With something of a mainstream appeal these days, Anime isn't the same as it used to be and Kutzpel is the just the latest attempt to play on that popularity. We decided to full dive in Kurtzpel to find out if it is an instant classic or another throwaway isekai adventure.
With the much-hyped Chronicles of Peria looming on the horizon, it is no wonder that developer Name got in early and introduce Kurzpel to steam. Early Access opened to the US back in April while the rest of us just got in yesterday. Kurtzpel is a difficult game to pin down. It is a free to play anime game that describes itself as a 2v2 PvP experience while borrowing systems from several other genres. It doesn’t fit the more traditional MMO style of something like Gameforge’s Soulworker and takes a distinctly different visual tone to En-Masse’s Closers. It doesn’t stray too far from some obvious tropes of both, however. Playing as a legendary Kurtzpel, the audience here is essentially the chosen one. With a tragic backstory, a fanatical empire, and a band of misfits, the opening moments of Kurtzpel make it very clear that this is an underdog tale with many trappings you might have seen before.
While this is is not to dismiss the foundation of Kurtzpel's world, developer KOG has clearly taken a lead from other established titles. Besides the obvious narrative tropes, the visual style is easily the first thing to strike any players that log into Kurzpel for the first time. The 3D cell style animation is comparable to something like Soulworker. While many of the Shonen inspired titles we have covered over at Gamespace ape the artistry of the printed medium, Kurtzpel dispells the bold inked outlines and takes a more toned-down aesthetic that I find I tend to enjoy more.
It is this aesthetic that immediately dragged me into Kurtzpel and devoured almost an hour of my time throwing together an inaugural character. Kurtzpel does an adequate job of putting together a unique avatar for players. A whole host of customization options are available here. Hair, eyes, face, size, and shape are all open to change. Colour customization is satisfying, if not as wide as it could be, and I was unreasonably pleased that the hairstyles do not seem to be gender locked. It is customary for anime-inspired MMOs to allow a range of anatomically ill-advised asset sliders for female protagonists and this is, of course, in place for Kurtzpel. That said, it still manages to be one of the less egregious in this fashion with players able to craft characters that far enough form the typical teenage boy’s template as to have some variety in the game lobby. This is far from Tera territory. It also bears noting that the character creation screen might seem sparse when compared to some eastern imports like Blade & Soul and even the class selection system, called karmas, might seem somewhat limited.
More Than Skin Deep
Leaving the character creation screen behind, players are quickly launched into a world of magic. Essentially a lobby-based game, the magic of Kurtzpel can be found in the instanced world that stretches out before players. Dotted around a mission map are the many challenges that the game holds and treasures to be won. Initial missions slowly introduce Kurtzpels to the wider world of the Chase and the struggle of the Kurtzpel against an empire that is after them. While I have already praised the graphics, I was pleasantly surprised by the fledgling narrative. While I was not expecting much, this game's opening story is simplistic but solid. What really caught my attention, however, was the opening voice acting and delivery. Cut scenes, seemingly rendered form the in-game engine looks great and the voice acting is surprisingly convincing. I never normally pick dubs but Kurtzpel’s team manage to do a convincing job and I’ve endured far worse writing in my time.
As things unfold the Kurtzpel must fight for their freedom, and the game’s lobby gives way to a number of instanced combat missions. Players unsheath their swords and slice through a series of boss fights. During these instances, Kurtzpel leans heavily on its class and combat system to keep things interesting. Thankfully the combat system is impressive enough to stave off boredom.
Starting out with a single equipped karma, or class, a character in Kurtzpel has room for a primary and secondary karma crystal at any one time. Each of these karma opens up access to a specific weapon type and a range of three beneficial skills. Prior to any particular mission, these can be slotted in as required, changing a character's capabilities and modifying the active skills in slot. The Sword of Taliah, Dance of Wind, Diabolic Witch, and Blazing Fist karma are all unlocked from a series of in-game quests and offer up a very distinct range of combat opportunities. While the greatsword and bow-wielding karma are commonplace for many RPG, the ranged magic of the witch and the pummelling impact of the Blazing Fist give some well-needed diversity to the whole proceeding.
