was one of the ID@Xbox titles to be first revealed at San Diego's GDC in 2014. Since then, the game has been travelling to numerous gaming expos for players to try out. One of those conventions was last weekend's Play Blackpool, where I got the chance to try out the Arena Mode where players face seemingly endless waves of enemies in a fight to survive individually or with a friend in co-op. As well as slashing numerous enemies to death, I got to interview Fully Illustrated's Michael Heald about the upcoming beat 'em up:There is no character customisation or levelling up throughout the campaign. How does the game allow for different play styles?
We've got three different characters and they all fight slightly differently. We've got Guinevere, Brennus and Caradoc -- all pre-Roman names so that they're accurate to the period. Guinevere is quite fast and she has the ability to jump up the z-plane of the game; none of the other characters can do that. She can evade and she can jump in for attacks really quickly. She's also extremely aggressive up close.
You've then got Caradoc who is your all-rounder. He's got mid-level strength, or mid-level everything really, but he has got a few specific moves that are special to him. He's got a ground slam; when he jumps into the air, if he's in trouble and there are people all around him he can slam to the ground and knock all of the characters over who are around him and get himself out of trouble. He also has a double jump attack as well.
Brennus is the big tank and he's an amazing grappler so he can pin enemies to the ground and sink his axe into their skull. He's the big meathead.You can pick up different weapons throughout the levels too.
We've tried to keep the game retro-focused, but we know that not everybody is retro-focused. We've tried to keep the game open to new players as well so there are elements to appeal to newer players too. You start off with your weapons and those are the weapons that you have throughout the game but you can pick up downed enemies' weapons too. When an assassin comes in, he drops his knife. You can pick it up and throw it back at him when he runs off. You can pick up some farming tools. We've got a massive scythe -- you can slice enemies in half with that. Heads come off quite easily with a scythe.I saw the arms coming off during my arena fight.
The fun is that you can pick those arms up and throw them back at the enemy.I tried that but I missed. So what about unlockables, seeing as you have all of the moves and the weapons available from the start?
There's a whole range of unlockables. There's one unlockable that is "the" unlockable. You will learn what that is when you play the game. It sounds very cloak-and-dagger but it's a very special unlock that will immediately make you want to pick the game up and play it again. It's not something that means that you'll struggle without it but, once you've got it, you'll immediately want to play again. That's all we're saying for now.
As far as other unlockables, you have the Arena Mode. As you go through the campaign you unlock more arenas. The arenas at the show are the early ones. There will be 8-10 in total and each one is different. They each have different environmental hazards. Some have pits in them and we've got ones with fire where you can throw your enemies into the fire. There are battlements at the side so you can throw them onto the spikes and get kills there so that will make for varied play.
We don't push this too hard because not everybody is into history, but because the game is actually rooted in Britain's history, as you go through the game you will unlock history tablets. If you choose, you can go into the menu system and you can read those history tablets. It's like an RPG when you find out the lore, but in this you're finding out about your roots instead. As you pick up certain weapons, that will unlock one that will tell you about that weapon. If you meet certain enemies, we'll tell you about them. For the locations, it will tell you about where they are.How important is history for this game?
It's everything. History is what makes this game what it is, especially for the story. It's all about the tale of Caradoc, who is the main protagonist. His brother and sister, Guinevere and Brennus, are his backup. Their family are from Caledonia, a northern tribe, and their job is to unite the tribes of the north to fight against the incoming Roman horde. You're spear-heading that attack.
I have driven out to every location and I've photographed and drawn from those visits. The weather is very British -- it rains on almost every level. It's cold and drab, but beautifully drab like the North is. It's a section of history that doesn't get taught in schools and our pre-Roman history is who we once were. We were tribespeople who worshipped the earth, the ground and the sky, and all of that has been lost. This covers that and we also bring in some of the lore elements.Will we see any of those real-life locations in the game?
Yes. Every one of the levels is a real-life location but, because I can't go back 2000 years, it is my interpretation of that location 2000 years ago. It has been a challenge in some ways because Britain was 95% forest at the time, so we've had to part the trees in some places so that you get something other than trees.You have Arena mode at the show, which people can play in local two-player co-op or on their own. Will the multiplayer modes be online too and will they allow for more players?
It's two player as it stands. The sprites are massive. We can hold more, that's not a problem, but the screen gets a bit full and we'd have to re-engineer some of the arenas to allow for four players. In the future there's a good chance that we'll bring four-player in but at launch it's going to be two player.
It's local co-op at the moment. We're putting the workings in but we're not going to be releasing with it. Our first major planned update for the game is online. It's just really costly at the moment because we're self-funded. Trying to fit that in now is too much.You've been replying to some of the comments in our forums previously and stated that you listen to the feedback from the community. How has player feedback shaped the game so far?
There's no point in making a game just the way that you see it as that's not what people are going to like. We are sticking to our core values all the way through but when we take it to shows and we playtest it then we respond to that feedback. Originally there was no blocking mechanism. I'm the artist and I wanted a shield for aesthetic purposes only -- I like the look of it. But then people were saying "I've got a shield. I want to use it. I want to hide behind it." I originally thought that I don't want any blocking. I want combat, people want blocking. So, we didn't want it to be a case where you could sit behind your shield all day and you're invincible. To make it realistic, you've got a shield but not all of the characters have one. Brennus doesn't have a shield. If you have a shield, you can absorb hits but you still take a bit of damage.
You can't get through the game without the shield now. If we were bringing blocking in, we had to make sure that it was part of the game's mechanic and not just there because people had asked for it. When you come up against a Centurion, there is no way that you can fight a Centurion without using your block. They will just kill you and they are very aggressive. There's a huge array of mechanics that you have to use to defeat different types of enemies. For example, when a Centurion comes on, he always appears with two archers. The archers will hide behind him as he's blocking so that they can shoot you while you're trying to get through the block. In the campaign, when a Centurion comes on then he will send on a shield wall of legionaries. You'll have to break that to be able to beat them and get to the Centurion.How are the game's achievements coming along?
The achievements are very much on our minds. We've already got a list of idealised achievements and we've been refining those all the way through. We don't want spammy achievements but we do want fun achievements, like making it through a level without using a projectile. They're more like challenges in a way rather than just an achievement. We're not going to go over the top. We don't want it to be this ridiculous six-year job to get all of the achievements. We want it to be achievable. I'm very retro so achievements, for me, are not something that I focus on but other members of the team are very focused on achievements. Evan [Doody] in particular is a big 100%-er, so he's the one keeping a good eye on that. One of the achievements is going to be to view all of the history tablets to unlock the history master. There will be a vast range of achievements but they won't be Dragon Age
-extensive.Now for the final crunch question. What about a release date?
We're looking at September. All of the levels are now complete -- it takes me a month to paint a level so I just finished the last level about two weeks ago. That's now built and in the game. The encounters are in there for most of the levels but at the moment you just see these characters hacking and slashing. We want you to have a connection with these guys. You're fighting for their freedom against the Roman army. How that is portrayed through the game is through some really beautiful cutscenes that are illustrated by a very well-known comic illustrator. I've animated all of those with him.
We also have a sound design team like you wouldn't believe. They've worked on The Hobbit
; pretty much every major motion picture they've contributed in some manner. They fell in love with the game because they're from the town from where one of the main legions originates. They had a straight connection with the game and they said that they wanted to work something out, so we've done that too. Realistically, September seems a viable date.