The new Free-to-play title from Bethesda softworks starts both its narrative premise and mechanical design with one question: What if WWI was fought without gunpowder?
In this alternate universe, the consequences are huge. According to the game designer on hand, the war rages in a completely different fashion. War Zones are created for nations to sort out their political disputes on their own, combat is restricted to swords and weaponry created by the technology of an alternate future, and the future? It’s promising.
In Battlecry, players align with 1 of 3 factions, the Royal Marines, the Cossack Empire, and an unannounced third faction, to battle each other and take control of the future of Europe. After a presentation by one of the lead developers giving us the outline of the game, we were able to play an 8v8 match with 3 of the game’s 5 announced classes---the Enforcer, the Duelist, and the Tech Archer.
The core question to Battlecry is if the melee-focused combat can hold up in an environment that seems more situated to shooters. The special abilities and adrenaline system which separate the classes manage to keep the game from feeling like an awkward day in Skyrim. The Enforcer acts as both a blunt force object and a team player, and raising a shield can often be a surprisingly cunning way to lure reckless players in for your team to go for the slaughter. Duelists can use a cloak and high DPS to their advantage, and the Tech Archer can cue up to 4 arrows per shot to pound the enemy with fire.
The Battlecry demo clicked for me when me and my fellow members of the Cossack Empire found ourselves outnumbered by the Royal Marines, and needed to survive on a bridge while we waited for backup. Completely by accident, another Enforcer and I raised our shields while our archer behind us peppered the enemy as they carelessly raced forward---it was an impromptu moment of teamwork that couldn't have existed in a traditional gun-based shooter.
Bethesda’s goals for Battlecry are lofty--their stated aim of creating a F2P title with AAA standards comes with a high price tag these days. Their goal for micro-transactions is to restrict them to cosmetic purchases and upgrades, while tactical upgrades (not shown) that will affect loadouts are only earned by playing the game.
In addition, Bethesda seems to be joining Riot’s cause of shaping user behavior to be friendly and encouraging---after each match, players are given the opportunity to congratulate and salute high-performing players, and working together to contribute to a larger war effort. In addition, the Battlecry developers seem to be dedicated to a gender-inclusive playerbase, with Battlecry being the ONLY game I've encountered on the show floor with a 50/50 spread of playable men and women. Apparently gender customization for ALL classes will be one of the micro-transaction rewards previously discussed, but we’ll need to wait and see the implementation of that system when it launches.
Battlecry will be entering beta in 2015, and seeks to enter a crowded space filled with other F2P titles, but if it can pull off its strong melee smash, it could easily join the ranks of other competitive games.