If you asked everyone you know to describe their dream game, it’s a fair bet that not many of them would say they want a melee-centric medieval 64-player game for PCs only. Yet, for Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester it’s the very idea of heaven and, to hear the story relayed by various members of his staff, the game might have been put into development just to stop him talking about over drinks every Friday night.
And, of course, one of the benefits of owning the company is that Fred was able to appoint a developmental dream team to bring the idea to reality. Former Bad Company 2 producer Gordon van Dyke joins up with Mount & Blade designer Mikail Yazbeck under the roof of Fatshark Studios – it’s the former who does most of the talking as we sit down to take a look.
‘War of the Roses was part of Fred’s dream, to take multiplayer combat away from being just modern warfare and guns,‘ says Gordon, confessing that the project is by far Paradox’s biggest budget title yet. The game will retain all the established practices of other multiplayer shooters, such as being able to customise your character and create classes, but it’ll respin it with a blade-and-bow focus.
The medieval setting is something that Mikail has a lot of experience with and, as the control system is introduced it’s hard not to see parallels between War of the Roses and his previous work on the Mount & Blade series. Effective attacking and blocking is again decided by the direction and force behind a blow, with players able to choose how to hit by changing the movements of the mouse.
‘War of the Roses is very different to Mount & Blade though,‘ says Gordon. ‘It differentiates itself in all sorts of ways; how it presents itself, for example.‘
In-game footage communicates this more clearly than Gordon does, however – the big screen at the front of the room showing a literally awesome amount of detail and scale when you consider the game isn’t even at alpha yet. Mikhail and Gordon ram home the idea that what we’re seeing isn’t final yet – there’ll be weather effects and ‘ambient war’ arriving in a constant rain of arrows, for example – but it looks gorgeous as it is.
War of the Roses moves the combat model on from what was offered in Mount & Blade too, introducing new weapon and damage types, as well as a redesigned dynamic crosshair. What little we see of the combat suggests that it’s a lot more accessible and fast, while still retaining the circling tension of Mount & Blade’s design. Every blow matters and it’s important to understand exactly how the various damage types intersect with the available weapons and armour if you want to succeed.
Pain can be inflicted in four types, though the names and details for these aren’t totally formalised yet. Mikail and Gordon agree that the first three are Piercing, Slashing and Blunt, but there’s debate over whether the last is Hacking or Chopping. Likewise, there are four types of defence; the predictable first three of these are Heavy, Medium, Light and have the expected implications for speed and protection. The fourth form is the option to carry a Shield, which frees you up from having to block attacks in the correct direction but also limits you to a one-handed weapon.
With this information, you’d imagine that there’s a typical sort of rock-paper-scissors table charting damage to protection – and you’d be mostly right. Piercing damage is best suited to breaking through Heavy plate or mail armour, as is the default thrust attack type, while horizontal doses of Slashing work best against Light armour. Blunt damage is universally effective and is best administered in vertical blows, while Hacking/Chopping is intended to break Shields.
Things get more deliciously involved when you extend the discussion to covering specific weapons, however. It’s no surprise to see that bows deliver the best Piercing damage, nor that swords and axes specialise in Slashing and Hacking/Chopping respectively – but the world of medieval weaponry was only rarely this black and white.
As such, War of the Roses features a number of advanced weapons which combine two or more types of damage into a single weapon, such as halberds which feature an axe blade on one edge, a lance tip in the centre and a hammer head on the reverse. Each of these damages is then mapped to a direction of attack; a right-to-left sweep attacks with the hammer, while the reverse uses the blade and a thrust favours the tip.
It’d be tempting to think that the trade-off of using such a weapon would be explicitly gamified by upping the cost or the unlock requirement, but in fact War of the Roses balances these polearms by their physical size. A halberd is an excellent weapon on an open plain, but allow yourself to be drawn into a castle’s tight corridors and you’ll struggle be capable of nothing but easily-parried thrusts. This allows wily soldiers the chance to get in close and stab at gaps in your armour with their daggers.
It’s this level of thought and extensive balancing which promises to make War of the Roses such an interesting and exciting game to play, we think. Even the dagger, so often a thoughtless addition in other games, is here made all the more important by the fact that weapons degrade through use.
The knife is powerful too – one short stab through the visor is worth more than twenty cuts on the arm, though bleeding damage will rack up on these too if you aren’t careful. This is just another reason why it’s so important to customise your character with intelligent armour and weapon selection, not to mention perks.
‘The perks only really give small advantages to enhance your avatar,‘ says Gordon. ‘It’s not like you’re getting a heartbeat sensor and suddenly becoming godlike – we want the combat to stay very tense.‘
What’s most impressive about the game though is to see these intricate details balanced off against huge scale too, even at this early state. The handful of levels we saw were massive, with a number of day/night and weather variants. Paradox has invested in dedicated servers to make sure that these levels work smoothly and fairly too – though both Mikhail and Gordon resist being pulled into a slinging match with other multiplayer titles.
‘Dedicated servers cost more money, but they give a better experience for this scale of game,‘ says Gordon. ‘There’s nothing else to it than that the game technically benefits from having a neutral hub for all the information, rather than a P2P approach.‘
War of the Roses is being developed for PC by Fatshark Studios and will be released later this year by Paradox Interactive.