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Nosgoth Preview: The Wheel Will Turn

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Nosgoth is an online free-to-play multiplayer deathmatch game that pits Humans against Vampires. It’s ostensibly set in Nosgoth, the world of Soul Reaver and Blood Omen , but this is a Legacy of Kain game in name only. None of the characters, locations, or story elements from any of the LoK games are included in Nosgoth, and the sooner your hopes are utterly dashed, the better off we’ll all be.

The game that’s now called Nosgoth was originally envisioned as the multiplayer mode for Climax Studios’ Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, but when that game was canceled Nosgoth was reconceptualized as a standalone title by Psyonix, a studio that’s made a name for itself as an outsourcing destination for multiplayer. Nosgoth pays the absolute minimum amount of lip service to the franchise, which only makes sense, since everyone who cared about the mythology left when LoK: Dead Sun was killed. Nosgoth is Square-Enix’s latest foray into the free-to-play market, nothing more. The fact that it bears the LoK license is completely incidental. If you’re a die-hard fan of the LoK saga who’s been desperately longing to revisit all the grandeur and horror of Kain’s story, Nosgoth will be a slap in the face. If, on the other hand, you want some viscerally satisfying team deathmatch in a nondescript proto-fantasy setting, Nosgoth may be right up your alley.

Nosgoth pits two teams of 4 against one another in matches that last two rounds, with a 30 kill limit on each round. Each match consists of Humans vs Vampires, with players swapping species between rounds one and two. Since there’s no longer any general consensus in popular culture on what vampires do besides drink blood and brood, you’d be forgiven for presuming Vampires and Humans play roughly the same, but Psyonix has taken pains to distinguish the two races from one another. Humans can run, but they can’t climb. Vampires can’t run, but they can climb almost anything, navigating the level via a mix of parkour and brute strength. Humans regain health from shrines, Vampires regain health by feeding off dead bodies. Humans use ranged weapons, Vampires use teeth and claws. The Humans’ color scheme is a warm, earthy mix of gold and brown, while the Vampires’ color scheme is a frigid mélange of blue and purple. The biggest difference, and the one that shapes most of the gameplay, is that Vampires hunt, and Humans survive.

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Six years after its release, the impact of Left 4 Dead is still echoing across new multiplayer games. Nosgoth does not insist on cooperation quite as fervently as Left 4 Dead‘s gameplay did, but it is absolutely necessary if you’re to stand any chance against a competent enemy, especially when you’re Human. Winning as a Human team requires recognizing the power disparity between yourself and your bloodsucking foes, and adjusting your tactics accordingly: grouping together, providing mutual support, and using your weapons to their best effect. Granted, you’ll die anyway, since players die a lot more easily in Nosgoth than in Left 4 Dead.

Save for a few vanishingly minor bugs, Nosgoth’s online elements are fit as a fiddle. Though this is all provisional while the game’s still in Beta, I would say my experience with matchmaking was broken up as follows: one third of the time the teams were evenly matched, one third of the time things were lopsided in my favor, and one third of the time they were lopsided in the other team’s favor—a ratio that’s as good as you can hope for when you play multiplayer games casually. The free-to-play elements are unobtrusive, and I came to them on my own after I saw other players using gadgets they’d bought. Nosgoth has two in-game currencies: Gold, which you accrue naturally from playing, and Runestones, which have to be purchased with cold, hard cash, and are much more valuable. Some things, like Skins and Boosts, can only be bought with Runestones. Equipment and perks can be purchased with either Gold or Runestones, and how long you get to keep them depends on how much you’re willing to pay. The new toys don’t give you a huge advantage so much as open opportunities for different tactics, and the official Nosgoth Steam announcements page calls them Sidegrades instead of Upgrades, I suppose because they thought Lateralgrades sounded too fancy.

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There are six character types in Nosgoth: three for each race, and they all come with different attacks and abilities that can be altered with modifiers you’ve purchased. Humans have the Hunter, Alchemist, and Scout. Vampires have the Reaver, Tyrant, and Sentinel. The Hunters are all around warriors with rapid-fire crossbows and a bola that’ll briefly pin the arms of vampires, provided your aim is true. Alchemists are roughly equivalent to explosives experts, armed with a hand cannon that fires projectiles that resemble nothing so much as the Gungan boomas in Episode One, in addition to various incindieary devicies. Scouts are snipers whose shots grow stronger the longer they draw their bow, and they can use the volley ability to call down hails of arrows to barrage a designated area.

On the Vampire side we have Reavers, who should really be called Hunters, since that’s the Left 4 Dead character they’re clearly modeled after. Reavers pounce and dig into enemies with their claws for a few seconds or until such time as another player knocks them off their prey. Tyrants are lumbering brutes that can charge like rhinos. Sentinels (aka Razielim, in a sad little nod to the LoK mythos) can fly, which allows them to pick up humans and drop them from a great height. All three characters have a fast way to get from A to B in spite of their inability to run, which allows them to mitigate the advantage of the Humans’ ranged weapons, provided they use it correctly. This also means that combat comes in quick, immediate bursts, with the Vampires swooping down on the Humans as quickly as possible, doing as much damage as possible, then running away as quickly as possible. As much as you try to coordinate with your team, when one group clashes with another it’ll be an incoherent frenzy until you either win or die. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the experience is significantly degraded by the Reavers’ use of Shadow bombs.

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Vision obscuring items in multiplayer games should be doled out very sparingly. Give any team too many smoke bombs and combat can quickly devolve into an obscure mess. In Nosgoth it’s possible for the other side to have 3 Reavers deploying an area-effect smoke bomb each, which isn’t a problem when you’re a Vampire and can see a glowing outline of your enemy through the smoke. When you’re human, however, it can turn every encounter into a series of black voids that have you shooting randomly until you’re inevitably clawed to death.

That said, the Nosgoth is still in Beta, and the fundamentals are strong. They have to be, since there’s nothing else there.  We’ll see how they do.

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