Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Black Inc.
Developer: Black Sea Studios
Release Date: TBA
The creativity of the real-time strategy genre has received long-overdue shots in the arms over the last year, so upcoming RTS titles definitely can't settle for mere basic gameplay and expect to shine. At a glance, WorldShift doesn't seem wildly different than the experience found in other genre offerings, but its innovations aren't hard to locate. Mission rewards spent to enhance and customize your units, upgradeable hero abilities, and other refinements to the genre flesh out the gameplay of WorldShift. The title is currently in pre-beta and many features are still being ironed out, but the progress thus far is promising for the continuation of creativity in the genre.
WorldShift is set in a world that is a vibrant mix of science fiction and fantasy, where mutants are armed with machine guns and fight alongside powerful magic users and hulking mechs. In the distant future, the civilization of man has been completely decimated by the arrival of a plague-ridden asteroid from space. Over the years that followed, humanity split into two camps: a technologically advanced faction that relies on its firepower to survive and a tribal faction that is more in tune with its innate magic abilities. Making the fight a three-way battle for survival is the alien faction, a race of beings discovered some time after the arrival of the asteroid.
The core gameplay handles like the basics of many other RTS titles, with the player controlling a multitude of units, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. However, the game has much faster pacing than what is normally found in the genre. Base-building has been removed, and in its stead at the outset of each level, the player has a commander unit, optionally one or more supporting commander units, and a smattering of units. The main commander in the single-player campaign is a human who has the ability to heal himself and confuse all nearby enemies into attacking him, but more importantly, he can open a portal to resummon all fallen units back to his side. Of course, any ability takes a chunk out of a commander unit's action pool, which slowly regenerates over the course of time.
The pacing in WorldShift is aggressive for an RTS, with pitched battles par for the course and the next big conflict only seconds away from whatever progress the player has made on the current map. Since the player starts with everything he needs to cause some headaches for the opposing forces, he can jump right into the thick of combat, and if he takes losses but still manages to get the commander unit to survive, then he can just summon all of his units again. This feature may sound a bit cheap on paper, but what balances it is the fact that your commander unit can die in just a few seconds if the player makes a bad tactical choice, and he is much more vulnerable than one might expect. Generally, if the player loses all of his units, the commander is likely dead as well, so in reality, the ability is best used to bring your squads back up to strength before the next big fight.
This lends to the fact that choosing to engage in combat in WorldShift isn't simply a matter of wanting to eliminate all enemy units from the map, but rather about whether or not your forces can take them out in their current state, if at all. To have a chance to survive some fights, you may need all of your units present and all of your commander's action pools filled before the first shot is fired. In other fights, simply being spotted by a band of enemies, such as a band of patrol units when you need to escape detection, can rip through your units regardless of how prepared may be. Since players cannot simply produce a ton of units and overwhelm the enemy by numbers, it places a much greater emphasis on learning how and when to use the commander abilities for maximum effect.
Throughout the campaign, the player will find or win rewards for every level he completes, which can be used to bolster his forces in the single- and multiplayer campaigns. Each of the three factions has a list of upgrade categories, and a single upgrade can be placed in each one. Upgrades can be swapped in and out without losing them, letting the player tailor his forces for the task at hand or for his individual play style. Individual upgrades aren't incredibly powerful and only yield small gains, but when used en masse, it really makes the player's forces much more powerful than they would be otherwise. Players will also gain points for each faction, which can be spent in a fashion similar to a tech tree. Abilities in this tree are made up of both new and existing abilities, which can be upgraded by using points to make them more powerful or increase their versatility.
The game engine graphically stands out even in its pre-beta state, thanks to interesting art design backed by solid visuals and effects. The mix of high-tech and high fantasy is blended almost seamlessly in both the character design and the environments, never really dipping too heavily to either side. Enemies engaging in a firefight get nailed by the lasers fired from the player's forces, only to lifelessly slump over and fall to the ground, thanks to the physics engine. Spell effects are precisely as over-the-top as they should be, with fireballs that are fully capable of disintegrating a mech in an explosive flash of light. Much of the audio side of things, such as many of the voiceovers, is still a work in progress, but what is currently present in the game is solid. Sound effects seem a bit underwhelming, mainly due to their relatively low default volume than to anything regarding their level of quality
One interesting facet of WorldShift is the multiplayer component, which supports between two and six players. Players can join a team and wage war in a 3v3 skirmish, or they can also take part in the cooperative experience. In a co-op map, players must work together against the enemy forces to complete their objectives, and at the end of the mission, the players will receive a random upgrade that they can apply. Certain missions have optional requirements that can be met, such as keeping all major allied units alive, which yield even better upgrades upon completion.
It can be tough to glean what a game under development will truly become once it reaches gold status, but in its pre-beta state, WorldShift brings many new ideas to the table that adapt well to the RTS genre. It remains to be seen how well the single-player campaign stacks up to the bar set by other genre giants, but the multiplayer is genuinely interesting, thanks to the competitive and cooperative experiences that tie into the player's ability to use his upgrades to tailor his forces as he sees fit. The preview build is a work in progress that evolves daily, so check back for more information on WorldShift as development continues.
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