If there is one gaming fad that’s starting to reach saturation point, it’s the seemingly endless onslaught of online, survival-based experiences. Ever since DayZ blew up back in 2013, indie developers have been scrambling to cash in on this hot new gaming trend and now Steam is inundated with them.
Spawning successful competitors like Rust, Ark: Survival Evolved (and even AAA takes on the genre like Metal Gear Survive), survival games have slowly become just as inescapable as the yawn-inducing zombie craze of the 2010s.
Now though, one ambitious indie studio is hoping to make the genre feel fresh again.
League Of Warcraft
While you may not recognise the name of Rend developer Frostkeep Studios, you’ll definitely be familiar with the work of its head honchos. Founded by ex-Blizzard and Riot veterans, these influential industry stalwarts are now looking to gaming’s past in order to shape the survival genre’s future.
Frostkeep Studios’ past isn’t just an interesting footnote on its founders’ respective resumes though – it’s something that flows through every strand of Rend’s DNA.
Instead of just falling back on the usual craft and survival mash-up that players have come to expect, Rend offers an intriguing blend of PVP, PVE, and MMO-style character progression. Much like in real life, Frostkeep recognises that the key to survival lies in forming communities, and so in Rend players work together towards a very tangible goal.
Where most survival games drop you into their world naked and alone, Rend immediately throws you into one of three factions, aligning yourself with a band of 20 different Nordic warriors. Despite giving players the freedom to go and adventure any way that they please, Rend’s gameworld also offers a constant visual reminder of its overall objective — to make yours the last faction standing.
Teamwork Makes the Treework
No matter where you are standing in Rend’s colourful, fantasy-style game world, you’ll be under the watchful eye of a gigantic glowing tree that looms over the horizon.
Handily etched into this Norse-inspired tree of life (Yggdrasil for the mythology buffs out there) is a magical leaderboard that logs and displays the progress of each faction. Checking each side of the tree, players can spy which factions have filled the most of the glowing metre, and therefore which faction has claimed the most of Rend’s most precious resource – souls.
“As you explore the world you come across these lost souls and you need to bring them back to your faction base and store them in what you see in the tree, your divinity stone”. Explains Frostkeep CEO and Blizzard alumni, Jeremy Wood.
Yet, it’s not just up to players to find these souls by defeating AI monsters in Rend’s deadly fantasy world – they’ll also get to nab them from other factions too. While most of the time you can quest and explore without fear of danger, once a week an event called The Reckoning is triggered.
The beginning of the (R)end
Once the reckoning begins, the shields surrounding each factions’ base are disabled, drawing in waves of powerful non-playable demons and more crucially, leaving each faction’s divinity stones ripe for the picking.
The shields stay down for a few hours after the Reckoning too, so once the demons have disappeared, faction members have a brief window to work together and plan all-out assaults on their now vulnerable human opponents.
“During the reckoning, you can bring your siege weaponry in and attack someone’s divinity stone, pop out those spirts, grab them and take them back to your base,” Wood explains.
This is where the COOs League Of Legends background gives players a knowing wink. The end goal here, is to destroy the other team’s divinity stones. Once only one faction remains, the game is won – and the server resets.
“Ultimately when a faction fills it all the way up they win the game and we reward everybody and wipe the server and start again and have some more fun.” Explains Solomon Lee. “It’s not a game you just play until you get bored, you’re working together. All these disparate player types HAVE to come together in order for your faction to succeed.”
The Next Logical Step for MMOs
While this may seem like a far cry from the survival games igniting the Steam charts at the moment, for Frostkeep studios, this was the direction that the survival genre was always meant to go in.
“We look at survival games as the natural successor to the old school sandbox MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies. They kind of fell by the wayside when WOW came out, everyone said “theme park MMOs are the way to go” and that genre kind of disappeared,” Wood says with a shrug.
“It only started surfacing a few years ago with these survival games, but now it’s obviously a very stripped-down version,” he continues. “It’s what we see as a way of moving back towards [the genre’s] roots, while making a new experience on the way.”
Still, despite other survival games tendency for providing short-term thrills it’s important to Frostkeep that Rend feels like a game world that you want to return to. That’s why players are free to play the game in a way that suits the kind of experience they’re after from an online game.
“[Rend] supports the way the player wants to play the game,” explains Lee. “Generally with other games in the genre there’s only really one way to play it whereas with the one you can focus on PVPing this one you can focus on crafting and resourcing and actually get really good at it where like the guy who is the PVPer will need the guy who’s really good at crafting and resource collecting because that one resource in the dangerous area, he’ll need to take the assassin type character to protect him to get the resource.”
“And with that resource, he can build this crazy crossbow that the assassin can use. We want every player to enjoy this game, no matter what background they may have.”
Thanks to the duo’s combined seventeen-year work on the original WOW, it’s no surprise that character progression is a key focus for Rend. despite each game of Rend having a very tangible beginning and end, at the end of each game, your character is rewarded with new skill progression paths that carry over into the next game.
“We look at progression less as a growth from point A to point B and more of a journey about experience and choice,” Explains Wood. “Progression where you just get better over time is way less interesting than progression where you’re actually creating a path for yourself that’s unique for your own character. It makes you feel invested when you’re actually creating something unique that makes you stand out from everyone else. I think that’s just a more interesting way of expressing progression.”
Despite how promising what we saw of Rend was, there’s still one hurdle that might be difficult to overcome – the fact that it’s being sold via EarAccess. Thanks to Steam’s pre-release program being flooded with half-finished and barely working titles, many gamers now find themselves wary of coughing up their hard-earned cash for a game that may never be finished.
It’s an issue that Frostkeep Studios is all too aware of.
“Early Access has seen its reputation tarnished over the years and we want to make sure that we approach it from a perspective that makes sense for our players,” insists Wood. ” Our promise is that when we sell a game in early access we believe wholeheartedly that we aren’t selling a promise – we’re selling a product that is worth that money from the moment we sell it.”
He continues,”If we never touch the game I want people to feel like “ I got my money’s worth, this game is worth what I paid for it”…Obviously the plan is not to never touch it again!”
Ultimately we came away impressed with our time with Rend. With Steam currently flooded with identikit survival games, adding elements of MMOs from yesteryear could be just the thing the genre needs to keep players invested for the long haul.