Bierzerkers at PAX Prime 2014

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In Gylfaginning, the world learned that Valhalla was the Great Hall where Viking Warriors go after falling in combat, and that those Warriors were kept busy by endless feasting and sport combat, lest Odin’s army grow restless. Shield Break Studios, delves deeper into that mythological setting with their “Intentionally irreverent” arena combat game, Bierzerkers.

As Shield Break Studios’ Producer Vince Fennel puts it, “…that’s what our game is, they’re happy, if they get their arm chopped off…they’re just like, ‘Whatever! I’m just going to respawn and kill you later.’ We want it to be joyous, we want it to be fun. It’s not serious. It’s never going to be serious.” It’s an attitude which is displayed in spades within the crisp 2v2 Team Deathmatch demo on display at PAX, as well as on display with the members of the small studio themselves.

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While two Vikings were on display at PAX, a full cast is planned for Early Release.

At PAX, Bierzerkers was playable with two different types of characters – the Raider, with a shield and sword, who focused on quick attacks to subdue their opponents, and the Drunkard, a mountain of a man whose love of spirits was proudly on display with a weapon made from a two-handed pole topped with a wooden keg which he masterfully used to pound foes into submission. Joyous Vikings, indeed. Shield Break has indicated that two additional Vikings are planned in future pre-release builds, hopefully providing a suitable Viking archetype for everyone to enjoy.

Gameplay was easy to pick up, with the PAX build featuring three basic attacks (quick, medium, heavy), a charge-up that modified those three existing attacks, and a defensive skill. Future builds are planned to include a ranged attack for all classes. Players at the booth quickly showed that while the game itself was an easy concept to grasp, there was a clear indicator of tactical gameplay oftentimes found at higher levels of competition. Effective use of environment, situational awareness, and skill timing will all factor into your eventual success on the battlefield, which you can punctuate with a whimsically wonderful hip-thrusting taunt that will surely add a dash of brevity to the end of intense combat.

However, it’s not a simple hack-n-slash, Bierzerkers does currently feature Friendly Fire, and while there was plenty of unintentional Friend vs Friend occurring at the Booth, it does add considerable depth to the gameplay. Fortunately, the game has been in combat tuning since the first day resulting in very polished gameplay even at alpha stages, and as Vince puts it, “We’ve always had it in. We’ve always thought it was funny to have it.” He does, however, acknowledge that not everyone may be a fan of Friendly Fire, something that could be addressed if player-hosted servers become available.

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While only a 2v2 Team Deathmatch was on display, Shield Break Studios is currently exploring additional game modes, including a few that are intended to be unique to the franchise. Exhibiting an influence from the similarly styled Team Fortress 2, it’s currently planned that players will be able to festively clash in Team Deathmatch, Last Team Standing, and Payload (appropriately themed with a Viking Boat). Team sizes have fluctuated in testing, and while 2v2 was on display at PAX, Shield Break states that they are considering 2v2, 4v4, 6v6, 8v8, and 12v12 matchups. One of key elements the team is focusing on during player cap considerations is the ability to maneuver, so it’ll be interesting to see where the sweet spot ends up being as Bierzerkers progresses through testing.

Speaking of testing, it’s important to note that the Shield Break Studios team is dedicated to making the best possible experience. It wasn’t until a few weeks before PAX Prime 2014 that the game shifted from a first-person perspective to a third-person perspective, altering a number of mechanic variables including animation speed, map design, and more. When Bierzerkers enters Early Access in Early 2015 via Steam, there will be an emphasis on community testing, influencing network infrastructure (hosting solutions), player count, and a continued development of core gameplay.

The emphasis on community involvement doesn’t end with Early Access. Shield Break Studios, influenced by Team Fortress 2, hopes to eventually invite the community to create additional customization content, acknowledging, “Our goal, eventually, is to enable people to do that if the game gets popular enough for people to want to do that.” To further that goal, Bierzerkers Vikings are being designed so that all of the different pieces of gear they’re wearing are interchangeable. This is laying the potential groundwork for community made shields, weapons, helmets, etc.

In addition to community generated customization, Bierzerkers features a work-in-progress progression system that is currently planned to enhance customization options among other unannounced features.   At PAX, players were able to receive XP points for Kills and Assists, but the system is definitely in its infancy and the variables surrounding it are subject to change.

Bierzerkers, by Shield Break Studios, is coming to Steam with Early Access in Early 2015. The presently PC-exclusive game will be utilizing the Steam Forums for everyday community communication, Twitch Stream Q/A, the Bierzerkers sub-Reddit, and their social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.