When it first came out, I was a big fan of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. The Eastern European take on post-apocalypse scenarios felt grittier and more grounded than other similar RPGs, but still preserved that desire to explore. Like many others, I was disappointed to hear that the sequel was canned, but that didn’t stop a spiritual successor from rising up. Many of the developers reformed under Vostok Games, with the resulting Survarium being what many are pinning their hopes on.
Interestingly though, this isn’t a shooter-style RPG. Instead, as Vostok’s Joe Mullin explained to me, Survarium is planned to be a full-fledged MMOFPS, with all the open-world exploration that comes with it. Don’t expect this brutal world to be crammed with survivors though, as the studio is eager to preserve that feeling of a desolate, unforgiving wilderness.
Survarium also represents a change of tack for the development team. Instead of being a retail product on store shelves, it’ll be free to play with a longer development window. Three game modes are currently planned, with team-based PvP currently in beta, and open-world PvE heavily in development. A third co-operative PvE mode, involving teams of 5 players, is going through conceptual stages.
“We chose to do this for a number of reasons. One was because we led development on Stalker 2 for many years; people were expecting a product, and we didn’t want our community to have to wait another five years for a game. So we built this new engine, the most basic incarnation is this PvP mode, and it’ll be a good structural base to build on the game. The community has something to keep themselves busy, and at least get a sense of where we’re going so they can provide feedback.”
‘The next mode, and the one that 99.9% are waiting for, is freeplay PvE. We actually haven’t revealed much about it because a lot of it’s been conceptual. There are a lot of complexities about it, programming the different creatures that’ll be in that mode, versus not having to program AI in PvP. But that game is going to be, technology limitations aside, as big as we can get it. And we want it big, but also as detailed as the PvP maps. There will be sparser areas – it’s got to be a parallel to the world.”
“It will be a much slower form of gameplay, where the player has NPCs to interact with, different mutants, anomalies, radiation, missions from factions, as well as a number of other players. We want to keep it a desolate environment so, in terms of having thousands of players in one world at one time, we don’t want to have it like that. Our approach would be – we’re not sure of the number – but to not overly populate the world.”
Underlining the harshness of this game mode, Mullin told me that Freeplay would be a single life game mode. Although it’s still being discussed, conceptually this might mean that a player could end up being the last remaining survivor in their persistent world, but still fail because the environment killed him. “We want it to be a very brutal experience where there’s no respawn; you really have to be careful about what you’re doing. A lot of people say Survarium’s not a survival game, but in that sense absolutely it will be.”
Being a free-to-play title, Survarium has an item store, with players already spending real money on virtual goods and convenience services. While it remains steadfastly against pay-to-win, Vostok also offers a premium account subscription, increasing the XP rate. It will also open up additional character slots, allowing one to focus on PvP skills while the other works on anomaly damage and similar. That said, Mullin did emphasize that the economy is a work-in-progress, and that the studio does compensate players who lose out due to game-breaking issues. It’s even possible to earn the premium currency – Golden Rubles – purely through play.
“Having said that, free players can play anything as well. Nothing is going to be limited to them. As far as premium items go, it’s all cosmetically based; for example, different camouflage that you can upgrade your gear with. We’ve recently added all the flags from the former USSR regions, as well as coat of arms, and that kind of stuff is premium items. You’ll have to purchase premium currency for that. Having said that, you can buy certain camouflage for in-game currency as well. We want players to be able to experience everything in the game, but for that bit of extra uniqueness, you can purchase other things that other players won’t have.”
“Another thing: say you get yourself a great weapon, and you spend hours modifying it and it’s now really customized, and you change the values of it, and everything degrades as you use it. There’s free repair options – if it’s beyond a certain limit it can be anywhere between 6 to 12 hours for that item to repair. You can purchase a premium repair kit that will repair that item instantly. For those players who don’t want to buy another weapon for in-game currency, they can buy a repair kit. So those are the items we are advocating.”
As the interview drew to a close, I asked Mullin about the Cologne Bridge map that they’d recently unveiled. “It was our first choice to reach out of former USSR. The reason we did Cologne Bridge is that it’s just in time for Gamescom, and it made the German fans go mad. It was a tease before, but then we revealed the location on the website. It’s also the team’s first step in any sense outside Eastern Europe in any way. Even now, we were walking along the bridge last night, and we noticed some discrepancies in the game. While we have artistic license to a degree, it’s quite an iconic area.”
We joked a little about other areas that could be added; Mullin added that Survarium is a global experience, and the PvP maps will eventually link up somehow with the open world. But while Cape Town and London are easy targets, there’s only one place I can think of for a mutant-infested ghetto: Milton Keynes.