You know the drill in most survival games like Ark: Survival Evolved by now. You emerge into the wilderness, naked and afraid, and before you can stick two twigs together an experienced player kitted in shiny gear comes and beats you to death, sending you back to the start again. This is something that Frostkeep Studios' Rend tries to do away with, and we recently got to see a demo of their game Rend in London.
Frostkeep Studios co-founder Jeremy Wood walked us through while the game was being shown to us in our hands-off session, and right at the start he made it clear to us that this game isn't like other survival games you've played, and that perhaps the biggest part is ensuring players don't get destroyed before they can get going. To negate this, then, a few things come into play.
The first of these features is the fact that you have friends, and you have a team. In the spirit of jolly cooperation, you don't go off as a lone wolf here, but instead you select from one of three factions, before being placed into a server with others of the same faction. Even though friendly fire is on, as we're told, this is one step to make sure people can work together rather than looking after number one.
The second is that each faction has a base in the map, a pre-determined point which (importantly) serves as a safe space for you and your allies. Here you can rest easy knowing that you won't be harassed or assaulted by PvP brutes, which subsequently ensures the safety of all of your gear as well and gives you a chance to get the lay of the land before being brutalised. If you've been feeling like it's too late to come in as a fresh and squishy newbie to other survival games, then, this might be a big draw of Rend.
What's the point of these factions in the overall scheme of things? Well, there's a win condition, another rather unique feature within Rend. To give a brief summary, in each match (which can last between one to two months, Wood told us when we asked for a ballpark figure) each faction is looking for crystals that fill up a bar that eventually leads to a victory, so all these factions war over these crystals, steal them off each other and so forth in order to eventually win, rather than this being another survival game where you can survive and play indefinitely. After you win (or lose) your character is then wiped, aside from a few progression elements as rewards from the last game, and you start all over.
"At Frostkeep Studios we're all survival game players," software engineer David Talley told us, "and we've played basically everything under the sun, and there are a lot of issues that we've found with it, like the motivation to keep playing after a certain while. And so we figured a win condition gives players a limited amount of time to do everything that you can do in the game, and then suddenly you get to start over and try a different thing."
Rend's map is a big part of what makes this conflict work. It's roughly shaped like a triangle, with each base on each point, and rough divisions of each faction's land near the bases, but there's a catch; resources are spread out across the map. To create the valuable bronze, for instance, you'll need ingredients from each third of the map, meaning you can't just stay in your own corner and away from the action. You're required to explore the map for the best stuff, including loot from comet drops, and so this encourages both PvP and PvE engagement.
It's not just other faction members that are after you in Rend though, since the world is populated by around 30 different kinds of creatures (for now), and while they can be tamed, they'll often instead be looking to start some trouble with you when you're out on your adventure. Wood told us that there's something for both PvE and PvP players then, and that this isn't a survival game geared for either party in mind.
Once you start collecting resources, taming beasts, and getting your head round Rend's premise, then there comes the progression system, which isn't totally dissimilar from an MMO (unsurprising since Wood and others have worked on World of Warcraft in the past). Here you not only have different skills you level up through practice, like butchery and the crossbow we saw in our session, but you can also invest 'talents' (skill points) into other disciplines to really tailor your character. With so many options to choose from and a finite amount of time to do it in, though, you'll need to really choose what specialties you want to give to your character, as a jack of all trades will most certainly end up being a master of none.
Every now and then though the game gets shaken up by The Reckoning, as Wood explained to us:
"There's an event, twice a week, called The Reckoning, where the shield protecting your base comes down, we spawn a bunch of big bad monsters to come and try and take you out, you fight them off, and then you have a few hours where your shields are recharging, where the factions actually go to war. So this is a scheduled event, you'll know ahead of time when it's gonna be, you're online to defend yourself, and so you actually get huge 20 on 20 siege battles on your bases twice a week, guaranteed."
All this, as well as the 20-player factions in these servers (with room for expansion in the future), should ensure that there's plenty to entertain both PvE and PvP enthusiasts while at the same time not giving them too much busywork. It's varied, and the mixture of big faction-wide events with small individual goals looks promising from what we've seen, especially since the limited scope for progression means faction members should (hopefully) work together with each other's abilities rather than simply seeing the other members as nothing more than added numbers. That doesn't mean there's no room for smaller cliques though; clans are available within these factions, after all.
It's worth mentioning the overarching narrative of Rend as well, as the catastrophic Ragnarök has already happened with the good guys losing the epic battle, and the 60 players in the server are fighting on a chunk of Midgard, which as you can see if you look up in the game lies shattered above you. You are all fighting to ascend to the next generation of the Norse pantheon, and Talley calls it "Norse-adjacent", which we think is the perfect phrase to describe it; it's Norse in the widest sense, but the game isn't strictly focused on the plot.
Right now an alpha test is on the way (which you can sign up for here) with the team aiming for an Early Access release later this year, but Wood's philosophy on Early Access is something that particularly caught our attention:
"Our approach to Early Access is, I think, what Valve originally had intended, which is, when we put this game out in Early Access it will be absolutely worth the money that we charge for it, even if we never touched it from that point on. Now obviously we're not going to not touch it, but what we want to be able to do is invite our player base into the development process to help us grow the game in the way that they want it, not the way we want it. We obviously have a vision for the game, but we're not making it for ourselves, we're making it for everyone else, and we need them to be involved with the process in order to get it to where it ultimately needs to go, and we hope that our players enjoy that journey with us."
We walked away from our session with Rend, as well as our chat with Frostkeep Studios, feeling as if Rend holds something unique in the survival space. Of course, we haven't got to wrestle with it ourselves, but from what we've seen it has that mix of PvP and PvE that should appeal to most survival fans, while at the same time offering a more solid objective than we've seen in the genre yet. It's focused, it's tight, but it's also wide enough to have that potential to strike a chord with the survival community, although time will tell whether they get behind their faction or end up bouncing off Rend's new approach.
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