Rend at PAX West 2018: Constant Evolution
At last year’s PAX West, we had our first close look at Rend, a Nordic-themed survival game from Frostkeep Studios. While I’m not much for survival games personally, I appreciate their complexity and gameplay. It was clear to me then that Rend was a promising title in the survival game genre, but at the time, it had not yet hit Early Access and its competitors in the field were going strong. With changes to the survival game landscape and experience from play testing in Early Access (which began on July 31 2018), Rend is looking better than before. In fact, it may very well be the survival game the genre needs.
I sat down with the Rend team at PAX West 2018 – Frostkeep’s co-founder Solomon Lee, Game Designer Tyler Fuchs, and Director of Communications Michele Cagle – to catch up on what proved to be a whirlwind of a year for Rend.
“The game’s almost completely turned over,” they tell me as we begin our meeting. While the game is still competitive, faction-based, with a victory condition and has many of its core gameplay principles and systems in tact, there’s dozens of things large and small that have changed.
One of the core areas that’s being constantly addressed is the balance of the win conditions. The team tells me about how one organized team put in the effort to win through, of all things, picking flowers – an efficient, if not unintended method. As a result several changes have gone live to help push the PvP aspects of the game, making victory far more reliant on interacting with enemy factions than simply braiding flower crowns at your faction base. Other “rubber band” mechanics are being pushed to help prevent factions from falling too far behind.
Rend has also implemented an Outcast system, which allows players to ‘vote’ against problematic players in their own faction. These Outcasts have the lowest priority in the queue, and can be kicked off the server if a non-Outcast player wants to log in. This is helping to combat griefing via methods of using alternate accounts or friends to log in to competing factions just to prevent their progress.
Another major addition, which was in development infancy last year but is now fully implemented, is personal base building. In a Build Mode, players can place down basic frames to set the framework and structure of the building they’re looking to create. These frames are cheap to make but are also quite fragile, and are meant to serve only as a temporary building. Once set down, players can use more materials to upgrade these frames into stronger walls, doors, and other base parts to ensure they last longer and are harder to destroy. Players can then claim the base using an item called a Divinity Seed, which has a quantity limit to avoid the landscape being completely peppered with bases and structures.
Mounts and pets have also made their debut in Rend. Over 30 creatures exist in Rend, all tamable, most mountable, and each with their own unique style and strengths. The Hammerskull, for instance, is a giant demon ram that excels at breaking stone and carrying heavy loads; the wolf is a swift runner that can harvest creatures and have some combat abilities. These creatures can die, but can be resurrected with materials, so they are valuable utilities to have as allies in your explorations.
The skill, research, and crafting systems have also seen updates. Skills improve on a character as they are used. Players can also customize with the use of perks, which allows players to further specialize their skills along divergent paths (a little like the Stardew Valley system, where at certain ranks players can choose between two options). This helps encourage Rend‘s community aspect, motivating players to work together in an interdependent system. While it’s not currently possible to inspect players in your faction to see what skills are most needed, the team agrees that it’s something they want to add in the future. Frostkeep would also like to implement ways for leaders of the faction to communicate certain goals or needs so that players who log in have an idea of what they can do to best help their faction. The four major archetypes remain, though they have been renamed: Assassin, Warlord, Pathfinder, and Shaman.
All of these progression systems are temporary, reset when a server’s win conditions are met. Players permanently build another progression system: Ascension. Ascension points are earned as you are playing the game through almost any activity. These points can then be spent to unlock a host of permanent benefits, from passive combat perks to features like Favored Companion, which allows you to take a pet with you into your next game. Custom game modes will allow players to set alerts about the expected Ascension level of players to warn players if they may be in an unfair match, and we talked about the idea of having server lists show the average Ascension level of the players to help players know approximately how much of a challenge they may be facing.
Crafting research is yet another system that has been overhauled since our glimpse last year and the start of Early Access. Previously you would have to gather materials and then work toward specific items. Now there are specific items players can find called Sparks, which can be earned by doing activities in game related to the research’s spark type. The faction can then use these sparks to progress faction-wide research that, when unlocked, allows anyone within the faction to access those new recipes in their personal crafting progression system. Now instead of the complete onus being on the individual, the faction can unlock research trees for players to specialize in and research further. The system for stealing other faction players’ research is still in place, too, although Frostkeep would like to give it more emphasis as players currently seem less interested in that aspect of the game.
More biomes have also been added into the game. A swamp biome, the Murkfen, is a deadly region where even the plants and the water are unsafe – a challenge considering the biome is also very hot, so characters can quickly get dehydrated. Areas like these are designed to grant a sense of progression: players must slowly unlock gear and benefits to allow them to master each area’s deadly threat. I was also shown a brand new creature – the frost giant Jotunn. This towering creature will be designed to challenge a party of players, but will hold valuable treasure for those that can defeat him. This snowy biome also hosts a massive stone gate that has further content promised.
Meanwhile yet another end-game zone – central to the map – features changing seasons which host different buffs, debuffs, and unique creatures and resources. This central area will also host a ring of portals that offer pathways to the nine realms of Norse mythology. The team escorted me to preview Nidavellir, a realm of deep dwarven mines long since abandoned (think Mines of Moria). Here darkness reigns, so players must be thoughtful about the noise they create and when they use torches – as well as the native creatures of the realm, which are not only strong, but sometimes exercise methods of trickery to lure players into their maw. This area will also focus less on resources and more on treasure, but will definitely need players to work together in the area to succeed in finding it.
Other new modes were also discussed, including a PvE-focused mode, Exploration. This mode will have no victory condition or time pressure, allowing players to focus instead on exploring and working in clans in a more traditional survival experience. Another mode, Classic Survival, will take away the triple faction system to allow for pure clan-based warfare with more personal progression and research without victory conditions.
Rend is in a unique position in the survival genre marketplace. In the past year, several survival games have seen their debut or captured the market to some degree – ARK, Dark & Light, and Citadel: Reforged to name a few. However many have left players deeply disappointed or burned out after a while due to gameplay issues. I asked the team about this, and they noted their appreciation of fears about Early Access titles along with their work ethic to use Early Access “as Valve intended.” Many survival game players have migrated to Rend and their feedback is constantly shaping and improving the game, giving Frostkeep the chance to build a solid survival experience built on the advice of experts: the gamers themselves. As Frostkeep has found, this is certainly a slow, ever-changing process, but there is reason to have faith that they can make the best survival game on the market if they persist.
New content is planned to arrive in the coming month, although Frostkeep is pushing weekly updates to Rend to fix issues and improve gameplay. You can find it on Steam.
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