From the 21st of October through to the 24th, myself, Lewis B, Matt “Steerpike” Sakey, Joel “Harbour Master” Goodwin from Electron Dance, Armand K from BnB Gaming, and a couple of friends by the name of Luke and Evan got together to play Bloodline Champions, a free-to-play arena and team-based player versus player title by Stunlock Studios. Blows were exchanged, blood was rent and the victorious were left flailing around randomly. We also managed to get a fair few hours in with the game. But what did we all make of it and what did we, a nub of noobs, look and sound like trying to get to grips with it? To read our dubiously strung together words click the Read More button below. To watch a video of our sorry selves, well, you’ll have to click the Read More button as well, these buttons don’t come cheap you know.
Gregg: I suppose I should start by saying I have little experience with these types of games. Honestly, my brother (Lewis) inherited the MMO PVP AOE DPS DOT gene. At one point he kept saying “POM POM” to me, whatever the hell that means. The closest I’ve come to a game like Bloodline Champions is Magicka — which says a lot really — but! After wrangling with this beast for the best part of a weekend I’ve gotta say, it’s bloody good fun once you get up to speed with it. There’s just an awful lot to take in at first, especially for newcomers.
Lewis: I think the game does a good job of introducing players to the whole idea of a competitive arena based game. Stunlock Studios have taken the core concept of scenarios in MMOGs or DotA and refined it to the bare bones of what it is people are seeking in a duelling or arena sub-genre. The tutorials are a new addition and so is the inclusion of giving you a free Bloodline of your choice once you’ve done them. I must admit I might find it easier to get into than most though as I’ve a lot of experience in what the game is all about (limited skills, cool downs, classes, scrolling combat text etc). Really though, if you don’t like competitive games (especially ones with an infinite skill ceiling on your personal ability) it really won’t be for you! Oh and people really should check out the Bloodgate resource library in game, it tells you absolutely everything you could ever need to know about classes, the game, tournaments, ladders, your match statistics — the lot. It’s incredibly impressive and it makes a nice change not having to search the web for info as it’s all there for you.
Gregg: Ah, nice. I found it strange that the tutorial explained (at some length) the rather obvious W, A, S and D movement controls but neglected to explain any classes bar the Igniter (a ranged class). The other bloodline classes (melee, tank and healer) handle very differently and once you’re out of the tutorial you’re sort of own your own. For instance, I didn’t realise that you have to aim with melee attacks as well so I obviously got butchered repeatedly in close quarter combat. Bloodline Champions is one of those games where switching characters (or bloodlines) — never mind class types — can really screw you up because of the numerous unique abilities and the different strategies that come with them.
Steerpike: The tutorial definitely didn’t make the learning curve any shallower, though admittedly the game is mostly about frantically tapping buttons. I can see players — once they know the basic commands — finding hours of fun just experimenting with various classes. On the other hand, to me it almost seemed like there were too many. It must get repetitive at some point. One of the nicest things about Bloodline Champions was that a group of complete newbs, at least one of them under the influence of alcohol, could jump in and start blasting away without too much of a headache.
Lewis: I definitely think a tutorial for all class types would help, but there is nothing stopping you playing against the computer in solo play to test each class if you so choose. I must add though Steerpike, it really doesn’t get repetitive. Just like Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2, you keep playing because a) it’s so much fun b) you know you can do better and improve and c) it’s a rush when you’re the last man standing. I had one match with Gregg and Luke where it was just me alive with two Harbingers and I won — I was literally shaking with excitement and nerves.
Gregg: Me and Luke have had a few sessions on it since the weekend and at one point, after consistently losing for over an hour, he asked “Don’t you find it a bit repetitive?” but I can’t say I do. Not yet at least. Ask me next week. Sure, technically it is repetitive but it’s repetitive in the same way as a sport is. The objective is simple but the way you go about it isn’t. Bloodline Champions is a very twitchy and nuanced competitive game and I’m not sure that comes across in a few hours of play with it. I’ve clocked in about 10 hours so far and while I’ve graduated from poking numerous keys at random I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface. And it’s so damn fast.
