Born from what was originally intended to be the multiplayer component of the ill-fated Legacy of Kain: Defiance sequel, Nosgoth marks a somewhat less familiar return to the Square Enix-owned gothic franchise. Set in the time period immediately following 1999’s Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, humans and vampires are at war in developer Psyonix’s asymmetric combat-driven free-to-play free-for-all that’s been living on Early Access for just over a year.
On the cusp of introducing a new Beastmaster class to its battlegrounds - not to mention a new Vampire in the not too distant future - we caught up with Jacob Mott, a designer at Psyonix, and Bill Beacham, the design director at Square Enix London Studios, to explore Nosgoth’s roots, how it’s coming along, and where it’s headed in the following months.
GameWatcher: When and why did you deviate from making a traditional Legacy of Kain game?
Bill Beacham: As I think has become a matter of public record through various stories and leaks which we’ve confirmed - we did start making a single-player more traditional Legacy of Kain game originally with a different team. When we decided that we wanted to add a multiplayer component to that title, we went looking for a specialist in that area of gameplay, which is how we came to talk to Psyonix and we very rapidly realised that they were the right team for us for that part of the project. Even back then, while the two [games] were part of the same general title they were quite separate: they were set at different times in the franchise’s history; they had different lead characters; they had different gameplay, this was obviously a single-player game and a multiplayer game that had very different requirements and audiences.
The multiplayer game shaped up really nicely and when we decided that the single-player game wasn’t going to be what we wanted it to be, we decided to continue with the multiplayer component separately. We’d always talked about potentially releasing it as a standalone product - you know, if you bought the single-player game, you’d get both, but if you were only interested in multiplayer gaming then you could just play that part of it. It was quite easy for us to make that separation and continue with the aspect that we felt was really promising and over time that became Nosgoth.
GameWatcher: At the time, I remember Legacy of Kain fans being quite disappointed that Nosgoth wasn’t going to the be the direct Legacy of Kain sequel they’d hoped for - did you get much sense of this at your end?
Bill Beacham: I think we would’ve been foolish to assume that there wouldn’t be a sense of disappointment from the long-term fans. We talked to those guys, we engaged with them very early in Nosgoth’s life cycle, and before we showed it to anyone else we found some of the most hardcore fans from around the world and brought them to the office and talked to them about what we were doing and why. Some of them understood it, some of them, completely understandably, were disappointed, and some of them were excited about the chance to return to the world - even if it was in a somewhat different format. In conversations with them going forward, and the wider community, I think we’ve shown that while it is a different type of game, we are still being as sensitive as we can to everything that’s come before in terms of the lore and the setting.
Obviously we’re not telling a single-player story, all of our story comes through the character backgrounds and the environmental design, but we’ve put in lots of hints and references for the fans and everything we’ve done from the class design through to the level design has been carefully thought through in order to be as complementary as possible to what’s come before. We obviously have different requirements based on this game but we are aware that, yeah, it’s a franchise that - myself included, and the guys here at Psyonix - have very fond memories of and are fans of. It’s been difficult at times, I think that’s fair to say, but at the same time the guys that we’ve talked to appreciate that while it’s not what they might have been hoping for, it’s still an interesting new insight into the world of Nosgoth.
GameWatcher: What challenges did you guys face designing the multiplayer in Nosgoth?
Jacob Mott: The most obvious challenge was the asymmetrical combat. There’s a clear difference between how vampires approach combat and how humans approach combat. This makes a huge difference in the way maps have to be designed, stuff like really open areas can be more favourable for humans; closed areas can be more favourable for vampires to restrict humans from getting out of them. Even from that angle, there’s more stuff that goes into the balance, such as scouts are more powerful at range - how do we set up areas that vampires can get through and won’t get picked off? What abilities will they have so that you can help them get into range or survive the onslaught of melees? So there was just a lot of iteration going on there, on lots of small pieces - things like melees, dodging, mobility and just the way that abilities played out. We wanted to get a balance where humans and vampires were fun to play, even if you were getting your face smashed in!
Bill Beacham: Map design for characters that can climb anywhere and leap huge distances and some cases fly is difficult. When we first started talking with Psyonix, we knew it was going to be challenging but it was something we all believed in.
GameWatcher: Which class has been the most enjoyable to create - from a design and art perspective?
Jacob Mott: Personally, from a gameplay perspective, I really enjoy the Prophet’s playstyle. With features like Life Leech and Disable, it really just makes a good combo of being in combat, taking a bunch of damage, but still being able to heal yourself up and if you see anyone getting pounced on, you can disable the enemy, run over and stave them. In terms of artstyle, though, I really like the Sentinels’ appearance and how they show up in Nosgoth compared to what the clan originally looked like in the original story and how they eventually devolved as the story has gone on. It’s cool to see these characters mid-transformation before going on to what they eventually become.
GameWatcher: What will be different in Nosgoth’s full release version, compared to its Early Access state?
