The premise of a truly unique MMORPG can sometimes feel like an impossibility these days. In lands built with familiar classes, traditional hot bar systems, and standardized combat tropes, few games truly set themselves apart. Back in July, we were invited into the world of Broken Ranks, an upcoming turn-based free-to-play MMORPG by Whitemoon Games. Between speaking with the Founder of Whitemoon Games, Krysztof Danilewicz, and Lead Game Designer and Story Writer, Gabriel Marczak, along with getting some hands-on time with the game, there really is no other way to describe it other than, unique.
For those unfamiliar with Broken Ranks or its predecessor Pride of Taern, the game focuses on a refugee, armed with wits and eager to learn abilities to survive a harsh landscape. The story of Broken Ranks is presented through detailed conversations that you have with NPC’s throughout your journey. During your adventure, you’ll be tasked with making choices, some of which have their own consequences attached to them, which eventually presents story aspects that will make your experience unique in comparison to other players.
It has been quite some time since I’ve felt the urge to experience the story in an MMORPG. Most of the time, the main story of a game rarely, if ever, provides any real choice or variation from a singular end goal. In Broken Ranks it felt that nearly every encounter was a chance to make a difference, as if I were playing a single player game like Knights of the Old Republic or Baldur’s Gate. Setting the story aside, the combat in Broken Ranks was no less distinct. Turn-based combat for an online game isn’t exactly something new, but the concept of turn-based combat for an MMORPG is definitely not something I would have expected.
The combat requires a lot of forethought. After choosing one of the 7 classes, you are eventually introduced to setting up a basic layout, where you can choose a standard attack and defense pattern. This layout will determine whether you perform a melee attack, a ranged attack, or a magic attack. You’re tasked with balancing your attacks with skill points, that also cover your attack chance and defensive capabilities too. Determining how you should attack and defend will also depend on the type of enemy you are fighting. If you’re focusing on melee attacks but your enemy has a high melee defense, you may want to switch up your strategy, and continue to do so from turn to turn as the battle evolves.
The combat system will certainly take some time to get used to, and unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time in the game to truly get a feel for it. Most of my battles I feel like I just barely scraped by with a few lucky shots. Due to the nature of my test, I was also not able to test the games multiplayer features as no other players were with me during my play time. I ended my session with plenty of questions, which Whitemoon Games was happy to answer:
MMORPG: Broken Ranks is an extremely unique MMORPG that blends turn based combat, and a strong narrative, alongside an online multiplayer system. What sparked the idea behind creating a game like Broken Ranks?
Whitemoon Games: It’s just a mix of our favourite genres. We were all huge fans of old school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout 2. Our main programmer (and also the main designer during the early stages), Krzysztof Danilewicz, also liked to play strategic games like X-com, HoM&M, Red Alert. During his academic years, he sometimes liked to ditch school and play MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) which was the first text-based MMORPG. So during the last year of his studies, he started to write a simple turn-based multiplayer arena game as an academic project. However, the idea evolved to something bigger. He added some of his favourite gameplay mechanics and mixed them together. That’s how Taern was created over 15 year ago. And Broken Ranks is just how Taern would have looked like if it was on steroids and made by an experienced team.
MMORPG: Many people in the US and other regions may not be familiar with Taern. Can you tell us a little about what made it so popular?
Whitemoon Games: I guess the atmosphere of the game that is somewhat familiar to Polish people. :D It’s a bit like Witcher 1. It was received much better in Poland than in Western countries, because Polish people felt more at home in the game world. They just felt a familiar cultural vibration.
From a more market perspective, we launched our game in a free to play model, with a very limited item shop and it was a browser game. When Taern first launched in 2008, browser games were very popular but seen as low-quality money-grabbers. Our game was very high-quality which surprised many players. We also developed a very intimate connection with our early community and this let us expand the players base into a decent size.
To expand on the Witcher analogy, with Broken Ranks we wish to preserve the Slavic vibe (harsh, low fantasy, cruel world but not without irony and humour, do not mistake it with Slavic mythology) and at the same time make it easier to grasp for Western players.
The game has also been a very unique blend of genres since the beginning, so it attracted players who wanted to try something fresh. When they tried it, they usually stayed with us for many years, because of the friendships made in a game.
MMORPG: Since the launch of Taern and the transition to developing Broken Ranks, Whitemoon Games has grown considerably, with ambitious plans to release Broken Ranks, not just on desktops but on mobile as well. For a game that is so different from what's out there right now, created by what was initially such a small team, are you surprised at how it's grown?
Whitemoon Games: Looking from the point where we started, we are more proud than surprised. We are happy that Pride of Taern attracted so many dedicated players who allowed us to hire more people and eventually develop Broken Ranks.
