Independent publishers like Daedalic Entertainment are always fun to visit at E3 because you really don’t know what they’re going to be bringing to the table. As a publisher, they are in a position to pick up and market games easily missed amongst the din of the big AAA publishers. Daedalic has put itself into a position where it can publish games but also develop them thanks to their own internal studio and as a result, their roster of games is a portrait of variety. I got a small taste of that during my hour long appointment at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where I got my hands on a team based RTS, a procedurally generated underwater submarine sim, and strategy role playing game that let me build allies from the fleshy and boney bits of dead people.
A Year of Rain
If you’ve read through my early E3 recap articles, then you’ll know that I have mixed feelings about the real time strategy genre. I’ve learned to best appreciate them from afar because of how bad I am at trying to manage resources, armies, and bases in the face of vastly superior AI and human players (though I rarely engage with the latter in order to protect my already fragile ego). A Year of Rain, however, had me interested because of the non-traditional RTS mechanics. Rather than pit one player against another (or three if in multiplayer), the game instead pairs two players against another two players in a semi-traditional PvP setting. The key difference is that both teams select character roles, like support or tank, that determine their playstyles and the units available during the skirmish.
This design mechanic held an immediate appeal to me for the same reason Overwatch does. I may not be the greatest online shooter player but Blizzard gives me the chance to still be a team player and contribute without having to rely on my overly twitchy, overreacting hands to sloppily line up headshots. For the demo of A Year of Rain, I chose to roll with a support class whose hero character could heal and buff units. As far as responsibilities go, I can handle those two pretty well. Together, the AI and I built up our bases and led our armies to lead the charge against the two enemy armies. Communication with human players over mic is easy but what about a computer? Since you cannot issue direct voice commands, there are tools in place to keep the other team on the same page, like a pinging tool that directs the AI to travel to an area or attack something. Hero units, armed with magic spells and special abilities, can die but that doesn’t turn into a game over. Instead, you’ll wait a fair (and brief) amount of time to respawn where they can be thrown back into the fray.
I may be scared of RTS games but A Year of Rain felt really approachable to someone as apprehensive towards the genre as me. My limited experience with older games like Dune 2000 and Warcraft III made A Year of Rain easy to pick up and before long, churning out units, putting them into groups, and sending them off to battle felt natural. The full game will have campaign mode that sees you playing a story from the point of view of different factions, though the main focus of the game will be its online 2v2 environment. An “Against All Odds” gameplay mode, in which two players control only their hero units and must defeat two major armies, is also in the works for the planned 2019 release.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead
Did you enjoy the crushing gameplay of Darkest Dungeon? You’re not the only one! Two fine gentlemen who represented Unfrozen, a game studio based in St. Petersburg, Russia, were quick to point out that their inspiration for Iratus: Lord of the Dead was Red Hook Studios’ difficult and stressful rogue-like RPG. Unfrozen put their own spin on the idea, creating Iratus by blending the mechanics of Darkest Dungeon and, believe it or not, Dungeon Keeper. The game casts you in the role of the titular Iratus, a necromancer struggling to break free of his eternal imprisonment by sending out minions to conquer the land.
The similarities to Darkest Dungeon are immediate during the combat phase of the game, which I was mostly shown. Controlling a party of four minions, you’ll slaughter your way through across levels and epic boss encounters using a myriad of magic spells and superhuman abilities against equally powerful foes. Lord of the Dead isn’t a simple turn based combat game. Placement of your units plays a huge role in strategizing encounters because minions are capable of attacking certain positions, like the last two enemies in a group or the first and third. Learning to manage your character’s abilities and positions is the key to victory. Bt what’s really fun is expanding your army. Defeated enemies drop body parts--bones, hearts, brains, what have you--that can be crafted into new units. I loved this mechanic! It really plays to the evil sensibility of the game. Higher level minions require more exotic parts from major foes, like bosses, giving you a lot of different options to create new characters.
Iratus: Lord of the Dead may have started life as an homage to Darkest Dungeon and based on what I saw, the game is shaping up to be its own unique game instead of some sort of “also ran.” Look for it on PCs and Macs later this year.
“Barotrauma” is a really fitting name for a video game set inside a massive submarine that suffers wear and tear as it explores the alien waters of Jupiter. After the presentation, I tried to find a game that could make this easy to describe in an elevator pitch and the best I could come up with is Star Trek Bridge Crew meets FTL. You and up to sixteen(!!) players must work together to pilot and maintain a submarine as it traverses monster ridden waters inside the gas giant, represented in-game as a network of outposts spread across a procedurally generated map.
Players take on different roles of the ship, captain, engineer, medic, mechanic, or security officer, and work together to keep the vessel in good operating condition as you move from level to level. A crafting system lets you take items you find along the way and turn them into useful objects, such as weapons to fight off aliens or more illicit items like drugs (I wasn’t sure if they negatively affected the game or functioned as player buffs). You don’t need a full complement of sixteen players to play because there are smaller submarines available to accommodate you and a couple of friends. Developers FakeFish and Undertow didn’t say as much but a sixteen player run sounds like great Twitch.tv material that I’d totally watch. I didn’t get a large sense of how the game would play with other people but given the complexity of the submarine’s flight, power, and weapon systems, you’re probably going to want to have people you know by your side rather than randoms.
Barotrauma is being designed with player modification in mind and the tools put in place are really cool if you’re into that sort of thing. Not only can you design your own submarine, manually connecting its reactor to create an electrical network to power important ship systems, you can even import your own textures. Character avatars and monsters can also be created from scratch and animated however you choose using a light suite of animation and procedural tools to give the monsters unique movements as they cling to the submarine or scurry through its corridors looking for some tasty humans to munch on.
As the presentation came to a close and the developers on hand explained their launch/post-launch plans, I was struck by a fun little phrase on the slide that read “traitor.” Although the players in the submarine are expected to work together, a player could easily turn saboteur and create a little havoc of their own. This sounds like a fun way to spice things up but as someone whose anxiety crept to high levels watching a game being played, I would worry about people griefing and ruining a perfectly good run simply for the “lulz.”
Barotrauma is currently available on Steam as an Early Access title.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.