by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Killsquad is an upcoming game from Novarama, who have put together a truly fascinating action-RPG. Set in a grim future, the players control one of several Mercenaries, whose only real goal is cutting a profit. If that means they have to escort a transport or murder some alien lifeforms, then that’s just what has to go down. These aren’t heroes, and definitely aren’t paragons of virtue. Most of them are pretty violent badasses, though at present, there are only four of them to pick from. The character select in the lobby indicates more mercenaries will be coming in the future, and there is plenty of time for updates and changes to come to the game. It’s a grimdark game on PC which supports keyboard/mouse controls. I recommend using a controller, however; it transforms gameplay into a twin-stick shooter where the left stick moves, and the right aims and fires your weapon.
There isn’t much in the way of tutorials in Killsquad just yet, it just sort of dumps you into the world. If you read the menus and item tooltips, you will discover that you can upgrade your gear; otherwise, it’s not terribly clear. It’s a challenging game that isn’t intent on holding your hand, but the basics of the game couldn’t hurt to be mentioned, even if it’s just in a menu somewhere. The main menu is pretty simple though. You have the Lobby, where you pick what contract you are going to undertake. The Heroes tab shows the available heroes, including their stats, abilities, and cosmetics. You can also check out the gear they have equipped, and the upgrades they can choose from. The Shop is where you purchase weapons for specific characters, and Prototype/Support Gear that anyone can use. The Codex shows the monsters you’ve encountered, rates their difficulty, their element, and how many of them you’ve killed. There’s also a bit of interesting data on each monster too.
There aren’t very many customization options for the characters available so far, which genuinely surprises me. Action RPGs really need something for the player to chase after, but Killsquad isn’t really a looter-shooter. All of your gear is purchased outside of maps. Every item I’ve bought so far has been an upgrade, and I’ve had more than enough materials to boost my current items. I would like to see something to acquire on maps other than credits, DNA, and crafting materials. It’s not terrible gameplay, but other than diving into missions or contracts, there’s little else to the game. I fear this decision will hurt Killsquad in the long run, as players will get bored without having something additional to earn.
Killsquad doesn’t use character levels like a standard RPG.The requirements to enter a stage are known as “Vector”, which is basically item level. There are three levels of difficulty for these Contracts – Recruit (Vector 1-30), Veteran (35-90), and Spec Ops (Vector 120-150). These are not stages that you should try alone, and here’s where one of the serious problems comes in: you have no idea how many people are in queue for each contract. The missions are incredibly challenging alone, unless you are seriously over-leveled, and then – why bother? All you can do is pick a contract, wait, and hope others are queuing. Each Contract also has a timer, and when it ends, it refreshes with a new Contract. I’d like for there to be some kind of “Random Contract”, where people who have no idea what to do/people who just want to find a party can queue up a little bit faster. However, the teams are seldom balanced, so there’s no guarantee of getting a Medic/Healer unless you play it. All you can do is communicate and hope someone picks one for the mission at hand.
In order to increase your Vector, you use Credits to purchase Equipment (Weapons/Support Equipment), which I explained previously. Your Credits come from success on Contracts, and any DNA you don’t spend on these missions also converts into Credits. Leveling up is pretty easy at first, but sometimes you’ll have to choose whether you simply want that level to go up, or you like the abilities on the present gear you’re equipped with. The weapons have a nice, fun variety of awesome passive abilities, and the support gear can have reduced poison, increased exp, increased credits, and other useful traits. I found it pretty easy to build up a nice collection of credits and weapons, but once the old gear outlived its usefulness, I would dismantle it, in hopes it would give me useful materials. Speaking of materials, I wish that a name was placed next to their image so that it’s clear whether it will be useful or not. This so far is the other way to change up what your character can do, and it’s only through passive abilities.
