The engine splutters and coughs, thick smoke billowing through the sky and giving away our position as I aim my fire extinguisher towards the flames, my heart pounding as another of my fellow engineers rushes to my aid and begins hastily slamming his trusty spanner against the metalwork.
With a roaring boom that throws me to the deck, our engine is gone and the airship falters, we begin to lose momentum. I begin to wish that I had brought my toolkit as I watch the approaching enemy, the crackling of our side guns fills the air as the flak cannons attempt to keep the enemy at bay while our engineers mount repairs.
Suddenly the ship lurches to one side, I hear the captain's voice screaming through the wind as he storms towards me. "Kit, take the wheel!" My hands reach for the helm as our captain mounts the forward harpoon.
Our engines once more splutter into life, I roll the wheel, tug on the altitude panel and we soar upwards into a cloud bank hiding us from our enemy.
Moments feel like hours as the crew mount our remaining guns, the captain peers through his spyglass and points towards the looming outline of the enemy airship, and then the order comes. Ignition! We drop downwards on-top of the enemy airship like a hawk upon its prey; a huge behemoth of woodwork metal and canvas, it's many guns are scrambled as they rush to aim for our sudden swoop, turning slowly to broadside us. A galleon! We are outgunned and our only remaining option is to trust in our captain's command. I grip the wheel as I await the order.
Welcome to Guns of Icarus Online.
If the name seems familiar, you might have played the previous incarnation, Guns of Icarus, a small web game, primarily a single player adventure, in which players would captain an airship (although this role was limited to manning the guns and repairing the ship itself on its predefined flight path). The game also had a multiplayer mode, which featured a similar experience but with multiple people able to work together to get the airship from A to B.
Guns of Icarus Online is the sequel to that experience in development by Muse Games. It features multiplayer large scale airship battles in a steampunk themed world, with a class based crew system, customizable airships and characters. Unlike its predecessor, Guns of Icarus Online is multiplayer only with a focus on a PvP experience. However, Muse Games is eager to continue development with adventure mode, a PvE experience which returns to the singleplayer roots of the games origin, but brings with it co-operative gameplay as you take your crew through the skies on various missions.
Spanner, Spyglass or Bullets?
The game will feature three classes at launch. The engineer, who's job is to keep the ship in the sky with repairs and upgrades. The captain, who's job it is to pilot the ship, command the crew, mark targets and navigate. The gunner, who's job it is to put those pesky enemy airships down. Do not let the system fool you into believing it is restrictive, each of the classes can pilot, shoot and repair the ship but they are all suited towards one role and will be rewarded for completing that role effectively.
The engineer has an array of tools at his or her disposal. This class has a larger repair capability than the others, it is capable of holding three ship maintenance items at once instead of one and has the best chance at keeping your ship in the sky. The tools range from instant repair, to a longer repair over time effect similar to how a healer might play in most mmo games. If you enjoy healing and support, this class would be ideal for you to play as you can concentrate on keeping the ship in the sky, which is a incredibly important job when the going gets tough!
As an engineer you repair the various components of your ship, and the armor of the ship itself. You can also buff the ship components effectiveness. This can range from repairing the on board guns, putting the engines back together, armoring the hull or to simple firefighting. You will be kept very busy during any of the intense firefights that break out in the skies, and will have plenty of maintenance to do after a fight has finished.
The gunner is the shooting star of the crew. You might be fooled into believing that the gunner is the weakest of the three classes, but without a good gunner your ship is incapable of defending itself effectively.
As a gunner, you can do extra damage with all of the ship's various turrets, buff the damage they do and change ammunition types. You have three gunnery slots, whereas the other classes only have one, which allows you much more versatility as you man the defenses.
The Captain is the leader of the crew. During customisation the captain is able to pick the class of ship they wish to fly, as well as choose what guns to place on the deck for the crew (or themselves) to use against the enemy. There are quite a few ships to choose, ranging from fast and quick to slow heavily armed flying behemoths.
This class has three ship helm items at once instead of one, and is capable of buffing the ship itself in various ways, such as increasing turn rate or increasing the engine speed, although these buffs come with their own disadvantages. After all, if you pour liquid kerosine into an engine eventually it is going to explode!
The captain can also mark targets with the spyglass for the entire team. As a captain, you can be a tactician, pilot or team leader as you please. You also gain access to the captains only voice over ip, which allows captains to co-ordinate assaults on the enemy team together, while still able to talk to your crew through the games inbuilt crew voip.
The captain can set priority's for the engineers to repair, as well as using their own skills to boost the ship itself, while still capable of gunning or repairing the ship. With a good enough team it is not necessary to have to command your crew as a captain, you can simply choose to play captain to be the navigator and pilot of a ship, but a captain that gives directions to the crew is often victorious.
