Killsquad Early Access Preview
There are bounties aplenty in space, and now you can play too!
07.30.19 - 5:39 PM
Killsquad is an early access Steam game that looks to appeal to fans of Diablo-style loot hunting and top-down action games like Alien Swarm. As the name implies, it's primarily meant to be enjoyed as a co-op game, so my fellow squadmate Zach Wilkerson and I took a look at the early access version of the game to see whether it had promise. Zach had the opportunity to play it at E3 along with Alana Hagues and had a blast with it, and we even gave it a best in show nomination. So needless to say, we were excited to get our hands on this game so quickly in early access.
Killsquad starts up almost immediately with a simple interface and the ability to jump right into the action. Players may form a squad of up to four and choose from four currently available characters (there are plans to add more in the future), each with different attacks and skill trees. From there, the party chooses a "contract," or mission, from those available with the recommended item level. This is probably a good time to mention that there is no level progression for the characters in Killsquad outside of each mission; all character progression is in the form of collecting better items for three item slots, as well as upgrading those items with various materials. Within each mission, characters level from 1-10 and gain skills similar to a MOBA game. As such, the central loop of Killsquad is that players complete missions and get loot (along with credits to gamble for more loot at a vending machine), raise their item levels, and then attempt to complete harder contracts. Each contract we played took no more than 15-20 minutes and often involved fighting through waves of enemies while moving towards an eventual boss fight. The amount of loot dropped is nowhere near the volume that might appear in a game like Diablo or Torchlight, and you may only end up with one new piece of equipment and enough credits to gamble for two more by the end.
Cass is a sword-wielding priestess, and she even throws shurikens.
The story, such as it is, is not told extensively in the game except through occasional notes on the loading screen or enemy codex. You can view trailers on the developer's website that further explain Killsquad's world — a dark future dominated by corporations and bounty hunters, the latter of which are the main playable characters. Each of the game's areas also has detailed lore described in these promotional materials, and I would have loved to have seen more of it in the game proper through an opening cinematic or collectible logs.
There did seem to be a variety of bounty hunters to play as, and there were clearly spots on the menu for more. The character I chose was more of a support fighter, with the ability to drop health packs (which were extremely useful in drawn-out boss encounters) and a constant beam weapon that could be swung around with the use of the right analog stick (I played the game with an Xbox controller). Zach played as Cass, a Warrior Nun. She's a pure DPS character, wielding both swords and shurikens, and has the ability to teleport and go invisible. As noted earlier, level progression is confined to missions, but each level affords you better stats or the ability to pick a skill from a tree that contains various modifications or enhancements for your abilities. For example, my character had a skill that made the health kits I dropped "grow" and heal more after being left on the field for three seconds. At a high enough level (again akin to a MOBA), your character gains access to one of two ultimate abilities with longer cooldowns but powerful effects.
Graphically, the game can look quite nice and uses particle effects well.
At first, Zach and I had little difficulty with any of the contracts we tried. Many of the boss fights were straightforward and we could just use typical strategies like kiting to our advantage. We did have one extremely intense fight, however, when we jumped into a mission that was around 10 levels above our current gear, but we ultimately triumphed. Regardless, it was quite a fun battle that got us working together and sweating as we barely dodged some of the boss's attacks. The difficulty in the rest of the game seemed a bit below average, but there were some other contributing factors such as possible AI hiccups that occasionally caused enemies to stand still and an almost exploitative strategy where my character could recharge his health pack supply by attacking a stationary turret enemy left after a tough fight. This guaranteed we could go into many of the fights completely full on health, instead of suffering what I think was intended fatigue as the mission went on.
Enemy design and variety aren't bad for an early access game, with the hope being that more will be added or become available at higher levels (at this time there are only three environments). I do applaud the game's great use of environmental factors that made what could have been routine hack & slash/shoot fights into trickier affairs. Environmental hazards include land mines, turrets that pop out of the ground, meteors raining down, and orbital lasers — all of which can do a hefty bit of damage if not dodged. I could definitely see this giving the game a frantic feel at higher levels, which could be a blast.
Each character has a skill tree you progress through in each mission, similar to a MOBA.
Overall, if you like loot hunting and have a group that would be interested in some lighter action fare (since I think this game is much better in co-op), I'd recommend keeping an eye on Killsquad to see how it develops. The game also has a solid graphical and audio presentation that may help it stand out from other early access titles. For hardcore RPG fans looking for the next Diablo, Killsquad may not (at this time) have enough character and story development to be of much immediate interest. That said, it appears that gear customization may become more complex at higher levels and thus lead to more character development opportunities. Unfortunately, there is no hard release date for the full game at this time. Regardless, Killsquad still holds up to the promise we saw at E3 last month, and the developers have laid out a plan to continuously add new content and make tweaks before launching the full title. The game has been in Early Access since July 16, so check it out if you're interested.