If something goes wrong with Frostkeep’s early access launch of Rend, blame me. While I was at the office, I distracted Co-Founders Jeremy Wood and Mat Milizia, caused an update to get rolled back because I was offered the chance to play with cheats, stole someone’s chair, possibly delayed Global Communications Director Michele Cagle’s GamesCon prep, and pointed out to the team that the new bald and clean-shaven character customization options were missing. We’ll also go ahead and take credit for the Ascension system being implemented, getting icons, and Wood finding a major long-term gathering bug the night before because clearly Massively OP is important enough for the devs to come in at 3 a.m. just to prepare for us.
All jokes aside, I recently had a studio tour with Rend‘s creators as part of the game’s ramp-up for alpha this week. The team’s working hard and losing sleep, but they’re nailing it. It may not be perfect, but the Frostkeep is making my job a little harder because very soon, you’ll see just how in touch with the MMO and survival genres Frostkeep is. There’s a reason we awarded Rend Most Innovative PvP at E3 2018.
Rending through the final days of alpha
Before we start up, I want to pull back the curtain a bit. I know some people think a studio tour is like going to Disneyland, and maybe for certain companies, it is. But Frostkeep is a lean company. The header image shows most of the office, aside from some bathrooms (one doesn’t quite work) and small conference rooms. There was no exchange of swag or free meals, just some water, access to devs, and the tools they use to make the game.
That latter part is key because as much as we see at trade shows, it’s incredibly rare for a developer to mess around with the servers and assets right before your eyes. While I didn’t physically see developers code something on the spot and put it in game, I did see tools, like how the game can recolor objects and how that can be tied into real-time changes. And the base Rend game is built on some flexible tools. I know it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around Spatial OS and how it can solve issues other games just fake their way through, but I’m confident the way Rend handles things like weather, resource nodes, dynamic spawns, light play, and elements in real time will instantly make an impact on gamers.
I know that may not sound like a lot, but the way it plays out in game is something to be experienced. I had alpha access at home this past weekend, and even with some big bugs, I got to explore a cave so dark that I couldn’t change my screen brightness to cheat through it. I learned that right and left clicking changed what resources I could gather from the same node. And while I was at the studio, Wood and Milizia mentioned that puddles of water in higher end zones actually can be drained in real time by players drinking from them. I was also told that certain nodes explode with poison on the final harvest, but they can also be attacked to set them off, giving them both PvE and PvP uses.
If that doesn’t sound revolutionary to you, that’s OK because this is literally just the start. The team has content they plan to roll out from July 31st to October – not just bug fixes and tweaks based on feedback, but gameplay additions, starting with the cave system that uses the previously described simple caves in a more dungeon-esque manner.
There’s more, though. The day before I arrived, the team had put in the ability to host custom servers, the Ascension system, and new character customization options. Around 12 hours before I arrived, Wood identified and seemingly fixed a long-standing gathering bug that was significant enough that I feared it’d threaten the game’s viability. While I was there, the placeholder icons for the Ascension system got their actual icons. Everything I saw in the office was in game about 12 hours or less after I left. Although Frostkeep has been working on game content, a lot of its work has been focused on creating the systems that’ll run the game.
From what I saw and heard, it doesn’t sound like the current issues are about tech limitations (aside from adding the kind of physics you’d see in a SpatialOS game). It’s about making time to add content players want. While I was there, a few ideas that came up were salt arrows to use against slug beasts, allowing NPC beasts to drink from depletable puddles, adding lightning that’s attracted to metal armor (which was tossed around before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did it), creating a conductivity stat to help make that scalable, and then making abilities that could cause lightning strikes to translate into energy for the player.
Suggestions like these weren’t so much “can we do it?” but “we can do it if players want it and we have time to implement it.” A lot of companies say they’re listening to their base, but most don’t seem to do it until money’s on the table and people start to snatch it away. Wood specifically notes that people may be understanding while they have free access to the game, but that changes once cash comes into play, and the team is prepared for that.
A lot of what we talk about is up in the air, though. If people want a certain feature or don’t want another, it can be changed, especially as the custom server options are fleshed out (Frostkeep has tons of ideas, but the devs want to roll them out based on what people ask for). On the game’s official Discord, Wood said that “the level of interaction between [the devs] and the community […] is such that it’s no longer a big deal when the devs stop by.” People (not just alpha players!) know they can talk to the devs like other community members, though they clearly have more influence. In fact, the move has cut down on dramatic long form rant posts and stewing fanboyism, which makes everyone’s experience easier.
Some of you might be wondering why you haven’t heard more about the game, considering the fact that there’s no NDA for the alpha and such a public channel with the developers. Well, there’s a media embargo, but just on visuals for now. The game is in a true alpha, not pay-to-alpha for a reason. Frostkeep also wants streamers to have fair play access, as the sooner you start to show off the game, the easier it is for you to amass a following. However, this also helps us bloggers who don’t need to be as visual.