Bill Beacham: It’s still going to be free-to-play, it’s simply going to be a matter of coming out of Early Access and opening it up and raising awareness to a wider audience. The latest big update that we’re about to release is the biggest we’ve ever done. It’s substantial and is the last content update before we go fully live, so what we’ll be doing is looking at how that is received, and we want to give it some time in the live environment to look at bugs or exploits that come out of it. Obviously we test all of these things, but it’s different testing internally to testing out there with the mass of players. Once we’re happy that we’ve ironed out any major issues there, then we’ll be coming out of Early Access. It’s not so much that there’ll be more content, it’ll just be that the content we’ve got will be that bit more robust and polished. For new players coming in, everything that they’re seeing is new. Over the course of Early Access, I think we’ve doubled the amount of content we have - maps, classes, game modes, content generally - from the start to this point.
Once we have made that transition there will be more new content coming, we’re just not talking about that at that much beyond the new character class that’s on its way. We have a lot plans for more content, we’re just really focusing on the new Beastmaster update, finishing the new vampire and seeing how the game performs and what the players are asking for because, ultimately, that’s what we need to be responding to.
GameWatcher: How much control did you have over the canon of the series?
Bill Beacham: Obviously it’s Square Enix IP, and without being disrespectful with what came before, we could do whatever we liked. Instead, what we’ve tried to do is make sure that everything we do is sensible, fits within canon and feels appropriate for the franchise. It’s a period of history in the game’s very long fictional history that hasn’t been seen before and that was deliberate - we didn’t want to be treading on the toes of what you’d seen in Soul Reaver, Blood Omen, or any of the other titles. We looked at where this conflict would best fit and decided that the space immediately after Soul Reaver but before the gameplay actually starts. If you remember how the storyline works out there, there’s a gap where Raziel is out of the picture and we felt that that was an appropriate time to explore what happens as that period of history is not something that’s been seen before. It fitted the needs for a mass-scale conflict between humans and vampires very nicely.
GameWatcher: Do you think if Nosgoth is successful it could lead to more fully-licensed Legacy of Kain games in the future?
Bill Beacham: We haven’t publicly announced anything and I don’t want to speculate, particularly. It’s a possibility and I think Square Enix has shown that we can take IP that was dormant and make successful and critically acclaimed games - look at Deus Ex, it’s an awesome game from a really talented team and there’s a huge anticipation for the next title there. It’s a possibility, but we’d just need to make sure it was the right proposal, the right team, the right time, all these various factors that would tie into it. As I’m sure you’re aware, making big story-driven games is a complicated and time-consuming process, it’s not something you jump into lightly. I’d love there to be - I’m a massive fan, it’s one of the IPs that attracted me to Eidos back in the day - so I hope there will be, but it’s not something we can say yes or no to right now.
GameWatcher: Rocket League has made Psyonix somewhat of a household name since its release last year - have you noticed more people showing more interested in Nosgoth since Rocket League came to the fore?
Jacob Mott: It’s certainly interesting to see because we certainly have different metrics in different areas, but they’re drastically different games, therefore they have drastically different audiences. It has been funny too because a lot of people have been picking up Rocket League from friends and similar things and have been playing for a while, before suddenly seeing the name Psyonix and being like, ‘wait, Psyonix made Nosgoth too?’. They haven’t seen past the Rocket League game but it’s certainly been cool, we have done a couple of cross-promotions - a while ago the Nosgoth faction flags made their way into Rocket League. But, yeah, they’re very different projects!
Bill Beacham: I think you’re right, it’s definitely raised Psyonix’s profile, which is great for them and it’s great for us as well that more people are taking interest in them. When we started working with them, we knew that they were a really creative team. To see them succeed like this is confirmation that we were right to start working with them in the first place, and we’re really happy and it’s great that more people are playing their games.
GameWatcher: What is difficult for you to make a game of this caliber and adapt it to the free-to-play model?
Jacob Mott: It’s definitely different from when the game originally came into Early Access versus the free-to-play playing field now, it’s pretty drastically different. That said, a lot of what went into the free-to-play design is very similar to what’s going in now which is sort of like we don’t to have pay-to-win mechanics at all. The free-to-play stuff is centred on different ways to customise your appearance, so you have lots of skins, banners, various things like that.
Bill Beacham: I think it’s one of those things where, in the bad old days, free-to-play games had a very bad reputation where they weren’t treating their players particularly well, there were paywalls and pay-to-win mechanisms. From the start, I remember the first conversation I had with the guys here and we were adamant that nobody wanted to make a game like that. We talked to other people who operate in this area - Valve, are obviously very successful - and the philosophy was: if you make a good game, then players will come to it and some of them will invest in it.
That is ultimately the recipe for long-term success, they’re playing the game because they want to, not because they feel compelled to grind. If they want to spend to customise their experience or to accelerate their experience then that’s fine. If they don’t, then that’s fine as well, as long as people are playing the game and enjoying it, then that’s what keeps it alive. Generally, the quality of free-to-play games now is just increasing. They’re not quick, cheap products, there are some quality polished games out there and one of the things that we’re really proud of is when we first went into Early Access we had a lot of positive responses to how good the game looked - I think it was a surprise to some people.
