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E3 2014 Recap – Rise of Incarnates

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One of our most anticipated titles of E3 and 2014 in general, Rise of Incarnates looks and feels like something designed for a next generation console fighter. Yet gamers will be able to access it free of charge on Steam later this year!

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So what is the deal with Rise of Incarnates? Well from what we’ve put together on the free online web comic being released on a monthly basis, there is some kind of pandemic occurring in which humans with supernatural abilities (often involving epic transformations into alter-egos) are battling it out for survival from each other and from an unauthorized group of mercenaries dedicated to hunting down Incarnates known as the Wild Hunt. With the government taking a seemingly neutral role in the overarching affairs, every Incarnate is left to fend for themselves. This all takes in what appears to be a very near future Earth setting as actual destroyed cityscapes are promised locations in both the comic and game. Unfortunately the story is still convoluted in flash backs within flash backs so the real plot isn’t too clear just yet. But in all honesty the crowd interested in these kind of games is more concerned with how big the explosions are and how fast the gameplay is. Well the answer is massive and moderate!

RoI Comic

Yup you read that right. Despite how the initial trailers made the game appear, my actual experience with Rise of Incarnates was much easier to follow than I had anticipated. Granted the controls are still decently complex with plenty of hidden combos and boosted attack follow-ups to reward repetition and mastery, but you won’t need the eyes of a professional Dance Dance Revolution player to understand what’s happening as your more experienced opponent beats you to a pulp.

At the core, the concept is simple. You can jump just like a normal fighting game. Just here your jump can send you rocketing (well floating is a better descriptor) higher into the sky than you’ve probably ever experienced in anything outside of perhaps a Dragon Ball fighter. At any point while floating up you can choose to dash towards your targeted enemy, which a quick button push being all it takes to rapidly switch your focus between your two targets. The trade-off is the higher you fly, the less you can dash, forcing you to find the right balance while constantly reacting to both opponents as quickly as you can.

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Attacks consist of simple ranged attacks and inappropriately labeled short attacks. Rather than playing a proverbial game of chicken as you and your opponent dash across the cityscape preparing for a freight train collision, Rise of Incarnates more commonly features a series of dodges as you duck behind debris in attempt to chip away at your foe’s incredible amounts of hp with cheap ranged shots while limiting your person damage in the process. There’s no limit to how many ranged shots you can shoot out, and the only real penalty for doing so in my test runs as Lilith and Mephistopheles was a slight movement speed penalty while shooting, so it’s often best to blast away at foes eager to rush into melee range with you.

The real challenge comes into play thanks to the 2v2 battle system and chaotic map layouts. It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of one of your opponents while zeroing in and dashing through the air to engage the other. As such all three matches I experienced boiled down to a sort of four player gank fest as each participant was going after one target while trying to stay a step ahead of their own pursuer.

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Melee attacks are the name of the game in this punishing system. Once you activate your short range attack, your character will utilize any remaining dash if you’re in the air, or charge if you’re on the ground, to home in on a target. If they connect, a fast grapple occurs often resulting in a special attack that can be pretty brutal if you don’t break free fast enough. Even if you do, you usually end up on the ground, and that’s bad!

The worst part of the grapples I’d say isn’t so much the inherently high damage they unleash, but the slow animated sequences that play out, keeping you in one spot for a good deal of time. Against an experienced team (in my case the actual game developers!), this is an ideal opportunity for the uninvolved partner to swoop into position to land an follow up grapple from behind as you’re getting up, or even begin an aerial juggle before you’re fortunate enough to gain your invincibility frames to regroup on the ground. If you foolishly wasted most of your dash prior to the assault, you will have a rough time breaking out of this gang bang, and had better hope your ally is right behind your enemy to offer you some support.

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To prevent these kinds of situations, the game offers a limited blocking mechanic that not only prevents grapples, but pushes the foe back and disorients them momentarily. This feature makes face to face grappling far less desirable, as in the best case scenario, the blocker gets some free ranged pop shots on you before you recover, and worst case scenario is your second foe gets the drop on you for free. However the blocking animation only lasts for a little under two seconds, with a short cooldown between activations, meaning if you block too early and your approaching foe is quick to react, they can dash to your side and then continue the melee momentum to catch you just as your shield goes down. It’s a fun game of rock paper scissors made infinitely more intense by the setting and visuals. Getting juggled around by Grim Reaper’s zombie horde can be a pretty trippy experience. I was particularly blown away by the epic Lilith grapple involving her transformation into a freaky purple demon that kisses your life away until you break free. Sexy weird!

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The final piece of the competitive puzzle is of course the epic Incarnates themselves. From attacking or taking damage, you build up a meter until you can eventually unleash your inner demon for a burst of game changing power. Each Incarnate burst has its own uses and weaknesses though so it’s important to be just as aware of what your opponent is capable of as yourself around the time of the match when Incarnate skills start firing off. Granted that isn’t too challenging currently as there are only four playable characters in the beta, but with more being added, some level of knowledge curve may eventually emerge.

The current Incarnates attacks are as follows:

Grim Reaper: He rides a tidal wave of corpses, offering an impressive movement bonus and damn near impossible to dodge attack that overwhelms foes. This skill is ideal for finishing fleeing foes or getting out of one of those tricky gang bang situations.

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Ares: Ares’ Incarnate ability probably the most unusual of the current four fighters. He summons an incarnate doppleganger that fights alongside him, essentially turning the battle temporarily into a 3 versus 2. The ability is known as a Deuteros and Ares’ backstory leads me to believe that we’ll be seeing others of his kind introduced to the game in future updates.

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Mephistopheles: Probably the most generic and novice friendly ability, Mephistopheles gives into his anger to transform his entire body into his Incarnate self. This leads to a short duration period of pure destruction, as all of his skills are powered up, and being anywhere near him is typically a bad idea.

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Lilith: Similar to Mephistopheles, Lilith’s incarnate ability involves a transformation. The difference is hers is only good for one single powerful dash strike, making her much less novice friendly. It’s easy to miss a target with all the dashing going on, but if you can surprise someone by sneaking up from behind, or just catch someone off guard with the unbridled agility of the attack, it’s one of the most damaging strikes in the game.

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Most other questions I brought up to the development team were responded to with a ‘too soon’ or ‘in discussion’ style response, though they did seem to tease that the comic book will be used to reveal new characters, perhaps prior to them even being introduced into the game. This is certainly a different take on the MOBA character reveal the now standard Youtube Reveal videos becoming more commonplace by the day.

The game is currently in alpha testing and while it looks and feels impressive, it’s clear the controls still need quite a bit of tweaking before we will see Rise of Incarnates anywhere near Steam. The current keyboard controls are nearly unplayable and feel more like a 1990s PC fighting game scheme being converted into a modern 3D fighter. The complete lack of a mouse shows that work on optimization of the controls hasn’t even yet begun. Still playing with a gamepad is quite satisfying and I wouldn’t be surprised if it remains the input device of choice through beta and into launch.

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Special shout-out to Bandai for being one of the few exhibitors at the show confident enough to let us record some gameplay footage of their title. We’ll be putting together a First Look video on MMOHuts’ Youtube on Monday offering a closer look at the combat in action.

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