Guns of Icarus Online comes with some decent customization options for your character. You can pick both male and female versions of each class, as well as changing skin color, eyes, hair and other such options that can help to differentiate yourself from the other players. Little touches like these allow for further involvement in the game world which is really what brings the game together.
Captains have the most customization available to them, with both character customization and then ship naming and fitting to be done. Though each class will also have outfits that they can purchase to wear.
Currently the only game mode available is Skirmish, a simple co-op multiplayer pvp battle in the sky across various different maps with a range of atmospheric views. There are several types of Skirmish however, with the challenge changing depending on the map.
In Resource Race, players compete to control points in the map which then in turn give them resources. These resources determine the winner and so the team who reach's the goal first wins.
Team Deathmatch is exactly what it says on the tin, a simple glorious fight amongst the sky to the death.
King of the Hill has players competing to hold one location against the enemy team.
The graphics on Guns of Icarus Online do not disappoint. From the deck of your airship you can see amazing views across the sky, to the top of mountains, huge cloud banks that can conceal the enemy, fog and rain also make appearances.Words alone fail to get across just how beautiful the experience of flying an airship can be in this game, and so here are just a few of my favorite screenshots:
To really get to grips with the breathtaking environment, you have to be on board one of the many airships in game and soaring through the sky. The desert is brightly lit and feels hot, clouds meet sand to create storms on the ground that provide cover. In contrast to this, the ice and snow of Anglean Raiders feels incredibly chilling and forbidding. These areas provide artistic visuals on a level that you might expect from a game such as Skyrim. Of course, the environment also serves a purpose in Guns of Icarus Online, as I later found out when playing with Howard.
Lost in flight
As the beta began I had the privilege of playing with Howard Tsao, one of the founding members of Muse Games and the current CEO. He answered many of my questions about Muse Games and Guns of Icarus Online as we played.
Kit: So can you tell me a little bit about Muse Game's history?
Howard: We started basically in 2010, so about two years ago. Before Muse a few of us were doing this virtual world 3d space and web integration venture, but that didn't take off didn't go anywhere. We were using Unity at the time and that was Unity 1.6, really early in the day.
Anyways, we just started making really small games that we put up for free on our site. One was a yeti sledding game and another is a turned-base strategy game called Elementia. We then started making more serious games.
The first major game that we made is the original Guns of Icarus that we had on Steam and the Mac App store. We actually only made it in about four and a half months, with four of us.
Kit: Thats quite impressive
Howard: Its kind of interesting because at the time we were like 'oh, you know this game will be a cool concept that people haven't done before but we also tried to include multi-player in the game and that was a nice thing to do. We only had a short period of time and only a few of us. What we should have done is focused on the core of the game and polish, so if you check it out now you may find the concept to be interesting but a lot of areas needed polish, but it ended up doing well for us on Steam.
We did another game called CreaVures that was on Steam and Mac App store, and later ported to the iOS. That also did pretty well and was featured on steam and was an award nominated, award winning, and game of the week title on the iOS.
Kit: Yeah I have seen the puzzle game CreaVures.
Howard: Oh cool. So now we're working on Guns of Icarus Online.
Kit: Have you been with them since the start?
Howard: Yeah! I basically started it with Brian, Alex and Emily.Kit: Thats pretty awesome.
Howard gave me a brief overview of each class, the ships and the game itself before we jumped into a battle together. Captain Bubbles (Howard) and Engineer Kitsunami began their adventures through the sky with a call-out on the lobby regional chat for players. People quickly flocked to the chance to face a Muse developer in battle, and soon we took to the sky.
Kit: So how would you explain Guns of Icarus Online to somebody just about to play it.
Howard: I guess in one sentence it would be 'steampunk airship multi-player combat game'. What I would say is that it really pushes the envelop of team based multiplayer play, where your primarily objective is to work together in different roles or classes, each different mechanics that all blend together into a hopefully cohesive crew.
During our first battle, Howard introduced me to Team Deathmatch as he flew the ship towards an enemy and we suddenly found ourselves on fire. I rushed to put the flames out and keep us afloat as he tried to turn us from an enemy we could not see. Realization dawned on us both as we saw the weapons fire streaking through the cloud bank to our right on the fourth time we had been gunned down, they were hiding in the clouds! A viable and perfectly useful tactic in this game, players are capable of hiding in the cloud cover so that the enemy cannot see them.
Kit: So onto adventure mode, which I am personally interested in. Will it be like the original Guns of Icarus, transporting something from A to B, or will it be more you have more of a free role to go do whatever you please?