GameWatcher: How have you found the Early Access process?
Jacob Mott: The good thing about Early Access is that we get a lot of people looking to try it out. We get a lot of perspectives from people who may not normally play. If this game had released at, say, $60, it may just be people who are really interested in the series playing but having went with free-to-play and Early Access we’ve been able to get hundreds of perspectives from a lot of different people. That’s fed into everything - from the way story and visuals get presented, how we balance things, we’ve been talking to ESL teams to sort of gather their high-level focus, and once we move into release we’re going to get an influx of new players so we’ll get a load of totally new perspectives then. This is especially applicable to lower-level players; we’ll look at those two points and try to marry the differences so that everyone can have the best experience. It’s worked out well overall.
GameWatcher: The Beastmaster class looks like a pretty impressive addition to the game. Tell us more about it, its special abilities, and how it fits into the Nosgoth landscape.
Bill Beacham: The big thing about the Beastmaster is that he’s the first human class that can fly. Originally, the most mobile characters were the vampires and the humans were a lot more about being on the ground, hunkering down, looking to pick out vampires from range. The big change with the Beastmaster is that he can hunt down vampires, he can chase them around, he can scan out their positions, and once he does find them he can transform back into his human form and fight them in their own range with his close range shotgun. That’s definitely one of the big differences. The other classes are going to be at the back lines trying to pick out vampires before they get too close - the Beastmaster is gonna be right up in their faces, trying to dodge through their melee attacks, in order to get the most damage he can - be that with his own shotgun or either chasing them down and finishing them off with his own abilities, depending on how they get out of range.
GameWatcher: Up to now, human fighters tend to be on the backfoot in battles. Will the Beastmaster change the dynamics of battle, and what challenges will this pose?
Jacob Mott: Yeah, that’s definitely something we’ve seen so far. Originally when we were first prototyping the Beastmaster, he had no restrictions on his flying ability so they were always flying away from their team and chasing down vampires. In this they were either very successful or they got themselves killed. It’s been a tough balance to make sure we can cater to this players who want to be aggressive and chase down vampires but also make sure they still need the rest of their team to support them and they can’t just go out and be a one-man wrecking crew or feed their faces off. There’s been a lot of iteration in stuff like the speed of its flight, what kind of move mobility he has in that form, what can take him out of that form, and how long does it take to get him into that form. It’s been a lot of very small tweaks, but we’ve been happy with what we’ve got so far.
Bill Beacham: It’s interesting, when we first played him, as Jake said, the temptation to just shift into bird form and abandon your team and go off hunting vampires is very strong. If you’re a good player you might succeed, but it does mean that you’re vulnerable and your teammates are a man down, potentially. Players very quickly learn that, actually, you need to be very smart about how you play him and you don’t give into that first temptation, as strong as it is. The first time you land on a rooftop that a wounded vampire is trying to get climb onto and blow him away is just immensely satisfying, but, at the same time, it can be very risky. If you’ve got a team that doesn’t cooperate then, as with any class, it can very rapidly fall apart.
We know the Beastmaster is going to shift things up a bit and that’s part of the reason we’re really excited about it, but at the same time there’s been a lot of careful thought put into ensuring that it doesn’t disrupt the game overall. And, as a vampire, I must say, the first time you pounce in bird of prey form out of midair is so much fun!
GameWatcher: Tell us more about the new forthcoming Vampire
Jacob Mott: Most people have figured it out that the sixth vampire is coming from the Rahabim clan. The story from the Legacy of Kain lore is that they’re a scholarly people, they eventually evolved into a water-dwelling, snake type people who do lot of secret agent spy work. Coming into Nosgoth, the Rahabim vampires will be filling a sort of special forces role which will have a lot of different abilities that are applicable to different situations, but they won’t necessarily be the best choice in all situations. Compared to a lot of the other classes, where they pick their favourite loadouts and pretty much do whatever they want, a big part of the Rahabim’s gameplay is making sure they have loadout to counter the human team they’re going up against, in turn making sure they can set up the battlefield and exploit it in the most advantageous way for their team.
She’s definitely a higher complexity, higher skillcap vampire to play, so there’s been a lot of iteration and balancing at our end, where we’ve asked: where do we strike a fine line between a single-player being able to pull the game in their favour versus making sure they still need support from their allies so that the other team doesn’t get pressed and overwhelmed.
GameWatcher: When will this be introduced?
Jacob Mott: It’ll probably be a while, so we’ll go through the Beastmaster patch, then the full release will be after that, and then the Rahabim will be a little ways after that. We definitely want to make sure she’s balanced and in a good place so that when she does get out there, she doesn’t totally destroy the human teams!
Nosgoth is currently available on Steam Early Access with plans to release in full later this year.