I'm quite picky about the competitive multiplayer games I spend time with. I tend to feel as if games in general tend to fit too neatly into their categories and thus the resulting genre groupings become disturbingly homogenous, and homogeneity in competition is even more extreme. Amongst at least the competitive multiplayer experiences that are placed in front of me, the starting templates are too few and were established too long ago to feel fresh. That doesn't preclude me from enjoying some of them even so — it's just nice when I get to play something that feels outside the norm.
Nosgoth, the new 4v4 game set in the Legacy of Kain universe, is an asymmetrical title. Being asymmetrical is not a template, of course — that descriptor says more about what it isn't than what it is. And what it is not is Call of Duty, or anything like it aside from being team-based.
What it is: 4-on-4 battles, class-based, with one team carrying ranged weapons and the other none, humans vs. vampires. And in the first few hours of my experience with Nosgoth, it’s brilliant.
Unlike the folks who have been making a fuss over Titanfall’s player count, I have a soft spot for 4v4 — Gears of War being the most consistently enjoyable multiplayer experience for my hands. More players can be good as well, but it’s not as if having 64 players in Battlefield provides a particularly dense, ahem, field of battle. Typically, 4v4 means more compact maps, which by extension means a smaller learning curve for new entries.
Being accessible is clearly the name of the game for Nosgoth. The map available in the game’s closed alpha isn’t tiny, but it only takes a round or two to get a good feel for it. And with the nature of Nosgoth precluding one-hit kills because of the amount of damage players can take (another key Gears similarity), “knowing the map” isn’t the advantage it is in a military shooter.
Without spending too much time in exposition, the differences between playing a vampire and playing a human are easily seen in starting up a match and then not even choosing classes. Each side has three of them, and if upon being assigned to a side at the start of a match — you’ll switch sides every round — you just hit play rather than making a class choice you’ll end up with the human hunter or vampire reaver.
The hunter carries a rapid-fire crossbow with explosive rounds as secondary ammo with a cooldown, and can toss shackles that bind a vampire’s arms. The reaver can charge up a long-distance leap that will knock down a human if you hit one at the end of it, can toss a smoke bomb, and has an evasion move to get out of tight spots, in addition to the standard left-click melee attack. Vampires, too, can climb walls, and humans cannot. Vampires regen health automatically outside combat, and humans must hit up the supply boxes to heal and refill ammo.
And that’s it. It’s very uncomplicated, but the differences are stark and only become moreso when you also notice the vampire sentinels flying around the map, or that using a regular bow essentially puts you into the sniper role.
Powers are not limited to what I mention above, though — being F2P Nosgoth has microtransactions, which take the form of items and abilities that can be purchased with gold earned through playing or cash. These purchasable items are not “better” unless you’re just more proficient with them than you are with what you had before. And the purchases don’t appear to be so expensive as to take much time to unlock by playing — three or four matches should get you enough for a new bow, for example, unless you’re just terrible.
Speaking of which, Nosgoth has two tiers of matchmaking — battles only for folks under level 5, and battles for all comers. This helps the learning curve as well. I’ve been sticking to the under-5 competitions and the matches have been competitive with everyone pulling their own weight. It feels very welcoming.
Before you start whining about filthy casuals, there’s a difference between pulling your weight and dominating — i.e. Nosgoth is in that “easy to learn, difficult to master” space that any good F2P game must be. But whereas diving into a Call of Duty match with randos can be just painfully futile for the player who doesn’t play that title consistently, I feel Nosgoth has hit the sweet spot for accessibility. Chances are it will take only one match to find a class you’re not horrible with — it took me three to find one I was not so good with — and after a couple more you’ll find a niche.