War of the Roses In-Depth GamesCom 2011 Preview

The recent announcement of War of the Roses, a new third-person action game from developers Fatshark certainly had us intrigued at its unique concept. After talking to the developers at GamesCom this week, it is now one of our most eagerly anticipated titles.

This might seem like a strange statement given some of the blockbuster games on show at GamesCom, but this relatively small developer has taken a new and exciting approach to large-scale multiplayer combat. Fatshark developed last year’s Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West and are using that experience to help create Wars of the Roses.

War of the Roses

It is worth noting that this preview reflects the game at an early stage of its development and many of the ideas Fatshark are working with might not appear in the final version. However, the developers are working hard to include as much content and variety as possible to the title and we have to say we were very impressed with both their ethos and approach to War of the Roses. They have already promised community support post-release and stress how important players are to them, which is becoming an increasing rarity amongst today’s developers.

The game follows the infamous conflict that defined a huge period of English history in the late 15th century. Between 1455 and 1485 The Houses of York (White Roses) and Lancaster (Red Roses) were engaged in a bloody conflict for the crown. It’s a relatively little known war outside of the UK and an ideal setting for a game. War of the Roses feels unique and there are no other games that seem to have the same scope and scale as this new title. It felt like a breath of fresh air in the midst of a GamesCom almost exclusively populated by generic first-person shooters, fantasy role-playing games and third-person action titles.

War of the Roses

War of the Roses will offer both single and multiplayer components, but the emphasis will be heavily geared towards the latter. The single player campaign aims to cover several key events over the course of the conflict and is designed as a way of introducing gamers to the gameplay mechanics that will be the core of multiplayer. Working through the main story will unlock certain character benefits for use in the multiplayer component, but Fatshark are still tweaking what these may be. It is possible that this could be one way to earn the ability to use horses in multiplayer, although this is by no means definite.

This approach is interesting and having a campaign which also acts as a tutorial for more advanced gameplay aspects is a welcome idea. Fatshark were keen to emphasise that they wanted to keep the title both accessible but also have real depth, so hopefully the single player campaign will act as means of introducing different tactics to players. War of the Roses will be predominantly a skill-based game although strategies during combat are important in order to gain the upper hand during battles.

The game itself takes the form of a third-person action game, although it will be possible to enter into first-person view when appropriate. This could be when using ranged weapons (such as bows and early gunpowder weapons) or when riding forward in an epic charge at the enemy front lines. The feeling that the developers are aiming for is the finesse and popularity of a first-person shooter but with a primary focus on melee action.

War of the Roses

Fatshark wants to ensure that the game is both authentic but also fun and playable. Designers are researching the period heavily to feature authentic weaponry such as hammers, pole axes, swords and bows. A lot of time will be invested into carefully balancing these classes while ensuring that different combinations have strengths and weaknesses. As most battles will involve large numbers of enemies, picking different combinations of troops is essential, such as balancing ranged, mounted and close-combat troops. It is unlikely that there will be a class restriction in place in the game, but there may be more subtle methods to encourage players to choose an appropriate class.

In a similar manner to Brink, players who pick more useful classes that there are less of in a match will be rewarded with a greater level of experience. This could be choosing an archer in a heavily mounted side or selecting lightly armoured units in an army dominated by heavy troops. Once again, this is still being tested but it would be a nice manner of avoiding breaking immersion and preventing breaking the flow of historical battles by ensuring appropriate combinations of troops. Teamwork is an important aspect of the title and Fatshark are supporting it with voice and chat support alongside working on bonuses for supporting your fellow soldiers.

While it is unlikely that there will be direct statistical bonuses, such as extra damage, for teamwork, gathering together in a group will make combat easier. This could be some heavy armour troops acting as a barrier between archers and potential attacker, making it easier to defend them and maximise their impact on the combat. As the game is inspired by the huge battles of the period, it would be great to see this kind of co-operation during the fighting. Using experience bonuses could be another way of encouraging this kind of team gameplay, so fingers crossed that Fatshark can recreate this manner of combat in the game.

War of the Roses

Experience will play an essential role in the game and the developers were keen to draw comparisons with games such as Call of Duty in the way that characters would level up. Through combat and games the players will scale up and unlock new items, weapons and skills. The progression scheme will be carefully balanced so that more long-term players will not have a significant advantage over new players but will be rewarded for advancing. Some items that can be unlocked will be purely cosmetic such as special helmets and armour, although others will have more direct benefits such as special shields.

During the historical conflict it was often difficult to tell the two sides apart due to their similar banners and armour. However, Fatshark are addressing this issue by colour coding the sides and there are also plans to offer customisation options. Currently there are plans to offer customisable coats of arms and banners to help differentiate your character alongside unlockable armours and helmets. In order to avoid breaking the historical realism there will presumably be limitations to what can be altered. It’s a small idea but a personal touch that can help make your character feel that little bit more individual during huge battles.

While there will obviously be large scale battles, the developers are currently working on a variety of modes to help make War of the Roses a diverse game. While many are still being tested and tweaked, there is the possibility that some form of siege mode involving castles may make it into the final game. Similarly, there could well be a mode where an enemy noble must be eliminated by one side, forcing the other to protect them. Fatshark are also working on a variety of options including friendly fire to add to the authenticity of the title. Lastly there are plans to offer different rules such as whether or not respawning is enabled during rounds. Alternatively if players want to use a ticket system common in the Battlefield series that will also be provided, creating a very different style of match.

War of the Roses

Maps in the game are also varied with a range of challenges present to test players. While some will be large open plains, others will be more constricted requiring tactical and co-ordinated movement. With the great level design in Lead and Gold the developers have an excellent pedigree in creating maps that are not only fun to play but offer excellent replay value. Some levels will have chokepoints that will funnel the combatants together and lead to some particularly intense melee combat.

War of the Roses was a real standout title at GamesCom this year. Not only is it a very different title that draws from an untapped historical period, but the gameplay promises to be different Trying to combine the accessibility of first-person shooters with an authentic historical depth is an ambitious task. But speaking to the developers it is clear that they consider this a realistic undertaking and are passionate about the title. War of the Roses is highly original and is definitely a game to watch. We’re hugely excited for it and we can easily see this being a stand-out surprise hit of next year.

War of the Roses

evilgiraffeman | 23rd August, 2011

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