I was pretty well taken by multiplayer survival sandbox Rend as soon as I saw it at this year’s PAX East 2017, as I wrote yesterday. The concept immediately spoke to me as taking a lot of the cool ideas from other survival games while making the game as a whole into something very different. But I also entirely understand that sometimes you can look at the game and wonder what makes it so different. After all, it’s hardly the first time that we’ve had a game using a lot of the building blocks. So why am I over the moon about Rend but not its obvious inspirations and close cousins?
The answer is that in some cases, I am over the moon about its close cousins. But it’s also important to understand the distinction and the fact that Rend is not, say, Crowfall or Conan Exiles or any other game. So what makes Rend different? Not necessarily better, but how does it stack up to the obvious points of comparison?
Rend and Crowfall
The first and most obvious difference between these titles is that Rend is a survival game with all that entails, while Crowfall is not. Crowfall features a lot of server-specific rules, but they’re all set from the top down; by contrast, Rend allows you to run your own servers and set whatever rules you like, which is a pretty big difference.
Another major difference comes into play when you consider timing, however. In Crowfall, servers run for a set amount of time, and your goal is to acquire as much power as possible during that time. In Rend, a server runs until someone reaches the win condition or all three factions lose. There’s no firm timer. This means that you don’t wind up with situations in which one group has become so entrenched that they are functionally unassailable, but you also don’t have a specific game clock counting down. It’s as long as you can last.
One of the situations the designers described to me, speculation-wise, was a server where everyone had communally decided to just see how long a faction could last against the escalating waves. There are no rules in place deciding how long that could be; it’s just that eventually you will get overwhelmed. But you can just as easily make that a part of the game.
The factions, of course, are another big and notable change. In Crowfall, factions are more or less player-defined. In Rend, you’re placed into a faction from the start. That means you are going to have to work with people, but it also means you have a certain degree of security built in, as bad things happening to you affect the rest of your faction. You’re not as alone.
Last but not least, Crowfall is class-based (or archetype-based, more accurately, but the core is the same for these purposes). Rend is skill-based, focused largely upon what you do in the game and how you develop accordingly. There’s no swapping back and forth between archetypes in combat; there’s what you’ve developed and how it works.
Rend and Conan Exiles (and most survival games)
I’m picking on Conan Exiles here because it’s the biggest fantasy-based survival game out there, as ARK: Survival Evolved has a bit more of a science fiction feel. Still, the differences ripple outward fairly easily, starting with the fact that the server comes with a timer at all. That’s different, and that’s something a lot of survival games bypass pretty quickly; once you reach a certain tier of power, the game stops being about surviving against the wilderness. Having regular PvE attacks on your base with scaling intensity ensures that no matter how much you build up, you are always going to be focused on survival. It never becomes automatic.
Your focus is also different because you are automatically part of a group and don’t have to do everything on your own. Heck, you can’t do everything on your own, even if you do want to. There’s too much stuff to level, too many different options for how to play. You have to specialize rather than just being good at everything, which is a somewhat different experience right off the bat.
The game also features things which are not simply crafted; you can find powerful artifacts, and they can be a major boon, but they also put a target on your head because everyone will want to kill you and take that artifact. Yes, in other games that might be poor form, but here it kind of works: You journey into danger and can bring back some real power, but you’re also capable of losing it. So the general feeling is one that’s focused on survival more consistently, with far less incentive to simply beat the crap out of other players and ruin their stuff constantly.
Rend and Camelot Unchained
Any three-faction game owes a debt to Dark Age of Camelot, and Camelot Unchained is the unambiguous spiritual successor to that game. Of course, one of the big differences is that CU is about retaining control over land rather than hitting an exterior win condition. While playing CU, your faction is trying to hold on to as much land as possible, but Rend doesn’t care about how much dirt you control if your enemy factions are collecting more souls than you are.
There’s also the timed nature of the conflict. Camelot Unchained is a place of perpetual conflict, so you still have the feeling of things being overturned, but it’s meant to be a lengthy process. If your faction coordinates well, there will not be an end point. In Rend, the doom is a constant onrushing freight train, and you will have to defend what you have on a regular basis from the start.
And what are you defending from? Wisely, as a game focused on the strong moments of PvP conflict, CU is all about defending from other players. That’s what you’ll be fighting, always. If no one attacks, you don’t have to defend. Rend has a PvE element to it naturally; you have to defend against NPCs no matter what happens. Indeed, the core of the game’s PvP is also about working into the corners of those NPC attacks, swooping in when the other faction is busy defending against an attack. Of course, that means your own base is more vulnerable, so you have that tension. You are only making major attacks when you realize that you are at your most vulnerable, there are no two ways about it.
Last but not least, CU is also class-based, much like Crowfall. So your specialty is determined more by what you pick at the start than what you do.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t listed a single game on this list that I actually dislike; all of these games currently provide or promise to provide interesting takes on multi-way PvP and online gaming. But if you’re unclear on how they’re different, it’s useful to know what the differences actually are. They’re all more interesting than any titles promising to let you do whatever you want against a backdrop of constant open ganking.
Sure, there’s always PvP, but in all of these titles it has a purpose. And those purposes and mechanisms vary in ways both subtle different across all the games under consideration.