Skara: The Blade Remains is a game developed by 8-bit Studio, which calls itself a “third person multiplayer versus” title. The creation of this game was thanks to a successful Kickstarter, Where the company managed to acquire $36k in crowdsourced funding, and allowing the game to have an Xbox One release, as well as PC. So, ten months down the development line of the game, I have been granted access to the latest Alpha build available on Steam. So how is it?
The first thing every player will notice when first playing is just how damn gorgeous the game looks. The environments and skyboxes of the two playable arenas, the Zem Moorlands and the Lava Coliseum, are incredibly detailed and a pleasure on the eyes, even at this early stage of development. All of this mainly possible due to the game running on Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, which allows for the developers to really push the graphical fidelity and create amazing backdrops and detailed models.
While the game is amazingly pretty, graphics don’t make a game! And this is where the meat comes in, the combat. A precursor to everything wrote about the combat though, I was only able to join a server with other actual players once, and that ended up in a horrible laggy high ping mess, lasted for about 30 seconds before the host left and I didn’t really learn anything from it. So all combat has been done with the AI provided within the game.
The offensive controls for the combat is split up into three key buttons, left, right and vertical strikes. The game allows for these to be pressed in certain attack strings, to make combos, which make up how the attacking is performed. You can also run and press any of the attack buttons for a special dash attack, or hold them down for stronger, slower attacks. While the game does rely on combos for the attacking, the initial swings of all three buttons are all made to be deliberate, that is to say, they’re slow. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; much like Dark Souls, it makes the swings more satisfying when you connect an attack and make it hurt.
The defensive options are much more straightforward. You can block attacks with a button, or choose to run away and try and regain your composure. There is also a counter-attack or a parry mechanic within the games, whereby holding down or pressing guard plus an attack button at the same time will allow you to reverse the attack and cause serious damage. I wasn’t fully able to explore this due to only playing with AI, but I think it works by pressing the same attack button as the opponent to counter an attack successfully, otherwise it would be way too easy to just be defensive and parry every single attack without any thought, due to the nature of the combat. Fights themselves are usually short and sweet, with one or two combos downing an opponent completely or putting them into a stunned state, where you can then walk up and execute a fatality on them. While these animations were incomplete and not as flashy as they will finally be, the actions still look brutal as is, with one of them having you rip the heart out of your opponent. Lovely.
Playing with the AI, having the maximum of 8 players in a free-for-all got chaotic very quickly, and the AI, through deliberate coding or otherwise, always seemed to choose to pile on me and wipe me out very quickly. Even when the game type was changed to a 4 on 4 team death match, the dog pile mentality was even stronger, with four on one (or two) battle being fairly common. I can only assume this is due to the AI logic being still in progress. But after bringing the player count down to 4, the combat spaced itself out into man on man fighting, which was much more enjoyable.
The game is still an alpha though. Things such as bugs and occasional crashes were to be expected, skyboxes occasionally bugging out on the Lava Coliseum, and the video settings being extremely limited for such a new game. One of the key issues I had was the lack of any HUD (heads up display), so I was unaware how much health I had left running into a brawl or how much stamina I had left, as my character would just stop running sometimes, and get me killed. But this didn’t stop me enjoying myself as I slashed away at my opponents and ripped out hearts.
From the information put out by the developer, this is not the most current version of the game available. There is a more up to date version not available on Steam yet, which adds in a HUD, adds in game music and customisation options, as well as a new character to play as. Later revsions of the game hope to add in features such as more arenas, different races to play as, as well as additional game modes. A factions or clan war mode, and gametypes called “Siege” and “Kill the King”. From the names, I’m assuming that “Siege” will play as an attack/defend scenario with teams, like in Chivalry: Medival Warfare’s Team Objective maps or Team Fortress 2’s attack and defend with capture points, or they could throw something completely different in the mix. “Kill the King” could be anything from a King of the Hill a la Halo, or a Juggernaut style game mode, again like Halo. Regardless, these could offer a different take on the brawling, giving objectives to complete and tasks to perform could help the enjoyment by giving the players more variety.
To summarise my time with Skara, I enjoyed it immensely. The combat is varied and satisfying and the game looks stellar. For a game which has only been in development for ten months, it shows great promise, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the direction the developers take with this title! The game was also successful on Steam Greenlight and according to 8-Bit Studio is expected to be out on Steam Early Access sometime in August, with the full Free-2-Play release coming to PC before the close of 2014.