There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the figurine and collectable company Sideshow, even if you’re unfamiliar with the name. Since 1994 they’ve been creating memorabilia for several popular franchises, including The Walking Dead and Star Wars. The gruesome Court of the Dead is the first original line they’ve created. Now there’s a Kickstarter campaign for a game based on the franchise.
Sideshow has teamed up with new game studio Arcade Distillery to create Court of the Dead: Underworld Rising. Seeking $250,000, the two companies are trying to create a tactical, turn-based RPG centered around the universe of Court of the Dead.
As the name implies, Court of the Dead is all about zombies, monsters, and other forms of Halloween creatures. It’s the familiar tale of Heaven vs. Hell, but with a twist. The realms of God and the Devil aren’t fighting over souls, they’re fighting simply to annihilate one another. As the Kickstarter page says, “Mortal souls are little more than wisps of fuel for their mighty war engines.”
Death’s role in all of this, the “Alltaker” as they’re called here, is to simply whisk away spirits and send them to Heaven or Hell. But they and their Court of the Dead are seeking to rise up, and free this Underworld and the Mortal Realm from Heaven and Hell. Your role in all of this will be to journey to the Underworld and aid the Alltaker and their Court.
The world of Court of the Dead is split into three factions, “Bone,” “Flesh,” and “Spirit.” You’ll be able to choose your class at the start of the game, as well as create your own character. Each have their own play style, as well as visual look. It’s not entirely clear, based on the Kickstarter, how these three factions interact together though. Are they all hostile with one another, or do they work together to varying degrees?
Combat plays out in turn-based fashion on a grid. Think of it as a cross between Darkest Dungeon and Mega Man Battle Network. In fact, Court of the Dead: Underworld Rising seems very much inspired by Darkest Dungeon, both in overall theme and visuals.
One of the big draws of Underworld Rising (despite it being buried deep in the Kickstarter) is the quests. There’s a big focus on PvP multiplayer, but a fixed story line will also be in place. Quests will have multiple endings depending on your actions. In addition to dialog choices there’ll be alternatives to combat such as solving puzzles and some form of rescue missions.
Judging from the Kickstarter page, it doesn’t seem like development has gotten very far. There are a handful of gifs, but each with the disclaimer that they show an early build. Towards the bottom of the page, the developers even state that not much work has gone into the content. At this stage, they’ve finished production on the engine and development tools, and are ready to begin work on the content.
Questions and Concerns
Whether the mid-2017 launch estimate is for the final game or the beta isn’t specified. However, that is an ambitious schedule. Considering the Kickstarter doesn’t end until the start of November, having to wait to receive the funding from Kickstarter, and the holidays to contend with, there’s a lot of potential for delay. Kickstarter games are frequently delivered late, so much so that you really can’t (possibly shouldn’t) be surprised when a Kickstarter game gets delayed anymore.
Even if the game is released in mid-2017, that won’t be all. Arcade Distillery promise constant updates to the game in the form of new quests, characters, and environments. They say they want to “create a game that will grow and expand far beyond the scope of this initial release.” It’s almost like Early Access, but we’ll be getting a full game upon release. Hopefully.
Now on to the bad news. Well, more like worrying, at least. Court of the Dead: Underworld Rising is a free-to-play game. As such, the game itself won’t be (can’t be) one of the rewards. The developers state they’re going with this model because they want to get the game to as many people as possible to build a large user base for the multiplayer.
Much like Overwatch and its “loot boxes,” Underworld Rising will allow players to purchase “Crypt Coffers” containing a “random selection of equipment, wearables, spells, followers and pets.” There are however the added caveats that everything in these coffers can be acquired through the single player campaign, or through prizes in the PvP multiplayer.
But what about giving other players an unfair advantage? You can read the developer’s reassurances below.
“The Arcade Distillery creative team has experience in developing free-to-play games, and we are extremely mindful of the need to ensure that microtransactional content does not have a negative impact on the experience of players who choose not to make in-game purchases. In our work on Underworld Rising, we are developing the character progression, follower and combat systems to ensure a level playing field in this regard.”
Here’s the thing with these “fee-to-pay” games as Jim Sterling has coined them. They’re never fully balanced. They will always, by its very nature, favor players who spend the extra cash to get this extra content. Even the best free-to-play games require players either forking over cash to stand an equal chance, or grinding for hours, even days or weeks to get a specific item they want. Even if they do spend the cash, there’s no guarantee of getting the specific item you’re after. That’s what happens when these boxes are fully randomized.
The silver lining here is that if you don’t care about multiplayer, this won’t affect you. Arcade Distillery claims to have a lot of experience in the field of microtransactions, for better or worse. For now, we’re going to have to trust they can provide a decent compromise, and that microtransactions won’t bog the game down.
Underworld Rising may be one of the few Kickstarter campaigns I donate to these days. I will admit part of that has to do with Conrad Zimmerman, my idol and former colleague, working on the game. But the plot, combat, and player choice aspects are all intriguing.
Heading Towards The Light
So far, the Court of the Dead: Underworld Rising campaign has already cleared $25,000 which is pretty spectacular. At this rate, they’re set for making over 200% of their goal according to Kicktraq. It seems a lot of Kickstarter users are able to look past a few flaws and take a chance on a great looking game.
(Ed: We’ve added the very promising Guts and Glory to our curation page on Kickstarter, check out the full list at http://kickstarter.com/cliqist!)
(Ed: Conrad Zimmerman is a member of the Court of the Dead team. For the past few months, Conrad worked with Cliqist as a Copy Editor. He left on October 1st to work on Court of the Dead: Underworld Rising and its Kickstarter campaign. No coverage considerations have been given as a result of Conrad’s work with Cliqist.)