Nosgoth is a free-to-play, third-person, asymmetrical PVP arena shooter set in the Legacy of Kain universe.
Frankly just typing that sentence feels weird; wrong, almost. But for all of the scepticism I had about Nosgoth, it plays pretty damn well and is underpinned by an absolute truckload of lore. Psyonix and Square Enix have their eyes on an untapped niche in the free-to-play, competitive market. They're gunning for the e-sports scene and are determined to make a splash, not by copying the successes of those games such as League of Legends or Warface that have gone before, but by trying something rather different.
Nosgoth is certainly that. Pitting Humans against Vampires, the game sets teams of four players against one another, before changing things up at halftime and swapping teams over to the other faction. We've seen that most recently in games of Capture the Flag in Titanfall, forcing players to attack and defend both sides of the map, but here the implementation is designed to showcase the two very different playstyles of the warring factions.
In order to be good at Nosgoth, you need to be adept with both Humans and Vampires.
It's the first time in the history of this IP that we get to see Humans as something other than cattle. Previous games in the Kain series have referred to wars for Nosgoth, but we've never actually seen them...until now. Playing as the Human faction fighting for survival feels much like a standard third-person shooter. The three previously announced classes -- Scout, Hunter, and Alchemist -- basically correspond to Sniper, Assault, and Support classes. I've never had the patience nor the skill for sniping, and given how quickly the Vampires move, I found that I had much more fun with the Hunter and Alchemist classes. The Hunter in particular is great for spray-and-pray players like myself, and his ability to chuck bolas that temporarily constrict an enemy and render them useless for a few precious seconds was very useful indeed.
Playing as the Humans, we quickly observed that sticking together is the best course of action. The Vampires can climb any surface, scaling buildings in a second or two. They're faster and more versatile in their movements than the Humans, and although they can't fire ranged projectiles, if they get up close and start digging in with melee attacks, you're toast. The first match I played with the Humans, we were relatively scattered and each trying to get a feel for the game, but within a couple of minutes we were banding together, and combining our abilities in complimentary fashion. I can't say that I play a lot of third-person shooters (certainly no more than the next games critic), but once I found my class, I started racking up the kills rather quickly indeed.
If the Human playstyle is all about watching one another's back, covering the angles, and looking up to the walls and the skies for enemy attacks, being a Vampire is centred upon working your way to your prey via any means necessary. The Reaver is your basic foot soldier, but this class has the added advantage of smoke bombs and being able to pounce in deadly fashion across great distances. Pull off the Pounce, and your Reaver will claw away a good 60-80% of the life force of your prey. The Tyrant is a massive behemoth, equipped with a charge attack and the ability to ignore pain -- he's basically the tank of the group. The Sentinel is probably the most interesting of the Vampire classes, being that it can fly. But it's a little fiddly to control, and requires a spot of mastery. Once you've got the hang of things, though, you can pick up Humans at will and fling them back to the ground from on high. It's deeply satisfying.
I was worried that the Vampires might be a little overpowered. After all, they're faster, stronger, and more versatile than their Human counterparts. But I needn't have worried. If the Humans are scattered and incompetent, the Vampires are going to have a great time, but the fact that they have to get in close works as a disadvantage that balances out their powers. However, it should be noted that it doesn't swing things too much the other way either. Humans can't afford to get cocky, campers have to stay vigilant, and you're constantly keeping an eye on your health bar. Vampires can execute those they've killed to restore their health, but Humans have to track down one of the handful of replenishing stations scattered about a map in order to top up that red bar.
There were two new classes -- one apiece for Humans and Vampires alike -- that we were introduced to during a presentation that preceded our hands-on. The Prophets make up the fourth class for the former -- once the Seers of Avernus and the guardians of the Blood Fountains, they drank a little too much of the claret and are now weird, twisted beasts. But they do have a rather nifty affinity for sucking the life force out of Vampires, so that makes them useful. They also basically wield dual shotguns, which is awesome. The Vampires, though, get the Deceiver, who is amazing fun to work with. Though slower and a little underpowered in comparison to its brethren, the Deceiver has the ability to appear as a Human character (complete with a borrowed name above its head) and hide in plain sight. It can also take control of another player character for a very short space of time, which caused a fair amount of hilarity during our hands-on.
Nosgoth plays very well indeed, and not once did I ever feel like the game was unfairly balanced or stacked in one side's favour. But we didn't really get a chance to explore exactly how the in-game store will work. Bill Beacham, game director at Square Enix, was keen to shrug off any suggestions that the game might support pay to win, and indeed the fact that Square see Nosgoth as an opportunity to break into the e-sports market suggests that nothing has been more important to Psyonix and Squeenix than the balancing, and the microtransactions present are unlikely to change that. As Beacham tells it, every weapon in the game has its advantages and disadvantages, and that it's all about tailoring the experience to suit your playstyle. If you're happy to put in the hours to do that for free, and you might well be -- grinding is only grinding when you're not having fun, otherwise you're basically just playing a game you like for hours on end -- then you'll be able to unlock content that way. If you want to put down money for cosmetic items or funnel a few pounds into booster packs for XP to save a bit of time, then you can do that too. We're going to reserve judgement until we can check out the store for ourselves at length and really test the balancing of Nosgoth's various elements, but the signs are promising indeed.
One thing that I hope Psyonix and Square manage to bring out a little more is the lore. Beacham spent half of his presentation talking about how the lore of the Kain IP has influenced everything, and the lengths gone to in order to ensure that Nosgoth not only feels like a legitimate part of the Kain universe, but oozes authenticity and provides a fair bit of fan service. That might well be the case, but you don't get to see much of it currently, and it's to be hoped that the developers might be able to work a little more of it into proceedings in a visible fashion.
I had a blast with Nosgoth but I want to see more. We were only playing 4-v-4 team deathmatch. I want more modes, inventive game types. I'd love to see bigger maps and more combatants. Beacham mentioned the War For Nosgoth mode, which is basically the ranked tournament mode for the game that'll become available at regular time intervals, but I'm still curious as to how Psyonix and Square are planning on keeping players hooked for the long haul. I had fun, sure, but I'll need more if I'm going to invest time, let alone money, in the long term. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring you an update on that soon as we jump into the game's beta.
You can watch my full interview with Bill Beacham above, and we'll give it a dedicated post later this afternoon.