Kurtzpel’s combat system is, for the most part, free form. While players can lock on targets, they are quite capable of missing both ranged and melee attack. Swinging a sword is not the normal 1, 2, 3, 4 key sequence that older tab targeted gaming suffers from. The active combat system in Kurtzpel is more akin to the combo systems present in Soulworker and by properly using a mouse or console controller, players are able to build up attacks using a simple set of moves. If you've never dropped into something like Soulworker I can best describe Kurtzpel as a hack and slash style experience. However, this isn’t DMC. Character stamina in Kurtzpel is weak, meaning players can only swing a sword so many times or throw so many punches before taking a breather. Binding stamina to certain combat skills encourages players to use a diverse range of attack options skills and mix these with combos to keep the enemy off balance. It also has the added effect of ensuring there is no spin to win mentality in Kurtzpel.
Overall, it is an interesting take on combat. KOG make the player feel far from overpowered. While that can make you less than epic, pushing through PvE encounters does actually feel worthwhile and learning the best way to approach an enemy has its rewards, even if they mostly pride in your accomplishment.
Smug satisfaction, however, will only get you so far. As the opening enemies fall to your power, the narrative opening begins to ebb away and Kurtzpel’s progression track unfurls. The same range of map missions are available for players to take part in. Both solo and multiplayer instances open up with a variety of bosses to take down and while you busily fell knights and elves, you’ll sometimes be rewarded with new unlocks and cosmetic drops.
When these do fall into the practical variety, they are more likely to be cosmetic afterthoughts. Socks, shoes, hair accessories are all up for grabs by low chance loot or completing other side missions. As players begin to grind through the adventures ahead, Kurtzpel increasingly looks like a shallow version of Dauntless. Gameplay turns into a repeating pattern of queuing up and culling monsters and nausea with little real reward. The game’s progression track does increase instance difficulty, unlock new abilities, drop extra karma options and allow the player to swap out new skills, but this still feels empty. Social systems are largely incomplete and it is strange to feel that a game that seems to dispatch with a huge vertical leveling curve has left such a hole in its wake and ended up with a grind.
The game’s repetitive PvE content does manage to feel at least consistent when jumping into PvP. Competitive gameplay is already present in Kurtzpel and opens up the opportunity for players to jump in and cut up some friends. A limited set of maps are the backdrop to this game mode and players fight it out in combat scenarios such as capture the flag and conquest. The available maps are sparse and mostly functional. They speak to the amount of work still to be done and are far from ready for an ESL league. PvP at its most basic form is functional, leaning heavily on an engaging combat system. The core combat systems work well but Kurtzpel's PvP game modes are more like a barren testing ground than a mature game mode. When faced with a dominant team, the balance of power has no opportunity to ebb or flow. If you enjoy honing your reactions time than possibly the PvP game and its leader board will hold some value for you. If you enjoy a varied and flexible play mode then this element of Kurtzpel has a way to mature.
PvP is not the only thing that a multiplayer game needs to balance and Kurtzpel has already faced mixed criticism over its cash shop model. Tied directly into the Steam store, the community market and DLC downloads are a mixed bag. It’s great to see a marketplace available to players and as a free to play game you can only expect that cosmetic items will need to be sold to stay afloat. That said, the mix of loot boxes and cosmetic add ons seems strangely scattergun. Lootbox style items seem oddly expensive for a chance to get gear and undergarments I’m never going to show. When I’ve come to expect themed outerwear, cool weapon skins, and even flashy effects, Kurtzpel’s biggest cash shop problem isn’t the uneven pricing structure, but the strange approach to stock.
All this said, Kurtzpel is an early access game and it did cost me nothing but time. Many of the issues I’ve raised with this new anime experience are largely attributable to its lack of development. Diversity of content, new cash shop incentives, better drop rates, a full narrative, and a mature PvP scene are not zero-day additions. What Kurtzpel does bring to the table is a solid combat system, the embers of a really engaging story, and a lobby-based game that can branch out into other content. KOG has built a decent foundation in Kurtzpel and it’s an incredibly pretty one too. The characters, the world, and overall aesthetic are going to keep me coming back but it will need to answer some questions before Peria Chronicles looms overhead. Kurtzpel launched worldwide yesterday and is available now via Steam Early Access.