From the ruins of Darksiders studio Vigil Games, a few things have started to rise. Vigil Games had two founders, David L. Adams and Joe Madureira, each going their separate way following the demise of the studio as a result of THQ's demise. Adams took part of the team to form Crytek USA, an outfit that didn't last very long and instead that team would become Gunfire Games, who have focused a lot on VR games, releasing Chronos and Dead and Buried for Oculus Rift, but also helping THQ Nordic on Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition. The other Vigil founder, Joe Madureira, who's a well-regarded comic book creator, started a new outfit of his own called Airship Syndicate, and he went back to his roots to create a video game based on his original comic from 1998, Battle Chasers.
Funded by just over 14,000 backers on Kickstarter in October, 2015, Battle Chasers: Nightwar has been picked up by THQ Nordic (yes, that's the publisher that currently holds the rights to Darksiders and that has been working with the other studio to rise from the ashes of Vigil on Deathinitive Edition of Darksiders II), and the dungeon crawling "JRPG" is starting to take shape. A demo that's a bit more sizeable than your usual convention build was put together for PAX East and we've spent just over an hour or so playing said build on PC.
"The game is based on the Battle Chasers comic series, that was very successful and popular back in the early 2000s", says technical director Chris Brooks. "Everybody has always been asking for a game based on that, so Joe [Madureira] decided that it made sense for us to make a JRPG, because the comics kind of have their basis in, they kind of feel JRPG-inspired in a way. So this is kind of bringing things full circle."
The story of the game is separate from the comic books, a side story of sorts. There are six playable heroes in the game, three of which were playable in this demo, namely Gully (tank), Garrison (warrior) and Calibretto, the ancient war golem and healer. In the full game a devil hunter called Alumon, a mage called Knolan, and Red Monika the rogue, will also be playable.
There are several layers to Battle Chasers; the overworld, the dungeons, and finally the encounters that you can activate both in the more static overworld map or inside the more dynamic dungeons where there are traps and enemy mobs moving about. It's pretty clear from the demo that the dungeons and the battles are where most of the ambition has been poured. Quite frankly the overworld is a bit dull and uneventful, but perhaps it will be more dynamic once the full game is made available and it feels less locked down. The boardgame-esque feel to the overworld is a nice touch, though.
The dungeons are randomly generated with regards to traps, enemies, puzzles, and loot, meaning you'll get a fresh experience each time you enter, and each dungeon also has multiple difficulty levels. What's important to note here is that you do exercise a certain amount of control in real-time while in a dungeon, and switching your lead character lets you gain access to their skills, which will make it easier for you to heal your party out of combat or perhaps use a skill to bypass a trap or an enemy.
The combat itself is pretty straightforward turn-based action, but there are a couple of twists that make it interesting. First of all, this game employs an initiative bar where you can see in which order all the characters (friends and foes) in the encounter stack up. Secondly, using a spell typically takes a little time so you won't launch it immediately, and this goes for both your characters and the opposition. This creates an opportunity to unleash quick standard attacks on an enemy that's charging up a powerful special attack or spell. Or perhaps take defensive measures if that's your preferred approach. Secondly, you don't just have mana and health bars to consider. As you use standard attacks you build up overcharge, which essentially equates to bonus mana that you can only use during that encounter. This system promotes the use of special attacks even during standard encounters that may not be overly exciting and where you'd typically just save your mana for later. Thirdly, there are very potent special attacks called Bursts that you charge up over time, and that charge carries over through multiple encounters, so saving these up for a boss could be a wise decision, they also stack so that you charge up more powerful burst abilities if you don't use the first tier option.
Overall, this makes for a very deep and sophisticated system, but for this demo we rarely got to make good use of these systems as the majority of encounters were over far too quickly for overcharge to factor in much. We would say, however, that these systems do manage to switch up the monotony of your typical basic encounters.
Crafting is also a major component in the game, and we had a chance to explore it a bit in the demo, and while it was of limited use in the short demo, it's easy to see that crafting is going to be a major key to your success in the full game.
At the end of the day, Battle Chasers: Nightwar comes across as a well thought out love letter to dungeon crawling and JRPGs. It's hard to tell just how well the many systems will work together further into the game, but there is certainly potential here, and the design is beautiful. If the story is up to scratch and everything falls into place then we can see ourselves sinking a lot of time into this turn-based dungeon crawler.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is expected this summer on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and just recently it was announced for Nintendo Switch as well.