It all starts with World of Warcraft. It's the common link between the founders of Frostkeep Studios; the place they met back in the day when they all worked on Blizzard's long-running MMORPG. Normally the previous employment of a team of developers wouldn't factor into the opening line of a preview of their debut game as an independent studio, but when you boot up Rend and for the first time gaze off into the distance at the glowing tree to your north, the studio's DNA comes immediately to the fore.
There's a colourful, pleasingly chunky visual style to Rend, and despite the Norse-theme Blizzard fans will feel right at home on its many servers, and even if the experience itself isn't directly pulled from the publisher's back catalogue, there's a certain charm to Rend that felt strangely familiar. In terms of the moment to moment action, Rend has much more in common with the likes of Conan Exiles or even DayZ than a story-filled online roleplaying game like WoW, but nonetheless, Rend's heritage is there for all to see.
While some survival games are a solo affair - you versus the world - Rend is built around cooperation between allies as much as it is about competition with rival factions and surviving the perils of the world itself. That said, there is still an element of self-preservation, and right from the very beginning you'll be starting life in your pants and trying to craft the basics required for survival. After a bit of YouTube tutorial watching, we jumped into the game, made ourselves a fetching outfit, and started making the tools we'd need.
Around the starting area, there are a number of glowing inscriptions on giant stones that you should probably check out. Reading up a little will give you a brief overview of the situation, but the general gist is, level up your operation and prepare for an onslaught of grim-looking beasties, and keep an eye out for enemy players as there are moments when they too can attack your home from home. In Rend you're collecting souls and stashing them in your base; the beasties want them, the other factions want them, and you need to keep them so you can ascend.
Back to the task at hand: survival. You'll have to start smashing up the local environment and extracting the resources you'll need, including armour, food, weapons, and building materials. Different tools have different uses, naturally, but there's a specificity to the tool use in Rend that we appreciated, and you'll have to craft a bunch of different things to maximise your resource gathering, as well as make sure you're using your equipment as efficiently as possible.
While you can set up on a server all on your own, that's not really what Rend is all about and once you've learned the ropes (more specifically, how to craft them) we'd recommend getting stuck in with other players as soon as possible. Safety in numbers and all that. There are three factions in the game and there's a constant rivalry between them, with teams always looking to one-up the opposition wherever possible. Having friends around certainly helps in a fight, and sharing can help speed up production too.
There are lots of ways to improve yourself and your faction. From a personal point of view, there are tech trees to climb with items that can be built using increasingly complex materials. The higher you climb the more time you're going to have to spend sourcing the relevant materials (which, once again, illustrates the benefit of having friends). From a faction perspective, you can and should help enhance your base with new equipment, stock up on supplies, as well as improve your defences ahead of the coming reckoning.
The reckoning is in many ways the defining moment in the game. At pre-arranged times in the day, otherworldly creatures will descend on your fort. It's up to you and your allies to send them back from whence they came, and under the ominously red skies above you'll wage war as you work to keep the proverbial wolf from the door. The combat can end up feeling a little chaotic at times, and it could definitely be more reactive and dynamic, but the scale of it all can feel rather grand (we've watched battles on other servers and they looked like something torn from the pages of a fantasy epic) and it's certainly engaging.
You'll need to be working as a team and be equipped with good gear if you're going to repel the invading beasts, monsters which come from a spirit realm (that players can visit for a short time if they want to tame the local wildlife) and are intent on overrunning your fort. We died horribly when we tried fighting them, with a wave of the creatures relentlessly crashing through the faction stronghold, but we can see how a coordinated defence would have more luck.
Frostkeep has stated that Rend is a complete experience, but that more and more content will be added over the course of its development in Early Access. Alongside that, the studio has spit and polish to apply at the same time as it introduces new features. We noted some technical imperfections that underline its developmental state. Early on we annoyed one wolf to the point were it sat growling at us on the other side of a wall, its nose clipping through the brickwork for an extended period of time - little things like that popped up to highlight the fact that Rend is still probably a year or so away from being fully finished.
While it might not be content complete, what's there is very playable and you can have fun with it straight away. On the other hand, there's still plenty yet to be added and if you're after a more polished and complete experience then this may well be one to wait for. We did, however, like the communal focus on survival, and the quality of the visual design and complexity of the systems point to a game that could end up being enjoyed for years to come if it catches on and the community is nurtured. Rend is an eye-catching and interesting take on the survival genre, and it's certainly one to keep an eye on as it pushes through Early Access.