Nosgoth was not the game a lot of people were expecting when Square Enix revealed the next entry in the Legacy of Kain series. Fans were dubious of a new entry being multiplayer-only. It wasn’t until after the game’s alpha was in testing that we learned that this was the salvaged multiplayer component from a cancelled PS4 launch title that would have been a single player and multiplayer reboot of the franchise. While Climax Studios’ single player got axed, the multiplayer by Psyonix has been reborn as a free-to-play PC game. After having spent nearly ten hours with the game’s closed beta, I can happily report that Square Enix made the right decision in keeping this part of the project alive.
In Nosgoth, you play as either human survivalists or vampire warriors. Humans focus on ranged weapons and special equipment like flamethrowers, blinding flasks of light, tight-gripping bolas, and Cthulu-like tentacles summoned from realms beyond imagination. Vampires use brutal melee attacks and their own physical might, in addition to some use of magic and potions. Humans primarily stick to the ground, whilst vampires can climb to almost any rooftop. Humans heal from shrines set around each map, while vampires have to sneak away with a fresh kill in hand and execute them to fully regenerate health. The sides are such opposites that each match has each team play as both factions across two rounds.
The best part about this is that both sides balance each other out. A human Hunter can fire a trap bola at a flying vampire Sentinel, sending it tumbling to the ground and then blast it with explosive arrows. The gigantic vampire Tyrant can close the gap with a human Scout to stop them from sniping with their bow. Every class has another class they are weak to that can take them down, making for highly balanced matches, especially when each team is utilizing every class available. Battles are often won by whichever team is most coordinated, which makes for greater satisfaction when you can cause your opponents to break rank and flee as the tide suddenly turns against them.
Playing it like Call of Duty will get you killed as you run head first into the other team’s current position. No class is strong enough to go solo against an entire team of enemies, so you always need a friend nearby to help make the battle turn in your favor. As a Tyrant, you can charge and pound enemies, but you are a huge target for bullets and arrows alike. If you have an ally playing as a Reaver, drop a smoke bomb, you can plow through the human opposition as they try to escape the smoke and regain their vision. Then they’re disoriented and you can have your Sentinel grab their main damage dealer while you pound away at the support class. The Reaver can pounce in on anyone you missed, and then you can move out as the opposing team respawns at another point on the map.
This is beautiful game design. This is the kind of class inter-play you usually only see in Team Fortress 2 and the best squads in Battlefield. The maps currently available in Early Access all work for every class and just flows together very nicely. One minute you’re in an interior environment, blasting away a pair of Reavers who got too close to your flamethrower — next thing you know, a Sentinel has grappled you and is carrying you high over the town below. The scale of the maps also works in the game’s favor, providing a sense of character to each location. You’ll fight in ruins of an under-siege castle, isolated docks on the shoreline, and cities at dusk, fearful and locked up as vampires come out to stalk the night.
Story is something we rarely see done right in multiplayer games, but Nosgoth does a decent job of conveying its sincerity and connection to the Legacy of Kain series. The game is set somewhere between the beginning cinematic of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and when Raziel finally arises to seek out his vengeance upon Kain and his other Lieutenants. The vampires you play as represent the families of these officers, as Kain vanished some time not too long ago in search of something. Humans believe Kain has finally been killed due to his absence and finally begin to wage war against the vampires. Some human classes, such as the Hunter, are even based upon human enemies you could encounter in Soul Reaver. Characters also have different lines they say when they spawn, depending on the map, giving a little more context to each class’ personality. It’s not what most fans probably were hoping for, but at the very least it opens the door for new possibilities down the line.
Also, did I mention the game looks amazing even on the lowest graphical setting? Well, it does! The art direction combines older influences and a certain modern Gothic flair that feels fresh and almost like a hybrid of Hellboy, Dragon Age, and hyper-realism. Everything has vast amounts of detail but remains distinctly Nosgoth. The color palette is far more than just browns and grays; blood reds, dark greens, and faint yellows set the tone of each battle, and great use of shadows brings an emotional intensity to the lighting. The layout of each level makes the world feel lived in, with numerous aesthetic pieces adding a richness to the world without breaking your hardware. Animation work is absolutely stellar as well, especially with the parkour movements for the vampires that are just empowering (or if on the receiving end, unnerving) to look at.
The game even works fantastically as a free-to-play title. While it costs around roughly sixty dollars to unlock each in-game class besides the initial four, there’s almost no need to pay that much. You unlock a free class every five levels, so by level 20 you have every class unlocked. Additional gear and items are fairly cheap with in-game currency, and can be bought permanently in addition to the traditional seven day rental system. Every new piece of gear is balanced to be only equally as powerful as starting gear, merely offering new tactical options like piercing damage or a different primary ability. There is no way to pay to win.
The major crux of community support also holds strong in Nosgoth. Player attitudes have been vastly more positive than in other online games I have played, and the developers are rapidly updating the game. The Prophet and Deceiver classes were recently added, with new maps and game modes promised in later updates. The game is being built for competitive gaming as well, with Twitch.TV integration already underway. To help keep things fresh, there are also daily free perks, one for each faction, to help shift your playstyle a little. They won’t drastically change your day to day experience, but it can give you a slight nudge to try a new tactic. There’s even a level 1 to 10 playlist that only lets newbies fight each other so you can get acclimated to combat.
The only real downsides I could find in the game were the lack of platforming options for all but one human class, the fact it does not support Windows XP (only Vista Service Pack 2, Windows 7, and Windows 8/8.1), and the lack of interest in the game’s Siege mode. Traditional Team Deathmatch works fantastic and keeps the battle for thirty kills fresh thanks to all the new ways to play, but the objective based mode seems to have fallen so out of favor I couldn’t get into a single round. One player I met who had managed to play a match described it as little more than the same focus on killing opponents strategically, but with bonus objectives that didn’t seriously change the outcome. The limited navigation options for humans are primarily a balance decision but it’d be nice if more classes besides the Scout could use a grappling hook on certain structures. If they could have some means of traversal that could match the sheer fun of the vampires clawing and jumping around rooftops, I think the game might be for the better. Also, one ranged vampire class with an accompanying one melee human class would be welcome (although a human knight class has already been hinted in earlier concept art).
Short of absolutely having no internet connection, you should be playing this game at some point on your PC. The game is visually astounding, barely any bugs to note, and fantastic gameplay all wrapped in an insanely balanced package. The fact that Psyonix was willing to keep trying to push the envelope after producing such a worthwhile project is heartening and a good sign. With more time and content, I expect good things for Nosgoth‘s future vampire slayers and demons of the night. It may not be what fans wanted, but it is certainly a title worth their time. Now if you’ll excuse me, there are vampires that need hunting.