Nosgoth – Vampires versus humans? That could be pretty awesome.

Competitive gaming style title screen. Says a lot immediately.
Competitive gaming style title screen. Says a lot immediately.

I should really give credit to TD for this one. He found it, we played it, and I decided to review it. This was probably a wise idea on his half, since it’s taken me a long time to get round to a point where I feel I can take the plunge and actually give an opinion on this game.

So, Nosgoth pits vampires against humans in sets of two, five man teams going head to head in shooter style combat. Only, both sides seem to be taking part in an alternative Victorian steampunk style world. Humans are armed with crossbows, guns, are various types of launchers, whilst vampires are armed with the gifts the bad lord gave them, including climbing walls, spewing goo, and mauling you to death.

Despite being bow-based, the action is still very fast paced.
Despite being bow-based, the action is still very fast paced, with your typical life being very short.

Vampires might be a strong word to use here. Recently, we’ve had so many different types. The traditional Dracula style, blood sucking, cape wearing, castle residing person is not present in this game. Nor is Twilight’s poncy self-hating angsty teenager vampire. Not even Underworld’s alternate Gothic, leather spangled vampires make an appearance. In fact, what we end up with is positively not what I would consider a vampire to be in any light.

Rather, Square Enix went down the path of creating a few beasts, not seeming to find a better name for them and using “vampire”, since they can regenerate health by feasting upon corpses. But honestly, there is nothing here I’d consider a “classic” vampire. You have guys that leap for miles, engaging hit and run tactics. You have big muscle men that can charge through and act as your tank. You even get deadly, lightning fast winged beasts which can swoop down and pick up a lone human to drop him from a great height. These are not what I consider vampires, but alas, Nosgoth does.

Some pointy teeth and a lovely flowing cape would suit you nicely, sir.
Some pointy teeth and a lovely flowing cape would suit you nicely, sir.

But let’s take a step back and assess the gameplay. Rounds consist of one team of five humans going head to head against one team of five vampires in a straightforward team deathmatch; that is to say, their only goal is to kill each other. At the end of the round, they swap sides and the humans become vampires and vice versa. At the end, the kill count is tallied up and the side with the higher overall score wins. Good system, easy enough.

I have to admit immediately that gamemodes are a bit thin on the ground at the moment. It does feel like it lacks variety, and I sure wouldn’t mind seeing a Capture the Flag, or King of the Hill. But this is probably all round due to one incredible factor about this game. It is balanced.

Trust me, a balanced game with asymmetric sides is rare.
Trust me, a balanced game with asymmetric sides is rare.

Nosgoth has to compete with itself to maintain a balance. Humans are stuck on the ground, with frequently defensive abilities. They heal by using designated healing points, which can only be used once in a while, forcing them to rotate round the map to stay alive. Meanwhile, vampires regain health by eating corpses, forcing them to be aggressive. Their abilities lie in devastation and disorientation, and have access to almost everywhere on the map. Can you imagine the difficulty in balancing a team that could choose to entirely consist of people who swoop from above to drop you from the heavens against a load of guys armed with crossbows and gunpowder pistols?

That said, Nosgoth does a fantastic job. Whilst playing, TD and I couldn’t really decide who had the upper hand overall, though we did think it was vampires by a very, very fine line. However, this was less for the individual units than the fact that it’s easier for an individual vampire to do more damage than for an individual human. Meanwhile, humans do require a lot more teamwork. With that in mind, we often found that we lost when playing with a team that refused to stick together, and won with a team that stayed focused as humans, and attacked all at once as vampires.

This old brute prepares to feast on a corpse. Nice.
This old brute prepares to feast on a corpse. Nice.

The balance is definitely a huge help, but the main draw to this game will be how active it is. These are not slow games, and I’m tempted to liken them to Smite in terms of activity. Whilst you have a powerful base attack, the true gameplay is revealed in each unit’s customizable abilities: Placing lines of fire, spewing poison, spawning minions, disabling and snaring units. Given that each individual person has a set of skills to help their team, it’s as much about having the right units to respond to the current enemy team as it is about using them at the right time. My favourite vampire unit had a great ability to reduce incoming damage by 80%, but the flipside is he couldn’t attack during that time and it had a half minute cooldown. So, I purely used it to run away without dying. This worked for my team as, before that, I’d charge in and begin the assault, taking most of the damage in that time.

So I expect we’ll see Nosgoth becoming a competitive game in the future. The opportunities for teams to develop tactics and train up, learning the intricacies of why that 0.4 second increase on that particular ability makes it no longer worthwhile, is too damn high. That said, for now, the random public matchmaking works well for finding a game, and there is a party system so you can play with your friends. Which, honestly, you’re going to want to do because matchmaking can put you with anybody of any skill (though, they do counter this by allowing low levels to purely match make within low levels).

The human healing and resupply point.
The human healing and resupply point.

There is one more gameplay fact to mention. This is a freemium game and it’s going for a League of Legends model. That means, there is an entire meta-game to help boost your ingame play (or improve your character appearance). You can buy new abilities, classes, skins, and boosters to help you progress. As a result, you can expect some people to be better than you, because they’ll be able to get the best of these items. In some respects, it’s a shame, since it unbalances a very balanced game. Of course nobody is going to take the 5% speed increase when there’s a 10% damage buff on offer, but if that 5% speed increase is free an 10% damage buff costs you $4.99, you might decide to stay free. But that’s always a risk with this marketing model. That said, and in Nosgoth’s defence, they do give out a daily taster on a random ability item each day, and I just made up those two items above. So, maybe they are more balanced. But my point still stands, there will always be some items more tasty than others.

The armory is where the meta-game mostly goes down.
The armory is where the meta-game mostly goes down.

All in all, for a freemium game, Nosgoth is damn fun. It’s been produced to a very high quality, which was surprising at first but explained by the fact that the team behind it are Square Enix. The graphics and sounds are excellent, especially given the freemium status, and the gameplay feels balanced and enjoyable. That said, at it’s current stage, I do feel like it has work to be done in getting more variety into the game. However, we are looking at Early Access and, so, there are many things that may yet change. It’s definitely worth a try but, unless you’re a fan of the growing area of ability-based gaming, you probably won’t stick on it.

And I still think “vampires” is a big stretch of that word.

Nosgoth is developed by Square Enix. You can find it on Steam for freemium. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by Static.

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Nosgoth – Vampires versus humans? That could be pretty awesome.