Bethesda announced the first new title to come from their fairly new studio: Battlecry in development by...Battlecry. Battlecry is a free-to-play, third-person, 32-player team action combat game for PC. It plays and reads a lot like Team Fortress, but without the gunpowder.
During a presentation in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Bethesda's Pete Hines introduced said studio and Battlecry's design director, Lucas Davis, to a group of journalists.
"We founded Battlecry in 2012 to sort of create how we envision what Bethesda is," said Hines, "which is not RPGs, and not shooters, and not survival horror games, but stuff that is fun and trying to do something different, engaging, of a level of quality in this particular case something that catered to a free to play market. That did so in a way that we don't think anybody else is."
On the surface, Battlecry is that team-versus-team, melee-focused combat game. Once the beta releases in 2015, you'll be able to play as one of five classes in one of two factions. Battlecry Studios promises that there will be more classes and factions to come, but I got to try out just three of these classes.
Classes in Battlecry, at least as far as I've seen them, play to roles you'll be familiar with.
The Enforcer is Battlecry's tank class. They wield a massive sword that, with a neat little animation, transforms into a shield so that they can block attacks. They have a few tank-specific abilities that let them boost their allies' stats, charge into combat and whirl their sword around to attack multiple enemies at once. They feel slower to play than some of the others, like they're dragging that sword around behind them, but they're the more powerful class.
The Duelist is basically a rogue character class. They've got a cloak, wield dual swords, and can backstab people with it.
Royal Marines Archer
The third class we were shown, the Tech Archer, is a ranged class. They've got a Pansophic bow (more on the Pansophic tech later) that they can charge up to send several arrows out at once. They've also got throwing daggers for closer-ranged combat.
Royal Marines Gadgeteer
The two other classes that are being saved for 2015's beta are the Gadgeteer—a support character that uses a magnetic gauss gun and other gadgets—and the Brawler—a, well, brawler that has a mech arm he can use to grab warriors and/or beat them with it.
Royal Marines Brawler
Each class has three abilities set to a cooldown, most of which involve movement or movement plus an attack. While you build your combos and attacks, an adrenaline meter will fill. You can choose to spend that adrenaline up for a short burst of power before the meter's been completely filled, or you can wait to unleash a super-human version of your warrior with a fully-filled adrenaline meter. In the latter case, both your movement speed and your attacks are amplified.
Though the factions share these basic character class types, there will be subtle differences between them depending on what faction they belong to. We were shown two factions out of the three that are in the game.
Those two are the British Empire-representing Royal Marines and the more ferocious Cossack Empire. The style, dress, and even animations of classes in each of these factions are altered to set them apart from each other.
Even how they use their weapons vary from faction to faction. The Royal Marines Tech Archer, for instance, uses a transforming longbow. But the Cossack Empire's version of a Tech Archer uses a crossbolt pistol and a crossbow that can combine to transform into a long-range weapon.
While the Royal Marines' Enforcer is a male, Cossack Empire's Enforce is a female. Eventually you'll even be able to purchase a change to genders of your characters, but Bethesda/Battlecry didn't divulge how exactly that'd work just yet.
Speaking of customizations…
Being a free-to-play game, there will be unlockables accessible with in-game currency.
You'll earn a currency called iron that will let you level your warrior up across multiple tiers as well as unlocking skill trees. Skill trees can be used in loadouts, allowing you to swap between different playstyles, in much the same way many multiplayer games function. You can also use iron to buy new weapons, helmet and armor, skins, and, eventually, the gender options I mentioned earlier. The Maps/Levels
Maps, or levels, in Battlecry are known as Warzones. They're highly stylized, inspired by comics, illustrations, and sport a painterly style. The idea here, Davis said, is to "contrast the brutality of combat with the beauty of the world."
Davis talked about the allegory of war, that every warrior knows they enter a Warzone to die. "Senses are heightened. Everything seems surreal," he said. As he did so I noted some graffiti in the Warzone they were showing off that said, "A toast to death." Appropriate!
We were shown one Warzone, called Fracture. It's set in an English coal mining facility that has been split open by a Pansophic drilling experiment gone wrong.
Battlecry is a fast-paced experience. That's partly do to with a constant die/respawn-just-to-die-again cycle, but it also has to do with movement. Many character classes have at least one ability to aid their movement, but the map is also outfitted specifically to create a faster battle environment. Strategically-placed grapple points are strewn about the map that you can jump and swing through. Mantling up to higher platforms is automatic. So is sprinting. Davis explained that they were aiming for the same flow as first-person shooters.
War is the centerpiece of Battlecry. So, on the surface, Battlecry is a team, action combat game, but there's a history underneath all of that.
Following a cataclysmic world war at the dawn of the 20th century, the most powerful Empires left standing came together to ban gun powder under The Black Powder Treaty. The short peace that followed gave birth to the Pansophic Revolution – a golden age of industrial manufacturing and design. As technology advanced, old tensions reignited and soon the world faced the scourge of war once more. Fueled by technological Pansophic advancements, the face of warfare has changed. All disagreements are settled head-on by elite teams of chosen warriors from all over the world, with each member specializing in either high-tech ranged gadgetry or sophisticated melee weapons. Trained and bred for battle, they meet each other in sanctioned WarZones to face off for their share of glory.
"With any sort of competitive game, it's always hard to keep a positive community," Davis said during his presentation of his game. "To help aid this in Battlecry, we added these in-game features."
He was talking about the end of each match, where players run around the Warzone in a non-combat setting to...congratulate each other. But instead of the "GG" comments you might see in some games, the form of congratulations in Battlecry involves finding the players who performed the best that round and offering them a salute or a medal. These range from "most kills" achievements to "most assists" etc.
When players are booted out of the map, at which point they'd normally stare at a leaderboard or their individual stats page, Battlecry has newspaper clippings fly across the screen, showing pictures of the characters of the best players of that round. You can offer your salutes and medals here, too.
Though we only got our hands on the go-to team deathmatch mode, Battlecry will have others. There's even a war effort you can participate in, which is a persistent game you can choose to solo or take on with friends, guildmates, your faction, etc.
Here you'll observe and partake in an ongoing battle against opposing factions and earn rewards based on how successful you and your faction were.
You'll be able to play a piece of Battlecry in next year's beta on PC.