Lewis: It really is fast — incredibly fast. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Gregg. I’ve seen my skill in the game rocket, match after match, after investing time in a specific Bloodline. I could barely kill anyone at first and now as a Nomad I can confidently take on 3 players at once. I played a match last night against a strong team but I had two new players with me. We managed to win the match despite most of it involving me as the last survivor. Circumstances like that make it worth while. I must also say, we’ve barely even touched on the game: we’ve still got 2v2 and 3v3 team games for tournaments as well as ladder qualifications — I play with a few friends and that is even more nerve wracking knowing your league placement depends on your performance.
Joel: After a relatively painless download, the interface gored me. I pondered whether the confusing, noisy GUI was trying to trick me into clicking a BUY button by accident. Pay options were mixed into free options, with the entire interface screaming at you that parts of Normality were disabled because you were a cheapskate customer. So this is free-to-play.
I let the tutorial guide me but the HUD was bewildering. I was out of my depth. This was not my beautiful house. This was not my beautiful wife. My God, what have I done? The tutorial started me out with a class – I mean, “bloodline” – called an Igniter. I wasn’t going to bother with any other bloodlines because this whole experience was going to be a one-night stand and nothing more. My weapons were Q, E, R, SPACE, left mouse button and right mouse button. Oh, yeah, and F for Fucking Big Attack. The plan was to wipe out my opponents with these keystrokes, played like a piano concerto of death.
When I joined a game with some of the Alliance of Awesome fellows I was introduced to an astonishing fact. The Igniter is not available in matches with real people when your profile is on level 1, unless you wanted to unlock it with cash, of course. So this is free-to-play. I had to learn another class on the fly – the Gunner, someone who would do best to hang back and not get into fisticuffs. Sadly, this revelation only came to me after I’d finished our play session, having spent most of the game engaging in rifle shooting at melee distances.
Sidenote: Wow, guys, did your mothers teach you all that bad language for online play? I tried to join in. The best I could muster on the hoof was Your Microphone Sucks Dicks. Upon uttering these magical words, there was a magical silence. I knew then that I had felled you with my wit.
Gregg: I blame Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for my cussing. And Armand, just because he’s not here to defend himself.
Joel: Perhaps the nightmarish interface suited those of a WoW persuasion better, but with stats and counters bleeding from my eyes, I simply ignored the clutter and got on with the important job of killing other people.
You’re probably way ahead of me, now. You probably know what my verdict is. That’s right, I enjoyed myself. Did you guess right? Despite the F2P mantraps everywhere and more data littering the screen than you’d see on a poster for The Matrix, it was good old-fashioned killkillkill PvP. As the time rolled on, we all found ourselves getting into the swing and heft of it.
I couldn’t say if that fun would continue forever and whether, as we grew in immeasurable power and girth, different problems with the game would arise. Nonetheless, I enjoyed spending a weekend with Bloodline Champions in the company of my AoA buddies.
Steerpike: I’m glad to hear it doesn’t get repetitive. All in all I got the sense that Stunlock’s put a lot of effort into the game, creatively. Glad they didn’t overreach. Like Joel, I had fun. It was 99% running around and screaming and mashing buttons and laughter, and there’s really not much more to ask.
Lewis: I’m not sure I agree there Joel, SLS are actually incredibly generous with their free content — you can play all the game and its modes for free. There are two currencies in Bloodline Champions, Bloodcoins (red ones) are earned just by playing and you can easily earn 5,000 in a few hours and Funcom coins are purchased. Buying a single Bloodline with Funcom coins will cost you about £3.80, or you could save your Bloodcoins and buy the Bloodline for free for around 20,000 but you’ll obviously have to play more for it. The practically limitless skill ceiling makes each individual Bloodline very rewarding to play in itself so paying £4 is an absolute bargain if you want one straight away. Not to mention you get one for free after completing all the tutorial stuff anyway. I purchased the Seeker using Funcom coins as I didn’t want to spend £25 on the full game (though I did eventually buy the full game) but I tend to save my Bloodcoins for outfits and other things. Really though, I didn’t have to ever spend a single penny on the game as I had enough Bloodcoins in a week to buy an extra Bloodline for free. I think SLS’ model is actually too generous.