The growth of our team was a slow evolution rather than a revolution, so we kinda didn’t notice the point when we grew into what we are today. On the other hand, this process is still ongoing and we hope to grow even more after the release of Broken Ranks so that we can give our players as much content as they deserve.
MMORPG: One of my favorite parts of the game was reading through the story, and making choices along the way. Most games feel like quest text is an afterthought, but somehow Broken Ranks found a way to make it engaging, like single player games do. Was this something you planned from the beginning?
Whitemoon Games: Thank you for your kind words. We’re happy you like our tale. Broken Ranks is a blend of classical cRPGs, action RPGs and MMOs and the complex narrative was one of the features we took from cRPGs. It was what we planned from the beginning and always focused on. Also, the tale is not yet over and there are many more episodes to come. We’re already brainstorming how to take the story further.
MMORPG: That level of story is definitely a selling point, is the plan for an engaging story something you also want to bring through to the end game?
Whitemoon Games: We certainly do. The problem is, increasing the level cap is much easier than adding new, compelling content, so, because of the development time of Broken Ranks, this is what we were doing with Pride of Taern. Due to this, we currently have some gaps, but we work hard to fill them all with great content and bring quest experience to every stage of your character’s development.
MMORPG: The combat is probably one of the most unique systems I've seen. Players are challenged to build out their attack strategy and abilities prior to stepping into battle. Between balancing melee, magic and ranged attacks you also have to manage your defenses which can change depending on the enemies you fight. Because you set up attack patterns ahead of time, how important is it that players continue to keep active during a battle?
Whitemoon Games: It’s very important because conditions during a fight can change drastically and it’s vital to keep up with what happens in combat. You can chill while fighting easy mobs which you kill in 2-3 rounds. However, when you’re in a 5-player party fighting some more difficult bosses, champions or PvPing, then the fight is longer and you have to watch closely what’s going on and adapt to the situation. Good cooperation between classes is very important and there are a lot of small decisions that make it clear who is the noob and who is the pro.
MMORPG: Some players might feel it's overwhelming to learn all aspects of combat just from playing through the early tutorials. Is this something Whitemoon Games has planned for?
Whitemoon Games: We tested simpler tutorials, but then players were confused, because our combat system seemed very shallow and dull to them. We tried to explain only how to attack, but without going deeper into skills and action points, players felt they didn’t have any agency in the combat. What we have now is the absolute minimum number of tutorials that are necessary to understand and enjoy the game.
MMORPG: One aspect of the game I didn't have the opportunity to test is multiplayer. How will multiplayer work when questing and battling together? Will all players need to be active during combat to support the team?
Whitemoon Games: Broken Ranks is an open world MMORPG, so you’re meeting other players everywhere you go. You can group with up to 4 other people in a party. When in a group, the leader is navigating the team through the map. If you’re attacking someone, then all your teammates are with you in the fight just like the NPCs that were helping you in the prologue. You can’t AFK during group combat, because your character will not make any actions automatically. Basically, all the party members have to be active. Players join groups mostly for bosses, but also to exp faster, kill more difficult champions, fight other players, or to complete tasks (simple, repetitive missions).
Unfortunately, our main story quests don’t support party play too much. We had to choose between implementing simple group quests like in most MMORPGs or making them into something like the quests in classic cRPGs with multiple choices and deeper story. We decided to go with the second option. During quests in Broken Ranks, you’re making a lot of choices and most previous decisions impact the story going forward, so it’s not possible to synchronize them for 2 or more players doing them together. For example, let’s say one player kills an NPC in their story and the other player saves them. Now, when they want to continue the quest together, what would they see? :) With the current implementation, you can join your friend and do quests with them, but you won’t be able to progress your own quest. Only the leader of the team can advance the quest to the next stage.
We’re planning to add some more quests dedicated to party play that are more complex story-wise. However, we will be designing them specifically for this purpose.
MMORPG: A big part of an MMORPG is what you do after you've made it to end game. Can you tell us a little about what players have in store for them when they finally finish the story?
Whitemoon Games: Well, the road to level 140 is actually so long that you could get your newborn daughter through college in that time. ;) Basically, it’s going to take our players some time before they reach it. Even when they do, there are many high-level raids with awesome loot waiting for them - there’s always a better item to drop. They can also play more with our item upgrade system, do PvP in the open world or participate in more organized events (tournaments will be added to Broken Ranks, too). They can also focus on upgrading their guild headquarters, take part in dynamic events and do tasks to get the resources they need.
There are also many players who log in just to chat with their friends. Since we put so much emphasis on cooperation, our players really get to know each other through various interactions. Also, their favorite pastime will for sure be shaming the devs for not adding new content faster.
Broken Ranks plans to release on PC and Mobile platforms once completed. Whitemoon Games is currently planning more beta tests as they continue to improve the game. As a truly unique title, we can’t wait to see what they have in store next.