I should preface by saying that I’ve been pretty excited about Rend since I first laid eyes on a gameplay video. Some of the ideas being brought into the survival genre by the team at Frostkeep Studios are truly innovative and should blow some fresh air into style of game being increasingly associated with toxicity and griefing. I was able to meet up with three members of the team at PAX West recently - Michele Cagle, Executive Director of Global Communications, Solomon Lee - Co-founder and COO of Frostkeep Studios and Tyler Fuchs, Senior Game Designer. We sat down and talked about Rend - the ideas behind gameplay mechanics, current issues facing the game and their possible solutions, as well as a small sneak peek at some not-yet-seen content that will be coming soon.
The main idea that sets Rend apart from other survival games is the addition of the three factions. When the game starts you will become part of a faction and as a solo player will already have cohesive team unit to play with and work towards a goal together with. In other games a solo player you usually find yourself alone, naked, and being relentlessly slaughtered by high level clans of griefers. In an effort to help build this reliance upon one another and the team cohesiveness, Frostkeep brings us the skill system. Like other games with a skill system Rend works by granting skills for performing certain skills. The more you perform the action the better you get. Chop a metric-crapload of wood? You get better at wood chopping. This may mean chopping it faster and yielding more raw material. You can get better at harvesting of all types, crafting weapons, armor, etc. The point is to have people on the team specialize in areas so that you have go to people. Need the armor set? Go see Bill - he’s the miner - for some ore and bring it to Kyle the smithy. They want everyone to feel like they’re in it together and since the game eventually yields a winner and resets a single player doesn’t have time to master everything and be fully self-reliant. In short - you need the team and the team needs you. In total there are 15 different skill broken into three separate sections: five combat, five gathering and five crafting.
It doesn’t stop at skills either - in rend there are four major archetypes that act as classes with the player choosing two that will act as their class. Assassin is a stealthy type, Warlord is your up-close defense type, Pathfinder is your explorer-oriented class with pet bonuses and Shaman is your class with some cool features that tie into the win condition of the game (collecting souls).
Another common problem in survival games that Rend seeks to solve is something we’ve probably all experienced (if you’ve played any survival game) where you work really hard, build up a little base, store your things and log off and go to sleep. You wake up and your base is destroyed and all your stuff is gone. Queue sad violin music and rage destruction of your office. Rend comes to the rescue with a mechanic called faction shields. Basically, this introduces a safe area that’s shielded from baddies and other players. So, you have a safe spot to store your goodies without fear of losing them when you aren’t playing - but there is a catch. At set times (that can be adjusted on private servers) the faction shield will come down for a few hours and come under attack. In our conversations we talked about it being once a week and definitely a time you knew about and could plan for. During this time, you would have to defend your base against invaders, called the lost, for a period of time that would damage your base and punch holes in your wall. After you defeat them, however, your faction shield doesn’t immediately restore itself and while in this weakened state the PvP raiding may start. Another faction can choose to raid the base while factions’ shields are down and, if successful, steal your stored gear and even wreak havoc on your faction’s soul storage (you store 100k souls to win) and steal souls and set you back. Your faction shield doesn’t stay down forever, however, and will eventually go back up so if you can hold off the invading forces for long enough you’ll get a much-needed reprieve to repair your base and prepare for the next breach.
The discussion of this particular mechanic led me to my first big question for the team: What do you do to keep two losing factions playing when one faction seems to be winning more frequently or much more ahead to where all seems hopeless? The first thing I definitely want to give props for is the team already acknowledges this is a problem that needs and has their attention and is something they are working on. Tyler Fuchs mentioned that their initially thought was that the two losing factions would sort of team up together to take down the winning faction a peg - after all you can’t really compete against sheer overwhelming numbers in a PvP battle. The problem was that the chat in game didn’t really suppose this type of behavior or communication. There was global chat, but it’s hard to have secret conversations between two factions about how to take out a third factions when everyone on the server can read what’s being said. Whispers just weren’t enough and something like Discord servers aren’t a valid solution because they don’t exist in the game. So, one of the things they want to implement is a better communication system to facilitate this type of faction alliance.
Another way to keep games from falling apart that Frostkeep implemented are what Tyler calls ‘rubber band mechanics’ when it comes to passive soul generation. So, the lower your total soul count for your faction, the faster you generate souls compared to the faction in the lead. In addition, they have implemented a research bonus along the same lines as the rubber band mechanic that’s designed to keep factions closer together in their capabilities. Once the lead faction has something researched (or whoever does it first) it’s cheaper for the other factions to research it. I like to think of it as some sort of corporate type espionage happening that brings the knowledge at a cheaper price to everyone else.
