Slinking around in tree tops, I waited till my prey was otherwise engaged. Seeing two enemies fight below me, I waited for the exact moment to strike. As one of the combatants fell, the other victorious - I made my move. Using my grappling hook, I flew towards the weakened enemy, shocking and stunning them with a flurry from my Longsword. They were down in a matter of seconds. It was moments like these that highlighted my time in Naraka: Bladepoint over the weekend, a new battle royale coming from 24 Entertainment. And what it does is make me eager to jump back into a genre I thought I had left mostly behind for good.
The battle royale, which was in open beta over the weekend, saw 140,000 concurrent players on Steam over the test. Naraka: Bladepoint is a 60-person battle royale that takes many of the core concepts of the genre: a closing ring, last-person-standing gameplay, and it adds a twist. Naraka emphasizes mobilty and verticality over other games in the genre. Every surface is climbable. Stealth a viable option to win a round as you hide in bushes or in the boughs of tall trees or on the top of a high tower, ready to strike your foe.
Bladepoint's grappling hook might be its simplest, yet smartest addition. By adding this extra layer of mobility, anywhere I look on the horizon feels reachable. The grappling hook isn't just a convenient way to get to the top of a temple or a high cliff - it can be used to stun and bring you in for the kill against an enemy.
Combat in Naraka is a mix of melee and range, with everything from bows to great cannons able to be brought to bear from a distance. Melee weapons like the fast and furious Katana, long-range Longsword or the giant, oversized Greatsword can devastate enemies in front of you. A mix of heavy charged attacks and fast, flurries of strikes mix up the combat in Naraka, and while it looks basic on the surface, underneath there is a certain level of skill involved in ensuring you come out on top.
Learning how to avoid attacks, or even parry charged attacks can mean the difference between life or death. Using the grappling hook not just to close the distance but escape can also save your life and set you up for total victory down the road. Opening the fight with a salvo from a pistol or long-range musket can weaken an opponent making your sword strikes bring them down even faster.
Naraka has your typical loot rarity system found in other games, ranging from normal, run of the mill weapons to legendary versions. Since the game doesn't really use ammo, each weapon has a durability guage. This helps to balance things out, meaning you can't just run around with a legendary Katana forever, unless you have the weapon repair kits to bring it back to its former glory. These kits take a few seconds to implement, effectively acting as a "reload" of sorts, and the higher the rarity of the item the more durable it is in battle.
Armor is also something you need to think about, and thankfully once you find armor you needn't worry about finding more, unless it's more powerful than what you're using. Armor can be degraded with combat, meaning you'll need to repair it with armor powder. I actually like this mechanic in Naraka as it means once my armor is gone I'm having to hunt for new gear - I can just repair what I have and move on. This means less time is spent looking for loot I already have and more time spent looking for my enemies.
Each character you can play in Naraka has a certain role and skill set, such as the healing skills of the Kurumi or the ability to transform into a hulking Vajra warrior as the Tianhai. Each character plays differently than the last, and in team games being able to bring multiple styles to bear could mean the difference between moving on or saying "GG" and starting the next round.
What I like about Naraka is that it embraces and encourages early battles by giving each player a free revive early into the match. Other battle royales don't incentivize this, so you have teams like myself and my friends avoiding populated areas and fights altogether until we absolutely have to engage. Naraka's Marketing Manager Raylan Kwan told me in a press session last weekend that this was deliberate, a way to get players to commit early and engage instead of shying away from action.
As such, when we played we typically dropped inbetween other teams, eager to get the valuable loot these locations afforded but knowing full well we'd see action right away. Sometimes it worked. Before we left the first area heading towards where the circle was going to close our team had legendary items, as well as a few kills under our belts.
Other times we were destroyed by players who were just way, way better than us. The whole time it was fun, providing some of the freshest battle royale combat and fun that I've experienced in a while.
It's not perfect, though. Combat at times can feel incredibly floaty, as if I'm striking air when hitting an opponent. If you get someone on the server with incredibly high ping then best of luck fighting through the lag and delay. And while learning how to parry and dodge might come in handy in one on one fights, in my experience those fights are rare, more often than not devolving into a maelstrom of steel from multiple directions.
Naraka brings some interesting features for PC players to the table as well. It's the first Unity game to include Nvidia's Deep Learning Super Sampling, and it also include Nvidia Reflex. I played the battle royale on a 10700K and RTX 3080 and had zero issues with framerate, with DLSS specifically not really giving me much benefit in performance since I was effectively already maxed out without it. However, I can image a scenario where it may help players on older hardware like an RTX 2070 Super.
However, in the end Naraka provides a much needed infusion of life for me into a genre that was all but off my personal gaming radar. It hadn't felt like I was really going to get into a battle royale again, yet Naraka: Bladepoint will have me watching it closely when it comes out this summer globally on Steam.