Saturday, October 26, 2019

Lornsword Winter Chronicle, the first co-op action-RTS for consoles, launches this week

Lornsword Winter Chronicle, the first co-op action-RTS for consoles, launches this week

Console gamers have very few ways to get into the real-time strategy (RTS) genre. Most RTS game developers design for PC-only, because most believe their complicated game mechanics won’t map well to a controller. You can either try stripped-down console ports that clearly don’t work with a gamepad, or shell out big bucks for a gaming PC. Even then, most strategy games these days are online multiplayer only—so your definition of “fun” has to include losing over and over to more experienced gamers, until you finally learn how to play.

For gamers looking for that elusive console RTS game that checks all the right boxes, French game studio Tower Five may have just what you’re looking for: Lornsword Winter Chronicle, launching on October 23rd on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

It’s the first action RTS designed specifically for consoles, with action-heavy mechanics that seamlessly match to a gamepad. With a 30-hour single-player campaign, instant drop-in couch co-op, and 60 FPS gameplay optimized to your Xbox or PS4, Lornsword is the best possible way for console gamers today to enjoy a classic RTS experience—AND get your friends and loved ones hooked as well!

A small indie studio founded by former Creative Assembly developers, Tower Five took the minds behind epic RTS franchises like Rome: Total War and Halo Wars 2 (one of the rare console RTS successes) and turned them to a new, story-driven game about Corun Lan Ka, a warrior protecting his home. We had the chance to hear from Renaud Charpentier, Tower Five’s game director, about what to expect from Lornsword Winter Chronicle’s gameplay, art, potential sequels and more.

Putting story back into strategy

At the height of the RTS genre, games had complex storylines, diabolical enemies and complex AI. Nowadays, characters’ backstories can only be read in wikis or codexes, and most campaigns are about controlling massive civilizations or faceless squadrons of redshirts. No story outside of ones you role play for yourself; no one you’ll grow to care about.

Charpentier told us that as the team devised their game, they wanted to “remove you from the abstract and remote position of a ‘commander’ issuing orders through an abstract UI which doesn’t exist in the game’s world”.

So, to maximize the immersion, they made the game revolve around commanding the battlefield from the field itself, putting you in the shoes of a general that can’t watch detachedly from above. Like any action game, you’ll be able to control the main character’s movement and actions directly with the joysticks and buttons—while still strategically controlling your soldiers and farming resources.

While Tower Five toyed with splitting up the Lornsword experience into various game modes, they ultimately decided, as Charpentier put it, to “drop our side experiments” and make it “one straight ride, keep going like that, polish it, make it varied, rich and long enough and you might already have a great game worth buying and playing.” Make everything focused on Corun Lan Ka’s journey, and then work on post-game content based on player feedback.

You can take that journey whichever way you want to go, based on your skill level. After you finish the tutorial and grasp the controls, Lornsword Winter Chronicle proceeds chapter by chapter. Within each chapter, your general can take the fight to different battlefields with different difficulty levels, easing you into your role of general until you’re ready to tackle the toughest challenges.

Dynamic gameplay for two players

While Lornsword’s story revolves around one character, you can’t just run around as Corun hacking and slashing your way to victory with your trusty Lornsword. As with any strategy game, you need to study and control the flow of the battlefield, direct your troops across lanes of combat, build and capture resource points like farms and mines, and scout for enemy traps. All while keeping yourself and your small squad of fighters alive.

Maybe that sounds a bit difficult to handle on your own; or for gamers used to playing RTSs or MOBAs with friends, it may sound a bit lonely. Lornsword Winter Chronicles solves this by letting a second player drop into any battle at any time to assist as Lassia—Corun’s trusted captain and a deadly warrior in her own right.

Many RTS games are notoriously buggy or unforgiving when it comes to co-op mode. Both players will need to play every single level together to progress, or you’ll have to restart a battle because one player’s online connection crashes. But Tower Five made it possible for players to drop in or out of battle instantly, with no annoying requirements and no drop in performance.

So if you want to get your significant other or best friend into the game, they can watch you try it out first, and then hop into the fray whenever they feel comfortable. Then, the two of you will have to coordinate your troop movements with one another in order to defeat the enemy. Your player two can assist for as many battles as they’d like, but if they feel overwhelmed or need to leave, they can drop out whenever they choose, while you continue the battle uninterrupted.

Charpentier said implementing this feature was already a challenge for such a small dev team, but that they plan to set their sights even higher for the sequel, which will hopefully feature online PvP and matchmaking. For now, though, Lornsword 1 provides a local co-op experience, while most RTS games don’t let you sit in the same room as your teammate for proper strategizing and socializing.

Optimizing Lornsword for consoles and PC

Most indie devs design their games for one platform, because porting any experience for multiple consoles can be a major challenge. Tower Five decided to take that challenge head on, without cutting corners for any one platform.

“We made a lot of efforts to optimize the game both for Xbox and PS4,” Charpentier explained. The battlefield simulation had to “update asynchronously”, and they wanted each version to run in 60 FPS as much as possible. Ultimately, Charpentier says, each version runs at the optimal framerate “almost all the time,'' no matter how many assets or characters are on screen.

Plus, the hand drawn art assets for the story cutscenes all play in crisp 1080p—despite the fact that the entire 30-hour experience was created by just two artists on the Tower Five team.

To achieve their ambitious goals, Tower Five worked closely with players on each platform to make sure the experience was both mechanically fun and visually impressive. They released Lornsword Winter Chronicle on Steam Early Access for six months, and showed off a beta of Lornsword for Xbox Insiders earlier this year.