Howard: Adventure mode will be based on the same core combat experience. Say if your in a goods ferrying mission as a trader, you would be trying to get to a destination while player or potentially AI ships may try to steal your cargo. While you're doing the trade mission somebody could be doing a pirate mission. So the core combat are the same but what were doing is building or expanding around it. What we're planning right now is different factions and towns in geographical locations, so there will be a map of the world, a bunch of towns with locations such as a pub to chat with players.
Kit: So kind of MMO like, little town mini servers?
Howard: we probably wont have super expansive open world like a lot of MMOs but there will be elements.
Kit: You could do a good guy town, bad guy town, neutral town?
Howard: We won't necessarily have towns that are good or bad, but they will be faction based and have different cultural influences. So by running these missions, you will be part of the factional town economy. Obviously if you are successful in a mission you will be boosting the town's economy and affecting the rise and fall of a town and faction in that way.
Kit: that sounds pretty cool!
Howard: What we'll also do is allow the players to unearth the history of the world, and uncover how the world came to be. Jess is writing a whole story of the world and the different factions, then through the bulletins or talking with other players you will gradually learn more about the story of the game.
On our second battle we fared slightly better. On this map I was introduced to Resource mode, which involved capturing an area and aiming to amass 1800 resource points between our fleet. The battle began strongly, with our side in the lead but soon the enemy caught up and rushed to an incredible sneaky victory, denying us our hard earned reward.
Kit: The original Guns Of Icarus was a lot of player vs environment, I know when I played it with my friends the most fun we had was just trying to survive on endless mode, trying to get as far as we could. I think that's probably what most people played, will there be anything like that in this one?
Howard: Yes, not at the moment but yes. We are planning AI planes and more scripted levels that would lead to co-op modes as well as challenges similar in concept to the ones in Gran Turismo.
Kit: Adventure mode?
Howard: Before adventure mode our plans are to roll out a few different maps or match modes where it's more player co-op against the AI. We actually had a boss ship designed as well but it will take more AI work and programming scripting to make it work.
Kit: Could you tell me a little bit about this boss ship?
Howard: I probably can't except for that there are going to be AI planes and a boss ship. Its not a secret or anything, but we haven’t really flushed out how the AI is going to behave, so its more like we don't know yet.
This tactic was later used by myself as Howard let me take the wheel to play at Captain. When we were under attack, I managed to fly the ship through a small gap in the scaffolding of a building and then hide us against a cliff side behind some clouds, which prevented the enemy from seeing us while we made repairs.
Kit: Has the community come up with anything that has surprised you?
Howard: Everybody gives a ton of feedback, not just when things are broken. Over time a lot of the feedback from players actually got implemented. Take the repair game for instance; we did a few iterations and before it was a two click repair system so the thought was that the players can queue things up more, but it was more confusing and not as responsive so we changed that.
Muse Games has certainly found a unique game. What does the future hold for Guns of Icarus Online? Howard was able to tell me just a little bit about Muse Games' plans before the nights end.
Kit: Could you tell me anything about your future plans of Guns of Icarus Online?
Howard: Well we gotta finish the game and fix all the bugs. In Skirmish we're still working on achievements, custom game, music, player customization, and tutorial.
Kit: Flares and prettys?
Howard: Yep. Bug fixes, store and customization. Still a lot of work to be done, eventually hopefully we can get to co-op matches with AI, and once the game is released we will be doing more updates, hopefully more ships and contents, also adventure mode.
Kit: I look forwards to it.
Howard: Something that we were thinking about and are planning on is to have player controlled planes for example, that could fly off of a ship.
Kit: Like a carrier?
Howard: Yeah exactly.
Kit: You totally heard this on End Gamers first! Confirmed carriers!
Howard: Yeah its something that we are planning on for sure.
Kit: That is awesome, i think it would definitely lend itself to having a carrier.
This was a beta, and yet it felt incredibly smooth both graphically and gameplay wise. They had a few bugs and problems, but for the best part I thoroughly enjoyed myself flying through the sky. It's incredibly easy to be sucked into the world as you adopt the role of a gunner, engineer or captain and begin working with other people on your crew.
The experience gets better with VoIP, hearing your crew discussing your options as you fight and fly, actually interacting with real people and working to fight your way to victory has as incredibly satisfying feel to it when you pull off dangerous maneuvers or manage to outlast another airship in a one vs one situation. The most memorable match was incredibly close, and we still had a great experience with it even though we lost in the end, with the red team swinging the game back towards them and catching a sneaky victory.
This is one to watch out for folks. I will be keeping an eye on the launch of Guns of Icarus Online. Will Icarus once more steal the skylight? I certainly hope so. How about it, can I rely on you to man the guns with Captain Bubbles and Engineer Kitsunami? There's a spare hat here somewhere...