Dishonored lead Viktor Antonov delivers free-to-play multiplayer in BattleCry

Hold onto your goggles, steampunks. Bethesda Softworks has announced BattleCry, a team-based, free-to-play multiplayer combat game with an eye-catching art style. It’s the first project to come out of the eponymous BattleCry Studios, which was formed by AAA industry veterans in 2012.

The world of BattleCry springs from the mind of Viktor Antonov, the Bulgarian concept artist and art director whose steampunk aesthetic and sharp eye for world-building elevated Dishonored and Half-Life 2 to genuine works of art. In this new game’s fiction, gunpowder was banned after a catastrophic World War at the turn of the 20th century. Nations now settle conflicts by sending teams of elite warriors to face off in sanctioned WarZones. Up to 32 players divided among the game’s factions and classes can do battle for the glory of their nation.

Warriors will either fight for the Royal Marines, a group of hearty commandos protecting the interests of the British Empire, or the scrappy Cossacks, an upstart nation that took advantage of the Black Powder Treaty to carve independence from Russia and Poland, and who are now looking to expand and cement their position on the world stage. Within each faction are five classes: the Tech Archer, the nimble Duelist (seen slashing arrows aside in the trailer), the massive-sword-wielding Enforcer, the mustachioed and robot-armed Brawler, and the Gadgeteer, whose gun utilizes whatever non-gunpowder MacGuffin tech drives this world (steam? whale oil? to be determined).

Repeated visits to the WarZones will raise your warrior’s rank, unlocking new abilities and tactical options, such as “bows that can punch an arrow straight through an armored skull” or “high powered blades crackling with electro-static energy.” The WarZone arenas themselves further encourage tactical diversity, “each designed to combine positioning, spacing and verticality to redefine your core combat experience.” That sort of spatial dynamism sounds reminiscent of Titanfall, or even the rocket-jumping days of Unreal Tournamentbut with the added layer of complementary classes, a la Team Fortress 2

A class-based arena game like TF2 but with more melee sounds like a lot of fun to begin with, and a stylized world by Viktor Antonov could really push it over into being something special. This trend of AAA developers breaking off into new studios for passion projects like Titanfall or The Long Dark is excitingThe success of the broader indie game scene has made established developers confident enough to step out and try something new, in a sort of second wave of the indie renaissance.

The one major standing question is the game’s monetization. The studio has announced that the game will be free-to-play, but given no indication yet of what that will mean in practice. It would be a shame to see an otherwise well-designed game be mired in pay-to-win microtransactional nonsense. Optimistically, perhaps the studio will follow the lead of TF2 and the upcoming Unreal Tournament reboot and have some sort of profit-share with fan-made content to keep their servers up and running.