Each time you enter into the stage a Contract is on, you start at level 1. Leveling up comes from killing monsters, and when you level, you either gain stats or get an offer to pick from one of a few passive traits. At level 6, you also pick out one of two ultimate abilities. Each of these characters has a Basic Attack, three Abilities, and one Ultimate Ability. However, there does not currently appear to be any way to customize the passives you pick. One great feature that Killsquad could add is stage-based loadouts that will auto-pick your traits to cut back on downtime. While it doesn’t take a lot of time to pick a passive trait, it interrupts the flow of the game, and if you level mid-battle, a loadout might just save your life.
The stages are fairly linear, with occasional branching paths for treasure, or just to show off the beautiful areas. While most of the areas are awful grimdark, they are gorgeous. The aesthetic works and the visuals for this game are absolutely lovely. You and your team will maneuver through fairly tight corridors, up and down huge flights of stairs, and through gorgeous plains filled with massive, glowing crystals. Fairly frequently, the horrible monsters will leap out in packs for you to fight, with the occasional Elite that in a way, helps teach you what you need to know for the major boss at the end.
Some of these bosses are absolutely frustrating – if you don’t know that the boss heals whenever someone’s in the AOE (because someone stands in it every single damn time, it just always looks like it heals), a fairly simple boss can turn into a thirty-minute slog. With that in mind, every one of the major bosses/elites has a mechanic to learn, but you have to learn them yourself. I like that though since it adds some pretty fun challenge to the game. Another way it emphasizes the danger of going alone is that there are almost no healing items dropped in the stages. Thankfully, one of the mercenaries is a healer (even if he is a psychopathic killer robot). These monsters you kill also drop DNA. Occasionally, there are vending machines you can use. They take the DNA you find, to get temporary invincibility, receive more health or armor. The placement of these is not always kind though, especially in the more difficult missions. I’ve seen them on parts of a map that are constantly bombarded by fire and meteors, so you don’t have the time to make a purchase without risking death.
However, if you have allies that are alive, you can be resurrected, and there’s no limit to the number of times you can be revived! But you come back with virtually no health, so do be careful. All characters also have a dodge, so use it to avoid huge AoE abilities, not just to look cool (though you will.) If your team can’t get to you, thanks to tons of aoe on the ground, you will at least automatically resurrect after a minute. Every ability is unique, the characters all have fantastic abilities, and everything about the actual gameplay feels smooth and makes sense. Now, Killsquad is brutally difficult, I’m not going to argue that. I imagine that’s the intent. This is not an easy game, but with time, practice, and teamwork, any event can be overcome. It’s a game you’ll get better at by simply playing. Killsquad is only going to teach you the game mechanics by throwing you into the fire. That style of gameplay and level of difficulty is not for everyone, but it’s still a great deal of fun regardless. I absolutely love exploring these stages, and the actual gameplay is pretty addicting.
Status: Fascinating, But Missing a Tiny Something
I love Killsquad. The look and charm of it are very clear right out of the gate. It’s difficult, but every stage is fun and beatable. I feel like it’s missing something to hunt for or unlock. There are plenty of battles to go through, and your Vector for each character is different, so you have plenty of reasons to go back through earlier stages on the other Mercenaries. I have noticed some pretty long waits on the earlier/easier stages though because so many people in the Early Access have grinded pretty hard on one or two characters (or so it seems). It should also offer an indication of what missions players are in queue for, so you can queue appropriately. Simply sitting and waiting and hoping for people to join a match is really frustrating. Perhaps you could queue for multiple Contracts and see which one pops first? I appreciate that you can make private matches and invite specific people to the battlefield, if you have friends playing.
I like where Killsquad is, and it’s got a whole lot of promise. The progression and customization are a bit limited, but as time goes on, this will improve surely. I enjoy it, but there are some quality-of-life things the game could use. This includes being able to kick players who idle/AFK, or the ability to have players jump-in mid-stage, should you not find enough players. That aside, it looks good, plays great, and the style of the characters is just awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing how Killsquad evolves through its Early Access.