Battle Chasers: Nightwar hands on with Joe Mad at E3

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Back in 2001, I was completely invested in the story of Gully, a plucky, determined ten year old girl who took on the starring role in a comic known as Battle Chasers. Each month, I followed along with the adventures of Gully and her band of misfit friends, until the series came to a sudden end when writer and lead artist, Joe Madureira, better known as Joe Mad, left the comic book industry to pursue video game design. Fourteen years later, I stumbled upon what turned out to be an incredibly successful Kickstarter for a visually stunning RPG by the name of Battle Chasers: Nightwar.

Imagine my delight when I arrived at my E3 appointment to find that Joe Mad himself was to be my guide through a demo build of Nightwar! My Battle Chasers experience was split into two; first, a hands off tour by Joe Mad, and then a hands-on demo downstairs at the Xbox booth. Given that I’m a fan who has been left hanging for fourteen years, my first question for Joe felt like the most obvious:

Does this game continue the story from the comic?

It doesn’t. We wanted to make sure that anyone that hasn’t read the comic at all can still enjoy the game. So as far as most people know, it’s just an RPG. People that know the comics will get to see all their favorite heroes and all that stuff, but the game is self-contained. They don’t really bleed one into the other very much.”

So we don’t get to find out what happened to Gully’s dad?

Not in this game, but I’m continuing the comics, and the comics will tell that story.”

Battle Chasers: Nightwar features hand painted artwork over 3D models

Battle Chasers has an amazing style, a softer, hand painted look overlaid onto crisp 3D models. Joe Mad’s style translates brilliantly into games, and he’s clearly assembled a stellar team within Airship Syndicate. One of the elements which has always impressed me most, all the way back to the first Kickstarter video, is the way the game sounds. The music is moody, tense while still being ambient. It’s melodious and avoids being repetitive, it really feels like something epic, and a soundtrack I can’t wait to add to my playlist. Compared to the amazing mood music, the motion-comic styled cut scenes featured in both demos felt very silent.

Will there be voice overs?

Yes! We just recorded the voiceover, the game will be fully voiced. That was really fun, too, because there were a lot of elements I never really thought about before. Like… does Calibretto have an accent? How old does Gully sound? I don’t know! So that’s been a lot of fun.”

The demo begins with our little team of three in Harm’s Way, a small town filled with NPCs which serves as the main hub for Nightwar. Players will spend a great deal of time here, receiving quests, swapping out party members, healing, and gearing up before heading out into the world map. The world is laid out on what appears to be a glorified paper map; your party follows clearly marked, dotted paths which lead the way to dungeons and other points of interest. Enemies appear as speech bubbles on different nodes on the marked path, meaning that you will never be ambushed by a random encounter on the world map, allowing you to plan your trek, taking alternate routes if you want to avoid a fight. Resting at an inn will push the day forward, and will move enemies and encounters around on the nodes.

The world map has the feel of a paper map, with enemies and events generated on nodes in the path

Are there any cool features in Harm’s Way?

We’re trying to get this cool thing in, and I’m going to talk about now it so we’ll be forced to do it in the game. When you rest at the inn, it’ll occasionally fire off different interactions between the heroes, where they have a little down time. Gully can talk about her father, just stuff that’s not pertaining to the quests that they’re on right now. It’s really important, especially since most people will not have read the comics.”

Our path quickly leads to our first dungeon, where we’re prompted to pick between three levels of difficulty. Dungeons are randomly generated and replayable; choosing higher difficulties will net you more experience and better loot, but you’ll pay the price with much more challenging enemies and more treacherous traps within the dungeons. I chose medium difficulty for my hands on, while Joe and his crew opted for the most challenging setting, and their team ended up paying the ultimate price by the time our demo ended.

Dungeons are impressively beautiful atmospheric 2D maps which house a huge number of things, ranging from the usual enemies, to crafting benches, puzzles, traps, and much more. You can explore the dungeon as any one of the three members of your team. Swapping them out is important, since each character has their own, unique dungeon skills which can help you survive and thrive below ground.

Dungeons contain enemies, crafting benches, puzzles, traps, fishing holes, NPCs, and much more

Are the dungeons one-time events, or are they made to be replayable?

We’ve created 30 or 40 rooms for each dungeon, but it will only generate five to six rooms per dungeon, so you’re missing a ton of room types the first time you go in. Each room has randomly generated spots for events, puzzles, and traps. One spot could be a chest one time, and the next, who knows? There are fountains, there are weird characters which appear, there are all kinds of things. There is a mystery box, and if you put any item in it, it will take it and disappear and teleport it to another part of the dungeon, where it will appear with an upgraded version of that item. So if you need new gloves for Gully, you jam ’em in there, and you’ll get better ones. The only catch is you don’t know where it went, and if you can’t recover the box, you’ll lose the item, so you don’t want to put anything too important in there unless you’re determined. It could spawn into a room full of traps and enemies, or sometimes it can spawn right in the next room.”

