We caught up with Novarama earlier this year in LA and took a closer look at Killsquad, the studio's recently released four-player co-op ARPG, but now that the game has hit Early Access on Steam, we were able to sit down and get a proper feel for what it has to offer.
As we already alluded to in the introduction above, Killsquad borrows elements from some of the best in the business. If you're an ARPG fan then you've already played a ton of Diablo, and if you're a sci-fi shooter aficionado then the chances are you've already sunk countless hours into Bungie's shooter, Destiny. Novarama has taken inspiration from both (and a few more games besides) to craft Killsquad, which makes up for its unimaginative name by bringing together some neat co-op ideas with some explosive, chaotic gameplay.
The game has launched with four playable characters, and each one brings something special to the table. Players can double up roles if they like a certain play-style, but it's already clear that these characters have been built to dovetail thanks to their complementary skill-sets. We liked playing as Zero, an aggressive android healer who deals steady damage with his beam rifle. His abilities included throwing down health packs for himself and his teammates to hoover up, but his healing powers can be augmented in a number of interesting ways including the ability to heal yourself while dealing damage to enemies in the area of effect.
The game's two ranged characters are augmented by another pair of melee-focused mercenaries. One, Cass, carries a sword and elegantly dances through the strange alien creatures you encounter, while the other, Cosmo, is a tank with a mighty hammer that he uses to smash giant glowing craters into the ground. If that wasn't badass enough, old Cosmo looks like he was on the way to a Jason Voorhees lookalike competition circa 2095. Each of the four characters looks and plays distinctively, and while the range of playable mercs is admittedly limited at this stage, the starting four are all certainly pretty interesting to play as and alongside.
We've mentioned Diablo and Destiny, but there's a bit of MOBA design in there too, as players level up their characters mid-battle via a skill tree that resets every time you start a new assignment - kind of like Gearbox did with Battleborn. While this approach does feel a little like treading water in some respects as you lose your late-game skills after each mission, it does give each new match a sense of progression that you simply wouldn't get otherwise. It's a simple setup that means as you play through a mission your character is constantly levelling up. You get to choose new upgrades for your attacks/abilities, growing ever more powerful as you push forward towards your final objective.
These abilities sit alongside your basic, which you can pretty much spam constantly. Mixing your general attack with well-timed use of your powers is at the heart of the experience, and we spent a lot of our time checking our cooldown timers to see how long we had to wait before a certain attack or move became available before moving into position to deploy it effectively.
Beyond the at times chaotic battles with the local alien wildlife, there are a bunch of mini-bosses waiting for you in each mission. These more challenging creatures can have devastating attacks, and we spent just as much time watching the ground around our feet for ranged attacks as we did fixed on the whereabouts of the boss. Killsquad telegraphs it's heaviest blows, making it possible to avoid them, especially once you've got the hang of the game's well-implemented dodge mechanic.
We explored a couple of different environments, both indoor and outside, and overall we have to save that Novarama has done a good job. Each mission seemed fairly linear, with our team advancing through waves of minions, the odd mid-boss, before eventually reaching the objective and playing through a last-stand scenario. These endgame battles didn't seem particularly original, and most of the time we were just trying to stay alive while also staying within an area for a certain period of time.
Our first couple of hours with the game were certainly entertaining, but there are a few minor technical issues at launch that the developers will need to attend to. More than that, however, we're looking forward to seeing some new characters because there's plenty of potential for some crazy designs to really spice up the meta. The paper-thin mercenary-shoot-aliens narrative wrapper doesn't have many advantages, but it does allow Novarama a fair amount of freedom in terms of character design, and we hope the studio is brave enough to take some exciting risks in this area.
With the devs suggesting that the game will leave Early Access in early 2020, there isn't a huge amount of time for them to add content (there are already plans for two more playable characters, plus new monsters, modes, and more). We'll keep an eye on this one as there are plenty of good ideas on show here, and at this stage, they seem to be coming together quite well.