Darksburg Beta Impressions: Move Over Vermintide, There's A New Fantasy L4D
The developers behind the quirky and inventive Evoland are gearing up to try out the fast paced cooperative zombie killing genre, and we got to jump into an early closed beta test of the impending Darksburg.
Granted, there are already several options already available in the 4 player co-op space dealing with hordes of enemies. While we are unlikely to get a new Left 4 Dead anytime soon (or ever), there's the zombie slayer GTFO, the tried and true skaven killing simulator Vermintide 2, and of course the upcoming D&D foray Dark Alliance.
Darksburg sits very solidly in that same genre, but with major twists on the viewpoint, graphical style, and character types. If you boil it down, this closed beta test feels a bit like if Diablo 3 had been a Left 4 Dead spin off instead of an ARPG.
Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse In A Fantasy Realm
While trying to survive an outbreak of the undead in the city of Darksburg, four characters are available to choose from with varying abilities, and each of those options include new perks to add as you level up over time.
The current lineup includes a werewolf, head-bashing inkeeper, and crossbow-wielding rogue with a ferret companion. All play slightly differently, and all need to be utilized in tandem to keep the hordes at bay while completing tasks.
For me though, there's really only one character: the lovable battle nun Abigail. She's a sister of a holy order, but don't expect her to heal you. Mostly she beats things to death with a giant cross, and sometimes she shoots beams of holy fire to thin out the throngs of zombies.
In Beta we saw two question marks spots for additional characters, so its not clear yet if those are unlockables or will be available straight from the get go with the full launch version.
After picking your zombie hunter, the base gameplay is very much in the vein of Left 4 Dead, just in an isometric angle and set in a fantasy world. While wading through shambling groups of regular zombie enemies your foursome will come across specialty enemies that take single players out of the fight for limited times (sound familiar?).
There are occasional big bosses to deal with, and getting to the next area requires completing some task... which inevitably makes a bunch of noise that draws a big horde.
One of your unlucky crew will need to carry bulky items during these segments -- which means that player can't attack and must be defended while bringing wood piles to barricade the door, dragging hay bales to fuel a machine, and so on.
In traditional co-op style, you need to stay on top of reviving downed allies, and there are very limited bandages and healing salve to find and use during combat.
The campaign consists of four main story style levels in and around the town, and much like the campaign levels in L4D or Vermintide they involve traveling through an enemy infested city, cutting through fields to find a safe zone, and so on.
If you want straight up zombie mayhem without the objectives, there's also a 20 wave horde mode called Survival. That one is a fun way to jump into quick action, but it definitely needs some tutorial prompts add in.
I never figured out what lighting the beacons (and the race to keep them lit) ever actually did in Survival mode. There's also a big twist here in that you can play as the zombies if you've got a full two teams of 8 players available.
The Bottom Line In Closed Beta
While the gameplay is solid, there's a big question of longevity and the ability to build up a sizable player base surrounding Darksburg. That could be exacerbated by the art style, which -- rightly or wrongly -- will unfortunately put Darksburg in more of a niche space than a first person 3D title.
I played the closed beta during the Christmas and New Years time frame, and sadly never actually got enough people to show up in a lobby for a full non-AI team on the North American server. For this latest Shiro Games title to take off, hopefully it will switch to open Beta for a week or so and then launch in Early Access.
That later part will be critical to success, as there are some needed tweaks at this point of the Beta. Cache boxes strewn across the campaign landscapes for instance don't seem to ever have anything in them right now.
There's no question Darksburg is meant to be played with four to eight live players, so this won't be as much of an issue after launch, but the AI companions can be a little wonky. I saw one get stuck on a door / building edge and get annihilated by a single zombie while the rest of us where doing something else.
That being said, there's a fantastic art style and fun gameplay on display here, so this could be a hit if its marketed right and people are willing to jump over from GTFO or Vermintide 2.