As someone who has been critiquing games in my own little corner of the internet for nearly a decade at this point it’s incredibly crass for me to show behind the curtain. But to let my readers in on an aspect of this hobby that you may not think about. Often when reviewing a game I have a relatively short amount of time to complete it, especially when you consider I have a day job. This often causes game burn out to some degree and I would say that with one or two exceptions, often once a review is done, no matter how much I enjoyed my experience with it, I have not gone back to play anymore. Killsquad is the first game in a long long while where I’ve played many hours of a game for review and even as I type this I’m looking forward to going back and playing some more. Although I’m going to carry on for another 900 words it’s worth noting that that is the strongest recommendation I can make towards a game.
A few years ago my then girlfriend, now wife, were looking for a new game to play, we decided to try our hand at Diablo 3 which had been just released at the time. Despite not having gamed properly for a few years my wife loved her time with the game and we both dropped hundereds of hours into the eponymous action RPG since. I’ve dipped into others in the genre here and there but never really dug the style, they all try to hard to be Diablo or have some wacky genre twist that doesn’t sit right. Thankfully Novarama has come along with an Early Access game that whilst not all there right now, has the potential to be something incredible.
In Killsquad you take one of four characters through a couple of sci-fi locations to complete contracts. With said contracts you earn credits which can be used in the shop to buy new weapons and gear. This weapon and gear have ‘Vector’ ratings and this is essentially your character level and dictates the difficulty of contracts you can go on. To be slightly reductive it’s basically the end game ‘light’ leveling from Destiny.
This changes a key element of the Action RPG for me, there is no consistent character abilities or skill tree as you would know it, instead what we have is essentially MOBA elements brought into the field. Each contract starts you at level one, a different track to your ‘Vector’. As you progress and get kills you’ll level up, upping your damage and stats and every couple of levels presenting you with a selection of three skills or ability buffs. The issue with this approach to leveling is you don’t feel like you have much ownership over your character, not only do you end up realistically choosing the same abilities each time, but as certain skills are the ‘obvious’ choice it also means that if you happen to end up with a squad with the same classes people will tend to gravitate towards the same options.
The 4 characters all have the pros and cons, my personal favourites Zero and Troy are both ranged characters though Troy does more DPS and Zero can provide healing to the team. On the flip side you have Cass and the character I will only ever refer to as Jason Vorhees. These two are your speedy and slow melee characters and as such if you’re playing as the medic they are the ones who will drive you insane by permanently needing to be healed or revived. On the roadmap we’re already being promised more characters which will be welcome as the four are somewhat restricting in terms of squad builds. With four player online co-op being a focus of the game it would be nice to see some new characters added that shake-up the game a bit and maybe produce a gaming meta where certain squad builds are better for certain contract types.
The majority of the contracts that appear in Early Access are kill this enemy, escort this truck or destroy this crystal. If you’re playing a long session in the game you’re likely to be replaying the same scenarios across the same locations. There is an element of randomness to the enemy layout and types but on the most part you know that when walking into a certain area enemies are going to come from location X,Y and Z. This is the nature of Early Access however, this is a slice of the game, it’s not right to be holding this against the product as it currently stands, as long as Novarama are true to the roadmap and new elements are added with relative frequency.
In it’s current build bugs are still an issue and things like audio getting stuck in a loop, frame rate inconsistencies and things like the main menu just not responding to clicks, which is extra annoying as the Exit Game button is hidden behind a click into Options. There’s still a long way to go with Killsquad, but as we head into week two since launch the game is already getting much requested features like in game text chat and language options. The online community is strong and it really doesn’t take more that 30 seconds of waiting for a full squad to come together in matchmaking.
I think my main want for the game is some sort of ownership of my character; they’re already named, have one colour swap option, no matter what gun you purchase the attack animations remain the same and if you happen to be in a squad of four of the same character, as I once had, it’s painfully evident that there is a ‘correct path’ for in game leveling for damage output and progression.
Presuming the game continues with the momentum it has I can’t see this ending up anything but a success. The long term goal is for console release and if they can implement local co-op somehow I know this will be a new heavy rotation game for my wife and I. For now, I wasn’t kidding when I said that I really want to go back and play some more. It’s not perfect right now, but the potential is there, and it’s really strong.