PAX East 2017: Introducing Rend, a three-way survival sandbox from Frostkeep Studios
I don't really like survival games, typically -- I understand why a lot of people do like them, don't get me wrong, but I don't care for them myself, for a whole forest of reasons. To make a survival game that I want to play, you have to really come at the genre from a side angle, which can be hard to do while retaining the things that people like about the genre.
I was incredibly fortunate to be granted one of the first meetings with Frostkeep Studios and a first look at Rend itself, in a conspiratorial PAX meeting on the second floor of a fish restaurant on the Boston piers. It felt a bit as if I were being shown something that should not be seen, some artifact of great power that had been hidden away from prying eyes. Perhaps that's as it should be.
Frostkeep Studios, as a whole, is made up of people who have been in online games for a while. There are veterans of vanilla World of Warcraft development, League of Legends, WildStar, and other titles. And they started with a very simple fundamental question: What doesn't work with survival games? How are these games currently broken?
The answer goes to several layers, but the most fundamental issue is this: While current survival games are set up to provide really great experiences, they're also set up to discourage those experiences from happening. You frequently find servers dominated by PvP groups that can effectively neutralize you immediately without any chance of your fresh characters fighting back. They also discourage fair fights, preferring to strike when you're logged out and can't defend what you've made. More to the point, if you do survive to the point you build up a decent cache, you've effectively "won" the game without any real conclusion; either you get steamrolled or you break the system.
Rend is, from the ground up, meant to address all of these points. And it does so, at least on paper, with a number of elegant solutions that seem almost painfully obvious when you first hear them.
In Rend, players start as part of one of three factions. You choose your faction, but all three factions want to gather souls and reach a win condition of having the largest amount of accumulated souls. These souls are also used to research tech upgrades and similar improvements, though, so there's a built-in mechanical tension. Banking souls puts you closer to winning, but banking too many souls means that you're behind in the tech race and vulnerable to attack.
But those attacks won't come - or at least, they won't be constant and relentless from the beginning. Each faction's base is protected by a forcefield that keeps out enemy players and wandering monsters, making the base safe... for the most part. Once per week, at a scheduled time, the shields will fall and monsters will begin attacking all three faction bases at once.
This is where the core of the gameplay is built. For one thing, it puts a clock on the game. There's no hard reset timer, where the servers will reset after a month, but the enemy invasions become more and more ferocious every week. Eventually, you will be overwhelmed. It also means that everyone is online at the same time when the shields come down... and that means that if one faction decides to assault another, it's happening when everyone has the opportunity to react. There are no surprise attacks when no one knew this was coming.
Plus, since everyone is vulnerable at the same time, it introduces some real tension. After all, you could attack a rival faction... but then your base might be underdefended against the monsters or another faction attacking. Maybe it's better to pull back and be safe... but you might miss an opportunity to pull ahead decisively. There are no absolute "right" decisions, but a constant dance of what your best options might be.
The game is also built to allow for specialization across a broad range of fields. There are more skills to level in the game than you'll likely have time to master over the course of the game's duration, before someone wins or everyone loses, so you'll have to specialize. The goal here is to encourage players to have a place in the game no matter what you like to do. Enjoy gathering? You're vital to your faction's crafting efforts, and since you'll have both perks and specializations to pick up over time, it's actually better to have dedicated gatherers and crafters rather than just having all of the combat players do the same thing.
As mentioned above, the game isn't strictly timed, but it does feature a win condition when your faction collects enough souls. It also features a loss condition, since every faction's base can be destroyed without anyone reaching the win condition. Once everything is all said and done, the game ends, the winner is declared, and everything is wiped out. Fun for a round, right?
Except that there is meta progression on top of that. The meta progression will not allow you to be more powerful than another player, so a veteran of seven campaigns will still be trading even strength with a new character. The veteran, however, will have options that the other one doesn't. The comparison was made to a game that lets you start with a few classes to select, but after a few wins you can select from several other classes which aren't more powerful but do have new options. You get more traits, more potential paths, but no more raw power.
