long-distance view of a bloody fight inside a gladiator compound; bodies and blood are on the sand while palaces rise from the hills overlooking

long-distance view of a bloody fight inside a gladiator compound; bodies and blood are on the sand while palaces rise from the hills overlooking

It’s one month into an early entry launch, and its improvement, largely dealt with by one man, remains to be being refined. But if I bought to call a Most Inspired Labor of Love Game for 2022, it’d need to be We Who Are About to Die, by Jordy Lakiere.

What Lakiere calls a “criminally underused” setting and theme — historical Rome! gladiator fight! — finds an ideal toehold in a highly regarded style, the roguelike or roguelite, which has actually caught on with unbiased builders. What actually makes it go right here is the Belgian developer’s tight concentrate on gameplay methods, with the game’s surroundings and different aesthetics serving these methods, not the different method round. This required Lakiere, who’s skilled primarily as an artist and animator, to increase himself and develop as a video games developer over the seven years that We Who Are About to Die has been in the making.

“Roguelikes are known for their difficulty,” Lakiere mentioned in an e-mail interview. “I think an ‘unforgiving gladiator game’ sounds like a good hook, too. The title summarizes the sentiment perfectly — morituri, we who are about to die. When you’re sent into the pits, you can try your best, but you’re basically already dead.”

Launched in early entry on Nov. 14, Steam consumer opinions are strongly optimistic, for good cause. Instead of a linear story of a single hero swashbuckling by means of lush surroundings, We Who Are About to Die performs for stakes from the first match.

Actual gladiators performed with permadeath switched on, of course, and that’s what you face in We Who Are About to Die, too. Players should assume tactically, break down their opponent’s stances, preserve transferring and preserve their protection up. Lose a match, and you lose your character, irrespective of how lengthy your run could have lasted. That’s a roguelite, in spite of everything.

“There’s also just something absolutely magical about permadeath,” Lakiere mentioned. “It transforms gameplay; suddenly, there are real stakes. You get emotionally invested in this character, this story that has only ever been experienced by you, and you can lose it forever.”

Disclosure: I love gladiator fight as a video game sort. Yes, I had LucasArts’ universally acclaimed Gladius for Xbox again in the day; I additionally had Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance and Circus Maximus (gladiators and racing?! I’m fanning myself). Lakiere reduce his game-development tooth at age 14 making mods for Mount & Blade, a sequence well-known for the constancy in its melee fight. He counts that as an inspiration, plus the gladiator video games I loved, plus others starting from Spartan: Total Warrior to Spelunky and its sequel.

Menu and screen showing a new character in We Who Are About to Die; he carries a shield and sword and is wearing a blue cowl. The Colosseum is in the distance.

But, importantly, Lakiere didn’t got down to replicate video games he already loved. His modding resumé led him to enroll in college to pursue improvement, primarily by means of an artwork and animation monitor. He had a six-year run as a contract artist paying his payments, however creatively grew stressed over not creating his personal game.

“I asked myself, what is the simplest shell around an interesting combat system that reduces scope, so I can do it solo?” he mentioned. “I remember laying on the couch and brainstorming and actually having one of those cliché ‘eureka’ moments,” he mentioned. “The core loop is combat, the arenas are limited in scope, round-based combat. At the time, roguelikes and roguelites were very hot, and I had the realization — gladiator roguelite!”

Amplifying this inspiration is the reality the gladiator style has been principally AWOL since 2013’s middling Ryse: Son of Rome. “It’s a universally loved setting among gamers (I thought, at least),” Lakiere mentioned, “and criminally underused, as many fans of WWAATD have mentioned.”

We Who Are About to Die has some tough edges, to make certain. The animations and reactions are noticeably repetitive and not at all times clean. It’s additionally a troublesome game; gamers really want to concentrate on including momentum to their strikes, and these with expertise in Mount & Blade shall be faster to select up the movement than others who may count on a button-mashing hack-and-slash. All of that mentioned, We Who Are About to Die is admittedly a piece in improvement, with an formidable content material roadmap.

It’s additionally had a powerful sufficient launch to get Lakiere severe about staffing up a improvement studio for the game. He hasn’t soloed the total seven-year undertaking thus far — some contractors have helped with the game’s parts — however WWAATD’s first month beat his expectations “by 20x,” Lakiere mentioned. “And the drop-off of sales is much lower than expected — a really healthy tail so far.”

“So it makes a lot of sense to take the plunge and to finally step away from solo development,” Lakiere went on. “The immediate goals, besides behind-the-scenes company stuff, is to debug, add content and some peripheral features. […] More randomness, more items, levels, backstories [for the cast of Aspirants, as the gladiators are called].” Controller help is an enormous aim, as is is optimizing the game for Steam Deck. Lakiere hopes to have each of these completed early in 2023.

But We Who Are About to Die, a minimum of, appears to have the fundamentals in place. There’s a rock-paper-scissors side to the matchmaking: shield-and-spear fighters are nice all-rounders, whereas two-handed ax fighters are slower however break defenses extra rapidly. “They are a bit like glass cannons,” Lakiere mentioned, “and smart players can make sure they have a spear equipped to get through [them].”

We Who Are About to Die noticed its first main title replace on Dec. 7, and it’s at present discounted 20% till Jan. 5. It is obtainable from Steam for Windows PC.

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