Can you tell us more about dungeon skills?

Each character has two dungeon skills, like Garrison dashes to avoid trap damage and monsters. There’s a set number of skills that can be used per dungeon run. Gully will stun nearby enemies, while Calibretto has a group heal. Monika has stealth and she can pick pockets; she can even do that if the enemy sees you. If you are quick enough, you can even snatch some gold off them before you enter combat. You can upgrade those abilities, and if you upgrade Gully’s ability, it will eventually stun enemies for the first few rounds of combat.”

Dungeon skills are not simple button mashing cheats. While some, like ‘Bretto’s heal, are easy enough to pull off, moves such as Gully’s stun require surprisingly precise timing. While you’re not punished for slamming down on the button the moment before an enemy encounter, that tactic is also not going to do you any good. You have to judge the speed of the enemy and compensate for Gully’s windup and jumpIf your timing is just right, she’ll smash her giant gauntlets into the charging enemy, leaving you free to slip away or start the fight on your own terms.

Judge her not by her size, Gully’s gauntlets mean that she can easily act as the team tank

Combat itself is based around an initiative bar, which is affected by a number of things, including the character’s base speed, the time it takes to gear up for a move, as well as status effects, like stuns. While fast paced, battles are still very strategic, as some skills take a little while to channel, so you will have to plan accordingly; if you can’t get your heal off before the enemy’s turn, you could very well lose one third of your team. Additionally, status effects can be brutal in this game, especially when they start to stack. A poisoned Gully was only taking 12 points of damage at the start of the fight, but several turns in, four stacks of poison was shearing away a significant portion of her hit points each turn.

Is there a strategy to balancing quickly clearing battles versus preserving items and mana?

We have this special thing called overcharge. When you do the instant attacks, you get overcharge, temporary mana that you get just for this fight; after the fight it goes away. If you don’t use it, you’ve kind of wasted some combat efficiency. We did this because usually in RPG’s people are either super stingy and save all their potions and they’re like, “Basic attacks only, I don’t want to waste mana,” or they do all their most powerful AoEs, and then drink a potion, so there’s not much strategy to it. So we gave you temporary mana so you can use all your fun abilities without worrying about wasting your mana.”

Doing basic attacks also fills another meter, one which carries over from battle to battle: Burst damage. The burst meter unlocks special, ultimate moves, and is shared between all three characters, meaning that at level 3, each team member can do one level one burst attack, or one character can do a level three burst attack.

Status effects can be brutal int his game, especially when they start to stack

Given how much time cinematics can eat up while grinding, do you have the option to skip them?

Burst attacks are more cinematic attacks, but they’re short. We’re specifically avoiding Knights of the Round things, where you have to go make a sandwich. They’re all just quick one-two punches, three to five seconds maximum. Bosses have their own bursts, too, and they’re all triggered by different scenarios events. For one, it might trigger if you get to to fifty percent health, for another it might be if you kill both of the adds. You kind of need to learn how to fight each guy.”

There are six playable characters, but only three allowed per team, does that make character selection a critical part of the game?

Well, there are certain synergies between the heroes, we’re even still discovering some of those, so I think people will have fun playing around with them. One example is that Knowlan has a spell that’s a little explosion, but if the enemy is on fire, they’ll actually explode and do damage to other nearby enemies. Coincidentally, Calibretto has lots of moves that set enemies on fire, so when they’re together, somebody’s pretty much on fire all the time, and then Knowlan can detonate those guys.

Garrison puts a lot of bleeds on people, so all of the blood magic that Aloman, [a devil hunter who is new to the game] has works really well when those two guys are in a party together. You might just pick heroes because hey… he’s my favorite. He’s not the strongest, but he’s who I like to play, or you could be more strategic about it.”

Dungeons are made to be replayed, with 30-40 custom rooms created for each 5-6 room dungeon

Nightwar has a crafting system, anything else we should be excited for?

Oh, and we have fishing, too! The fishing is fun, when we had it in our demo in London, we had it set up to eight screens, and like, six of the eight were always on the fishing game. I don’t think anyone in London played anything but the fishing game.”

You can learn more about Battle Chasers: Nightwar at their official website, and for the moment, you can grab the game on a summer sale at their Steam page. Battle Chasers: Nightwar will be coming October 3rd on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch. Joe seemed particularly excited about the Switch release, saying, “I was just playing it last night in bed. It’s my only portable version right now that we’re making, and it’s pretty awesome to be able to take it with you.”

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