For Massively OP readers, the most important thing I noticed while at the studio is that, although Rend is a survival game, the devs are almost always making comparisons to MMOs, not just because a lot of the team came from Blizzard and World of Warcraft but because there is some serious long-term and social play considered while developing the game. Even in the rough alpha state I originally tried over the weekend – my first online experience with the game – I immediately felt like I was in a decent guild, without ever having to research, interview, or apply. That’s the base experience, and a lot of what we discussed stems from that perspective.
Preparing for the storm
As the game will be purchasable soon, I had to bring up some questions with Wood. Naturally, the first was with what the devs are monitoring as people start to bash the servers. Wood says the team is always watching out not just for micro-level balancing (i.e., builds and weapons) but macro-level issues, like one faction’s power snowballing out of control. So far, the studio believes it has things under control.
However, for you PvP haters, the greater issue has been more about just getting people to PvP in the wild. Having capturable targets get “hot” at certain times is helping with that, as does a fairly safe starting zone (aside from “The Reckoning” when your whole base can be attacked).
Now, I hesitate to say this, but friendly fire is actually on, and it almost feels like a secret. Since the player population is generally low and we’re shooting arrows, it’s not often that you hit another player. I’ve been killed one time by what I thought was an enemy, but as I exploring a newbie cave without a torch (without light, caves are completely black), it’s possible an ally was also flailing about and trying not to die to the bear wandering around inside.
If you kill an ally, you lose rep, and that can lead to losing access to parts of the base, plus your allies can kill you without punishment. People can also report faction griefing, with Wood specifically saying they could kick someone out of a campaign, so don’t be that guy. That being said, if there’s an accident, donating materials to base construction (among other friendly tasks) will help you rebuild that loss of rep.
This is sadly why the game doesn’t have a lot of melee combat, which I know is something a few of us prefer. I like having to play smart, especially with friendly fire, and it’s something I loved about Darkfall and Conan Exiles, but I’m clearly in the minority. Rend will have certain legendary melee weapons with crazy broken abilities since that’s half the fun, but for the most part, Rend is a shooting game.
In my alpha experience, the game’s customization options were almost non-existent. Not only did the team add a more robust system (though still simple: gender, skin color, hair style, hair color, and beard styles/colors for men), but we discussed how it would be connected to the Ascension system. While natural skin colors won’t be locked behind it, different textures/effects (like sparkling) might be, along with other style options.
The factions, though, are also part of that creation process, and currently, there’s not much to them. You’re essentially choosing what color your eyes glow. Well, and the tattoos that the colors come with so people know your faction: the lucky purple Revenants, the win-at-any-cost orange Order, or the tricky smart green Conclave.
There’s currently no faction leaders, no races, or racial mounts. Maybe a few recipes, says Wood. But that’ll be changing soon. On the one hand, I feel like it makes it easier to pick a side based on who your friends are and which side seems to need support. At the same time, people can really stick with a game because of faction loyalty.
Cagle notes that this will change with a lore update on the website, and Wood mentions there’ll be some Ascension related stuff in the future. That being said, you won’t be locked into a faction forever, just for a single campaign, and any Faction unlocks you get will carry over to the other factions if you switch in the next campaign.
One thing I worried about was how the different kinds of habitats and armor types would get along. It feels like, eventually, one zone rules them all. However, the high-level area (unlike the other areas for now) changes seasons, which means you’ll need all the weather type resistances ready.
I know some people don’t like elemental strengths and weaknesses, but I personally did. You can’t “best in slot” your whole character as easily, and it means people who prefer to live in a certain area can master their environment and prepare themselves for drawn-out battles against foreign invaders not used to the weather. It made MMOs more RPG-like. For people who miss that, there’s more good news: There are elemental damage types. This is partially how my joke about using salt on slug mobs turned into Wood jokingly (?) suggesting the addition of salt arrows.
The idea that getting players to PvP is both humorous and a good sign in my opinion. Wood and I discussed Conan Exiles a bit, and one thing I enjoyed about that was when people decided they didn’t want to risk their lives/homes for PvP. That is realistic gameplay! That being said, Wood noted that the faction bases are really the area min-maxers will be focusing on when early access hits, and the team wants to incentivize personal bases more. Already you can allow people to use your base as a spawn point, so that seems like a good start in my opinion.
Finally, we talked about the end of campaign bonus Frostkeep is using to keep people playing the duration of the match. Luckily, the team won’t force you to literally play up to the very end. The end of game bonus takes into account when you were last on, so you don’t have to be on exactly when it ends. The bonus also accounts for how much you played.
Rend may not be a traditional MMORPG, but it hits enough of those nostalgia points to attract that base. In some ways, it feels like Rend does the survival genre justice in the same way Monster Hunter does the raid experience justice.
Want more Rend goodness? Massively OP’s MJ Guthrie will be streaming the game live today accompanied by some Frostkeep devs, so check out OPTV at 2 p.m. EDT. You can also check out my hands-on with the game in yesterday’s article!