Gregg: I wouldn’t say £4 is an absolute bargain for a character! Now, 99p for a sofa, that’s a bargain. Joel touches on what I was saying earlier about there being a lot to take in for newcomers. When you first login to the game it’s like “HERE BE BUTTONS”, each one vying for your attention. Despite being relatively unfamiliar with MMOGs (with most of my experience being over Lewis’ shoulder) the interface is a similarly very heavy-duty power-user sort of affair. It’s all form follows function. Something I only learnt this week that I’m unsure Joel knew about when we got together, was that the free-to-play bloodlines rotate each week to allow players to sample them — which is great — but this isn’t clear from the outset and with the tutorial priming you for one particular character it’s a bit bewildering when you find that it isn’t available.
Lewis: I definitely think the game menus could be tidied up a little, it isn’t always as clear as it could be — but as far as the in-game combat menus go, it is incredibly sleek. You’ve just got your skills at the bottom, a map in the bottom left and the score at the top. Full skill descriptions are hidden automatically until you press shift on them, whilst the UI can be condensed even more if you want from the options. The game needs to convey a lot of information to you and your opponents and I think it does that very well, in a visceral way with clear spell effects.
Steerpike: It’s amazing how off-putting a bad interface or menu system can be. Online games such as this one do have a lot of information they need to keep you apprised of, and that info changes pretty regularly. My reaction upon firing up Bloodline Champions for the first time was exactly the same as everyone else’s – “holy buttons!” But once I found out which ones I was supposed to click, I was able to ignore the rest.
This is not the kind of game I would invest money in, but aside from that front menu system I felt it was well-made and catered very well to the demographic it’s going for. That I’m not its target customer doesn’t negatively effect my feelings about it. I had as much fun, however temporarily, playing this with you guys as I have playing Left 4 Dead. To me that’s the key with multiplayer games: can you get together with friends and shriek with laughter for a few hours? If so, the game’s a winner.
Joel: Game genres often develop to serve their niche audience. There are conventions that those in the know take for granted. This, being my first foray into such a game, was totally overwhelmed. It’s sleek perhaps if you’ve played these games for some time; I was a total noob. I would’ve thrown in the towel quickly if I hadn’t promised to participate in advance. That said, I had fun on the other side of the “Holy Buttons” curtain. But I’m not convinced it’s that accessible to someone with no relevant experience… or friends to goad them on. Plus, my first real experience of a F2P model, which I can’t say I was overkeen on.
Gregg: I quite liked the free-to-play model here because it allowed us all to dip our toes into something we’re unfamiliar with without regretting any sort of purchase and without being denied too much of the content. I dare say it’s like a demo, the only difference being that you can buy individual parts if you don’t fancy like stumping up £25 to unlock the whole lot. I can’t see myself buying the full game because I’m not entirely sure yet whether this genre is my bag, but I may certainly buy a couple of bloodlines, this way I’ll be supporting the developer without breaking my paltry game-allowance on something I might not play that often. I’ve had a lot more fun with Bloodline Champions than I expected to and will likely continue playing it with Lew and Luke and anyone else interested.
Lewis: I feel the need to follow this article up with a review of the game now I’ve sunk 72 hours into it. It’s easily the best F2P game on the market next to Team Fortress 2 and its release on Steam over the weekend saw the servers grind to a halt due to the influx of new players. I really can’t recommend it enough. Arena match anyone?
Where’s My Team was slyly recorded, lovingly edited and kindly allowed to be embedded in this article by Joel.
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