Battle Chasers: Nightwar, the Kickstarter-funded RPG from Airship Games looks to revive Joe Madureira's 90s comic book series. Pascal Tekaia got to see how the game is shaping up at a behind-closed-doors demonatration at this year's E3.
It wasn't playable on the show floor, but behind closed doors is where I found one of my most pleasant surprises at E3: Battle Chasers: Nightwar. The game is based on the popular late-90s comic series by Joe Madureira, which ended abruptly after only nine issues. The forthcoming game, funded via Kickstarter in September 2015, will feature the same characters as the comic, while being a side story to the existing canon. Battle Chasers places heavy emphasis on dungeon crawling, with said dungeons always being randomly generated.
The demo that I saw already looked incredible. Graphics are lush and vibrant, a little cartoony though just enough to be consistent with its comic book influences. The dungeon that I was walked through really brought out the game's arcanepunk aesthetic; environments and characters had a sort of enchanted glow to them, as if from dusky sunlight filtering through a magical canopy of trees. Apart from that, the graphics in exploration and combat were fluid and smooth, and each nook and cranny was filled with believable details that popped off the screen.
As pretty as Battle Chasers is to look at, the combat system is what really piqued my interest. It's turn-based and features an initiative bar on the bottom of the battle screen. Opponents face-off against each other from left to right on the screen. The bottom section of the screen features each character's moves, represented by large icons. What looks like a simple system at first turns out to be much deeper, offering lots of opportunities for combining different characters' strengths and turning the tide of battle in varying, involved ways.
To start with, there is no such thing as a "normal" attack in Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Each character (there are six, of which three will be in the party at any given time) has two instant attacks, which can be used without any restrictive cost, as often as the player likes. They are more basic attacks that usually cause a small bit of damage or build up something called overcharge, which is really at the core of combat. Overcharge is temporary mana that can be built up in the course of a single battle, extending beyond the current mana pool, but which disappears after the battle ends. All other attacks apart from instant attacks rely on using mana, so overcharging is a great way to be able to use these other attacks without making too much of a dent in the carried-over mana pool. Each hero can have six of these abilities active at any time, which are obviously are more powerful than the instant attacks. Using the instant attacks and normal abilities with three characters makes for a total of twenty-four possible actions to use during battle. But wait, there's more!
A separate on-screen meter gradually fills up as damage is delivered in combat. This bar, called the Battle Burst Meter, is broken up into several segments that fill up one after the other. Each of the six characters — including Garrison the swordsman, nine-year-old girl Gully (who also fills a tanking role), the war golem Calibretto, Knolan the wizard, Red Monika the bounty hunter — has a unique attack that uses segments of the Battle Burst Meter. Depending on the character, these ultra abilities can use up multiple Battle Burst segments, making them a rare commodity in combat. The Battle Burst Meter is shared between the party, so if one character depletes it, there is a wait until it is filled again. Each character has other unique dungeon skills that can be used on the actual dungeon map. For example, Gully is equipped with a pair of heavy-pounding gauntlets, which lets her perform a wall-shattering ground punch in dungeon areas. Some effects of these dungeon abilities can also bleed over into battle.
With combat receiving such a high level of attention, it's no surprise that it is Battle Chaser's primary area of gameplay, with the game's story conveyed primarily via lore discovered in dungeons. An overworld hub town exists, where players can spend time between raids. The town's NPCs may even grant players certain bonuses if they've been leveled up by bringing them special items found in dungeons. The blacksmith, for example, will increase his skill if you deliver a certain number of special hammers to him. Some narrative-centered events can also happen in the overworld from time to time.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a game brimming with possibilities, not in the least because of its stylish look and combat system ripe for experimentation with different ability combinations. Even those who've not been grandfathered in by the comic series should find something of interest in it. For now, it receives my "Game of the Show" nomination, and is certainly one to keep an eye on before it comes to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in early 2017.