Frostkeep Studios is a crew based in Irvine, California, composed of quite a few MMO industry veterans. Their first project, Rend is a survival game, but with a heavy helping of MMO features, in an ambitious attempt to create something new and exciting in the industry. They want to make a survival game without the suck.
My interview at PAX East opened with a nicely rendered trailer (see below) that showed some Norse-ish tribesmen battling a variety of creatures using a variety of weapons, including a neat looking hammer, a crossbow, a more classic style bow and ranging all the way up to some ballista. Players will join one of three competing factions and join in a very community-based, social experience. The devs are really trying to focus on a strong community feeling, with 20-30 players per faction per server. This will help create communities that get to know each other well, over time, building both friendships and rivalries. Servers will host seasons that have a definite ending with one faction winning, before another season starting. Players on a server will carry over from season to season, while building a character with some skills that carry over from one season to the next, and other skills that are seasonal and can be re-built from season to season, giving lots of room for alts.
There are a wide variety of skills and abilities that should allow nearly every type of player to find their own niche, making their presence valuable to their faction. Harvesting, crafting, combat, both ranged and melee, spellcasting and many other areas of specialization should allow any player to feel important and valued in their faction.
Each faction is based around a Divinity Stone, where they store the souls they have harvested each season. The world is based on three valleys, one for each faction (Conclave, Order, and Revenant), plus an underground where neutral enemies can often be found, especially at night. This is a game where having a light source is going to be imperative, because not only is the dark really dark, but it's full of dangerous things (For the night is dark and full of terrors - nods to Game of Thrones). If a faction's Divinity Stone is destroyed, the whole faction is wiped off the server until a faction achieves victory or all are desttoyed.
Yep, that's right - there are win conditions in Rend. Servers end, reset, and winners are declared. Every week, during a server event called The Reckoning, players must join forces to strategically align and plan how their faction will protect and defend their base and Divinity Stone. The Reckoning takes place at a pre-determined time advertised during server selection. When this takes place, the magical shields protecting each faction’s base will lower, making them open to enemy attacks from creatures – the Lost – and other player factions. With each subsequent reckoning, the Lost creatures will grow stronger and more powerful forcing each faction to strategize and work together.
But fear not, just because a server is "reset", doesn't mean all progress is lost. When a winning faction is declared or all factions are wiped off a server (since the Lost can make it so no one wins), players will receive rewards in the form of meta-progression points. These can be spent on subsequent sessions to unlock further customization and progression options for new characters. For players who find that the win/loss cycle is not for them, you will be able to make private servers and customize the rulesets to suit your wants.
We learned of four classes including an Assassin, a Mystic, Survivalist and Soldier. Lots of harvesting/gathering skills are included, along with crafting skills that are planned to go pretty deep (you are building your own faction base and equipment after all). The game is being built with a close eye on clean, smooth game play, with a minimum of lag or server issues, to the point that every feature is being tested and accepted (or rejected), based on keeping action fast and responsive. Ergo, we're talking around 60-100 players per server, not thousands. Game balance will be similar to a rock, paper, scissors approach, insuring that every action will favor a counter response and require each faction to build using a balanced approach.
Another thing that the devs are focusing is emphasizing what players enjoy and eliminating aspects of game design that slow the game down or bore players in typical survival games. With their MMORPG background, Frostkeep really wants to bring in the aspects of MMOs to help improve the sticky nature of the survival game. Hence the factions, classes, progression, PVE, and more). I know this seems to go without saying, but we have all seen games promote things that no one really enjoys. These devs are all veteran players, and they really plan on building a game for other players, which is a laudable goal. In pursuit of this, Rend plans on having early access in Spring, and using that time to crank out iterations that are very responsive to the players feedback, which is always a strong way to develop your upcoming game.
There was a lot more we spoke about, all sorts of neat ideas and gimmicks that were really interesting, and I cannot wait until Spring to see when the devs start putting things together and see what other gamers have to say. Rend is due out in early access soon, and you can see their Steam page here.