I do love a good fictional world. Sometimes, however, a fictional world doesn’t really fit all that well into a game - even if the developers try to cram it in with all their creative might. They can feel tacked on, or worse, largely unnecessary. Skara is the name of a new fictional land created by a small, but clearly dedicated, development team based mainly in Spain. Skara, I’m happy to say, doesn’t look like one of those awkward worlds placed to fill the gaps. Instead, it’s an intriguing setting filled with mythical creatures, varied races and, perhaps most importantly, a big ol’ war.
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign and a quick pass through Steam Greenlight, Skara: The Blade Remains is soon to hit Steam Early Access. It’s a unique game, but it’s one of those ‘unique’ things where you’ve essentially got a mash-up of big, popular genres that all form into something that’s a little unusual. Multiplayer Online Versus (MOV) is the term the Skara team are using to describe their game; it’s part combo fighting game, part multiplayer arena, part RPG. Indeed, that’s an unusual combination, and one that’s sure to attract a fair few wandering eyes. The recent multiplayer mode in God of War: Ascension is probably the best comparison for those looking for one, although the devs would probably like to believe otherwise.
Probably the first thing you’ll notice about Skara is the incredible visual quality of the game. Indie titles are slowly but surely losing their reputation for sub-par graphics, and games like Skara are leading the charge. The key in this instance is the relatively new Unreal 4 engine. If the game is released by the end of the year as the developers intend, then Skara will be one of the first Unreal 4 games available and from what I’ve seen so far, it should be a perfect demonstration of the power of the engine. The technical quality only furthers a brilliant art direction that incorporates mythological imagery and some interesting fantasy styles. Of course, the game currently looks better in pre-rendered stills than in motion, but the working product should hopefully be up to par come full release.
The demo I played at gamescom this year was rudimentary, and only inhabited by rather measly AI combatants, but it did a good job of conveying the overall feel of the game. Skara is a game for those with a hack-and-slash tendency who also love to play in online environments - in many ways, it’s a happy middle ground between button-melting combo-fest fighting games and simple action titles. Whether that will scare off both of those markets or attract a crowd looking for just that middle ground is tough to say, but it will certainly be a challenge for the Skara team to find the perfect balance between simplicity and difficulty. For an online-focused game that has to be a priority.
Based on my time with the developers they clearly feel the same way - so far combat is shaping to be something worth bragging about. Bringing all of this together is a match environment that could be wonderfully varied. Five different races inhabit the land of Skara, each with their own unique backstory, fighting style and appearance. They’re all ‘relatively’ human, so there’ll be no man vs orcs kind of stuff going on here - something that helps to keep the game a tad more visceral and, dare I say, realistic. More than just in-match choices though, the races will also act as oversized clans or ‘factions’; players can join these factions in an effort to influence the overarching metagame based on the map of Skara itself.
It’s not clear as of yet how this metagame will work exactly, but there are some shining examples out there of a similar concept done right, so I’m fully behind it. It’s worth mentioning that the game will be free-to-play when it reaches Early Access. As usual though the devs assured me that the game is completely play-to-win so any in-game purchases are purely cosmetic - armour, skins and even special fatalities that can be used to execute your enemies in increasingly bloody fashion. Most of that content, meanwhile, can also be unlocked with in-game currency earned within matches. It’s probably the best and arguably most successful free-to-play model, so should serve Skara well.
Skara: The Blade Remains is an interesting prospect. It’s certainly one of the most complicated and technologically capable crowd-funded games I’ve ever seen. That could mean one of two things: either it’ll be a fantastic debut for Unreal 4 by demonstrating the engine’s ease of use and graphical power in one fell swoop, or it could be a half-baked idea that doesn’t deliver on all its lofty promises. Personally speaking, the latter seems unlikely especially seeing as the game is now being community supported as well. The world of Skara sounds like an interesting place, and the gameplay that this reinforces could be just as good. Combine those two key elements with a neat metagame and you’ve got a genuinely fantastic concept. Now it’s time for the Skara dev team to start delivering.