While some of us at Keen are huge fans of the ARPG mainstays such as Diablo 3 or Path of Exile, we occasionally like to dabble in new additions to the genre. What’s great about those is that they have to play around the aforementioned ARPG juggernauts and bring something new and unique to the table in order to draw in their audience.
Killsquad launched in Early Access couple of weeks ago and is one such game that puts a MOBA-like spin on the ARPG formula to try and spice things up. While it’s still heavily in development, the basic gameplay features are all present, which prompted us to try the game out and see if it has the potential to become something great.
Killsquad is available for purchase on Steam.
The current build of Killsquad doesn’t bother explaining its world or gameplay features once you start it up. Instead, you are immediately thrust into the main menu where your selection of playable characters and missions awaits. With that being said, the gameplay loop is not complicated and if you ever played any ARPG or MOBA game -- you should feel right at home.
Currently, there are four distinctly different, bounty hunters to choose from and they are at the core of what makes the game fun to play. Zero is a Destiny-like robot that uses a sustained beam weapon and Cass is an elf-like blade-wielding assassin. On the other hand, you have a tank character named Cosmo that looks like Jason Vorhees and a Ninja Turtle-like dual gun-wielding Troy.
You control their movement and skills by using WASD and other buttons on your keyboard while aiming is done by using the mouse. This gives a more action, hand-on feel to the game that, in my opinion, elevates it above the less engaging click-to-attack system of many isometric RPG’s. Each character feels powerful in their own right and is a joy to use. The combat is very fast and responsive with a dash/dodge mechanic which makes player quick-thinking and skill a significant part of the game. It’s not just statistics where you and the enemy clobber each other to see who dies first. What further contributes to the combat feeling great is the satisfying amount of audiovisual feedback as you slice through swarms of imaginative enemies that await you at every turn.
While the characters can somewhat fall under the banner of standard RPG classes, Killsquad doesn’t go there and lets you build them in ways in which they can fulfill multiple roles. And that’s one thing where Killsquad differs from the usual formula -- the progression. Each character has multiple abilities but instead of building them gradually over the course of the game, you build them from scratch each time you start a different mission.
While I was initially approving of the system, the more I played, the more unnecessary it all seemed. While this might work for a PvP game where you race to level up against human opponents, it just doesn’t work in a PvE game. The consequences of this system resonate throughout the game. First, it makes each mission start off really slow as your character slowly kill enemies with your basic, un-upgraded skills. You’ll gain experience by killing them and get an upgrade point every second level up to a max level 10. This means that each mission is stretched so that you can get to a level where you at least gain your ultimate ability at level 6 so you stand a chance against the final horde of enemies or a difficult boss.
What’s more, even though all skills are sort of useful, some are still more useful than others, resulting in me building my characters in exactly the same way each time. This added to this mission-by-mission progression feeling completely redundant. The game wouldn’t be any worse by having a pre-mission build screen where you can decide which skills you want equipped for the coming mission.
There’s a progressions system outside the missions called Vector and it functions much like the Light in Destiny. You have three pieces of gear with their Vector level and each contributes to your overall Vector level that determines which missions you can undertake. Every piece of gear, except the weapon, can be equipped to every character which reduces the amount of Vector grind when you switch them up. You gain new gear either through mission rewards or through purchases in the in-game shop. And don’t worry, the shop uses an in-game currency with no microtransactions to speak off.
While I predominantly experienced the game playing solo due to the currently low player population, Killsquad is a multiplayer game through and through. Up to 4 players can join each mission and playing the game with friends or strangers through matchmaking really kicks it up a notch. The missions suddenly get more difficult, frantic as well as more enjoyable. Some of the different character skills have excellent synergy and it’s only here that their various builds truly shine. Big boss battles are really imaginative and can really test a good team with the game often becoming more enjoyable the higher the difficulty.
Given the game’s Early Access status, it’s somewhat excusable that the game lacks variety in terms of gear and maps. While the latter are procedurally generated, the system lacks visual elements to make each one feel different outside of the different corridor layout.
The developer has an ambitious roadmap in mind that promises much more content in the next six months. They plan to add the seriously lacking story elements to the game, more playable characters as well as other content that will increase the much-needed gameplay variety.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
While it won’t blow anyone away with realistic graphical fidelity -- Killsquad looks great. The game uses Unreal Engine 4 and it’s evident that much care has been given to the visual aspect of the game. Textures look crisp and the lighting makes the maps look very distinct and moody. Attack and other effects which can easily fill out the entire screen during intense engagements are especially flashy and colorful. They are in part what makes the combat so satisfying since they are coupled with impactful sound effects that give excellent feedback to your every action.
The animations on both the playable characters are also very well done, during both the regular movement and combat, which further adds to the enjoyment of controlling them. While there is was an odd graphical glitch here and there, it never affected the gameplay in any way. The game also runs insanely smooth, even when enemies and effects fill the screen. The optimization is further evident with the apparent lack of any sort of lag during multiplayer games since I experienced none, no matter how many players were in a squad.