In terms of raw power, you do have access to various game-breakingly powerful artifacts available in hidden tombs in the frozen wastes. The frozen wastes are designed to kill you; just like other parts of the game, there's not an explicit time limit, but every expedition is running on borrowed time. Still, journeying there and picking up artifacts can yield some huge advantages... assuming you make it back from the expedition in one piece. After all, someone could chase you, or you could be blocked on the return trip by another faction...
It is, obviously, meant to force players into conflict. And that's really the whole point of the game. It's meant to deliver those big moments of high drama that you can find in survival games, but in a way that never makes you feel as if you have to be either lucky or constantly playing. You know big things will go down at regular intervals, and you can specialize in many things as you like. You have options, you have tools, and you will need to specialize in order to contribute, but everyone should be able to contribute.
If you're not sure how to contribute? Veteran players will have a system giving players bonuses for turning in certain materials or completing certain tasks, thus giving breadcrumbs to players who aren't sure of what to do. And of course, you'll be able to run custom servers which tweak the rules to your preferences.
Rend is due out on Steam early access this spring (you can already sign up for the pre-alpha), and the fact of the matter is that I'm eagerly anticipating it. I don't care much for survival games, but this looks like one that's cutting out the chaff and focusing on delivering fast, furious engagement across a broad spectrum of scenarios. If you already like survival games, you'll probably like this, but even if they usually turn you off, this is one to watch.
IRVINE (CA) – March 14, 2017 – Frostkeep Studios, an independent games studio formed by veteran World of Warcraft and League of Legends developers, was announced today along with the studio’s first new game, Rend, a hybrid fantasy survival game that introduces RPG elements and other game mechanics to the genre in ways never previously seen.
Operating under the radar for nearly the last year, Frostkeep Studios was created by three game developers – Solomon Lee, Mat Milizia and Jeremy Wood – who met 15 years ago working together on the original World of Warcraft. Over the last year, Frostkeep Studios has assembled a talented team of game developers and contractors, including Overwatch composer Neal Acree, to contribute to the creation of the studio’s first game, Rend.
“Frostkeep Studios is what we dreamed making games would be like as kids – we are pushing boundaries, and putting players and the love of the game at the focal point of every decision we make,” said Solomon Lee, co-founder of Frostkeep Studios. “Our goal is to deliver rich, compelling experiences where players truly get a voice in the discussion and shaping of the games we are making.”
“With our first game Rend, we are delivering on the fantasy players expect from a survival game while also challenging the traditional mold by introducing new experiences and solving many of the genre’s accepted player pain points,” said Mat Milizia, co-founder of Frostkeep Studios. “Our team has been fortunate to work at many of the industry’s leading studios throughout our careers so we have learned valuable key lessons along the way that we are now applying to our studio’s development philosophy and game making process.”
In Rend, players will align with one of three factions before they’re dropped into a beautiful, but brutal fantasy world where they must strategically team up with other players and friends to battle enemy creatures and rival factions in a relentless, competitive race towards ascension.
“We are delivering a fully developed game experience with Rend that both the community and our own team wants to play. Having players involved from the beginning is important so they can influence and evolve the future direction of the game as it heads towards full launch,” said Jeremy Wood, co-founder of Frostkeep Studios. “We will regularly be adding new content and systems to Rend throughout early access process and are excited to see how the community will respond and contribute to this new world.”
Rend will launch early access on Steam® this spring. [...] Choose your side in this faction-based survival game, pitting groups of players against each other amid hordes of horrific demons in an ongoing epic war. Explore a mysterious and unforgiving world in search of resources and powerful artifacts as you race against the clock to achieve the glory of victory before you are wiped from existence. Carve a unique niche for yourself with RPG-like talent and skill systems, allowing you to tailor your character to any play style. Expand your technology and knowledge with your faction to unlock new heights of power to wield against your foes. Defend your base against an ever increasing onslaught form the unyielding armies of the Lost, and from enemy player factions. Survival is only the first step, as there can only be one victor. Will you be lost and forgotten, or will you emerge as champions?