If you’ve played Rend you know that one of the key visual features is a plethora of biomes. There are currently eight different biomes with plans to add even more before the game comes out of early access. Each biome has their own survival issues that you face, whether it be extreme heat or cold, undrinkable water, etc. as well as unique creatures to that area. Bringing players even more content are day and night cycles in the biomes that bring out night only creatures, temperature changes and change the survival circumstances. The team also did something that I personally find brilliant: the addition of seasons. Every 30 hours the season in the biome will change which visually not only changes the lighting but also changes textures. The biome really does feel different as the seasons changes. And just like real life there are creatures that love the summer and don’t fancy the winter much - as well as plants - meaning there are better times than others to hit a biome to harvest the things you need for crafting or base building. I love that this essentially accomplishes delivering eight layers of content to players without leaving a single biome (4 seasons w/ day and night cycles) in theory.
This brings us to our first piece of new content - The Jotun! The Jotun is massive beast that will roam the frozen wastelands and ruin your day in the most brutal way possible. The purpose of the Jotun is bringing players together to work as a team to bring down a big baddie - like a mini raid of sorts - and deliver drops to players. Drops likely won’t be anything like jotun meat used in crafting but rather pieces of gear that you may not see anywhere else - artifacts that make you stronger and by extension your team stronger as well. The screen shot doesn’t do the model much justice but the art team has done an excellent job. I was looking at it in a live sample of the game in a nice high resolution on a 42” screen and the details were amazing. This guy is MASSIVE and taking him down is going to be very exciting.
In the same vein of new content and biomes the team has another new area to introduce. Now this isn’t a biome in the traditional sense but a zone to explore nonetheless. Fans of Norse mythology will be excited to learn that they will be able to dive into the depths of Nidavellir - home of the dwarves. The first thing you’re going to notice about Nidavellir is that it’s dark. Not like oh I can barely see but if I turn my gamma up I’m okay kind of dark. No, this is if you don’t have a torch you can’t see shit kind of dark. The torch Solomon’s character was using cast a small radius of light around him and Tyler noted that this will make you light up like a beacon to others if they’re viewing from a distance so there’s some tactical play to be had and something of a strategy to waiting in the dark to pounce on unsuspecting explorers.
The creatures are just as creepy as you would expect to find in a place completely devoid of light and you can see some of them in the images I’ve included in the post. Your torch will light you up like a beacon for these baddies too so players are in for some jump scares while exploring the depths of Nidavellir. Tyler did mention that the location for the entrance to Nidavellir hasn’t been concretely decided yet but its main purpose is going to be to go in and find treasures. The creatures themselves aren’t going to be used for much else outside of danger for risk versus reward and those rewards will come from finding hidden caches of goods and treasure chests. Unlocking the entrance will probably be done by the faction in the lead as it will require a bit of work and will be unlocked for all the factions when that happens. This will give the opportunity for other factions to freeload off the lead teams work and potentially take the lead or sabotage their efforts to progress.
Now that I’ve mentioned two different ways that new gear is going to be introduced into the game you may find yourself wondering what that new gear is going to look like. I know I was a little curious, myself. Well Tyler and Solomon had me covered and were able to show off some new gear art that should be making its way into Rend in the near future. Again, I just can’t complement their art team enough. When you think about the fact that the game has only been in production for two years, the amount of variety in biomes, gear, and creatures that exist is nothing short of impressive.
Towards the end of my time with the folks at Rend I spent a little time discussing a few issues that I see being discussed fairly repetitively on forums or in comments on steam. One of those is the addition of a PvE server and I’m happy to report that it should be happening soon. A PvE server is definitely something they want to have for the casual-type player that just want to spend their time exploring and gathering without the pressures that come from PvP or the threat of the reset when the win mechanic plays out. I can see it being nothing but a good thing for the game as it brings an accessibility to people who would likely otherwise avoid the genre.
One of the biggest issues that the game faces and fans are extremely vocal about is something that the folks at Rend were trying to avoid all together to begin with. Clans are joining all one faction and completely dominating groups of strangers that make up the other factions. All this results in is two-thirds of the server having no fun at all and no hope of winning. I asked Tyler if they had anything in the works and he first and foremost wanted to convey that they are very much aware of the issue and most definitely see it as a problem that needs to be addressed. While they don’t have a concrete plan formed yet and are discussing a multitude of possibilities to discourage this team-stacking behavior one of the ideas (and please let me stress it’s an idea - not a promise or something that’s going to happen, just one of many ideas) is to have servers that are ranked of sorts. These would servers that clans would join with the purpose of all being on one faction and going against other clans to really see who the best is. Using these servers would be incentivized in some way with leaderboards, etc. to entice clans to utilize them instead of ruining the game for servers full of strangers.
If you’re still with me at the end of this article I want to thank you for hanging with me. There was a lot of information to cover and a lot of crammed into our 45 session together. Tyler, Solomon and Michele were truly a joy to talk and explore the game with and it got me even more excited to play than I already was. As a person who never seems to have time for anything anymore I’m pretty stoked on the idea of the PvE server so I can explore the world at the very least and leave the PvP to some unknown time in the future when I won’t drag a team down with being absent all the time. The fact of the matter is there is a lot of experience behind the scenes at Frostkeep Studios including time spent working on WoW, Wildstar and even old school favorites like EverQuest. I’m excited to see what path Rend weaves through its time in Early Access and the final product will be like when we reach launch day.