Catalyst Black Launch Review
This week, Super Evil Megacorp (SEMC), developer of Vainglory, launched its newest competitive mobile title: Catalyst Black. Previously known as Project Spellfire, Catalyst Black is self-described as a “team-oriented battleground shooter.” While the game has familiar MOBA elements, it cannot be categorized so simply: it has more in common with top down shooters and non-standard battle arenas. That said, Catalyst Black is also very welcoming to MOBA players, who will find many elements familiar enough to learn from. Let’s take a closer look at what Catalyst Black has to offer.
In Catalyst Black, you play a single character with a customizable loadout. There are a few character skins to choose from: male- and female-bodied, across multiple skin tones and hairstyles. You can change your selection any time, but it is worth noting that there are no other cosmetics or further visual customizations of your character, at least at the time of the game’s launch.
Gameplay is match based, and there are multiple game modes, featuring PvP, PvE, and PvEvP type combat. In these modes, you and your team will work together to battle enemies and earn victory. Movement and combat is twin-stick style: a dynamic movement pad on the left side of the screen controls your character movement, while buttons on the right represent your different attacks and abilities. Your weapons also have a directional element, which is controlled through a pop-up style directional pad that appears once you have selected your weapon by tapping and holding. Single quick shots can also be done by tapping, but will rely on your character facing and be less precise. Controllers are also supported.
Characters have several options in their arsenal of attacks. The main weapon comes with unlimited ammo and charges, which are subject to cooldown timers representing a reload. A secondary “heavy” weapon must be charged through special ammo found on the field, but can do heavy damage in larger areas. A dodge roll is available on a timer, along with an ability of the character’s choosing.
Finally, characters have access to primal form, in which the character transforms into a massive mythical creature. These creatures have a massive amount of health (seperate from the character’s human form), and their own pair of special abilities. Primal forms require primal energy to charge, but players can stay in them so long as they maintain health – or swap out of the form earlier if they choose.
There are four core game modes in Catalyst Black: Slayer, Hydra, Colosseum, and Eventide. Slayer and Colosseum are the easiest to explain. Slayer is a team-based deathmatch style match where the first team to fifteen points wins, with points awarded on a scaling basis as the game progresses. It’s also the first mode you will have unlocked. Colosseum, meanwhile, is a PvE mode where a team of five faces waves of AI controlled enemies.
Hydra and Eventide, on the other hand, are more complex game modes that require tactical thinking and solid teamwork. Hydra is aptly named as it features three different win conditions: bring 20 shards to a central control point, or destroy the enemy’s overseer (a PvE type boss), or eliminate all enemies by killing each of them three times. With five players and three objectives, it’s important to not only work with your team but pay close attention to what the other team is doing. A common strategy here is to send one or two players to take out the overseer while the rest of the players are engaged in mid-field skirmishes. A well-played match in Hydra sees both teams constantly flexing and working on all three goals at some point, trying to press into the weakest point while defending their overseer and avoiding death.
Eventide, on the other hand, is the current ultimate game mode and the only ranked mode in Catalyst Black. This is a 12v12 PvEvP battle on a large map, with a large point goal and multiple ways to push your team toward victory. This is primarily guided through various events that occur throughout the match, and which offer various objectives from team kill streaks to holding control points and more. I recommend this overview for a visual review of the game mode and its components.
There are also rotating game modes that offer quick bites of fun available starting at Ascension 20. Currently this includes Capture the Flag, Flag Hunters, and Core Rush. These modes rotate each day and offer a fresh change of pace from the more intense modes.
One of the things that makes Catalyst Black distinct is its flexible loadout system. Characters are unhindered by classes or pre-determined sets; the player’s choice of weapons, primal, trinket, and skill determine the type of gameplay they will have within a match. This not only means that you can fine tune your gameplay to your preferred tactics, it also means you can change your loadout freely to suit different game modes, different teams, and different goals.
As hinted, a character’s loadout consists of a primary weapon, a heavy weapon, and a primal (represented by a mask).. Additionally the loadout contains an ability and a trinket. The ability offers various activated skills which may offer healing, shielding, damage boosts, and the like. The trinket, meanwhile, offers passive bonuses based on player actions, such as granting a shield when dodging, granting additional movement speed in the brush, or debuffing an enemy’s attack.
To catalog the amount of combinations available at launch would take an exhaustive amount of effort. The takeaway is that you can choose from all of these options freely. You can put together a kit that fits a standard, niche role – such as a sniper that relies on brush cover to take down their enemies – or you can go with something more creative, such as a close range shotgunner that switches to a long range caster with their primal. I ended up jiving with the Flamethrower and Torden as a primal, so I ended up adapting my kit to build a guardian type build that you might see in a MOBA – sticking to close range, point defense with team heals and shields.
All of these aspects of the loadout can be upgraded. There are two methods of upgrading. The first, “Infusion,” uses duplicates of the item to enhance the weapon by unlocking additional passive bonuses. The second, “Level Up,” makes use of Dust to upgrade the item’s stats directly. Both duplicates and dust are earned through the game’s progression and rewards systems.
Progression and Rewards
Catalyst Black measures progression through a single path called Ascension. Ascension Points are earned simply through playing matches, and act like experience points on the Ascension path. Each Ascension level brings with it a certain reward, from equipment and primals to upgrade materials and loot chests.
Shards, on the other hand, are one of the game’s primary currencies, earned by completing quests (daily, weekly, and others) and by completing matches (capped per day). Shards, in turn, can unlock chests. Chests come in multiple types, or rarities, and can contain equipment, upgrade materials or experience, and Quint, another type of currency that can be used to buy duplicates of gear you already own.
What’s the “F2P Catch”?
Like any free to play game, Catalyst Black has inherent incentives to encourage you to support the game through microtransactions. At time of review, microtransactions go toward purchasing equipment and upgrade materials, allowing you to access new gear earlier than you’d obtain it via Ascension and accelerating upgrades. As you can deduce, this also means that upgrading gear without the assistance of microtransactions will naturally be more “grindy.” It’s beyond the scope of this review to accurately analyze how fairly this treats free players versus paying players, or how this might affect the more competitive aspect of the game, so keep this in mind as you evaluate the game for yourself.
Although battleground shooters aren’t my usual gaming fare, I wasn’t surprised that I found myself enamored with Catalyst Black. Super Evil Megacorp’s breakout title, Vainglory, is a game that redefined what mobile gaming could become. Beautiful graphics, thoughtful interface designed for mobile devices, and a fluid gameplay loop delivered the first high quality mobile MOBA (for more insight, read my interview from PAX South 2015). SEMC has proven that they put immense amounts of time and passion into their games, and Catalyst Black is no exception.
Catalyst Black is unquestionably a bright new star for competitive mobile gaming. SEMC has delivered the same quality and design that made Vainglory so successful, with even more support for drop-in gameplay. Catalyst Black has also broadened its scope, offering more game modes and flexibility that will welcome not only MOBA and shooter fans, but other gamers looking for a shot of gaming adrenaline. Regardless of your gaming background, I highly recommend downloading the game and giving it a try.
Note: Early access to Catalyst Black, a bonus code that provided in game currency and items, and a brief hands-on demo were offered by SEMC as assistance for this coverage.
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