Heroes of Skyrealm is a forthcoming action RPG from Mechanist Games, the same folks who brought us City of Steam. We had the chance to talk to the team about Heroes of Skyrealm to learn more about the game and much more.
MMORPG: Can you give us some history on development of the game?
David Lindsay: Early 2015, we were getting much better at doing action games, especially in terms of art and presentation. We knew that irrespective of market trends, we were going to do a cool feeling action game. But it was going to need some awesome kind of innovation or story or world… really, anything to help it stand out in the oversaturated mobile game market.
A few months later, we decided to start work on Skyrealm, which was going to be quite a big risk for us. We all agreed that having the highest quality art we could manage was important. We also thought we needed to have some grand features like a spherical world and a giant upgradable airship.
Late 2015 we had a demo which we showed at the ChinaJoy game show. At that point Heroes of Skyrealm hadn’t been named, so we only called it a tech demo. We only showed the combat at that stage, but it got a lot of attention. I guess that made everyone feel safe, and so we rolled out the carpet for all of the other huge features that we had been waiting to implement.
At first our instinct was to show off this huge airship exploration feature that we were all putting together, but we realized that getting players into battle was the real priority. The airship would have to serve as a place to relax, and reduce the overall fatigue that can be a problem in action games.
From ChinaJoy through to the beginning of 2016, we spent a good half-year trying different things in combat, went through several revisions of the super team-attack skill, and settled on a formula that accommodates newcomers to action games, but caters best to hardening mid-core players.
After assembling all the different parts of the game, we took a playable build to GDC San Francisco 2016 (March) for another test run. And now we are acting on the feedback we received from that conference, trying to tighten up combat, and polish other details to really make Heroes of Skyrealm a unique experience.
MMORPG: The game has tremendous depth. What was it like putting so much content into a mobile game?
DL: Most of our team members come from a pretty hardcore gaming background. Knowing right at the start that we were going to put a lot of depth into this game was a big relief. I don’t think anyone was worried about the workload – we all wanted to build a world for players to enjoy.
While Skyrealm will still have light conversations and character interactions in the single-player campaign, the real meat of the backstory and world lore will be published as a series of comics. These comics are a roller coaster journey through all the diverse regions of the world, introducing characters along the way, and it all gives some real substance to the setting.
When it comes to developing story content, especially on mobile, you have to realize that most of this work is just for love. Since it’s optional, a lot of players aren’t going to care about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
City of Steam showed us just how critical accessibility is to a game's success. Skyrealm is a big world with compelling characters, but most importantly, it's fun to play. Messing around with systems, experimenting with your team lineup, and exploring little dialogues between characters are all rewarding, but I think we've done a great job of creating depth while maintaining a pick-up-and-play feel.
MMORPG: Talk about the character builds that players can set up in Skyrealm.
DL: Since you fight with a three-hero team, characters in Heroes of Skyrealm aren’t just a combination of experience levels, skill points, and equipment upgrades – they complement each other. A lot of mobile games effectively discourage switching up your party with lengthy grinding, but we believe that swapping in a fresh hero should always feel good – because the party is effectively a single unit, the sum of each character’s capabilities. And what’s great is that even if two players take the same three characters into battle, they can easily use different builds and tactics.
Every character can be further customized through the Soul Craft system, which is unlocked pretty early on. The first benefit is that every new weapon looks different.
But what’s even cooler is that each Soul Craft weapon has an effect on a character’s skills, effectively giving them a minor (but meaningful) specialization. Faction missions reward players with different Soul Craft materials, so you can focus on crafting the weapons that you want. And since this isn’t a conventional loot drop system, the weapons are balanced from the get-go – they just offer dedicated players a slightly different way to play. Every new weapon is a viable part of your arsenal.
MMORPG: What are some of the skills and combinations we can see in the game?
DL: We wanted to make sure that every character had a lot to offer on its own and as part of a team, so there are a lot of skills to choose from –
Two Tactical skills, three meter-powered Fury skills, and one Reflex skill that rounds out the list. Let’s look at Kong, for example:
Many of Kong’s skills are based on creating duplicates of himself, and his Tactical skills both reflect that. Phantom Wave is a melee skill that sends out a Kong-shaped projectile that inflicts the Slow debuff, and Phantom Art creates a copy that can attack on its own.
Fury skills are super moves powered by a meter that fills from basic attacks – so all the time, basically. Kong’s Fury I is a rapid-fire staff attack. His Fury II is similar, but deals extra damage to opponent’s Hyper Armor, increasing the chance of staggering them. Fury III is Phantom Mastery, which summons a shadow Kong that copies your movements and attacks – and enhances Phantom Art to create two Kong clones.
To round out the skill list, every hero has one of three types of Reflex skills that give them a little edge in combat. Kong has the first kind, a melee charge attack, and the other two are a quick dash and a defensive shield. These might seem minor, but Reflex skills definitely change how each hero interacts with the battlefield.
Managing the Fury meter is key to the pace of combat. Do you use your Fury I as soon as it’s ready, or do you hold out for II or III? That all depends on party composition and builds, the enemies you’re up against, and your own tactical instincts!
And on top of all of these is the Ultimate system, an independent meter that unleashes huge, multi-character combos. Seeing everyone go wild on a group of enemies – or even better, one of our giant bosses – is always fun.