's the novel premise for Bethesda's upcoming class-based online multiplayer effort BattleCry.

Given how popular and successful Team Fortress 2 is it's really strange that there hasn't been more attempts to re-invent or clone the concept. Enter BattleCry Studios, the Austin-based studio founded by Rich Vogel and Bethesda in late 2012 and while it would be wrong to dismiss BattleCry as a clone it's obvious that Team Fortress is a strong inspiration.

An obvious difference is the setting and the lack of firearms. That's right. No guns. In fact, they're outlawed in the world of BattleCry. The concept is that of an alternative history scenario where World War broke out much earlier than in reality. As such gunpowder was outlawed in treaties and wars are fought in designated Warzones where soldiers of the three warring factions battle it out for supremacy. The scenario lends itself very well to the art direction of Viktor Andonov (Half-Life, Dishonored) who has been chiefly responsible for designing the world and its characters. Instead of gunpowder there is some alternative tech (called Pansophic) that powers the largely melee based weaponry in the game.

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We're introduced to two factions the stiff-upper lipped Royal Marines and the burly bears of the Cossack Empire. The third faction is secret for now, although one of the load screens during our demo says something about Han - suggesting the Chinese could be the third faction. But that's pure speculation on our part.

It's visceral. Mere seconds into our first session our head was separated from the rest of our body and the blood kept being spillt with decapitations and flying limbs being the rule rather than the exception.

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For now, BattleCry Studios are talking about 5 classes, each with a distinct feel for the respective faction, but filling the same role on the battlefield. Three were playable in this early demo: The Enforcer - your hulking tank with a massive sword, sweeping spinning special attacks and the ability to turn the sword into a big shield. The Duelist was perhaps the most interesting and novel class playable, a stealthy (can cloak) assassin with a great lounging attack that cover a lot of distant wielding a set of rapiers - a great character for picking off stragglers, but perhaps not the best one for big pile up of bloodthirsty Enforcers going at it. The third playable class was the Tech Archer - your ranged unit. Finding points of elevation and keeping a good distance between yourself and the frontline if you will was key, but interestingly enough there was ways to keep yourself from dying even when close ranged units got up close and personal. A special push ability afford you enough space to send some quick darts into your foe.

In addition to these classes we were told about the Gadgeteer - a support class and the Brawler, a hands-on melee style character with mechanical arms.

BattleCry

Speaking briefly to Rich Vogel we expressed our interest in the Gadgeteer class and it became clear the class is a favourite of Vogel's. During our playsession it proved important to stay together as a group, on the one side a giant centipede of flailing swords formed killing most of what was in their way. It's the simplest of tactics, but it goes to prove that numbers really matter in these kind of scenarios. If you found yourself alone it was most likely only a matter of seconds until your next respawn. Clearly, a class like the Gadgeteer has the potential of unlocking more interesting tactics and scenarios by focusing on supporting other classes, traps and the likes.

The plan from the developers is to keep adding more classes or characters (apparently each of the characters has a fleshed out backstory you'll be able to explore) as the game evolves. And it's clear that while Viktor Andonov has a vision of the universe and the world of BattleCry - the roadmap ahead isn't locked down by any means.

BattleCry is free-to-play. Not surprising given the game that served as inspiration. While it's too soon for details on the monetisation, design director Lucas Davis did assure us that it would mainly involve customisation items. There is also an in-game economy where players earn iron for upgrades, and while this wasn't fully detailed we assume this will also be tied to microtransactions. Davis explained matchmaking will ensure newcomers won't be slaughtered by veterans wielding advanced weaponry. Remains to be seen what the exact nature of the economy, in-game as well as real-world, will be like and how it will affect the experience.

BattleCry
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As is often the case with first reveals, some of the most interesting stuff is what wasn't revealed at the event. Our three matches playing vanilla Team Deathmatch in two teams on one map left us interested in what else there is on offer as what we played, while solid, didn't really leave us wanting for more of the same. We sampled the mechanics. We got a taste for the interesting and surprisingly vertical map design that saw us zipping up and down using a grappling hook that attaches to specific targets.

The concept of three factions suggests we'll be enjoying three-way battles across various modes, and when asked about this the developers found it hard to keep their poker faces up. It's something they're looking into at the very least. Just imagine the back and forth of a Conquest style mode with three teams involved. There was also some loose talk of a siege/fortress mode at the event. The War Effort meta game was also teased.

BattleCry is scheduled to enter the beta phase next year.

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Cossack Empire: Archer, Enforcer, & Gadgeteer.
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Royal Marines: Archer, Brawler & Gadgeteer.
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