Killsquad E3 Impression
I had the chance to try Killsquad at the IndieCade booth at E3. The game is a mix of several mechanics, offering a mission-based co-op top-down shooter RPG with MOBA elements. But what does that actually mean? Firstly, although the game has lore and a setting, and each mission’s story plays out in that context, there isn’t any overarching narrative. It’s hard to say from the demo whether there’s anything further to that — for example, whether each mission acts as a type of short story episode with meaningful depth, or if the mission’s story is simply a backdrop to provide direction. At the beginning of each mission, you can select one of several characters to play, each with different fighting styles and abilities, and can bring along several friends to face the challenges with you.
During the mission you’ll be running around and turning every which way, shooting down groups of enemies and fighting your way toward the mission objectives and eventually the boss. Players start at level one on each new mission, and gain experience to unlock and level up their four abilities throughout that mission, a mechanic that will be familiar to MOBA veterans. My character had a variety of abilities, including ranged damage, healing, the ability to create a persistent damage area somewhere on the map, and an ultimate ability that unleashed massive damage.
It was up to me to select which of the abilities to level up and in what order, and these choices significantly affected how I played the character and the role the character took within the larger party of players. Leveling up abilities doesn’t just make them stronger, it can also change them by adding new effects, so leveling the right abilities for the mission can be critical to success. Abilities are on cooldowns so using them strategically and at the right time can have a big impact on a mission’s outcome. Although the different characters generally control the same, their abilities can be quite different, and they also sport additional unique mechanics on top of those, making each feel unique. Gameplay felt action-packed, with plenty of telegraphed enemy attacks to avoid and abilities that synergize with and complement those of your companions.
Although character levels reset, players can pick up DNA and Credits, which can be used to buy and upgrade a variety of items and equipment that power up characters, so there is still a sense of persistent progression. On top of stats, gear can provide a variety of extra effects such as shielding, speed increases, reduced cooldown, or higher item drop rates, so building characters with equipment that synergize with each other, the character’s selected abilities, and the player’s playstyle will be crucial to optimize character effectiveness.
Overall, the game for me felt like a cooperative PvE MOBA. The mechanics felt excellent and have a ton of potential, and within those mechanics the classes are very well designed, so I’m very excited in seeing more from Killsquad. At the same time, at least for me, the key to this type of combat is carefully crafted, highly challenging encounters that require a combination of both strategy and execution to succeed and push those mechanics to their limits. I didn’t get to experience that during the E3 demo and it wasn’t clear from the mission that it featured if these would be required for success, or if instead the developers were more focused on delivering a more mindless and pure type of action. Hopefully it’s the former, because otherwise it would be a real wasted opportunity, but on the other hand I fear designing encounters that tightly may not be easy given the variable number of players that can come along for the fun. Killsquad is coming to Steam Early Access this summer, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions also planned.