Mobilization and Rend
Although I didn’t get to personally get to PAX East this year (second year running! Thanks, snipers!) I did check out a few offerings presented at the event. One of them is called Rend from Frostkeep Studios* which is called a “survival sandbox” game, because survivalbox games are the new MOBA, which was the new FPS, which was the new MMO, and so on. Rend‘s claim is that unlike other survivalbox games which are basically cycles of PvP irritation with high barriers to entry for new players on established servers, their game features three factions. Each faction has to concern itself with building its base during periods of protection from invasion for that one day when the shields drop and all player locations are invaded by NPC monsters. The survivalbox elements come into play when the environment can kill players, the oPvP, and the potential for other factions to take advantage of Shield Drop Day to help NPC monsters eradicate their foes.
I’ve tried many a survivalbox game in my time, and while they’re OK so long as I am playing on a private server hosted by like-minded individuals, I’m not so much a fan of the “survival” aspect. I find it tedious and pointless, the ultimate expression of busy-work as players must spend at least 50% of their in-game time tapping resources just to allow them to continue to tap resources. In fact, after writing that sentence, I’m starting to see better how mobile gaming is bleeding back into other gaming platforms when I’d always hoped it would be the other way around.
When I read about Rend‘s partial base invulnerability combined with a three-faction system which required players to build up their bases to make them defensible once the shield fell, I immediately thought of all of those mobile games like Clash of Clans which feature the exact same mechanic. In those games, new players have a “grace period” during which they can begin to set up their bases in order to have a fighting chance against more established players. It sounds generous, but it’s really a mechanic to draw you in under fear of missing a day and getting behind in your preparations, which isn’t something that I think Rend can get away from either despite their claims that vulnerability will be scheduled well in advance so your faction can make plans to be online. As someone who works and has family and other real world obligations, I know I can’t be beholden to someone else’s schedule — which actually sucks because being available to game is a luxury I wish I had.
Thing is, I might actually like Rend based on what I’m reading. Players join under a factional banner and have to specialize because no one player can fight and craft. There are exploration mechanics and RvRvR “risk vs reward” mechanics that could provide successful factions with military boons — assuming they aren’t c-blocked by other factions in the process. There are win conditions, which is different from other survivalbox games which seemingly have none aside from “keep on keeping on”, although Rend will have “seasons”, which is a trope I really dislike because it makes the game feel like an esport, which is the new survivalbox game, which was the new MOBA, which was the new FPS, and so on. Of course, there’s something about Rend‘s description that makes me think it would make an excellent esport contender, or at least would make for interesting streaming fodder.
I had hoped, though, that PC and console games would leak more into mobile and we’d eventually see far more in-depth games like a real edition of Civilization or a city builder like Cities: Skylines instead of the insipid click-to-collect versions we ended up with. Mobile games tend to make people feel that they have to play rather than working on providing them with a game they want to play, which is where survivalbox games tend to lose me; so much ongoing prep-work and not enough results makes me feel that I’m logging in not just to keep up, but to continuously work by clicking on resources most of the time just so I can have brief periods of actual gameplay.
I don’t foresee myself getting into Rend, despite the more RvRvR flavor to it, mainly because I don’t run in established PvP circles (quite the opposite, in fact), and while the developers believe that a heads-up for base vulnerability day is a generous idea (it is), I can totally see the players making unreasonable demands on other players to be present in order to mount the best defense possible. I don’t need kids on summer vacation or college students skipping class getting on my ass because I have to go to work during the day. That sounds a lot like having a second job.
* One thing I wish studio announcements would stop doing is listing off the lineage of their developers like game development is some kind of Highlands clan registry. It seems like every studio has someone who worked on World of Warcraft or League of Legends, and considering how incestious the games industry is, it’s actually news when the development team hasn’t worked on games we’ve heard of.