Say hello to your mechs-oskeleton.
Tough-as-nails, combat-focused RPGs have, since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, became one of gaming most fashionable genres. Adored by many, respected by those who don’t even play them and supporting a whole subculture of Let’s Plays, memes and dedicated forums – few genres have made such an impact so quickly.
The result of this rise in popularity is that more developers are devoting time and money to the production of such games. Alongside FromSoftware hall-of-famers Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Lords of the Fallen and Nioh have also made an impact, whilst independently-made fare such as Salt and Sanctuary and the upcoming Eitr offer a slightly different spin on the formula.
With so many releases, however, standing out becomes difficult. To tackle this, the German-based Deck13 (previously of Lord of the Fallen) is opting for a sci-fi inspired environment for its upcoming The Surge; a combat-focused RPG in the FromSoftware mould that trades castles and demons for futuristic factories and sentient robots.
The high-tech and – compared to Dark Souls – luminous setting represents only the most overt of differences, however, with the combat intended to be the area that The Surge truly differentiates itself from its genre peers.
“Our combat has hard and light attacks, horizontal and vertical attacks as well as the ability to target specific body parts,” describes head of game design Adam Hetenyi. “That makes each fight more tactical and allows you to choose whether you want to fight in a more technical way that focuses on different body parts or a more straightforward way that simply targets an enemy’s weak spot.
“Being able to choose that path on an enemy-to-enemy basis is something that provides a new feeling for games like this.”
Flicking the right stick in different directions once you’ve targeted an enemy directs your attacks to specific body parts. Flick up and a small dot appears over your adversary’s head, flick bottom right and the dot switches to their leg and so on. The advantage of engaging in this more considered approach to combat is that you gain a greater chance of dismembering your foe and earning a loot-based reward as a result.
If your opposition is carrying a weapon in their right hand, for instance, then cutting off their right arm gives you a chance to acquire that weapon for yourself. The more types of weapon you have available to you, the more options you open up when it comes to fighting. If you’re happy to trade power for speed then it pays to find something big and heavy that can end an enemy in a couple of slow hits, whilst those wanting to rely on fast movements might want a lighter, albeit less forceful, tool.
Other design pillars are much more familiar. In order to appeal to fans of the genre, The Surge cannot simply tear up the entire rulebook and start from scratch. Doing so would mean the game would likely contain none of the elements that drew Deck13 to this form of game in the first place.
Deck13, as explained by Hetenyi, want to “punish the player when they fail”, “provide a strong sense of reward for winning” and have players “feel compelled” to return to areas they can’t access at the first pass.
“Obviously, we’re operating within the tactical RPG genre and there are more games coming out in this field,” Hetenyi tells us. “There are certain benchmarks we want to keep because that allows players to make some assumptions about your game and help them know what they’re going to get.
“Personally, I find development boundaries like this to be freeing. I really enjoy putting down the pillars of what you’re making and then, from that point forward, you know that there are certain things that you’re not going to get rid of. I dislike the blue-sky, fully open approach.”